Le vieux village de Ste. Genevieve
Namesake: Ste. Genevieve
“For our knowledge of St Genevieve we depend upon a Life which purports to have been written by a contemporary shortly after her death. Its authenticity, denied by some authorities, is defended by others. The layman may accept it at least provisionally. She certainly lived in Paris during the latter part of the fifth century, when the city was conquered by the Franks; and by her holiness, austerity, constant prayer, and miracles, as well as by the beneficent influence she exercised over the Frankish rulers, won the veneration of the Parisians, becoming after her death the patroness of their city.
“Born at Nanterre, a village close to Paris, she was dedicated to God at the early age of seven by St Germanus of Auxerre. At the age of fifteen she received the ‘virgin’s veil’ from the bishop of Paris. She soon became a center of controversy because of the miracles and predictions attributed to her, but the friendship and esteem shown her by St Germanus put an end to a campaign of calumny. When Paris was blockaded by Childeric, she led a convoy of boats provisioning the city. Her exhortations, supported by a miraculous supply of wine to the workmen, secured the erection of a basilica over the tomb of St Denis; and her prayers saved Paris from Attila’s hordes. She died about 500, in favor with Clovis, the first Christian king of the Franks. A magnificent basilica rose over her shrine. Her life and character remind us in many respects of St. Joan a thousand years later.” (From the Catholic Information Network, www.cin.org)
Pre-History – in a nutshell:
The first group of people to live in the Ste. Genevieve area (known) was the Mississippi Indian Tribe. It is believed that they initially settled somewhere between Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis and then spread out in all directions, over a very large area. There have been several artifacts, burial mounds, and temple mounds, found near Ste. Genevieve that prove this culture lived here. The mound that still exists today, about 2 miles south of Ste. Genevieve city, is pictured below. Unfortunately, this Mississippi Indian Tribe died out before the first settles came to Ste. Genevieve. It is said that they had extensive contact with the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, who not only brought with him many European diseases (to which Indians had no immunity), but he wasn’t exactly a very nice guy (as we’ve all learned in our history classes). (Some believe De Soto traveled to the Ste. Genevieve area, while others believe that some of the Mississippi tribe met him further South, then returned home.)
Ste. Genevieve was settled by Frenchman from Canada who had first settled in Kaskaskia, ILL, then moved across the river to what is now Ste. Genevieve. In Lucille Basler’s book (see below), she gives three reasons for why they may have moved across the river:
- To be in French Territory [remember, at this time, this area West of the Mississippi River was owned by France; it would later
belong to Spain – acq. 1763, then to France again (1800), until it was bought by the United States (1803)]
- For better access to the salt near the Saline Creek/River/Springs.
- For a shipping port for lead, etc. (It would have been brought from further West to the river, then shipped down-river to New Orleans)
Even through Ste. Genevieve had no official founding date and grew very slowly over its first years, it is the oldest settlement West of the Mississippi River. “Tradition” has it that Ste. Genevieve was founded in 1735. However, others believe that Ste. Genevieve was formally settled in 1725, or even as early as 1723.
Those that accept the 1723 date, take the facts that Philip Francois Renault, a wealthy Paris banker, was, for the Royal Company of the Indies, made director-general of mining operations, and arrived in Kaskaskia in 1723. He, believed to have developed the lead mines of Washington County by 1725, then headed a bit West to oversee the mining operations. So it makes sense to many that the men who manned the boats, instead of living for months on the boats on the river, would have made a little settlement on shore, since they were so close: Ste. Genevieve.
Either way, Ste. Genevieve was certainly in operation by 1735.
Location, location location: “By the careful superposition of early river charts and land plats, the writer has demonstrated that the first Ste. Genevieve lay in the bottom lands directly across from old Kaskaskia.”6
When Ste. Genevieve first began, the people settled on le grand champe, aka the big field along the Mississippi river, stretching about 1 mile. Each house faced the river with a long narrow field behind it, some have said that they were about 400 feet wide and 2 miles deep. Most houses were of the typical French or Canadian design, made with vertical logs, steep roofs, long open porches (galleries), French windows, at least one extra large doorway (into the house), 8 foot ceilings, and surrounded with tall stockade fences.
The people of Ste. Genevieve generally dressed in coarse linen and moccasins, the men wearing their hair long and pulled back and wearing a blanket coat with cape; both men and women wearing blue bandanas over their heads.
According to source #5 (below), the first settlers were: Jean Baptiste Valle Sr., Joseph Loiselle, Jean Baptiste Maurice, Francois Coleman, Jaques Boyer, Henri Maurice, Parfait Dufour, Joseph Bequette, Jean Baptiste Thomure, Joseph Goverau, Louis Boisduc, Jean Baptiste St. Gemme, Laurent Gaboury, Jean Beauvais, B.N. Janis, J.B.T. Pratte, “and others.”
“Firsts” of Ste. Genevieve:
- 1751 – first public sale of land recorded
- 1752 – the “principal citizen” was Baptiste LaRose
- 1759 – first church built (finished) – more on this later
- 1759 – first recorded marriage (Andre de Guire to Marie La Boissiere)
- 1760 – first recorded Catholic baptism
- 1769 – recorded census: 600 people (both white/black)
- 1780-1785 – first large flood
The first church
Provisions for the first church, L’années des Grandes Eaux,were made in 1752 by French Jesuits, but it was not finished until 1759. The church was a log structure called the “Church of St. Joachim” (named for the father of Mary the mother of Jesus). The church also had a cemetery next to it; unfortunately, it was washed away in the flood. The first baptism was held in on Feb 24, 1760, performed by Jesuit missionary P. F. Watrin. From the time the church celebrated its first mass until 1764, they were served by priests appointed by the Bishop of Quebec. Father Meurin, who pledged allegiance to Spain (when they gained control of the area, 1763), was the last Jesuit at the church, all others were chased out. However, a price was later put on Father Meurin’s head when he contacted the Bishop of Quebec for help (assistants). So the Ste. Genevieve parishioners helped him to escape to Illinois in 1768. The church was without a priest until 1769 when Father Gibault served until 1773 and his successor was Father Hilaire.
