St. Charles County Historical Society
Old Market House
101 South Main Street
St. Charles, Missouri 63301
(636) 946-9828

History of St. Charles County

General History

Three flags have flown over St. Charles

General Statistics


St. Charles County Timeline

In 1769 Louis Blanchette, a French hunter and explorer, built a hunting and trapping headquarters at "the point where the first creek flowed from the first hills on the left bank" of the Missouri River above its junction with the Mississippi. Other cabins sprang up around Blanchette's cabin, and he called the settlement the Little Hills, "Les Petites Cotes."

In 1791, Manual Perez, Spanish Lieutenant Governor of the Louisiana Territory, dedicated the village of "San Carlos Borromeo." The culture and language was predominately French, since most of the settlers were French-Canadian.

From the mid-1790s there was a wave of migrants from Kentucky and Tennessee settling in or passing through St. Charles County which included Daniel Boone. The Boone home, built by his son Nathan, in western St. Charles County still stands.

In May, 1804, immediately following the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark, beginning their famous expedition, visited this "village of about 100 houses and 450 inhabitants, chiefly French." Clark and crew, having come up the river to St. Charles on May 16, was joined here four days later by Lewis who had tarried in St. Louis to officiate at the ceremonial transfer of the territory to the United States. Before their return in September, 1806, the name had been anglicized to St. Charles and the United States had established here the third post office west of the Mississippi.

In 1818 education began in St. Charles when four nuns led by Mother Philippine Duchesne, (later St. Philippine Duchesne) arrived from France to establish the present Convent of the Sacred Heart, the first free school west of the Mississippi. They relocated shortly to Florissant, across the Missouri River. Then in 1827, under the guidance of Major George Sibley and his wife, Mary Easton Sibley, was established the beginning of Lindenwood College. The public school of the village was inaugurated in 1846.

From 1821 to 1826 both branches of the State Legislature of the newly formed State of Missouri held their sessions at what is now 212 and 214 South Main Street (First State Capitol) and the first governor of Missouri, Alexander McNair, maintained temporary residence here. His brother David McNair resided in St. Charles and established here the first ice house in Missouri.

The years from 1830 to 1849 saw the beginning of the large migration of Germans first enticed by the writings of Gottfried Duden, who compared the Missouri valley to that of the Rhine. This migration swelled to a tide as hundreds of German liberals left their homeland in despair after the failure of the Revolution in 1848. The remaining French-Canadian and frontier stock was overwhelmed and St. Charles became essentially a German town in architecture and culture, as well as characteristic in German solidarity, thrift and industry. German it remained until well into the twentieth century when homogenizing influences of natural assimilation and population shift made it a typical American city, proud of it's historic past.

Three flags have flown over St. Charles

Under the flag of Spain in 1769, Louis Blanchette, a French-Canadian hunter and trapper, built his cabin beginning the permanent first settlement in what is now St. Charles County. He had visited the area in 1765, and decided to set his headquarters there. As other cabins went up around his, he named it "Les Petites Cotes"-the little hills. He chose the present town site of the city of St. Charles. He was commissioned by the Governor of Upper Louisiana to establish a post here under the Spanish government, and until he died about 1793, he served as the first civil and military governor. (1) The census of 1787 calls the village Establecimiento de los Pequenas Cuestas--Village of Little Hills. Blanchette's settlement was officially known at New Orleans by the name of San Fernando. (2) The first survey of the village was made by Auguste Chouteau, complying with the directives of the Spanish authorities. Tayon, as commandant at St. Charles, was said to have occupied the lot upon which the first house in the village was built. The square, later numbered as 19 with a front of 240 by 300 feet in depth, was bounded on the south by McDonald, west by Main, east by Missouri and north by Water streets. From this information, it would seem that Blanchette must have erected his hut on this block. (3)

By 1788 the population of the St. Charles settlement was given as 875 (4). Only about a dozen houses were constructed between 1769 and 1791, described as "inferior teemporary huts" of the commandant and the attaches of the post.

