Mini-Flood 17: Reenactment of the Founding of St. Louis

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photograph by Patrick Gioia

St. Louis was founded 250 years ago by Auguste Chouteau (then 14 years old), under the guise of Pierre Laclede. Some argument remains about whether this date was February 14th, 15th or 16th; a speculation in some part due to Chouteau’s difficult to read at times handwriting. Nonetheless, when the small group of settlers finally ran their canoes aground at the future city site, the eventual prosperity of St. Louis must have been alive in their imaginations.

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photograph by Sasi Suruliraj


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photograph by Amanda Miller

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photograph by Kara Schoen

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photograph by Jason Gray

A quarter of a century later, the accomplishments of the city are well apparent. At points (sometimes overlapping) in its history, St. Louis has been:
1. The busiest inland port in the United States
2. The apogee of fur trade in North America
3. The exit point for westward expansion/exploration (Lewis and Clark Expedition and Zebulon Pike Expedition both began here)
4. The “Rome of the West”
5. The fourth largest city in the United States
6. The second busiest railroad/highway shipping hub in the United States
7. An early leader in aviation (origin of Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight), and space flight innovation (McDonnell Douglas- Saturn V Rocket, etc)
8. The site of the second largest World’s Fair in history
9. The first U.S. site for a summer Olympics
10. Home for the world’s largest beer brewer
11. Home for the secondmost World Series winning team in baseball (St. Louis Cardinals- 11 wins)
12. Home of the first Kindergarten
13. John Berry Meachum’s First African Baptist Church (first black church west of Mississippi that also served to educate its members to learn to read and write)
14. Missouri Compromise of 1820 helped stave off Civil War for several decades
15. Location of the world’s first skyscraper (Louis Sullivan’s Wainwright Building)
–This list could probably number 250–

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photograph by Kara Schoen

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photograph by Sasi Suruliraj

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photograph by Patrick Gioia

Of course, as with any city this old, not all that occured in St. Louis to impact history was positive. A short list follows:
1. Dred Scott decision and subsequent Freedom Suits (Scott was declared free in St. Louis by citing a clause in the Nortwest Ordinance of 1787, but the ruling was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which set precedent for later court decisions in STL)
2. The brutal, public slaying of freed slave, Francis Macintosh, and the later mob killing of abolitionist, Elijah Lovejoy (Lovejoy’s condemnation of the Macintosh event and his resultant exile then death, martyrized both men for the National, anti-slavery movement)
3. In the United States, STL was site of the worst cholera death rate per capita, in outbreak of 1849 (lost 10% of overall population)
4. Rust Belt decline, racial tension and crime have all placed St. Louis in the national spotlight at various times (thankfully, all are improving/leveling since 2000)
5. St. Louis City secedes from St. Louis County (a move that looked good in 1876, excelerated decline in the 1960’s-1980’s, and has slowed regrowth since)
–Again this list could probably number 250–

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photograph by Amanda Miller

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photograph by Sasi Suruliraj

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photograph by Patrick Gioia

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photograph by Ann Aurbach

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photograph by Sasi Suruliraj

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photograph by Jason Gray

To celebrate this brilliant but complicated history, stl250, the French-Creole Heritage Organization, and Les Amis organized a theatrical reenactment of the founding of St. Louis at City Hall. Performed by Webster University’s The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, a series of vignettes traced the city’s early history by illustrating Auguste Chouteau and Pierre Laclede’s arrival, the establishment of the fur trade with Native Americans, the coming of Jesuit Priests and Missions, the transition of Louisiana to America, and the cultural impact of 19th Century European immigration to St. Louis. The performance was well-acted, and narrated by Joneal Joplin. Also, attention was paid toward the historical accuracy of the actors’ clothing and accessories, which brought to life many historical accounts.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Amanda Miller

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photograph by Patrick Gioia

When the performance concluded, the dignified guests took to the podium. Speeches ranged from rosy colorations of the city’s past to predictions of its future success. Graham Paul, Consul General of France in Chicago, and Eric Marquis, Délégué du Québec au Midwest, spoke about the significant connection of St. Louis to its French and French Canadian traditions. During his speech, Mr. Graham unveiled the new street signs, which will soon appear downtown in the area of the colonial settlement, and offer the original French names for popular thoroughfares. Chief Scott Bighorse, the Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, discussed the trade relationship between his ancestors and the first settlers of St. Louis, and the very important effect of this on early city growth. Missouri Governor, Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon and St. Louis Mayor, Francis Slay, each gave memorable speeches. In his, Slay proclaimed that the heritage event offered a chance to reflect for St. Louisans, and for them to consider the advances of past residents.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Ann Aurbach

Following the event at City Hall, settlement reenacters gathered near the southern leg of the Arch to demonstrate early colonial activities, like blacksmithing and log preparation for new structures. Despite a bitter cold, the actors were happy to share a full knowledge of the colonial settlement of St. Louis, and to educate visitors about their activities. In fact, the only register of dissappointment that we encountered was that the original plan of arriving by canoe had to be scrapped due to ice flows in the Mississippi River. If only they had had a fourteen year old Chouteau to egg them on…

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photograph by Jason Gray

Map:
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1 Comment
  1. […] 3. Mini-Flood 17: Reenactment of the Founding of St. Louis […]

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