Early Settlers

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A Brief History of St. Clair County


Chapter IV

Settlers of the Early Period

 


by Prof. W. C. Walton
Excerpted from the Centennial History of McKendree College (1928)

The old French records contain some interesting data concerning some of the early citizens of both Cahokia and Kaskaskia who were prominent in the community in their day. They are entitled to a place in this record because they were citizens of St. Clair County.

Charles Gratiot was born in Switzerland of a Huguenot family, educated in London, went to Canada at the age of eighteen, and in 1774 came to the Illinois country to make his fortune. He soon became the master spirit in commerce thruout a vast region of country. He was the John Wanamaker of the Illinois country in that early day. His trade employed a large capital and extended over several of the states of the Mississippi Valley. He had stores at both Kaskaskia and Cahokia, but his grand depot of trade for many years was at the latter place. Altho he had been educated in England, yet he was born in the country of William Tell, and the spirit of freedom was the great passion of his life. When George Rogers Clarke undertook the conquest of the Illinois country for the cause of the American colonies, Gratiot supported him to the full extent of his vast fortune; and without his aid it is doubtful whether Clarke's enterprise would have succeeded. He used many thousands of dollars in purchasing supplies for the partriot army. He made this sacrifice voluntarily and the government failed to reimburse him for the expenditure, but under the protection of the new government he was able to accumulate a new fortune. His joy at seeing the colonists free was his most satisfactory reward for the thousands he invested in the enterprise. In the year 1781 he married the sister of Pierre Choteau, one of the founders of St. Louis. After his marriage he made his home in St. Louis and died there in 1817. A street in St. Louis bears his name.

Another was Dominique Ducherme, a French-Canadian, who made his home at Cahokia at intervals. He possessed great influence with the Indian tribes. It was he who led the famous attempt to capture St. Louis in 1780. It was then a Spanish trading post. His enmity was aroused against the Spanish because a party of Spanish soldiers from the garrison of St. Louis had captured and confiscated a boat load of goods which he was carrying up the Missouri River to trade with the Indians.

Another was Julien Dubuque, after whom the city of Dubuque, Iowa was named, and near which he was buried. He purchased a tract of land from the Indians extending eighteen miles along the Mississippi and nine miles back from the river. It was supposed to contain valuable lead mines. It made him seem to be a large land owner with a holding of one hundred and sixty-two square miles, but later governments were organized and his claim was not recognized.

William Arundel was an Irishman by birth, who came to Cahokia in 1783. He was well-educated and among the old records of St. Clair and Randolph Counties his excellent hand writing frequently appears. He and Mrs. Thomas Brady were said to be the only persons not French who lived in Cahokia until after the Revolutionary War.

William Morrison came to Illinois from Philadelphia in 1790. He located in Kaskaskia, which at that time was the county seat of St. Clair County. He was one of the most influential characters in the country at that early day. He was what is called a self-made man. Like a few other prominent leaders, he never went thru the drudgery of acquiring a scholastic education, but his natural talents were of a high order and he studied in "Nature's great academy" and became eminent in the circles in which he moved, whether in society or in business. He was ambitious and enterprising and succeeded in acquiring large possessions, both in land and merchandise. His commercial activities extended from Pittsburg to the Rocky Mountains, and from Prairie Du Chien to New Orleans. About 1800 he established a store in Cahokia and placed it in charge of an eccentric Irishman named William Atchison. This store manager, by reason of the excessively high prices he asked for his goods, acquired in derision the nickname "Chape Wollie," which clung to him as long as he remained in the business. One of the stories told of this Irishman is that when Rev. Benjamin Young was a Methodist circuit rider in this region, "Chape Wollie" invited him to preach in his store. It turned out that Mr. Young had a very small congregation. Atchison tried to explain why his French neighbors did not attend the meeting. "For my part," said he, "I would walk miles, thru briars and Hell, to hear such a sermon as that ye prached; but these blarsted French love dancing better nor preaching. And Misther Young, couldn't ye stay with us tonight and go to the ball this avening?" But the Methodist preacher very courteously declined Mr. Atchison's invitation to stay for the dancing party on Sunday evening. In 1801 Morrison built a fine stone house in Kaskaskia, which at that time was the finest residence in the country. He lived in it in princely style, and with his family displayed the generous hospitality and elegant bearing of a well-bred gentleman. He was exemplary in his morals and never indulged in light and frivolous amusements. Gambling and drunkenness he abhorred. Horce-racing was the most popular amusement of that day and it is said that he used to sometimes bet a suit of clothes on a horse just for the sake of sociability, but he cared little whether he lost or won. Reynolds describes his personal appearance as dignified and prepossessing. Energy and zest were discernible in his walk and all his actions. He made it a matter of principle to dress well, with taste and even elegance. He often said that a man sometimes made a fortune by a decent appearance. He was always extremely gallant and polite to his ladies. He always claimed that intelligent and correct female society was a very great influence for the control of human conduct and for the promotion of morals and religion. He always showed a high moral character, but toward the close of his life he became interested in religion and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He died in 1837 and was buried in the old graveyard at Kaskaskia.