The first settlement marks one phase in the County's history. It was an interval of about 25 years before the American settlers began to move into the area, encouraged by land grants offered by the Spanish. Among these early settlers was Daniel Morgan Boone, the son of the famous Daniel Boone, who came about 1795. His father and the rest of the family followed his lead several years later, joining the early settlers in the territory that became Missouri. In 1790 John Coontz, a German from Illinois, had a mill in operation on his lot in St. Charles (5). Before he came to St. Charles he had lived for 14 or 15 years in Illinois. He was a slave owner, as was Nicholas Coontz, probably his brother, who was living in St. Charles 5 years later. They were not the only St. Charles residents who had come from the Illinois territory. John Cook, previously in the Kaskaskia area, also had one of the early mills in the village. John Ferry was a deputy of Jame Mackey in the early survey work in the area. The population was chiefly French-Canadians and their descendents, but already a few Germans were residents. In 1795 the area was known as Upper Louisiana of New Spain.

The Village of Portage des Sioux was established in 1799 at the express direction of Spanish authorities, because they wished to counter the military post they believed the Americans intended to form near present-day Alton, Illinois. (6).By treaty, Spain ceded the "Province of Louisiana" to France on October 1, 1800 in the Treaty of San Ildefonso. For two and a half years, St. Charles - the first permanent white settlement on the Missouri River - was under the flag of France. The French settlers continued to live, as under Spanish possession, in amity with the Indians. Because the French inhabitants were generally tolerant of the Indians, and not land hungry, the Indians tended to feel comfortable in French settlements.

The Louisiana Purchase by which the United States of America acquired the territory from France transferred government of St. Charles to the Flag of the United States. Generals Wilkinson and Claiborne were jointly commissioned to take possession of the territory for the United States on December 20, 1803. On March 9, 1804 Delassus, the Spanish Commandant, officially handed possession of the territory to Captain Amos Stoddard. Under the United States, the District of Louisiana was placed under Indiana Territory.

In 1804, the reports of the Lewis and Clark expedition estimated the village of St. Charles to have "about 100 houses and 450 inhabitants, mostly French." On Oct 1, 1804 when the five administrative districts were set up for the estimated ten thousand inhabitants of the Louisiana Territory, the St. Charles District was said to be home to 1,400 white citizens and 150 slaves. (7) Congress created the Territory of Louisiana, essentially present-day Missouri, on March 3, 1805. Nathan Boone worked under the Land Law of 1800, known as Harrison's Frontier Land Act, which required federal lands (public domain) to be surveyed and divided into 640 acre sections. The government would then sell these in 320-acre blocks at two dollars per acre. (8) On July 4, 1805, the Territory of Louisiana was given separate territorial government.

By 1806, the name of the village and the district had been anglicized to St. Charles.

The state capitol was established in May, 1821, "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." The wave of German immigration into the county began about 1832 following the publication in German of the reports of outfield Duden, who had lived in this area in 1824-25, and wrote glowing reports of his experiences in Missouri. Some early German immigrants were members of societies bearing the name of their native German towns. The Berlin Society and the Giessen Society were two groups that settled in the western portions of St. Charles County. More letters to the old country brought more families across the ocean to settle (9).

General Statistics

St. Charles County, established 1 Oct. 1812, by proclamation issued by Governor William Clark, reorganizing the Districts of St. Charles, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau and New Madrid into 5 counties.Named for St. Charles Borromeo (1538-1584), archbishop and cardinal 1560, archbishop of Milan, nephew of of Pope Pius IV, canonized 1610 (10).The area of the county was calculated to be "about 540 miles" (11)Size(1812) The county had no definite limits. It extended from the Missouri River on the south to the British Possessions on the north, from the Mississippi River on the east to the Pacific Ocean on the west.

(1816) When Howard County was cut off from the western part of St. Charles, Cedar Creek which now forms the eastern boundary of Boone county, was established as the line between St. Charles and Howard.

(Dec. 1818) Montgomery and Lincoln Counties were organized and St. Charles was reduced to its present dimensions.(5 Jan 1833) Warren County is organized from Montgomery and named after Joseph Warren, noted Revolutionary War general.


Populations of St. Charles County from the tenth census report: (12)1810 - 3,505; 1820 - 3,970; 1830 - 4,320; 1840 - 7,911; 1850 - 11,545; 1860 - 16,523; 1870 - 21,304; 1880 - 23,065