Historians Elaborate On Significance Of French Colonial St. Louis | St. Louis Public Radio

Historians Elaborate On Significance Of French Colonial St. Louis

Feb 10, 2014

A map of St. Louis in 1796, currently on display at the Sheldon.
Credit Courtesy Missouri History Museum

On Friday The Missouri History Museum is hosting “A Great City from the Start,” a one-day symposium commemorating the founding of St. Louis. The foremost experts on early St. Louis history will be speaking before an audience that will include representatives from Quebec, France, Spain and the Osage Nation.

In advance of the conference, historians Jay Gitlin, Fred Fausz and Peter Kastor spoke with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh about the early days of French colonial St. Louis.

Gitlin is a lecturer of history at Yale and the author of “The Bourgeois Frontier.” Fausz is a University of Missouri –St. Louis history professor and the author of “Founding St. Louis.” Kastor is a Washington University history professor and the author of “The Nation’s Crucible.”

The three spoke of the multicultural confluence of early St. Louis, founded primarily by commercial interests and motivated on the part of the French by a desire to remain free of Anglo-Protestant influence.

“St. Louis is one of these places that really embodies what is this distinctly American experience of pluralism in encounter,” Kastor said. “It’s founded by the French, it’s governed by the Spanish, and Indians permit it to grow. "

“St. Louis is absolutely distinctive because it was an Indian capital - the center of Midwestern Indian diplomacy [with] at least 32 tribes [visiting] every year,” Fausz said. “And that was the most significant difference from Anglo-American colonization in the trans-Appalachian region really from the East coast to the Mississippi. And so, the biggest losers after the Louisiana Purchase were Native American[s].”

“One of the early nicknames for St. Louis was Paincourt, or short of bread,” Gitlin said. “And it was a nickname given to St. Louis because the people in St. Louis, unlike those from surrounding towns in the Illinois country, were not primarily farmers. They were fur traders, they were businessmen."

For more on the history of the founding of St. Louis, as well as the history of French colonial St. Louis, see the two-part series on the topic by Patricia Rice.

Related Event

A Great City from the Start: The Founding and Lasting Significance of St. Louis
Friday, February 14, 2014
Missouri History Museum, Lee Auditorium
(314) 454-3165

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.