William Morrison's brother, Robert, came west some years later. His wife was one of the most remarkable women who lived in Illinois. She came of a wealthy and cultured family in Baltimore. Nature gave her a romantic turn of mind and for this reason she accompanied her brother, Colonel Donaldson, to St. Louis in 1805. He was a commissioner to investigate land titles. Here she met and married Robert Morrison, after which her home was in Kaskaskia. She was well-educated, a first-class scholar, and possessed great energy of mind. Her delight was in the field of poetry. Her verses were considered by critics to be far above medium, and many of them belonged in the higher order of poetry. She translated the Psalms of David into English verse; and she wrote for the scientific publications of Mr. Walsh in Philadelphia. Her pen was never idle. Her contributions to periodicals were numerous and highly prized. Her assistance was frequently enlisted by the politicians of the day, and at the request of her political friends, she formulated many memorials and petitions to Congress and to the President, all of which were chaste and classic in their composition and at the same time sound in their appeal to the government. For this class of writing she was very popular with her western friends. She lived to an advanced age and died at Belleville in 1843. She left three sons, all of whom became prominent lawyers.

Madame La Compt Another remarkable woman came to Cahokia about the year 1770. She was born of French parents at St. Joseph on Lake Michigan. Her maiden name was La Flamme. Her first husband's name was St. Ange. He died after a few years and she married Monsieur La Compt, a French-Canadian, at Cahokia, in 1780. From this marriage proceeded one of the largest French families in Illinois. This female pioneer had the courage and energy of a heroine. She was also blessed with an extraordinary physical constitution. She was scarcely ever sick, tho often exposed in travelling or otherwise to the inclemency of the weather and other hardships which are the common lot of pioneers. After the death of her second husband, she seemed to come into unusual prominence and was one of the most influential women in all the Illinois country. She was exceedingly popular with the Indians. They were her neighbors and friends. She knew the language of many of the tribes. By wise and careful dealings with these wild men, and by sage counsel to promote their interests, she acquired a great influence over the Pottawatamies, Kickapoos, and other Indian nations. In the early American settlements from 1781 down to the peace in 1795, this lady prevented many an Indian attack on the white population. The Indians often became hostile to the French during the Revolutionary War on account of the intrigues of the English since the French had joined Clarke in the conquest of the British garrisons of the west. On many occasions this lady was awakened in the dead hours of the night, by her Indian friends among the hostile warriors, informing her of the intended attack, that she might leave Cahokia. The following account given by Governor Reynolds is a good example of the way she warded off Indian raids. One night after receiving a warning she started out to meet some hundreds of warriors who were camped near the Quentine mound at the foot of the bluff near the present French Village. Some of her friends took her on horseback to a point near the Indian camp; then she dismissed her company and proceeded on foot to the Indian camp. No one knew the Indian character better than she. A woman on foot and alone approaching several hundred armed warriors produced a sympathy which she followed up with wise counsels which were well-nigh irresistible to the Indians who had such a high opinion of her wisdom and friendship. Early the next morning she was seen escorting a band of warriors into the village where the men of the town had their fire arms all ready for defense. But now the program was changed from war to peace. The red paint of the Indians was removed and they were painted black to indicate their repentance for the hostile intentions they had entertained in their minds against the friends of Mrs. La Compt. Then the Indians were feasted in the village for days in celebration of the averted warfare. After one of these reconciliations, they would remain peaceful for a good while. Mrs. La Compt's life lasted far beyond the usual span. She died in Cahokia in 1843, at the age of one hundred and nine years. Governor Reynolds says he knew this lady personally, and ventures the opinion that her unusual health and longevity was the result of her hardy and frugal mode of living. He thinks the health of more people is injured by walking on fine carpets between the piano and the air-tight stove than by walking on ice and snow in the open air.

