François Vallé and His World: Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark

François Vallé and His World: Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark

François Vallé and His World: Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark

François Vallé and His World: Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark


In François Vallé and His World, Carl Ekberg provides a fascinating biography of François Vallé (1716-1783), placing him within the context of his place and time. Vallé, who was born in Beauport, Canada, immigrated to Upper Louisiana (the Illinois Country) as a penniless common laborer sometime during the early 1740s. Engaged in agriculture, lead mining, and the Indian trade, he ultimately became the wealthiest and most powerful individual in Upper Louisiana, although he never learned to read or write. Ekberg focuses on Upper Louisiana in colonial times, long before Lewis and Clark arrived in the Mississippi River valley and before American sovereignty had reached the eastern bank of the Mississippi. He vividly captures the ambience of life in the eighteenth-century frontier agricultural society that Vallé inhabited, shedding new light on the French and Spanish colonial regimes in Louisiana and on the Mississippi River frontier before the Americans arrived. Based entirely on primary source documents--wills and testaments, parish registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials, and Spanish administrative correspondence--found in archives ranging from St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve to New Orleans and Seville, François Vallé and His World traces not only the life of François Vallé and the lives of his immediate family members, but also the lives of his slaves. In doing so, it provides a portrait of Missouri's very first black families, something that has never before been attempted. Ekberg also analyzes how the illiterate Vallé became the richest person in all of Upper Louisiana, and how he rose in the sociopolitical hierarchy to become an important servant of the Spanish monarchy. François Vallé and His World provides a useful corrective to the fallacious notion that Missouri's history began with the arrival of Lewis and Clark at the turn of the nineteenth century. Anyone with an interest in colonial history or the history of the Mississippi River valley will find this book of great value.


Carlton J. H. Hayes was a cosmopolite—linguist, diplomat, author, and president of the American Historical Association. in his presidential address in 1946, he expressed concern that American frontier history was insular in spite of the fact that the recent world war had demonstrated how intimately interconnected all parts of the globe had become. His critique of frontier historians, not excluding Frederick Jackson Turner, was that they viewed the western frontier as an exclusively American phenomenon. That is, they saw the frontier simply as a place where Anglo-American culture, already substantially evolved on the East Coast, worked out its destiny in a new geographical setting, rather than as a region where European civilization struggled to adapt to a new environment. If the distinguished Professor Hayes were alive today he would no longer be concerned; he would be positively apoplectic, for the insularity of frontier historians is more pronounced today than it was a half century ago.

In his address to fellow historians, Hayes pointed out several exceptions to what he saw as a provincial professoriate: He praised William R. Shepherd’s writings and his courses on European expansion at Columbia, as well as the “California ‘school’ of Professor Herbert Bolton,” who had for years at Berkeley promoted Spanish borderlands studies in the United States. I was lucky enough to begin my researches on the history of Upper Louisiana at a time when one member of Bolton’s California school was still alive. in the early 1980s, Abraham P. Nasatir, although long retired from California State University at San Diego, was nevertheless active: rummaging through his beloved manuscripts, reminiscing about his years as a graduate student at Berkeley, and careening around southern California freeways (gripping the wheel with his one good hand) in his old Chevy.

1. For extracts of Hayes’s presidential address, see George Rogers Taylor, ed., The Turner Thesis Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History, 3d ed. (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1972), 97–114.

2. Ibid., 99.

3. Nasatir informed me that his parents had intended him to be a violinist, but after

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.