"Three Flags Over St. Louis"

The Colonial Heritage of  St. Louis, Missouri.

Formerly, St. Louis des Illinois (of Upper Louisiana)

 "Casa Alvarez", the only remaining structure in the St. Louis area, directly connected to the Spanish colonial government. This was the home of Eugenio Alavarez, the Spanish storekeeper of the Royal Treasury. It was built in 1790. Alvarez was married to Josephine Crepeau. The home, a private residence is located at 289 Rue St. Dennis in Florissant. (select above images for enlarged photos.)




St. Louis, A French Colony

The St. Louis area was first visited by French explorers during the expedition of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet (a French Canadian fur trader). Traveling down the Mississippi in birch-bark canoes, these adventurers passed Missouri in June-July of 1673. They were warmly received by Indians of the Illini Confederacy (Peorias).  In fact, one native craftsman fashioned a flint crucifix for Father Marquette. The crucifix can be seen today at the Museum of Western Jesuit Missions in the Florissant area (a photo is available on their website).

Along the bluffs on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, the explorers spotted finely illustrated representations of a flying horned monster in vivid colors of black, green, and red. This was located on the cliff faces north of present day Alton, Illinois and is known popularly today as the "Piasa Bird". As the adventurers passed the mouth of the Missouri river, Marquette noted that the large number of floating trees and branches being carried into the Mississppi from its reaches, made navigating exceptionally dangerous. The Peorias called the river, "Pekitanoui" (river of muddy waters). 

Perhaps the word was too hard to pronounce, as Marquette eventally settled with the word, "Missouri", for the river. This was a French corruption of an Illini word identifying a rival tribe, not the river. The term meant the "town of large canoes", referring to the Chiwere Sioux speaking tribe that called themselves the "Niutachi" (People who dwell by the mouth of the river). The Niutachi's principle village was located on the south bank of the Missouri river near the mouth of the Grand River (in present day Saline County, Mo.). 

Incidentally, the area known as St. Louis County was disputed tribal territory. While the Illini resided in the nearest proximity, they preferred the east bank of the Mississippi, to reduce chances of being attacked by the more warlike Osage that claimed the west bank as part of their hunting grounds. Of the Illini Confederacy, the Peorias, Tamaroas, and Kaskaskias all frequented what we know as present day St. Louis. Some were even semi-permanent residents. For example. One band of the Kaskaskia did have a village at the mouth of the River Des Peres in what is now St. Louis (1700-1703). This location was selected with the encouragement of Father Gabriel Marest, a French Jesuit Priest, that mastered the Algonquin dialect of the Illini. According to historian William E. Foley, author of "The Genesis of Missouri: From Wilderness Outpost to Statehood" (1989; University of Missouri Press), in addition to Indian "cabins", the French constructed a chapel, and a "primitive fort". French traders and a band of Tamaroas joined the settlement. Foley describes this as "Missouri's first European-sponsored settlement", even predating Ste. Genevieve by as much as thirty-five to fifty years (depending on which Ste.Genevieve founding date one goes by, which vary from 1735-1750). Unfortunately for Father Marest, the Des Peres settlement was abandoned, due to angry threats of the Osage. Thus, Ste. Genevieve remains as Missouri first permanent European settlement. 

Missouri Was Once Illinois and Louisiana

St. Louis County and the rest of the State of Missouri was part of the French colonial Territory of Illinois, which included "lands on both sides of the Mississippi between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes" (Foley, 1989). After the territory was turned over to Spanish authority in 1768, the west side of the Mississippi became, "Spanish Illinois". Another name that eventually became even more popular was "Louisiana". This name originated with the Royal French explorer, René-Robert-Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687), who followed up in Marquette and Joliet's accomplishments by planting the fleurs-de-lis for France on the banks of the Mississippi in 1682. LaSalle claimed all lands drained by the Mississippi as the Territory La Louisiane. This name was in honor of Louis XIV, King of France. The area north of the present day State of Louisiana, was generally specified as "Upper Louisiana", while the area South was known as the "District of Orleans". When the Americans took over "Upper Louisiana", became "Territory of Louisiana" and the area south of Arkansas, the "Territory of Orleans". When the Territory of Orleans became a State in 1812, it essentially robbed the "Territory of Louisiana" of its identity. It was this event that compelled the renaming to "Territory of Missouri". Before that no one considered themselves as being from "Mizzurah" but instead from "Louisiana".


