Early St. Louis

Showing posts with label Hempstead. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hempstead. Show all posts


The Missouri Fur Company

Among the first at New Orleans issued commission from the director-general of Louisiana to conduct the business of trading furs, was Laclede, Maxan, and Company in 1762. In a winter tour of the Mississippi during 1763 and early 1764, Auguste and Pierre Chouteau established a fur-trading post at the point which would become known as St. Louis.

The centre of business for the traders, St. Louis was inhabited by those who would make their fortune and mark in history. To enlighten one of the amount of money to be made, the annual receipts at St. Louis for the last decade of the eighteenth century exceeded $200,000 - consisting in approximately 40,000 pounds of beaver; 8000 otter; 5000 bear; 150,000 deer; and a few hundred buffalo robes. Despite these numbers, fur trading would not sustain itself, but would indeed give way ... but until that time, these men do their best to monopolize the St. Louis trade.

Manuel Lisa, an ambitious Creole merchant who had come to St. Louis from New Orleans in 1790, organized an expedition in the spring of 1807. The outfit, consisting of fifty or sixty men, ascended the Missouri River and built Fort Raymond, at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Big Horn Rivers. Working the small tributaries of the Yellowstone, Big Horn, Powder and Tongue rivers, they were very successful in acquiring a good amount of furs and returned to St. Louis with intentions of returning with a larger party.

Having convinced most of the wealthy St. Louis merchants of the profits to be had there, Lisa formed the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company in the winter of 1808-1809. His first co-partners included Pierre Choteau Sr., and Auguste Choteau, Jr., and Pierre Menard, Benjamin Wilkinson, Reuben Lewis, William Clark, Sylvestre Labbadie of St. Louis; William Morrison of the town of Kaskaskia in the Territory of Indiana; Andrew Henry of Louisiana; and also Dennis Fitzhugh of Louisville Kentucky were included in the Articles of Association. This document clearly stated the partnership was "for the purposes of trading and hunting up the river Missouri and to the head waters thereof or at such other place or places as a majority of the subscribing co-partners may elect, viz:."

One of their first expeditions was a contract with Governor Meriwether Lewis for $7,000 to return a Mandan Indian, Big White, to his people. He had been persuaded by Lewis and Clark during their expedition to leave his village and go east to visit with President Jefferson; and it was the St. Louis Missouri Fur company who had been given the private expedition to return him in the spring of 1809. This expedition was stated in Article 10: "The members of this association having contracted with his Excellency governor Lewis to convey the chief of the Mandan Indians now at St. Louis to his nation: It is hereby agreed that Pierre Chouteau senior shall have the command and complete control of this present expedition: to have the full direction of the march; to have the command of such officers as may be appointed under him; to point out their duties and give each officer his command agreeably to rank--so far as the company is bound by the aforesaid contract with the Executive to observe Military Discipline."

Their second expedition consisted of thirteen rivercraft and included Meriwether's brother Reuben and Andrew Henry who built what was often known as Fort Mandan which was a few miles upstream from the Mandan and Hidatsa villages on the Knife River. Thereafter the company began to establish forts along the Missouri and Nebraska and was trading successfully with the Sioux, Ricaras, Mandans, and Blackfoot. William Clark had been appointed agent of the company and was to reside at the Town of Saint Louis. He was to "receive all Peltries, furs, monies or other property sent or delivered to him by the Company or any member thereof; and the same to keep & preserve in the best manner he can for the interest of the company, untill the same shall be divided, and for the preservation and keeping of said Peltries, furs or other property of the company the said agent shall be paid and allowed all necessary expenditures made by him."

The Missouri Fur Company had also penetrated into the Rocky Mountains and in 1808 Henry had built a fort on the branch of the Lewis River, but due to hostile natives and the difficulty of bringing provisions to the fort, he abandoned it in 1810. The War of 1812 also created difficulties and they were forced out of the dangerous Dakota border country, and eventually the partnership with the original members was dissolved in 1812. They re-organized in 1819, the company at this time including Lisa, Thomas Hempstead, Andrew Woods, Joseph Perkins, Joshua Pilcher, Moses B. Carson, and John B. Zenoni.

