St. Louis on the Air
5:09 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

Historians Elaborate On Significance Of French Colonial St. Louis

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

A discussion about the founding and colonial history of St. Louis with three prominent historians.

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. "

Peter Kastor describes the multicultural environment of early St. Louis, notable for a relatively peaceful co-existence based on self-interest.

“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].”

Fred Fausz speaks about the importance of Native Americans in the St. Louis fur trade, and how the Louisiana Purchase led to a change in the way Native tribes in the Midwest were treated.

“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."

Jay Gitlin talks about the commercial origins of St. Louis.

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.


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