France in America and the Founding of St. Louis

Much of the exploration and settlement of the western United States originated in St. Louis, Missouri. Located on the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Missouri River it enjoyed a commanding strategic position for the exploitation and development of the western territory. It's importance was recognized early on by the French. They approached it first from the north. In the sixteenth century France started exploring Canada. In 1535 Jacques Cartier sailed up the St Lawrence River and claimed the valley for France. In 1542 Hernando de Soto explored the Mississippi on behalf of Spain but did not establish any permanent presence. In 1605 France established Port Royal (now Annapolis), Nova Scotia. In 1608 they founded Quebec and in 1611 Samuel de Champlain established a fur trading post on the island of Montreal. Gradually French Canadian fur traders penetrated westward into the interior of Canada. By the 1670s they had heard of a great river far to the west of Montreal that flowed south and might empty into the Gulf of Mexico. On June 16, 1673, Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette and French fur trader Louis Jolliet reached the banks of the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Wisconsin River. Marquette and Joliet traveled down stream as far as the Arkansas River before returning to Canada. From 1677 to 1687 Robert Cavalier de La Salle explored the Mississippi and its tributaries and in 1682 claimed the entire region for France. He named it Louisiana in honor of the French King.

La Salle established several forts along the Mississippi in the seventeenth century, but was murdered before he could establish a colony at the mouth of the river. La Salle is credited with having been the first to see the advantage to France of controlling both the St Lawrence and Mississippi Rivers. On March 1, 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville sailed into the mouth of the Mississippi. He and his brother, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, established a settlement on the Bay of Biloxi. In 1718, the site for New Orleans was located and the city founded a couple of years later by the French Mississippi Company under the direction of Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. Following the French and Indian War, on February 10, 1763, the Treaty of Paris ceded all of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, except the city of New Orleans, to Great Britain. New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana had already been ceded to Spain in the Treaty of Fontainebleau on November 13, 1762. In 1762, before these various treaties took effect, Maxent, Laclede, and Company out of New Orleans had been given the exclusive right to trade along the Mississippi River north of New Orleans. On August 3, 1763, Pierre Laclede Liguest, representing that company, traveled north to establish a trading post. At the time he knew that the eastern bank had been ceded to Great Britain, but did not yet know of Spanish ownership of the west bank.

In December 1763, Laclede selected the site for his trading post on the west bank of the Mississippi just down river from the mouth of the Missouri. Laclede had with him a young teenager by the name of Auguste Chouteau. In spite of his youth, Chouteau played an important role in establishing the new settlement early in 1764. Laclede named his new town St. Louis in honor of Louis XV whom he thought was still sovereign over the western portion of Louisiana. (Some scholars feel that Laclede was honoring Louis XI because he was known as Saint Louis.) When the English took control of the eastern bank of the Mississippi, a number of French colonists in settlements along the western bank of the Mississippi moved into St. Louis. In the process, Laclede gave up control of St. Louis to Captain Louis Saint Ange de Bellerive, who had commanded the French military garrison at Fort de Chartres and served as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. On May 20, 1770, Don Pedro Piernas arrived and took over in the name of the Spanish King. In 1798 Daniel Boone settled near St. Louis at the invitation of the Spanish Lieutenant Governor, Zenon Trudeau. In the late eighteenth century, Napoleon took control of Spain and was ceded Spanish Louisiana by the secret Treaty of Saint Ildefonso on March 21, 1801. While Napoleon pondered what to do with Louisiana the change in ownership did not greatly alter day-to-day life in St. Louis. On April 30, 1803, Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States. On December 20, 1803, New Orleans was formally transfered from France to the United States. Winter delayed the transfer formalities in St. Louis until March 10, 1804, when Spanish Lieutenant Governor Carlos Dehault Delassus turned the city over to Captain Amos Stoddard.

President Thomas Jefferson was in a hurry to learn as much as possible about the newly acquired Territory of Louisiana. On May 14, 1804, on his order, Merriwether Lewis and William Clarke set out on their two year exploration through the Pacific Northwest from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River. On March 3, 1805, the Territory of Louisiana was established with St. Louis as it's capital. In 1805 Zebulon Montgomery Pike Jr. departed St. Louis on an exploration to the northwest in search of the sources of the Mississippi River. In 1806-1807 Pike explored southwest from St. Louis in search of the sources of the Arkansas and Red Rivers. In 1809 the Missouri Fur Company was organized in St. Louis with Manuel Lisa, William Clarke, Auguste and Pierre Choteau as partners. In the next several decades fur trappers fanned out across the west from St. Louis and thoroughly explored the entire region. On August 2, 1817, the first steamboat, the Zebulon M. Pike, reached St. Louis and revolutionized transportation. Missouri became a state in 1820 through passage of the Missouri Compromise that brought Missouri into the Union as a slave state and Maine in at the same time as a free state. On September 1, 1821, William Becknell started trading with Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Trail was opened. On October 27, 1838 Governor Libum Boggs issued the "Extermination Order" against all Mormons living in Missouri. In the 1840s wagon trains bound for Oregon began their trips in St. Louis. In 1847 St. Louis was connected to the East Coast by telegraph. The Army of the West under Philip Kearney started out from St. Louis to conquer New Mexico in 1848. Following the discovery of gold in the Sierras, wagon trains used the California Trail out of St. Louis to reach the gold fields. In about 1850 the railroad reached the eastern shore of the Mississippi opposite St. Louis. In 1851 rail lines started to be constructed from St. Louis westward. In 1857 U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney handed down his decision denying Dred Scott his freedom in a court case that originated in St. Louis. On April 3, 1860, the first Pony Express rider started his run for Sacramento from St. Louis. During this entire period from its founding to the Civil War St. Louis served as a principal emporium that facilitated east west trade within the country and with the rest of the world.