While Lisa and his wife returned to Fort Lisa at Council Bluffs, Joshua moved from camp to camp trading with the Indians. Crossing during the bitter winter through Nebraska to visit the Omaha Indians, Joshua traded with the Indians and returned to Fort Lisa near the Christmas season, only to find Lisa in poor health. After the river thawed, Lisa left for St. Louis in April while Joshua remained at Council Bluffs where he became friends with John Dougherty, who was an Indian interpreter.

In failing health, Lisa left St. Louis hoping to find healing health at the mineral springs, but died on the 12th of August, 1820. His will empowered his executors to mortgage his St. Louis property to secure a debt for goods purchased from Messrs Stone Bostwick & Co for the Missouri Fur Company indicating that Lisa had hope that the company would prevail despite many of the set backs they had sustained.

The partners immediately drew up another agreement among themselves which was to begin on the 20th of September. While Joshua went out Council Bluffs to oversee things there, Thomas Hempstead remained in St. Louis to serve as business manager. The fur trade's market remained unstable, two of the company's post had been robbed by an Arikara war party, and their debts continued to pile up. Still Hempstead and Pilcher continued on, and in the summer of 1822 the company (under Joshua's orders) penetrated Crow country and built Fort Benton on the Yellowstone where they commenced trading with the Crows.

Competition with the French Fur Company (Berhtold, Chouteau, Pratte) which dominated the Indian trade in Missouri increased. Former partner Andrew Henry and his partner William Henry Ashley were also putting pressure on the Missouri Fur Company, competing with Hempstead for supplies, boats, and men. Not to mention that instead of obtaining the pelts from the Indians, Henry and Ashley were hiring men as free trappers who would set their own beaver traps. Still, despite the growing competition, The Missouri Fur Company (now including William H. Vanderburgh, Moses Carson, Lucien Fontenelle, Andrew Drips) had sent out nearly three hundred traders that year and accumulated approximately $42,000 in furs.

On May 31, 1823, a large Blackfoot war party ambushed Pilcher's men. Seven men were killed (including Robert Jones and Michael Immell), four were wounded, and their traps, pack horses and pelts were stolen - a financial loss estimated to be a staggering sum between $15,000 and $16,000. Joshua blamed the British for the attack and was forced to pull his men back from the Northwest. The loss would not be recouped. Their credit and reputation ruined, they never returned to the headwaters of the Missouri and by spring of 1824 the Missouri Fur Company was bankrupt.




I can’t remember exactly how I recently came across the name Christian Wilt, but I suppose his name turned up in one of my Google searches regarding the Missouri fur trade.  As I’m always curious about anyone or anything relative to Joshua Pilcher or the Missouri Fur Company, I became interested in the journal of John C. Luttig which had been edited by Stella M. Drum and published in 1920 as Journal of a Fur-trading Expedition 1812-1813.

1st entry by Luttig (Image included in the 1920 publication of the journal) 
I learned Luttig had been an agent for Christian Wilt, but had been lured away by William Clark during this expedition and had been employed as the clerk of the Missouri Fur Company of which Clark was a partner.  Luttig’s first entry was dated the 8th of May, 1812, and began with his departure from St. Louis to Fort Bellefontaine, a Spanish military fort which had been located on the south bank of the Missouri river, fifteen miles from St. Louis.  His last entry on the 5th of  March, 1813, ends with a snowstorm and the Mandans in pursuit.  The journal, which he dutifully kept as the company’s clerk, documented the weather, hunting, trading and brief accounts of stolen horses or Indian attacks.  Among more specific entries of which the journal is now notable, was Luttig’s entry of Charbonneau’s “Snake Squaw” on the 12th of December, 1812.  Historians have found the entry instrumental in pin-pointing the death of Sakakawea or “Bird Woman” whom most Americans know as Sacajawea of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Of more personal interest, was a letter Ms. Drumm had included in the Appendix of the published journal.  Written by Christian Wilt to John Luttig from St. Louis on the first of June, 1815, a portion of the letter reads: “James Kennerly does not think much of that country – you should rent all your lands out, tis bad policy to let them lie idle.  The governor tells me you cannot get a lease without the land is surveyed for a lead mine.”

