SETTLEMENT GROWTH

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GROWTH OF SETTLEMENT AFTER STATEHOOD

The summary of economic growth presented above is prerequisite to an understanding of the settlement pattern that developed in the American Bottoms. Early settlement in the Illinois riverbottom in the early 1800s came at a time when St. Louis was in the midst of a vigorous struggle with other western cities for control of markets and commercial transportation lines (Wade 1959:163, 177). Because of the ongoing regional contest between urban powers throughout the 19th century, economic growth and settlement of the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis must be considered in light of the position they held in respect to both the development of the larger market picture and local battles going an for domination of the entrepot position to St. Louis. In addition the struggle by the Illinois towns for capture of a piece of the action from St. Louis and assertion of a measure of commercial independence was an important factor in the economic picture. Because Illinoistown was quickly claimed by St. Louis business interests in 1815, whereas Brooklyn and Venice were pulled into the Alton economic sphere, the battle between the two commercial interests of St. Louis and Alton extended to their respective ferry towns. With this framework as a guide, the discussion of the growth of settlement in the American Bottoms can proceed to a closer view of the commercial and social growth of the east bank of the Mississippi River after Illinois statehood.

When the anarchy of the territorial period finally stabilized around 1818 with Illinois statehood, the preceding economic and political flux had resulted in a drain in population and power from the old French settlement of Cahokia to St. Louis and the Illinois towns on the opposite side of the river. This shift in concentration of population and resulting movement of the lines of transportation as a result of Piggott's Ferry left Cahokia and Ste. Genevieve too far south to be a factor in the ensuing growth of the St. Louis entrepots. Since Cahokia had become landlocked during one of the many shifts of the Mississippi River, the little town had not even a chance to develop as a riverport for the growing export trade of furs, timber, and lead.

The impact of this course of events on the old French towns bypassed by the expanding commercial network was devastating. By 1819, a visitor to the American Bottoms described the residents of Cahokia as "a wretched set of beings half French, half Indian, retaining part of the manners of both". The houses (in Prairie du Rocher) were compared unfavorably with the pigpens in Pennsylvania, being of "the most antique and mean appearance, built of the bark of trees and puncheons, slabs etc. often without doors. The windows are without sashes but small pieces of broke glasses of all shapes pasted ingeniously together with paper serve to admit the light upon a motley family, between white, red, and black. Many of those wretched hovels are ready to tumble down on the heads of starving Indians, French, and negroes, all mixed together. Negro-French is the common language of this town" (Buck 1967:93, 94). The narrator, Richard Manson, added: "when I have expressed an opinion which appears not to have been liberal, it is intended to apply to the lower class, of whom there is a large majority... although some of the French are rich, liberal, and gentlemanly men, yet this memorandum is strictly correct when applied to the general mass" (Buck 1967: 94). Despite the extreme caution which should be exercised in accepting any historic observation as more than a biased opinion, Manson's narrative is, to a certain extent, an accurate perception of the drain from the French towns of the "gentry class", the wealthy visionaries, slave holders, and entrepreneurs drawn to St. Louis, leaving behind the low status "habitants," the poor fur traders, the ignorant, and the destitute in Illinois to occupy the ghettos in the old French towns (Buck 1967: 93).

The east side of the river was an economically depressed area when Piggott established the ferry in 1795. By the turn of the 19th century, Piggott's ferry landing was still little more than an outpost in the wilderness. In addition to Piggott's multi-purpose buildings described earlier, it is conceivable that the Creoles Piggott hired to propel the pirogues were quartered somewhere nearby, though archival sources are mute on that question and it is possible that the hired help resided in nearby Cahokia. The map of St. Louis in 1804 from the War Office Records depicts only one building located near the edge of the river. In general, it appears that the ferry enterprise was the sole occupant of the area up until Piggott's death.

