Today, the Missouri State Quarter Coin remembers when St. Louis became incorporated as a town on November 9, 1809.
From St. Louis, the Fourth City, 1764-1909 by Walter Barlow Stevens, published in 1909:
St. Louis became a town under act of the territorial legislature which “authorized the people of any village in the territory on petition of two-thirds of their taxable inhabitants to be incorporated into a town on application to the proper court.”
This act became effective on the 18th of June, 1808. Residents of St. Louis lost no time in moving to incorporate. They circulated a petition in this form:
To the Honorable Court of Common Pleas for the District of St. Louis:
By virtue of a law passed by the legislators, which authorizes the inhabitants of the towns and villages of this Territory to incorporate themselves if two-thirds of them should agree to the same, the undersigned citizens of the circuit of St. Louis, forming at least the number required by the said law, and wishing to establish an incorporation, beg of you to put the said law in force, in order that they may procure themselves the good order and a durable police in the inward parts of the circuit of their town and common, according to the plan that has been made of the said common, and following as much as possible the enclosure that served to separate the lands of the inhabitants and those of the common.
The undersigned reposing themselves in your wisdom have the honor to remain, Gentlemen, your most devoted servants.
St. Louis, the 5th of July.
Then followed the signatures of eighty residents of St. Louis. Below the names was the statement that eighteen were absent from home and that three refused to sign.
At the bottom was written:
“The subscribers hereby certify that we were present when all of the above names were signed. Witness whereof we have set our hands and seals this 7th day of July, 1808.” The witnesses were P. Lee and L. A. Beavis.
The original of this petition for town incorporation of St. Louis is in the hall of the Missouri Historical Society. It was written in French and in English, the two side by side. The signatures of the French were written underneath the petition in that language.
On the 23rd of July, 1808, the first election in St. Louis for any purpose was held at the court house. The people assembled in response to a call to organize the town.
They elected five trustees to set up the new government. These trustees were Auguste Chouteau, Bernard Pratte, Edward Hempstead, Pierre Chouteau, Sr., and Alexander McNair.
Elements of the population of that period were well represented. Auguste Chouteau and Pierre Chouteau, Sr., were of the original settlers. Edward Hempstead was from Connecticut. Alexander McNair was a Pennsylvanian.
The representative character of Hempstead and McNair was subsequently shown by the election of Hempstead to be the first delegate to Congress and by the election of McNair to be the first governor.
Bernard Pratte was a native of Ste. Genevieve. He stood for the element which recognized thus early that St. Louis was to be the center of business for the new American territory. He enjoyed the distinction of being the father of the first child born in St. Louis after the United States Senate ratified the treaty of purchase of Louisiana.
The trustees proceeded to govern the town. In August, 1808, the first town ordinance was enacted. It was elaborate. The ten sections were prompted by the community needs as the trustees viewed them.
In February, 1809, the Trustees took action for protection of the town against fire. They issued a proclamation. All citizens were called upon to organize fire companies. One of the provisions of the fire ordinance required each occupant of a house to provide himself with two buckets. These buckets were to be kept in a place convenient for immediate use whenever a fire started.
All fire fighting at that early date was by bucket brigade. Another of the provisions ordered by the trustees was that each owner of a building in the town of St. Louis must have the chimney of his house swept at least once a month.
If a fire started in a chimney, the law presumed that the chimney had not been swept properly and it provided for a fine of $10.00 against the owner, unless he could show by witnesses that his chimney had been swept within four weeks preceding the fire.
The act of the legislature required that the petition for incorporation receive the approval of court.
The record book of the court of common pleas shows this approval dated November 9, 1809, notwithstanding the fact that trustees had been elected and ordinances had been passed nearly a year and a half previously.
The judges of the court were Silas Bent, Bernard Pratte and Louis Labeaume. Mr. Pratte was one of the five trustees elected in July, 1808.
The year of 1808 St. Louis had two hundred houses. Of these fifty were built of stone. The houses were scattered. Nearly every one occupied at least a quarter of a block of ground. Walls were whitened. The early inhabitants knew how to make lime; they used whitewash freely. The houses stood in the midst of orchards.
The Place D’Armes was the block between Main, Market, Walnut and the river front. There the farmers came with their cartloads of produce and wood to sell. The Market Place, rather than the Place D’Armes, it was called as the American element in the population increased.
Another center of interest in the community was the old government house, located at Main and Walnut streets.
Dr. Saugrain was waiting for the first vaccine matter to come from the East, in order that he might begin free vaccination in St. Louis. His office was on Second street.
The only bakery, LeClerc’s was on Main street, between Elm and Walnut. There were three blacksmiths. There was one schoolmaster, Trudeau, who lived and taught in the same house.
There were two merchants who had the enterprise to put signs over their store fronts. They were “Falconer & Comegys” and “Hunt & Hankinson.”
There was one butcher and he did not kill until the beef was spoken for in advance.
Prairie chickens could be shot almost anywhere west of what is now Seventh street.
The trade of the town of St. Louis in 1808 was largely dependent upon barter. Advertisements in the earlier issues of the Gazette show how generally the merchants depended upon trade rather than cash customers.
One of these advertisements reads as follows:
Cheap Goods.—The subscriber has just opened a quantity of bleached country linen, cotton cloth, cotton and wool cards, German steel, smoothing irons, ladies’ silk bonnets, artificial flowers, linen check, muslins, white thread, wool and cotton; a handsome new gig, with plated harness; cable and cordelle ropes, with a number of articles which suit this country, which he will sell on very low terms. He will take in pay, furs, hides, whiskey, country made sugar and beeswax. —John Arthur–
St. Louisans going to eastern cities undertook commissions of almost any character for their neighbors.
In the Missouri Gazette of 1809 appeared this announcement which was not an unusual one: “Joseph Coppinger proposes setting off for New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington on the 1st of February, to return in May. He takes this method of offering his agency to his friends and the public, and expects reasonable compensation for any trust undertaken.”
The year the first trustees were elected a regular ferry was established. Jefferson Barracks had not been selected as a site, much less constructed.
At Bellefontaine, on the limestone cliff near the mouth of the Missouri, there was a cantonment where General Wilkinson kept a force of troops which contributed $60,000 a year to the volume of St. Louis trade.
The first assessment for town purposes was in 1811. Auguste Chouteau led the list of tax payers, his tax being $268.10 on an assessment of $70,000.
Two years after the Gazette started the editor was able to announce that every house in town was taken and that rents were increasing. During that season the community was congratulated upon the erection of seven buildings. The editor confidently predicted that during 1811 there would be, probably, twice that number added to the town.
The census was taken in 1810. Mr. Charless, the editor, found good ground for complaint that the figures did not do justice to St. Louis. The count included only those residents on the first Monday of August, 1810.
“Since that period,” said the editor of the Gazette, “we have received a handsome increase of immigration, which might be set down at one hundred families of seven persons each. We have many of our citizens absent on hunts or down the river, etc.; for instance, there is with Mr. Henry on the west side of the Rocky Ridge 140 men.”
This census of 1810 showed for the whole territory of Louisiana, which included Arkansas and Missouri, 20,840 persons. Of this number the town and county of St. Louis had 5,667; the town of St. Louis had about 1,200.
The Missouri State Quarter Coin shows with an early real estate map of St. Louis made just after their incorporation.