Another prominent woman was Madame Beaulieu. She was a native of Illinois, born at St. Phillippe, a village near Fort Chartres. Her father was an officer in the French troops named Chouvin. He later settled at Cahokia where his daughter married. Before that, however, she went to Canada and secured a medical education. She was the first woman doctor in Illinois. She was a devout Roman Catholic.

Nicholas Jarrot came to Cahokia in 1794, where he resided all the rest of his life. He was a man of intense activity and industry. He came to Cahokia without means, but obtained a small supply of Indian goods and became a trader. In this business he succeeded in amassing a large fortune. Every year he sent a boat load of goods to the upper Mississippi, where such things as the natives needed were bartered for furs and pelts at an immense profit to the trader. He also kept a retail store at Cahokia. For many years he held the offices of Justice of the Peace and Judge of the County Court. He erected in Cahokia a brick house, which, when built, was one of the finest in Illinois. He was a strict and zealous member of the Roman Catholic Church. He died in 1828 and was buried in the old grave yard at Cahokia.

In the year 1793 John Hays became a citizen of Cahokia. He was born in New York City in 1770; and while still a young man entered the Indian trade in the Northwest. At one time he and two Canadians were caught in a severe snowstorm on the prairie and were compelled to lie in the snow for three days, with only their blankets for shelter and a little dried meat for food. This is an illustration of what men could endure in those times. After he settled at Cahokia he was both a trader and a farmer. For many years he held the office of postmaster, with no profit to himself, but merely to accommodate his neighbors. In 1798 Governor St. Clair appointed him Sheriff of St. Clair County, which office he held until 1818, when the state government was organized.

Another prominent citizen, whose name was similar but not the same, was John Hay. He was born in Detroit in 1769 and came to Cahokia in 1793. His father was the last British governor of Upper Canada, and his mother was a lady of French descent, a native of Detroit. In 1797 he married Miss Margret Pouport, a beautiful young Creole of Cahokia. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, then governor of the Northwest Territory, commissioned him Clerk of the Court of Quarter Sessions, Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas, Clerk of the Orphans' Court, and Treasurer of the County of St. Clair. He held these four positions at the same time. He was also at different times Notary Public, Justice of the Peace, Probate Judge, and Recorder. He retained the confidence of the people in a rare degree and remained in office thru successive changes of administration till his death. When the county seat was moved to Belleville in 1814, it was a severe blow to Mr. Hay and his family. His duties demanded his presence at the county seat, and yet he was reluctant to leave the French people at Cahokia, to whom he was attached by many years of warm friendship.

Jean Francois Perry was born in Lyons, France, of a wealthy and aristocratic family, received a liberal classic education, and studied and practiced law in his own country. The French Revolution caused his emigration to America. He formed a partnership with another Frenchman, M. Claudius, to carry on mercantile business, and the two started from Philadelphia for the west. They reached Cahokia and soon after settled at Prairie Du Pont. A few years later Claudius was killed by accident and Perry bought the old mill site on the Prairie Du Pont creek and built a new mill which he carried on with profit. Near the mill was his dwelling. In the year 1794 he married the beautiful daughter of Jean Saucier, of Cahokia. In a few years he amassed a large fortune. He carried on both the mill and the store, but perhaps the greater part of his fortune was acquired through profitable land speculations. He was a man of unostentatious manners and lived and dressed in true democratic style. He paid due regard to economy and yet displayed much hospitality in the entertainment of all classes of people. He was held in high esteem in the community. He was proficient in the use of both the French and English languages and served as Justice of the Peace during almost the whole period of his life after coming to Illinois.

Philip Creamer settled a short distance east of Prairie Du Pont in the year 1805. He was born in Maryland and learned the trade of gunsmith at Harper's Ferry. He had unusual mechanical genius. In those times it was a proverb among the settlers, "He is as sure as a Creamer lock." He lived to a good old age.

CHAPTER I - Under French Rule

CHAPTER II - Under British Rule

CHAPTER III - The Transition to American Rule

CHAPTER V - Early American Settlers of St. Clair County

 

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