The Founding of St. Louis

Pierre Laclede (abt. 1724-1778), Founder of St. Louis Biography and Portrait

Auguste Chouteau (biography and portrait coming soon)

The Colonial Governors of St. Louis:

(Lt. Governors of  the District of Louisiana  assigned to St. Louis,  the Capitol of Upper Louisiana. Note: St. Ange, formerly the French military commandant of Ft. de Chartres, was elected by "popular authority" as Lt. Governor in St. Louis until the arrival of the official Spanish government. Governors Trudeau and DeLassus were also French, even though they were loyal officials choosen by the Spanish crown.)

St. Ange de Bellerive (served as unofficial Lt. Governor until Pedro Piernos arrived)
Pedro Piernos
Francisco Cruzat
Fernando de Leyba
Francisco Cruzat (2nd term)
Manuel Perez(portrait)
Carlos DeHault DeLassus (portrait)

St. Louis' Revolutionary War Battle

During the American Revolution, when Spain was allied with the Americans,  St. Louis came under a combined attack by British-Indian forces (May 26, 1780), numbering up to 1,200. Spanish Lt. Governor Fernando De Leyba,  successfully defended the town after it came under seige. De Leyba had earlier received reinforcements (militia and regulars) from nearby Ste. Genevieve as well as requesting fur trappers as far away as Cuivre River to come to the defense of St. Louis. The town was protected with cannons, a tower, and entrenchments. The most heavily  fortified portion was the stone tower known as "Fort San Carlos"     The approximately three to four hundred St. Louis defenders, that included whites and slaves, successfully repulsed the attack with light losses: twenty killed, seven wounded, and anywhere from twenty-six to seventy were captured.


In the records in St. Louis' Old Cathedral reads, "On the 26th of May 1780, I Capuchin Priest and missionary, have buried in the cemetery of this parish the bodies of Charles Bizet, Amable Guion, Calve and son and a negro Chancelier massacred by the Indians...F. Bernard, Missionary."

Read more of the Spanish account of the attack on St. Louis. Also a map showing the City's fortifications during what was the only Revolutionary War battle fought West of the Mississippi.

The May 26, 1780 Attack on St. Louis ("Battle of Ft. San Carlos")

The Colonial Militia of St. Louis

The roster of the forgotten patriots of the San Luis de Ilinueses Militia (Spanish Colonial Militia of St. Louis, Missouri ) that helped defend St. Louis and the upper Mississippi valley from British domination. Primarily Frenchman, however, with names Hispanized (translated into Spanish):

Roster and Genealogical Notes of  Company One, San Luis de Ilinueses Militia

Roster and Notes of  Company Two, San Luis de Ilinueses Militia

Regular Troops, Sailors, Workmen Stationed at Ft. Don Carlos, St. Louis (1769)

Important Dates of Upper Louisiana


"Three Flags Day"

The Government House in St. Louis, where ceremonies
and flag raising took place in March of 1804.

The occasion marking the transfer of Upper Louisiana from Spanish authority to French to the United States has been known as "Three Flags Day". Actually this took place during a two day period, March 9th and 10th 1804. Since St. Louis' population at that time was primarily French extraction, the French flag, was allowed to fly for one day prior to the transfer to the United States. Originally the area was first owned by France, then came under Spanish rule prior to 1770, when the Spanish Lt. Governor, Pedro Piernas first arrived. 
The ceremony on March 9, 1804 began when Maj. Amos Stoddard (appointed U.S. military governor) with Capt. Meriwether Lewis arrived at the St. Louis landing by boat. The Spanish garrison, all decked in uniform accompanied by the music of a fife and drum corp welcomed the new administration. After receiving the keys of the city from the Spanish Lt. Governor (Don Carlos De Hault De Lassus), a cannonade began, followed by the following address by Governor De Lassus:
"People of Upper Louisiana, by order of the king I am now about to surrender this post and its dependencies.  The flag which has protected you during nearly 36 years will no longer be seen.  The oath you took now ceases to bind.  Your faithfulness and courage in upholding it will be remembered forever.  From the bottom of my heart I wish you all prosperity."
Gov. De Lassus wept as the flag of Spain was lowered then lowered. Next the flag of France was raised up amid cheers bursting  from the townspeople. At sunset Gov. Stoddard  intended to bring down the french flag but on second thoughts, felt it more prudent to keep flying a full twenty four hours. A volunteer guard of honor  was assigned to flag duty throughout the night. Reportably the town burst into festivities  to such an extent that not a frenchman slept that night. (Diorama above by National Park Service, on display at Old Courthouse, St. Louis, Mo.)
Author, Gregory Franzwa, in his book, "The Old Cathedral", describes the ceremony the next day. "Early on the morning of March 10, 1804, the French ensign was lowered to the accompaniment of a funeral roll. Then the Stars and Stripes burst in the breeze, the fife and drum struck into lively music. Charles Gratiot, a Swiss, reportedly cried, "Three cheers for the American flag!". His exhortation fell on deaf ears. There were no cheers." The townspeople " were yearning for a France of Louis XIV, a France that was no more."
Official Seal of the United States, Territory of Louisiana
For early American military history in St. Louis, see Fort Belle Fontaine


