History of St. Charles County, Missouri (Chapter 3)

History of St. Charles County, Missouri

Chapter 3
Early Records

First Court -- Court of Common Pleas for the "District of St. Charles" -- District Officers -- First Grand Jury -- First Tax Collections -- Organization of the County -- Its Early Territorial Limits -- First County Court and other Offices -- Pioneer Attorneys -- Early Public Buildings

pages 125 - 129

We plead guilty to possessing much of the antiquarian spirit, -- "old wise, old books, old friends," are the best, you know. We love to sit at the feet of the venerable old pioneers of the country, and listen to the story of their early exploits, when the fire of youth beamed in their eyes, and the daring spirit of adventure quickened their pulses. How they fought with savage Indians and prowling beasts to wrest this goodly land from the primeval wilderness as a rich heritage for the children to come after them; how they hewed down the forest, turned "the stubborn glebe," watched and toiled, lost and truimphed, struggled against poverty and privation to bring the country into subjection to civilization and enlightened progress, -- all this has an absorbing interest to us. Much as modern literature delights us, we had rather talk an hour with one of these venerable gray-beards, who are found here and there, as the scattered representatives of a purer and more heroic age, than to revel in the most bewitching poem that ever flashed from the pen of a Byron or a Poe, or dream the time away in threading the mazes of the plot and imagery of the finest romance ever written. Moved by this kind of a spirit, we have been delving among the musty records of the courts, where we found many an interesting relic of the past history of the county, some of which we here reproduce.


William Henry Harrison, who was in 1803 Governor of Indiana Territory, and under whose jurisdiction was Upper Louisiana, appointed Francis Saucier, Arend Rutgers, Daniel Morgan Boone, Francis Duquette and Robert Spencer, or any three of them, to hold a Court of Common Please in and for the District of St. Charles. The first term of the court was held on the first Tuesday in January, 1805, in the house of Dr. Antoine Reynal, on the site of the present court-house. Francis Saucier was chief justice; Daniel Morgan Boone, Francis Duquette and Robert Spencer, associate justices. Rufus Easton was Attorney-General, and Mackay Wherry, Edward Hempstead and Antoine Reynal performed the duties respectively of sheriff, clerk and coroner.

The names of the first grand jurors were as follows: Arend Rutgers, David Darst, John Weldon, Jonathan Bryan, John McMike, Henry Orowe, Elisha Goodrich, James Flaugherty, Jr., Peter Journey, Antoine Janis, Saint Paul Lacroix, Joseph Pichi, Pierre Troge and James Green.

The first assessment was made in 1805, by Mackay Wherry, sheriff of the district of St. Charles. His returns show that the population of the district was 765. There were 275 heads of families, and 95 taxable single men, and 55 slaves. The amount of taxes was $501.80.


The county was organized October 1, 1812, by proclamation issued by Gov. William Clark, in accordance with an act of Congress, which reorganized the districts of St. Charles, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau and New Madrid into the same number of counties.

The county, or district of St. Charles, as it was originally called, had no definite limits. It extended from the Missouri river on south, to the British Possessions on the north; and from the Mississippi river on the east to the Pacific Ocean on the west. It retained these dimensions until 1816, when Howard county was cut off from the western part of St. Charles, and organized into a separate municipality. Cedar creek, which now forms the eastern boundary of Boone county, was established as the line between St. Charles and Howard. In December, 1818, Montgomery and Lincoln counties were organized, and St. Charles was reduced to its present dimensions.



At a county court began and held at the court-house in the town of Saint Charles within and for the said county of St. Charles, on the fourth Monday in February, it being the twenty-sixth day of said month, and in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-one. And in the forty-fifth year of the Independence of the United States. Commissions from the Governor, appointing Biel Farnsworth, Robert Spencer and John B. Callaway, Esqs., justices of the county court, within and for the said county of St. Charles, with certificates of qualifications thereon indorsed and read in open court. And the justices took their seats. A commission from the Governor appointing William Christy, Jr., clerk of the county court within and for the county of St. Charles, with a certificate of qualification indorsed thereon, read in open court. The court having knowledge of the qualifications of Joseph Evans, James McCall, Everard Hall and Howard F. Thompson, Esqs., to practice as attorneys and counselors at law in the several courts of record in this State. The said gentlemen are admitted to practice in the courts accordingly.

Mores B. Banks was appointed constable of Cuivre township; Silas Massey, for Dardenne; Osburn Knott, for St. Charles; Daniel Hays, for Femme Osage, and Nathaniel N. Overall, for Portage Des Sioux. John B. Callaway and William Hays, two justices of the peace, were appointed commissioners to lay off a road in Femme Osage township and leading to Marthasville.

An attachment was issued against August Chouteau, administrator of the estate of St. Paul Lacroix, deceased, for his contempt in not making final settlement.

Thomas French was recommended to the Governor of the State as a suitable person for justice of the peace.

The above constitute the proceedings of the first day of the session.