The mention of James Kennerly engaged my curiosity and I was pleased, though not surprised, Ms. Drumm had included it.  I knew from letters in my possession she had become acquainted with the Augustin Kennerly journal almost ten years prior to the publication of Luttig’s journal.  As I blogged earlier in The Journey of the Augustin Kennerly Journal, the Common Thread between Clark and Pilcher, the Kennerly journal had been in the safe-keeping of my 2nd great-grandfather.  His daughter, Mrs. S.E. Jones (Mabel), had brought it to the attention of the Missouri Historical Society and eventually donated it where it is now archived in the Thomas Anderson Moore Collection.

Although my inquisitive mind immediately wondered where Kennerly’s land migh have been located, I was more intent on learning more about Christian Wilt and whether or not he had in common those mutual social and business relations with Joshua Pilcher who had arrived in St. Louis from Nashville in 1814.

Wilt, I learned, had been born in Philadelphia in about 1789 and was the son of Abraham and Rachel (Hertzog).  He arrived in St. Louis in June of 1811 and immediately engaged in the mercantile business.   He had persuaded Luttig, who had been a prosperous shipping merchant in Baltimore prior to his arrival in St. Louis, to leave the employ of the Missouri Fur Company to come work for him as an agent trading along the White River.  During this time, Luttig established a trading post near the mouth of Poke Bayou, and using it as his base he ran his keelboat up and down the river successfully trading with the Indians, hunters and settlers until his death in 1815.

St. Louis was then the capital of the Missouri Territory and had less than three thousand inhabitants.  As well as his general store and the manufacturing of soap and candles in St. Louis, Wilt had branches in Ste. Genevieve, Herculaneum, and New Hartford.  He was involved in the manufacturing of red and white lead, owned a mill, and along with John Honey had built the third shot tower in Herculaneum, a town which had been founded in 1808 by Pilcher’s masonic brother, Moses Austin.

It is likely, given Pilcher’s association with Riddick and Austin who were both invested in the lead mines and shot towers, that Joshua had also ventured some of his capital in these operations.  But what is known for certain is that both Wilt and Pilcher had been involved in the complicated affairs of the Bank of St. Louis.  Wilt had been a director when it had first been chartered by the Territorial Legislature in 1813 and in 1816, when it finally opened its door, the bank had been located in the Riddick-Pilcher warehouse.  In 1818, when the bank found itself in financial trouble, Pilcher had been a director; and when the bank failed in 1819, Pilcher joined the Missouri Fur Company.  Organized by Manuel Lisa in about 1808, one of the company’s shareholders was Thomas Hempstead whose widowed sister Mary had married Lisa in 1818.  To integrate the alliances further, Thomas and Mary’s brother Charles Hempstead then married Christian Wilt’s sister Rachel in 1819.  

While matrimony might have drawn a close relationship between the Hempstead family and Christian Wilt, it is more likely the relationship between Joshua Pilcher and Thomas Hempstead was in relation to the Missouri Fur Company.  When Manuel Lisa died in the summer of 1820, Pilcher oversaw the river trade and Hempstead remained in St. Louis and kept charge of the books and purchasing.

Scharf's History of St. Louis City and County: from its Earliest Periods to the Present Day, also lists the name of Christian Wilt in connection with James Kennerly, George H. Kennerly, Charles S. Hempstead,  Thomas Hempstead, Thomas F. Riddick, and other prominent men of St. Louis who had  subscribed to an agreement for the purpose of building a theatre.  So here, again, are mutual acquaintances of Wilt and Pilcher.
Hempstead Lot at Bellefontaine (Photo by Connie Nisinger 2006)
These two men also have in common their final resting place at the beautiful and historical Bellefontaine cemetery in St. Louis.  Wilt lies in Lot No. 269 near his father-in-law Major George Wilson who had died in 1824 and was one of the first to be interred in the Hempstead Lot.  Wilt’s wife, Ann K., daughter of Major Wilson, died on 12 Dec 1816 and speculating from the date of her marriage to Christian on 10 Jan 1815 and the birth of their son George in 1816, she most probably died from complications of childbirth.  Her death was followed by Christian who died in St. Louis on 27 Sep 1819, and their seven year-old son, George, who died in 1823.  Each of these, as well as Christian's brother Andrew Wilt, are buried in this lot which was on the Hempstead farm long before the cemetery was established.

