Saturday, December 7, 2013

250 Years Ago ... Laclede and Chouteau Scope out Locations for St. Louis*

By this time, in 1763, Laclede and Chouteau were settled into their new residence at Nouvelle Chartres. It makes sense that they would have begun their trading, including obtaining introductions by Commander De Neyon to the various Indian tribes in the area.

But Laclede had no intention of investing a great deal of time into business in Nouvelle Chartres, he was impatient to choose a location for his new trading post at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. At some point in December, Laclede set out on an exploratory trip up the river to view the Western Bank of the Mississippi River below the Missouri and choose a location for his post.

Years later, his companion, Auguste Chouteau, would remember this trip:

After all the business of trade was done, he occupied himself with the means of forming an establishment suitable for his commerce, Ste. Genevieve not suiting him, because of its distance from the Missouri, and its insalubrious situation. These reasons decided him to seek a more advantageous site. In consequence, he set out from the Fort de Chartres in the month of December, took with him a young man in his confidence, and examined all the ground from the Fort de Chartres to the Missouri. He was delighted to see the situation [where St. Louis at present stands]; he did not hesitate a moment to form there the establishment that he proposed. Besides the beauty of the site, he found there all the advantages that one could desire to found a settlement which might become very considerable hereafter. After having examined all thoroughly, he fixed upon the place where he wished to form his settlement, marked with his own trees, and said to Chouteau, "You will come here as soon as navigation opens, and will cause this place to be cleared, in order to form our settlement after the plan that I shall give you." We set out immediately afterwards, to return to Fort de Chartres where he said, with enthusiasm, to Monsieur De Neyon, and to his officers, that he had found a situation where he was going to form a settlement, which might become, hereafter, one of the finest cities of America -- so many advantages were embraced in this site, by its locality and its central position, for forming settlement.
 It is doubtful that Laclede actually said that last part, about founding a city that would become one of the finest cities of America.  Chouteau was remembering this years later, after the Louisiana Purchase by the United States, and that "memory" seems likely to be a bit of political correctness.  It is more likely that Laclede was enthusiastic about the opportunity for commerce up the Missouri River and then down to New Orleans. 

No one knows exactly when this reconnaissance trip took place, but today there was a commemoration ceremony at the Arch followed by a 1763 era Christmas dance at the Old Courthouse.  It was as good a day as any to celebrate that first landing.

*Part of my continuing blog series leading up to the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis in February 2014.

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