Pierre Laclede, Founder of St. Louis, Missouri

Of Pierre Laclede Liguest, the founder of St. Louis, but little of his personal history is known, further than the fact that he  was a native of France, and a partner in the commercial house of Maxent, Laelede & Co., of New Orleans, for some years prior  to his adventure to this Upper Louisiana in 1763-64. Nor have we much to relate concerning him during the fourteen years of his residence in this his "village of St. Louis," as whatever documents there might have been in possession of himself or  family, at the period of his death in 1778, that might have enlightened us in relation to his personal history, went into the possession of Auguste Chouteau, his principal business companion and clerk during these fourteen years (surviving him for more than fifty years, and succeeding him in the title of founder of the place, as having witnessed the erection of the first house here) and doubtless have been lost or destroyed, as none are to be found at this day, either in the possession of the last survivor of Chouteau's son, still living in the place, or the numerous descendants of Laclede in these parts [these papers were entrusted to Nicollet, and destroyed by fire while in his possession]; consequently whatever we may have to say of Laclede is derived mainly from the meagre facts concerning him that are to be found in the archives, etc., and from tradition.

Laclede having completed his arrangements for his voyage to this upper country, sailed from New Orleans in his barge, with his family and outfit of merchandise for his Indian trade, on the 3d day of August, 1763, and arrived at Fort Chartres, some twenty miles above Ste. Genevieve, on the 3d of November following.  In leaving New Orleans he had contemplated landing at Ste. Genevieve, the only settlement at that period on the west hank of the river in this upper country, but arriving there  and finding no place in which to store his goods for the winter, the village being some two miles back from the river, at the suggestion of the commandant at that post he proceeded on to Fort Chartres, where he was kindly welcomed by the commandant, M. Neyon de Viliers. Here he landed his goods and prepared to spend the winter, in the course of which he rode upon horseback with a small party to Cabokia, the uppermost village and settlement, crossed to the west side, explored the country to the month of the Missouri, and up that stream for some distance, selected the spot for the location of his trading-post, marked it by blazing the trees, and returned to Fort Chartres to await the spring opening of the river.

 It was while spending the winter at Fort Chartres that news reached there of the cession of that side of the country to Great  Britain, and the consequent determination was formed by many at the inhabitants to leave the country rather then to become  subjects of that power.  This suggested to Laclede the idea of laying out a village around his contemplated trading-post, and inducing them to come over to the west side and settle themselves around him; for otherwise it is evident, that had that side remained under the subjection of France, but few of those who did came over, the most of them natives of the soil where their   fathers had been established for a period of eighty years, and where they lived in comfort and ease, would ever have dreamed of abandoning their homes simply for the purpose of crossing to the west side (which they might have done long previously had they been so disposed), and in a measure begin life anew.  Consequently it foltows that the sudden springing up of St. Louis into a village in the brief space of a year or two was theeffect of the cession of the east side to England; otherwise it would in all probability have been but a trading-post, with perhaps a few families scattered around it in the progress of time for the next forty years. This is made, manifest from the fact that, in that lung period, the increase was so slow that the place  numbered but nine hundred and twenty-five souls at the date of the transfer to the United States in 1804.

     We find but little more to add to this brief notice of Laclede. His residence of fourteen year's in the village of his projection was mainly devoted to the prosecution of his business affairs. On his return from a voyage to New Orleans, in the spring of 1778, he died on his boat, near the mouth of the Arkansas River, on the 20th day of June, and was interred in the wilderness at that point. If anything was done at the time to mark the spot where his remains were laid, it was soon obliterated as in searching for the place, but a few years thereafter, no trace of the spot could he found.-- from MS. notes of F.N. Billon.

    The doubts and discrepancies in regard to Laclede seem to be partly removed by the following sketch of his life and history which was furnished by the indefatigable Margry to Hon. E. B.Washburne, while United States minister to France. It seems to cover some of the facts necessary for a full understanding of the case. -J. T.S.
 
 

          "Ministere De La Marine Et Des Colonies,
                                        "Friday,Sept. 7, 1877.
 
 

Monsieur Le Ministre,- On my return home  yesterday I hastened to look up the documents which are to be published by Congress, and in the sixth volume I have found those which I had gathered concerning Pierre Laclede.

I am all the happier for having had the occasion of conversing with Mrs. Washburne on that subject, inasmuch as I shall be able to indicate the connections of the founder of St. Louis which are not such as stated in a newspaper of that city, in 1845, according to the report of Mr. Nicollet.

I shall be thankful to you for all the information you may be pleased to give me concerning Laclede and Mr. Gratiot, one of the founder of Galena, if I have understood rightly. I shall begin by giving you myself all the information I have collected about the pioneer of St. Louis.

Pierre Laclede Liguest was a native of the parish of Bedons, Valle d'Aspre, diocese d'Oloron en Bearn, about fifteen leagues from Pau (Basses-Pyrennes).  He was the younger brother of a Mr. Laclede, maitre particulier des Eaux et Forets of the province of Bearn, pays de Soule et Basse Navarre. (I don't think this has ever been published). Pierre Laclede went to Louisiana in 1755, and founded a commercial establishment in New Orleans.

The war of 1756 having involved him in great embarrassment, he obtained in 1762, as a reward for the services which he had rendered, the exclusive privilege of the fur trade, and went up to Illinois, accompanied by two young men, one of who was called Pierre Etienne Auguste Chouteau, when the treaty of 1763 put an end to his privilege.  He did not lose courage; he bought from his partners their share of interest, and leaving Fort Chartres, he crossed over to the west side of the Mississippi and selected the spot where St. Louis now stands as the site of his future establishment, which he sent Auguste Chouteau to start, on the 15th of Feburary, 1764.  He was several years in building it up.  Having returned to New Orleans, he again left that place in May, 1778 although quite sick, and died on the way, within one day's march of the post of the Arkansas.  He was said to be fifty-four years of age; he was therefore, born about the year 1724.

Allow me, Monsieur le Ministre, to renew to you the expression of my respect, and my best wishes for you and yours.

Pierre Margry,
11 Rue de Mont Thaber

 

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