The remainder of the term was devoted to the appointment of administrators, settlements of administrators, executors, guardians, etc. At the May term, 1821, the court made the following order: --

The court orders, that the sheriff of this county transport the justices' seat and furniture belonging to the county court, to the two rooms now occupied by the Masonic society in Peck's row, for the purpose of holding the several courts therein, for the term of one year, having been given gratis by the following gentlemen: Benjamin Emmons, Uriah I. Devore, Osburn Knott, Charles Peck, H. M. Mills, M. Millington, Shaw & Machett, Nathaniel Simonds, P. Wetmore, Chancy Shepherd and S. W. Foreman. P. H. Robbins was appointed surveyor of the county, Hiram H. Baler, collector, and Warren Cottle, assessor.

Benjamin Emmons was granted a license to keep a tavern in St. Charles for the term of one year, on his paying a tax of $20. Keepers of billiard tables paid a license of $50; retailers of wines and spirituous liquors, $20; auctioneers, $100. Daniel McNair was granted a license to keep a ferry across the Missouri river, and George Smelcers a license to keep a ferry across the Mississippi. Nathan Boone, administrator of the estate of Enoch Cormack, made settlement.


Notwithstanding the fact that a large number, probably a majority, of people in every county have very little practical experience in courts, and although they have the legal capacity to sue and be sued, never improve their opportunities, and never appear in court, unless it be on compulsion as witnesses and jurors; yet, as the one great conservator of peace, and as the final arbiter in case of individual or neighborhood disputes, the court is distinguished above and apart from all and every other institution in the land, and not only the proceedings of the court, but the place of holding court, is a matter of interest to the average reader.

Not only so, but in many counties the court-house was the first, and usually the only public building in the county. The first court-houses were not very elaborate buildings, to be sure, but they were enshrined in memories that the present can never know.

Their uses were general rather than special, and so constantly were they in use, day and night, when the court was in session, and when it was not in session, for judicial, educational, religious and social purposes, that the doors of the old court-houses, like the gates of gospel grace, stood open night and day; and the small amount invested in these old hewn logs and rough benches returned a much better rate of interest on the investment than do those stately pile of bricks or granite which have taken their places. The memorable court-house of early times was a house adapted to a variety of purposes, and had a career of great usefulness. School was taught, the Gospel was preached, and justice dispensed within its substantial walls. Then it served frequently as a resting place for weary travelers. And, indeed, its doors always swung on easy hinges. If the old settlers are to be believed, all the old court-houses, when first erected in this Western country, often rang on the pioneer Sabbath with a more stirring eloquence than that which enlivens the pulpit of the present time. Many of the earliest ministers officiated in their walls, and if they could but speak, they would doubtless tell many a strange tale of pioneer religion that is now lost forever.

TO those old court-houses, ministers came of different faiths, but all eager to expound the simple truths of the sublime and beautiful religion, and point out for comparisons the thorny part of duty, and the primrose way of dalliance. Often have those old walls given back the echos of those who have sung the songs of Zion, and many a weary wanderer has had his heart moved by repentance thereby, more strongly than ever, by the strains of homely eloquence. With Monday morning, the old buildings changed in character, and men went thither, seeking not the justice of God, but the mercy of man. The scales were held with an even hand. Those who presided knew every man in the county, and they dealt out substantial justice, and the broad principles of natural equity prevailed. Children went there to school, and sat at the feet of teachers who knew little more than themselves; but, however humble the teacher's acquirements, he was hailed as a wise man and a benefactor, and his lessons were heeded with attention.

The old people of the settlement went there to discuss their own affairs, and learn from visiting attorneys the news from the great, busy world, so far away to the southward and eastward. In addition to the orderly assemblies which formerly gathered there, other meetings no less notable occurred.

It was a sort of forum, whither all classes of people went, for the purpose of loafing and gossiping and telling and hearing some new thing. As a general thing, the first court-house, after having served the purpose of its erection, and served that purpose well, is torn down and conveyed to the rear of some remote lot, and thereafter is made to serve the purpose of an obscure cow-stable on some dark alley.

There is little of the romantic or poetic in the make-up of Western society, and the old court-house, after the building of the new one, ceases to be regarded with reverence and awe. In a new country, where every energy of the people is necessarily employed in the practical work of earning a living, and the always urgent and ever present question of bread and butter is up for solution, people can not be expected to devote much time to the poetic and ideal. It therefore follows that nothing was retained as a useless relic that could be turned to some utility; but it is a shame that the people of modern times have such little reverence for the relics of former days. After these houses ceased to be available for business purposes they should have been preserved to have at least witnessed the semi-centennial of the county's history. It is sad, in their hurry to grow rich, so few even have a care for the work of their own hands. How many of the first settlers have preserved their first habitations? The sight of that humble cabin would be a source of much consolation in old age, as it reminded the owner of the trials and triumphs of other times, and its presence would go far toward reconciling the coming generations with their lot, when comparing its lowly appearance with the modern residence whose extensive apartments are beginning to be to unpretentious for the enterprising and irrepressible "Young Americans."

Transcribed June 2003 by Deborah Heimann -- Co-ordinator for the St. Charles County, Missouri USGenWeb pages.