EARLY SETTLEMENT

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EARLY SETTLEMENT AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

There was no settlement on the east bank opposite St. Louis when Piggott established his ferry operation. The town of Post St. Ursule, founded by Richard McCarty, had dissolved in 1784 after an unusually high flood and a subsequent outbreak of  "a malignant malady" (probably typhoid fever). The area remained deserted for the next ten years until Piggott's venture. A map of the St. Louis area made by Nicolas de Finiels in 1797-98 illustrates the Piggott road from Cahokia, the bridge, and the ferry complex. The map depicts Cahokia Creek as "R. a Picket" and two structures labelled "Maison du Nouveau Traverseur," which served as private residence, ferry office, inn, and tavern (Tyson 1875:18). A loose translation of the French "Maison du Nouveau Traverseur" is "House of the New Crossing" or "New Travelers' House" (Smith and Lange 1980:31). In addition, the de Finiels map depicts a series of small sand bars in the vicinity of what would later develop into Bloody Island. The War Office Records Map of 1804 shows a single structure at Piggott's Ferry close to the river as well as the large sandbar in front of St. Louis.

Piggott was awarded 100 acres between Cahokia Creek and the Mississippi River that had served previously as a quasi-reservation for Indians in Illinois during their annual rendezvous with American Bottom fur traders. However, other than a few primitive log buildings, the ferry landing served only a transient population and as a base of operation for the Creoles hired from Cahokia to run the boats.

The first settlement beyond Piggott's ferry complex was commercially oriented. Between 1805 and 1809 Etienne Pinsoneau, a wealthy French Canadian, purchased a tract of land 100 feet by 60 feet across the creek from the Piggott holding and erected a two-story brick tavern. The Pinsoneau tract, called Jacksonville, consisted solely of the brick tavern run by Simon Vanorsdal. In 1815 Pinsoneau sold part of his property to Moses Scott, who erected a store and conducted the first mercantile business in the area. A year later Pinsoneau sold the rest of the town to St. Louis merchants, John McNight and Thomas Brady, who also purchased control of Piggott's Ferry (Reavis 1876:51-53). Pinsoneau. retained use of the tavern, a blacksmith shop, and a mill on Cahokia Creek. The tavern stood as late as 1868 (East St. Louis Gazette 1903).

In 1817 one of the first steamboats to ply the Mississippi stopped at St. Louis and at the McNight-Brady ferry landing. Seeing the economic potential in the coming steamboat trade and the advantageous position of the east side for supplying fuel and provisions, McNight and Brady established Illinoistown over the old settlement of Jacksonville (Figure 4). McNight and Brady enlarged the lots and widened the streets in anticipation of the important commercial settlement that Illinoistown would become (Reavis 1876:53-55).

At the same time Illinoistown was platted, another town was laid out just north of Piggott's tract. In 1817 Simon Vanorsdal, John Scott, Joseph Clegg, and Daniel Sullivan laid out a town on 100 acres between the Mississippi River and Cahokia, and established an upper ferry. However, by 1819 this town, called Washington, was washed away by the encroaching river (Reavis 1876:55-56), leaving the McNight and Brady ferry with the Illinoistown monopoly.

The original 1818 town plat of Illinoistown (Figure 4) established the street plan that would provide the framework around which East St. Louis would evolve. The town plan depicts part of a bridge over "Kahokia Creek" or "L'Abbe River". The L'Abbe River is probably in reference to the order of French Trappist monks residing on Monks Mound (in the Cahokia mound complex) between 1803 and 1813 (Howard 1972:68). Part of the bridge over this creek is indicated with dashed lines suggesting that part of it had washed away. Two or possibly three buildings are located on the plat east of the creek. No buildings are shown at this time west of the creek.

It is noteworthy that at this stage of urban development, the street plan of Illinoistown was aligned with the old French Cahokia commonfields layout. This town plan, trending northwest by southeast, resulted in an oblique alignment in relation to the Mississippi River and directed the land direct approach to the ferry landing in a direction just south of the growing Bloody Island. The southerly growth of Bloody Island from this point on continued to eclipse the ferry landings and push the landing and ferry road south to open water.

The first couple of decades of ferry operation consisted chiefly of supplying St. Louis with foodstuffs and moving immigrants to recently opened lands on the west side of the Mississippi River acquired from Spain in 1803 (Howard 1972:773). In addition, the acquisition of Spanish territory opened the Mississippi River to access without restriction and provided for an expansion in trade and transportation for the Illinois and Missouri settlements (Howard 1972:73). When in 1814 the government opened lands in the public domain of the Northwest Territory for settlement, the population augmented the existing pockets of pre-empted landholders in Illinois and began the establishment of an agricultural base in the region.

It was during this period of immigration that a ferry was put into operation on the east bank opposite north St. Louis. In 1815, John Anthony built a house of cottonwood timber in which to feed and house travelers and rented "skiffs" for those wishing to cross the river (Bateman 1888:521). Like Piggott's Ferry to the south, the Anthony ferry complex remained simple: one building served as office, inn, and tavern. The two ferries seemed to have been designed for two different types of clientele. Whereas Piggott hired Creoles to propel the pirogue across the river at a cost of two shillings (25 cents) to the traveler, Anthony rented his skiffs for a shilling a trip with a passenger doing their own rowing (Bateman 1888:521).

The bulk of the immigrants settling the Northwest Territory and the area west of the Mississippi River were southerners, with roughly half of them coming from the seaboard states, half from the western states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio), and a small percentage from the Northeast and Europe (Buck 1967:99). A large number of the immigrants came by water via the Ohio, Kentucky, Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers and their tributaries. Those that came across the territory by land most often used the Wilderness Road, which extended from the Cumberland Gap through Kentucky to the Falls of the Ohio, and from there to Vincennes and St. Louis. An alternative branch of the Wilderness Road connected with the Goshen Road, which ran from Shawnee Town through Carlyle to Edwardsville and Alton (Boggess 1908:93). Other routes followed the old French roads up the river through the American Bottoms (Buck 1967:119).

The War of 1812 almost completely checked immigration until peace in 1815 and the opening of new land. The increased settlement at this time spilled into Illinois, boosting its population from 15,000 in 1815 to 40,000 in 1818, the year Illinois became a state (Buck 1967:97).

 

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