Father Hilaire made history in that he demanded that all the parishioners tithe more than they were currently doing. (They were used to giving a very small amount), and forbidding the parishioners to see priests across the Mississippi, and by not instructing the children or delivering sermons. So they complained to St. Louis (and outright demanded to his face that he leave) and Father Hilaire was replaced with a returning Father Gibault. Father Gibault then stayed until Ste. Genevieve was destroyed by the flood (he then went to New Madrid in 1793 and stayed there until his death in 1802).
This church remained in use until 1794, but in 1778, a new church was already under construction; tradition has it that the first church was actually moved – literally – to the new town site. It was probably also extensively repaired and enlarged.
First Military Actions
At an early period, being in the year 1780, known as “L’Aunee du Coup” (the year of the blow), the inhabitants of “Le Vieux Village de Ste. Genevieve” were called upon to defend St. Louis, which was threatened to be attacked by the English and different tribes of Indians. [150th…. Ste. Genevieve – below]
A man named Sylvio Francisco Cartabona then went to Ste. Genevieve and raised a militia company of 60 men, that was under the command of Captain Charles Valle. The company headed to St. Louis by keel boat.
Upon arriving in St. Louis, the company realized that the lieutenant governor of St. Louis was “in bad faith toward them and the town of St. Louis.” So the Ste. Genevieve men were stuck “between a rock and a hard place” as they say, without ammunition, and supposing to follow orders of this corrupt man. However, the men of Ste. Genevieve acquired three kegs of powder from an elderly woman in the town. By this time, Captain Charles Valle had decided that they would not follow any orders from the lieutenant governor, while still defending St. Louis. The details of this are quite sketchy, but after the attack on St. Louis failed, the Ste. Genevieve company returned home.
Flood!! I’anée des grandes eaux – the year of the great water
The Mississippi River, “The Father of Waters,” notorious for its uprisings, (as many of us will remember 1993), showed its power to the first settlers of Ste. Genevieve in the years between 1778 and 1785. In 1778, the Mississippi began to cut in more quickly and the house of Joseph Couture was the first to slide into the river. The citizens did not seem to be too alarmed; they thought it was a strange incident, but did not think it would happen again. But in 1784, a few citizens did “abandon ship” and head for higher ground, slowly certain families moved to what is now Ste. Genevieve. Then, quickly in 1785, the flood hit – covering everything in sight. Chimneys alone stuck up out of the waters, it is said that boats were tied to the chimneys. Finally, when the waters went down, the citizens (finding that only houses with stone foundations were left and also seeing that Kaskaskia was now an island) met at the house of Francois Valle II to discuss the issue. The citizens [most of them] wisely decided to move further away from the river, up hill, settling between the forks of the Gabouri. Others stayed where they were for the time being. Those that left, moved what they could and started anew with what they couldn’t. In 1787, the distinction was made clear between old Ste. Genevieve and the new village, then known as Petites Cotes (or “little slopes”), when 13 people of the new town petitioned to have their fields separated from the fields of those in old Ste. Genevieve. The full move to the new town was not completed until around 1796, the church having been moved in 1794; leaving only a few huts, inhabited by traders.
Many citizens jokingly called the village Misère, meaning misery which is also illustrated on the following map, 1765-1772 (however, that would also show that Ste. Genevieve was called Misère before the first flood).
This map is the upper-left corner of a map of the Mississippi River. One can see the Mines of la Mote, where Renault did his mining. I’m not sure exactly where this is today, although I’ve been told it may be the St. Francois Co mines. I’m guessing that this is the same map done by a Thomas Hutchins around 1771, at that time, he noted that there were “208 French and 80 Negroes” in Ste. Genevieve. In 1779, the population was 945.
Other census counts:6
According to Lucille Basler in her book Ste. Genevieve Mother of the West, the original city limits of Ste. Genevieve (present day location) stretched North and South from the North Gabouri Creek to the South Gabouri Creek and West from 5th Street to St. Mary Road in the East.
1. General Knowledge
2. A Tour of Old Ste Genevieve, by Lucille Basler, 1975; published by Wehmeyer Printing Co, Inc, Ste. Genevieve, MO
3. The Master Plan for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve, MO; Economic Development Administration Technical Service Project, U.S. Department of Commerce, Allied Engineers & Architects, 1966
4. The Story of Old Ste. Genevieve: An Account of An Old French Town in Upper Louisiana, Its People and Their Homes; by Gregory M. Franzwa, 1987 (4th ed), The Patrice Press, St. Louis, MO
5. 150th Celebration of the Founding of Ste. Genevieve; Address of Hon. Firmin A. Rozier, Historian and Orator. Delivered at the City of Ste. Genevieve. July 21, 1883. Published by G.A. Pierrot, St. Louis, MO.
6. Early Ste. Genevieve and its Architecture, Charles E. Peterson; Reprinted from The Missouri Historical Review Vol XXXV No 2, January 1941
7. Church of Ste. Genevieve; Msgr James Holland (pastor at printing), Wehmeyer Printing Co, Inc, Ste. Genevieve, MO
8. The District of Ste. Genevieve, 1725-1980; Lucille Basler
9. Ste. Genevieve: Mother of the West, 1725; Lucille Basler, 1978