Though not considered one of the most notable or familiar names of early St. Louis, Christian Wilt - thanks to Stella M. Drumm's tedious research - will always be linked to John C. Luttig whose fur trading expedition with the Missouri Fur Company documented the death of American heroine, Sacajawea.  In my mind, however, I link him more closely with Ms. Drumm for I can’t help but wonder if she had not received the Kennerly journal from my 2nd great aunt Mabel in 1915, if she would have become as interested or such an authority on the fur trade.  If not, perhaps it is possible that Luttig’s entry regarding Charbonneau’s wife might still be unknown to all but the most devoted researchers of the fur trade.  Such is the condition and circumstance of Augustin Kennerly's journal, which to my knowledge, still remains unpublished in the archives of the Missouri Historical Society.

Sincere  thanks to my friend, Connie Nisinger, who photographed and contributed the above photo of the Hempsted Lot No. 269 at Bellefontaine Cemetery.

As always, comments and emails are welcome.


  1.  History of Saint Louis City and County, From the Earliest Periods to the Present Day ... Vol. 2, by Thomas J. Scharf, Louis H. Everts & Co., Philadelphia, 1883.
  2. Journal of a Fur-Trading Expedition on the Upper Missouri 1812-1813 by John Luttig, edited by Stella M. Drumm, St. Louis, MO Historical Society, 1920. 
  3. Joshua Pilcher, Fur Trader and Indian Agent by John E. Sunder, University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
  4. Missouri: The WPA Guide to the "Show Me" State by Walter A. Schroeder, Howard W. Marshall, Missouri History Museum, Jun 15, 1998. 
  5. Steamboats and Ferries on the White River: A Heritage Revisited by Duane Huddleston, Sammie Rose, Pat Wood, University of Arkansas Press, 1995. 
  6. The Collins Family by William H. Collins, Press of Volk, Jones & McMein, 1897. 
  7. The Genesis of Missouri: from Wilderness Outpost to Statehood by William E. Foley, University of MO Press, 1989.

For those who have researched early St. Louis and the fur trade, the name of Stella M. Drumm will be familiar.  I personally had no knowledge of her publications until more recent years.  She had corresponded with my 2nd great aunt, Mabel (Moore) Jones regarding the Augustin Kennerly Diary which had been in the possession of her father, Thomas Anderson Moore, at the time of his death in 1915.  Ms. Drumm was the librarian at the Missouri Historical Society from about 1915-1933.

Another note of interest included by Stella Drumm in her introductory notes of Luttig's journal, explains why the journal ended so abruptly.  "The reason for all this seems apparent from the Missouri Gazette of June 5th, 1813, which contains an artilce in substance as follows: 'Mr. Lisa of the Missouri Fur Company arrived in St. Louis a few days ago from the Mandan villages on the Missouri; the Aricaras, Chyans, Grosventre, Crows and Aropahays are or may be considered at war with the Americans.'"  She goes on to note that although the newspaper did not note the number of men killed, in one of Christian Wilt's letters, he writes that fifteen of Manuel Lisa's men on the expedition had been killed by the Sioux.

As to Joshua Pilcher, the youngest brother of my 3rd great grandfather, he was a fur trader and Indian Agent who had been born in Culpeper Co., VA in 1790.  He removed with his family in 1793 to Lexington, and after his father died in 1810, Joshua moved to Nashville.  Four years later he arrived in St. Louis and in the summer of 1819 joined the Missouri Fur Company, and then took for a wife, Poporine Barada, at Bellevue, Sarpy Co., Nebraska in 1832 and had by her a son, John Pilcher.  He was briefly associated with the American Fur Company at Council Bluffs in 1833, and two years later was employed as a sub-agent on the Upper Missouri.  In 1837 he was Indian agent to the Sioux, Cheyenne & Ponca and in 1839 appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs after the death of William Clark.  He died in St. Louis on 05 Jun 1843 and was first laid to rest at the Christ Chruch Cemetery, but upon its closure Virginia (Riddick), widow of Edward Brooks, authorized Joshua's remains to be removed to the Brooks plot at Bellefontaine.

 Additional Links

The Journey of the Augustin Kennerly Journal, a blog by P. Davidson-Peters
Thomas Anderson Moore Collection - Missouri Historical Library Archives
eCIMS - Bellefontaine Cemetery (Burial search & mapped location of plot)
Christian Wilt memorial at Find A Grave