Becoming an American Village

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masthead saying 'We Proceeded On'
Reprinted from We Proceeded On1

AnBritish French Spanish French American Village

Pierre Laclède

1764 by Edgar S. Cameron

Early 19th-century gentleman wearing a blue coat

Oil on canvas, ca. 1810.

Louisiana Purchase Transfer Document, Page 2

March 9, 1804

Hand-written manuscript with several signatures

Louisiana Purchase Transfer Collection, 1783-1953, Missouri Historical Society.

This document formerly transferred ownership of Upper Louisiana from Spain to France, and then from France to the United States. Amos Stoddard's signature is first, to the left of the red seal. Lewis's signature is just below and to the left of Stoddard's.

Amos Stoddard's Company Book

hand-written list of 9 men

Courtesy Missouri Historical Society

The artificer’s page from Amos Stoddard’s company book shows the entry (see insets) transferring Alexander Willard to the Corps of Discovery.2

St. Louis, unlike towns which evolved gradually from a crossroads or farming community, began life as a planned village, its purpose to serve as a mercantile center for the fur trade (a position, I might add, which it held for two centuries). To review briefly: Pierre Laclède Liguest a partner in the New Orleans form of Maxent, Laclède and Company, ascended the Mississippi River in 1763 with his young lieutenant, Auguste Chouteau, to sound out an appropriate location for a fur trading post. Laclède and Chouteau scouted the land on the right bank of the Mississippi until Laclède was satisfied that the sheltered landing point just below the entrance of the Missouri River into the Mississippi, and near the mouth of the Illinois River, was suitable for what, in his own words, "might hereafter become one of the finest cities in America." In February 1764 the fourteen-year-old Chouteau and a party of workmen laid out the foundation, after Laclède's specific plans, for that future fine city.

Meanwhile, back at the capital, things had changed drastically. In 1763, France ceded to Great Britain all her lands east of the Mississippi and secretly relinquished control of Louisiana, as the territory west of the Mississippi was called, to Spain. Many French residents of such east side villages as Fort de Chartres, Kaskaskia, St. Philippe, and Cahokia, chose to move west rather than endure British rule, and crossed to Laclède's new village bearing their household goods and even such parts of their houses as doors and windows. Those already settled on the west bank, though hardly pleased with the change in government, felt that Spanish rule was not significantly different from French, and stayed on. Actually, their lives were but superficially changed; while the administration of the territory was conducted by Spanish officials after 1770, the population maintained its French ways and continued to conduct most of its affairs in the French language. Then in 1800 Spain—secretly again—retroceded Louisiana to France, and in 1803 Napoleon, hard pressed for funds and engaged in war with England, sold the territory to the United States in what has been aptly described as "the biggest real estate deal in history."

Captain Stoddard Moves In

And this brings us to the year of our story, 1804. It was the year of the Lewis and Clark expedition, but we must remember that this phenomenal pair and their historic mission were not the only show in town. In March of that year the little village shed it ambiguous Spanish-French parentage and took on full American citizenship.

United States Army Captain Amos Stoddard, acting for France and the United States, officially received Louisiana from the Spanish for the French on March 9, and on the following day lowered the French flag and hoisted the flag of the United States over Government House. The original Document of Transfer is in the archives of the Missouri Historical Society.

Stoddard, appointed by President Jefferson to take over the territory and to act as its civil and military commandant, addressed the populace on March 3 with the assurance:

You are divested of the character of Subjects and clothed with that of citizens. You now form an integral part of a great community, the powers of whose government are circumscribed and defined by charter, and the liberty of the citizen extended and secured."