 "La Marseillaise"

by Claude-Joseph Rouget de L'Isle, 1760-1836

MIDI file courtesy  Benjamin Tubb

[AutoPlay]    [Download]

Lyrics:  [In French]  [In English]



Orginal French

La Marseillaise" 

(April 24, 1792, Chaunt de guerre pour l'armiee du Rhin)
Allons, enfants de Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrive;
Contrenous de la tyranne,
L'etendard sanglant est leve,
L'etendard sanglant est leve,
Entendezvous, dans les campagnes,
Mugir ces feroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras,
Egorger nos fils, nos compagnes.
  Aux armes, citoyens!
  Formez vos bataillons!
  Marchons, marchons!
  Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!

Amour Sacre de la Patrie,
Conduis, soutiens, nos bras vengeurs.
Liberte, liberte cherie
Combats avec tes defenseurs!
Combats avec tes defenseurs!
Sous nos drapeaux, que la victoire
Accours a tes males accents!
Que tes ennemis expirants
Volent ton triomphe et notre gloire.
  Aux armes, citoyens!
  Formez vos bataillons!
  Marchons, marchons!
  Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!

Nous entrerons dans la carriere
Quand nos aines n'y seront plus.
Nous y trouverons leur poussiere
Et la trace de leurs vertus,
Et la trace de leurs vertus,
Bien moins jaloux de leur survivre
Que de partager leur orguiel
De les venger ou de les suivre.
  Aux armes, citoyens!
  Formez vos bataillons!
  Marchons, marchons!
  Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!

English translation

La Marseillaise" (April 24, 1792)

[War Song Of The Army Of The Rhine])
by Claude-Joseph Rouget de L'Isle, 1760-1836
Commisioned by the mayor of Stasbourg
for a marching song for French troops.

Arise you children of our Motherland,
Oh now is here our glorious day!
Over us the bloodstained banner
Of tyranny holds sway!
Of tyranny holds sway!
Oh, do you hear there in our fields
The roar of those fierce fighting men?
Who came right here into our midst
To slaughter sons, wives and kin.
  To arms, of citizens!
  Form up in serried ranks!
  March on, march on!
  And drench our fields
  With their tainted blood!

Supreme devotion to our Motherland,
Guides and sutains avenging hands,
Liberty, oh dearest Liberty,
Come fight with your shielding bands.
Come fight with your shielding bands!
Beneath our banner come, oh Victory,
Run at your soul-stirring cry.
Oh come, come see your foes die,
Witness your pride and our glory.
  To arms, of citizens!
  Form up in serried ranks!
  March on, march on!
  And drench our fields
  With their tainted blood!

Into the fight we too shall enter,
When our fathers are dead and gone,
We shall find their bones laid down to rest,
With the fame of their glories won,
With the fame of their glories won!
Oh, to survive them care we not,
Glad are we to share their grave,
Great honor is to be our lot
To follow or to venge our brave.
  To arms, of citizens!
  Form up in serried ranks!
  March on, march on!
  And drench our fields
  With their tainted blood!

"History's Time Portal to Old St. Louis"

Copyright 1999-2001, Scott K. Williams, all rights reserved.

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