Ste. Genevieve - Europeans West of the
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Ste. Genevieve in about 1850, by Oscar E.
This image available for photo prints &
The county seat of Ste. Genevieve County,
Missouri, Ste. Genevieve is one of the oldest surviving French settlements
Missouri and is the only place in the upper Mississippi Valley where
several buildings of the pre-American period have survived. The oldest
European settlement in the region, Cahokia (1699), suffered heavily from
floods; Kaskaskia (1703) was entirely washed away by a change in the
course of the
Mississippi River; and the remnants of colonial St. Louis
were destroyed either by a fire in 1849 or by urban riverfront
Though the exact date of the first French settlements in the vicinity of
Ste. Genevieve cannot be determined, it is known that lead was discovered
about 30 miles to the southwest of the townsite in 1715. During the first
portion of the eighteenth century, no urgent need existed to extend the
line of French settlement across the Mississippi River into present-day
Missouri. For several decades, the French considered the trans-Mississippi
West to be the domain of
Americans. As the century progressed,
however, farming practices resulted in the depletion of soil on the east
side of the river, and some inhabitants decided to plant crops on the
opposite side about about three miles below present-day Ste. Genevieve.
During its first few years of settlement, in the period 1735-40,
Ste. Genevieve was considered a satellite community of Kaskaskia,
located across the river. The earliest known grants of land were made in
1752, when 27 inhabitants owned about three miles of
frontage. It was named for Saint Genevieve (who lived in the fifth century
AD), the patron saint of Paris.
The earliest settlers of the community moved
there from other settlements in
Illinois including Kaskaskia, Cahokia,
Post Vincennes, Prairie du Rocher, and Nouvelle Chartres. Salt springs on
Saline Creek, as well as the lead resources, were probably an important
factor in the expansion of the settlement, from which shipments were made
upstream to St. Louis or downstream to New Orleans. The settlers also grew
foodstuffs for export. Ste. Genevieve was the last community established
during the French Regime in the Illinois Country.
The pattern of initial settlement was
influenced by the habitants' French heritage. The heart of the Ste.
Genevieve economy was a very large compound of arable fields known
as le Grand Champ or the Big Field. It consisted of approximately 7,000
acres of land enclosed within a common fence. The parcel was divided into
narrow, elongated lots often delineated by pecan trees that extended
westward from the Mississippi River. Each lot contained between 68 and 136
acres of land. Orchards and large gardens with all manner of vegetables
and fruits filled the remaining portions of the land within the fence.
Ste. Genevieve's commercial contacts were maintained largely through New
Orleans and were dominated by the mercantile policies of France and Spain.
The community exported raw materials and imported finished products. Looms
and weavers, for example, were not present in the town, because it was the
colonial community's obligation to purchase manufactured cloth from the
In about 1750, the "official" village of
Ste. Genevieve was laid out as an imperfect grid of square blocks with a
public square near the center of the village. By 1752, the population of
Ste. Genevieve is recorded to have included 22 white adults and children
and two black slaves. Following the Seven Years' War (1754-1763), Ste.
Genevieve's population increased significantly. The population increase is
attributed, in part, to the influx of French Catholics from the east bank
of the Mississippi River who feared religious and political persecution at
the hands of the British following France's loss of that territory to
England. Although the economy of the city was largely dependent upon
agriculture, industries began to develop, and the central business
district grew. The 1773 census indicated a population of 676, of which 276
were African Americans.
Floods, notably one in 1785, caused repeated
damage, and the town was moved gradually to the present site on high
ground. By 1796, only a few huts of traders remained at the old site. Ste.
Genevieve, the principal seat of government in the region for many years
after western Louisiana passed from French to Spanish control in 1762,
thrived under Spanish administration.
Ste. Genevieve 2010, Kathy Weiser-Alexander.
Janis-Ziegler House, or Green Tree Tavern, in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri was
built in the 1790's. The house combines French and American architectural
styles. Kathy Weiser-Alexander, April,
This image available for photo prints &
During the 1780s and 1790s, about forty
percent of all households in Ste. Genevieve owned at least one black or
mulatto slave. These slaves were used for a wide variety of tasks
including field work, clearing land, cutting wood, mining lead, rowing
batteaux, salt making, domestic help, and some skilled labor. Because the
economy of Ste. Genevieve revolved around agriculture, black slaves were
primarily agricultural laborers. The censuses of 1787 and 1791 indicated
that the town's town six agricultural producers owned about one-half of
its black and mulatto slaves.
Present documentary and physical evidence
indicates that oldest known architectural resources, French vertical log
houses, date from the 1790's. In that same decade, the plat of the core of
the present city was laid out between the forks of the Gabouri Creek.
Surviving buildings from this era reflect the original French heritage of
the community, the influx of Anglo-American settlers, the settlement
patterns in the African American community, and the beginning of an influx
of German immigrants.
In 1789 Nicolas Janis was granted land in Ste.
Genevieve and erected the present-day Janis-Ziegler house in about
1790-91. With the death of Nicholas, his son, François inherited the house
and in the early 1800s converted part of it into the Green Tree Tavern.
The building remained in the Janis family until 1833, when it was sold to
Mathias and Barbara Ziegler. It is the oldest standing structure in the
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