Privately, and less formally, Stoddard gives his impressions of the new territorial capital in a letter to his mother in which he writes:

I have the honor to act as Governor of the Province . . . The number of souls in my jurisdiction is about twelve thousand. The country is beautiful beyond description. The lands contain marrow and fatness. St. Louis contains about 200 houses, mostly very large and built of stone, it is elevated and healthy, and the people are rich and hospitable; they live in a style equal to those in the large seaport towns, and I find no want of education among them." Lt. Governor Carlos Delassus entertained him with a dinner, and honor, and so, he wrote, "Accordingly I also gave a public dinner and ball, at my own house, and the expense amounted to 622 dollars and 75 cents. I am in hopes, however, that the Government will remunerate me for this expense.

Clark Helps Out

Also in the Missouri Historical Society's files is a follow-up to this letter, written in 1813 by William Clark to his nephew, John O'Fallon. "Majr Amos Stoddard I am informed is dead. He owes me $200. cash which I lent him at Saint Louis in the year 1804 to pay for a public dinner given at that place which dinner he was allowed for in his publick accounts by the Government. I wish you to inquire . . . and if possible to procure it for me."

Stoddard's Official Report

Officially, Stoddard reported on March 26 to U.S. Commissioners William Claiborne and James Wilkinson:

It is an endless task to find out the laws and steady maxims of the late Spanish government . . . the laws, rules of justice, and the forms of proceeding, were almost wholly arbitrary, for each successive Lt. Gov. has totally changed or abrogated those established by his predecessors. The criminal code is very defective.

All capital offenders must be sent to New Orleans for trial—but what is, and what is not, capital, depends more on the aggravation, than on the description, of the offense.

He states that the citizens had expressed no dissatisfaction at the governmental change, and the Spanish officials had aided him in every was possible. "The ceremonies of investiture," he admits, "drew tears from the eyes of all-but these were not tears of regret; they had"—and here, unfortunately, the letter ends. I would be fatuous to think that the American regime had been enthusiastically embraced by all. In fact, there still remain those in St. Louis who express the opinion that any claims this city might have had as a place for gracious and elegant living went out with the arrival of the "Bostonnais," or Americans.

Lewis Helps Out

In another letter of Stoddard's, also of March 26, this one to Claiborne, we see the predicament of a young officer far from headquarters, trying to establish a new government with no funds at hand. He writes:

I have been obliged to rent a convenient house for the security of the public records and papers, and for the transaction of my business. A Secretary. acquainted with three languages, was also indispensable . . . . I experienced infinite trouble from the Indians. They crowd here by the hundreds to see their new father, and to hear his words. The friendship under the former Government was purchased by presents; they expect the continuance of them; and it is apprehended that, if the customary presents be denied or suspended, they will commit depredations or murders on the Inhabitants. As yet I have only furnished them with provisions; and also I am not authorized to present them with anything else, Capt Lewis has furnished them with whiskey and Tobacco. They really expect some articles of clothing, but we have hitherto avoided a compliance with these requests . . . . It is impossible to state the various items of expense . . . . I would therefore thank you to inform me whether I am at liberty to make any drafts on you for such as are indispensable."

We can only sympathize with Stoddard, who was already in hock for $200 to Clark, and had borrowed from Lewis some of the grade goods which might have come in very handy in some of those tough days on the road. In reply to his pleas, he received the reassuring instructions to "send a suitable person to Kaskaskia or Vincennes to dispose of bills . . . not exceeding $3,000, distinguishing between what is to be expended for barracks and for the garrison . . . and expenses incurred in the civil department for expresses, Interpreters, and other incidental expenses, which should be drawn for by the Commanding officer, Lt. Mulford, who will have joined you before this reaches you." Things really haven't changed much.

  • 1. Frances H. Stadler, "St. Louis in 1804," We Proceeded On, Volume 20, No. 1 (February 1994), the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. From a speech presented at the Foundation's 25th Annual Meeting near St. Louis, Missouri. Editorial additions include page titles, headings, and graphics to assist the web-based reader. The original printed format is provided at
  • 2. Bob Moore, "Company Books and what they tell us about the Corps of Discovery," We Proceeded On, Vol. 27 No. 3 (August 2001), 21.