When the fortunes of the east bank of the Mississippi River shifted north to the location opposite St. Louis, it was the wealthy gentry, such as Etienne Pinsoneau and Nicholas Jarrot, with large landholdings and commercial aspirations, who joined with the newly-arrived easterners like Samuel Wiggins and John Reynolds to establish an economic base. However, these ventures were carried out by non-resident speculators with diverse investments. In addition to the ferry holdings, Jarrot had 25,000 acres (Howard 1972:84), and Pinsoneau's holdings included large parcels in Illinoistown (Tyson 1875:19-20) and Venice (Brink 1882:522). Jarrot owned a flour mill and a large mansion in Cahokia (Boggess 1908:167), and Pinsoneau owned a blacksmith shop, tavern, and mill in Illinoistown (Tyson 1875: 19-20; East St. Louis Gazette 1903; Anonymous n.d.). McNight and Brady were St. Louis woolen merchants, Samuel Wiggins was based in Cincinnati, and Matthew Kerr was a merchant in St. Louis. The absentee ownership of Illinois' most lucrative ferry and milling business was of concern to many in Illinois; however, St. Louis was to enjoy the fruits of these commercial ventures until economic opportunities other than the ferry business were developed and profit was retained for local investment.

True to the historical domination of transportation in the American Bottoms, the first non-ferry or milling business centered around providing services to immigrants and travelers. Both Piggott's Ferry in 1818 and Anthony's Ferry in the 1820s contained a building serving as an inn and tavern. In addition the Piggott and Brooklyn Ferries acquired blacksmith shops (Tyson 1875:19-20; Bateman 1882:521) a few years into the ferry operation. Presumably, the blacksmith shop maintained the ferry equipment (which often included horses) as well as functioning as a service for the needs of immigrants.

The first description of Illinoistown is in 1821 by ethnologist Henry Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft's only comment as he passed through Illinoistown was that the town "was separated into two parts by the stagnant and pestiferous channel of Cahokia Creek" (Bond 1969:14). This would indicate settlement both near the ferry landing and east of the creek within the limits of the town plan platted in 1818, though not necessarily in harmony with the street plan. Schoolcraft noted the lively intercourse between St. Louis and Illinoistown (Bond 1969:15), which can be accounted for by the fact that Illinois was the principal supplier of agricultural products and coal for St. Louis by this time (McDermott 1952:71).

Beck reports that in 1823, Illinoistown was located about 400 yards from the Mississippi River on the east side of Cahokia Creek, and that it consisted of 20 or 30 houses and 100 inhabitants. Beck noted that though the town was surrounded by fertile country, it had few other commercial advantages and was in an unhealthy situation (1823:160).

Illinoistown was described in 1837 by the Reverend John Mason Peck as a small village of about a dozen families. The town was said to contain a hotel, livery stable, store and post office. Wiggins Ferry was the official name of the post office and Samuel Wiggins was the postmaster (Bond 1969:16).

By 1841 Illinoistown had grown into a "lively commercial river town" with "125 houses, an iron store, one distillery, two stores of general merchandise, five groceries, two town bakeries, one saddlery, one shoemaker, two blacksmith shops, one coopers shop, one tailory, and two taverns or hotels besides a variety of other subsisting businesses. Also a recently-established printing office issued a weekly newspaper, the American Bottom Reporter (Bond 1969:16).

The phenomenal growth of both residential and commercial settlement in Illinoistown during this four year period, is, if we can accept the accounts as accurate, an indication of the growing importance of the east side of the river and economic maturation. The apparent decline between 1823 to 1837 was probably a result of the devastating flood of 1826 and loss of population to more suitable locations. In addition, the town was probably very much directly influenced by economic fluctuations on a larger scale. The biggest changes in domestic trade were brought about by the steamboat in the 1820s and canals in the 30s and 40s. The effects of these developments in transportation were to decrease the costs of products coming into the west from the east while increasing the marketability of commercial goods in the west by providing cheaper transportation to the east (Taylor 1966:160-161). The drastic change in the fortunes of Illinoistown seems to be a reflection of the change from primarily a supplier to St. Louis to a lively commercial town in its own right.

Wild's description in 1841 is accompanied by illustrations that indicate much about the nature of the internal arrangement of Illinoistown at this stage. Plate I depicts Illinoistown looking south at the new bridge. The illustration includes a grocery with outbuildings south of the road and a large two-story building that was probably a residence or inn. Across the creek are seen six buildings, one of which appears to be a livery. The functions of the other buildings are difficult to determine from the illustration; however, it does appear that the buildings are aligned parallel to the river.

A second Wild illustration, "St. Louis and Vicinity," portrays Illinoistown as seen from the roof of the Planter's Hotel looking east. The view shows the same area depicted in Plate 1, though there is not enough resolution to identify specific buildings. However, again it does appear that the buildings are situated parallel to the Mississippi River.

