St. Louis Rising: The French Regime of Louis St. Ange De Bellerive

By Lee, Jacob F. | The Journal of Southern History, August 2016 | Go to article overview

St. Louis Rising: The French Regime of Louis St. Ange De Bellerive


Lee, Jacob F., The Journal of Southern History


St. Louis Rising: The French Regime of Louis St. Ange de Bellerive. By Carl J. Ekberg and Sharon K. Person. (Urbana and other cities: University of Illinois Press, 2015. Pp. [xvi], 326. Paper, $29.00, ISBN 978-0-252-08061-6; cloth, $95.00, ISBN 978-0-252-03897-6.)

In 1804 fur trader Auguste Chouteau penned a famous narrative of the establishment of St. Louis, which, according to Chouteau, he and his stepfather, Pierre Laclede Liguest, had cofounded forty years earlier. With great foresight, Laclede and the teenage Chouteau identified a prime location, cleared and surveyed the land, and set the city on its course to become the hub of the Missouri River fur trade. In St. Louis Rising: The French Regime of Louis St. Ange de Bellerive, Carl J. Ekberg and Sharon K. Person argue that Chouteau's reminiscences were an exercise more in mythmaking and self-promotion than in history. Moving beyond Chouteau's oft-cited account, Ekberg and Person tell a richer story of St. Louis's founding and its emergence as the commercial center of Middle America.

Divided into two halves, St. Louis Rising is a study of the Grotton-St. Ange family in the Illinois Country from 1720 to 1770 and a social history of early St. Louis. In the first part, Ekberg and Person document the careers of French officer Robert Grotton-St. Ange and his son, Louis St. Ange de Bellerive, two of the most capable and longest-tenured French officials in the Illinois Country. In 1765 the son transferred the Illinois Country to Great Britain and then administered St. Louis until Spain took possession in 1770. The second half provides an in-depth look at early St. Louis with thematic chapters on architecture, law, slavery, material culture, and the fur trade. Most histories of St. Louis emphasize the centrality of the fur trade to the town's founding and growth, but drawing on underused St. Louis notarial archives, Ekberg and Person uncover the world that existed beyond the commerce in peltries. Particularly compelling is their analysis of the effects of the Coutume de Paris on social life and business endeavors in St. …

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