A detailed survey conducted in 1843 by Louis Winkelmeier provided the overlay map for Figures 4 and 6. The map shows St. Louis, Illinoistown, and Bloody Island in 1818 and 1843. The information from the map has been separated into two overlays to facilitate comparison with the 1837 overlay (Figure 5). The Winkelmeier map (Figure 10) shows the town plan of Illinoistown and the old ferry road across Cahokia Creek branching off to the various landings. Apparently one of the cartographers erred in the placement of Illinoistown as it is about 25 degrees out of alignment with the original Illinoistown Plat of 1818. To the south is depicted the new ferry road with several buildings labeled, including a dwelling and a grocery on the north side of the road and a stable, grocery, store, boarding house, and blacksmith shop on the south side. Oddly enough, the map indicates a ferry alignment almost perpendicular to the river, in contrast to Wild's illustrations showing buildings seemingly strung out along the bank.

The absence of structures in Illinoistown is not significant since Winkelmeier fails to show any in St. Louis either. However, it would seem that out of the more than 125 structures mentioned by Wild, there are a very small portion of them shown west of Cahokia Creek, far less than is indicated by Wild (Plate 1). It is difficult to judge Winkelmeier's accuracy in location and choice of structures mapped without an analysis of the map within the historical context.

The 1843 map (Figure 10) credited to Winkelmeier (1841) and Captain Thomas Jefferson Cram (1843), a topographical engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, was possibly the work of both men. Captain Cram's interest in Winkelmeier's map was apparently due to his need for an accurate map to depict the topographical features needed for his report on the St. Louis harbor improvement project. When the topographic information is subtracted, with the exception of the town plats, the remainder of the information deals predominantly with the Wiggins Ferry property. Obviously, Captain Cram may have had very good reason to include ferry landings as they might provide information on rate of channel erosion and sedimentation. In light of the $190,000 dollar budget for improvements recom-mended by Cram following on the heels of a denial of funds by the federal government a few years earlier, perhaps Cram also wanted to illustrate the urgency of the situation in terms of impact on St. Louis' crucial ferry transportation link. However, this still leaves the question open as to the original purpose of Winkelmeier's map, and the seemingly redundant Wiggins property information. One explanation is offered that seems to explain the incongruous aspects of the map. If Winkelmeier's map was originally intended to show Wiggin's ferry holdings, then the cluster of buildings along the new ferry road are possibly also Wiggin's Company property. The dashed line enclosing the structures (Figure 10) would then be a boundary of some sort delineating the area occupied by the Wiggin's buildings. It seems logical that a new bridge and ferry road to the new landing on Wiggin's property would have been constructed by Wiggins and that the buildings along this road would also belong to the company. It is probable that the other structures mentioned by Wild in 1843 were located around the vicinity of the Wiggins Ferry complex and east of Cahokia Creek. This explanation is given to provide a base for further inquiry into the Winkelmeier/Cram map and the Wiggin's Ferry Company. Historians writing previous to this study (Bond 1969; Smith and Lange 1980) have not recognized the significance of this map in researching the relationship between St. Louis and the ferry company, and the Wiggin's Company involvement in the St. Louis harbor improvements. Future researchers should also be wary of a copy of the Winkelmeier/Cram map reproduced in the East St. Louis Centennial Program, 1861-1961, which has had street names drawn in the Illinoistown plan to reflect the modern street alignment. This practice has caused some misinterpretation of historic street names (c.f. Bond 1969:18).

Despite the impression that the Winkelmeier/Cram map might give, Illinoistown was a bustling, thriving, commercial town by this date. Wild noted that two-thirds of all cattle, horticultural, and agricultural products consumed by St. Louis came from the American Bottoms, for which Illinoistown was the thoroughfare. Echoing the sentiments of the Illinois state legislature two years earlier, Wild noted: "The quantity of wagons, movers, horses, and cattle which pass through this place is very great. The competition which will now probably take place between the old and new ferries will very materially conduce to the improvement of the bottom and Illinoistown... It is now in a greater state of activity than it has been years before, and time will do the rest ... a more interesting spot for the enterprising and active capitalist does not probably exist in the neighborhood of St. Louis" (Bond 1969:19).

 

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