The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion (The Lamar Series in Western History)

30 Nov

The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion (The Lamar Series in Western History)

The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion (The Lamar Series in Western History)

Jay Gitlin

Language: English

Pages: 290

ISBN: 0300168039

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Histories tend to emphasize conquest by Anglo-Americans as the driving force behind the development of the American West. In this fresh interpretation, Jay Gitlin argues that the activities of the French are crucial to understanding the phenomenon of westward expansion.

The Seven Years War brought an end to the French colonial enterprise in North America, but the French in towns such as New Orleans, St. Louis, and Detroit survived the transition to American rule. French traders from Mid-America such as the Chouteaus and Robidouxs of St. Louis then became agents of change in the West, perfecting a strategy of “middle grounding” by pursuing alliances within Indian and Mexican communities in advance of American settlement and re-investing fur trade profits in land, town sites, banks, and transportation. The Bourgeois Frontier provides the missing French connection between the urban Midwest and western expansion.















national ancestry. Move over Uncle Sam and make room for Oncle Auguste. NOTES INTRODUCTION 1. Keating, Narrative of an Expedition, 75. 2. Throughout this book the term “Creole” will refer to French-speaking individuals in the region from St. Louis to New Orleans, their culture and their society. To be sure, the term is problematic. It was not a word the Creoles themselves used with great frequency until the 1820s, but it is still the term of self-description used by the descendants of the

Connecticut, John Hay of Cahokia—the son of Jehu Hay who served briefly as a British lieutenant governor of Detroit—and Thomas Hart Benton. In St. Louis and French Illinois, francophone lawyers were unavailable, and, in truth, Anglo-Americans were probably more useful for the concerns of merchants pursuing congressional favors regarding Indian affairs and western lands. When their investments were threatened by the Governance Act of 1804, which nullified Spanish land grants awarded after October

but the nature of the business would change profoundly after the war. One change was internal. Two powerful companies, heavily capitalized, drove out or absorbed smaller enterprises and exercised an ever-increasing amount of control over the business. The two companies were John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, incorporated in New York City in 1808, and a succession of Chouteau-family firms, eventually operating as Pierre Chouteau Jr. and Company in St. Louis. In the end, there was one:

and married a white woman. He left an annuity to each of his métis children that paid them $133 yearly for life.60 One of the children, Sophie, became a trader and a leader in her Osage community. She was interviewed later in her life and remarked: “I have never been to St. Louis, but I may go during the ‘World’s Fair.’ The Chouteau kindred live in St. Louis, but it has been a long, long time since I have seen any of them.”61 Aunt Sophie, as she was known, may have captured an important point.

American imagination. From the French Quarter in New Orleans to Grosse Pointe outside Detroit, nostalgic French types at once reinforced the superiority of Anglo-American culture and provided a release from the tensions of modernity. In St. Louis, a similar reduction of the French past occurred at almost the same time as it had in Detroit—on the eve of the Civil War. Richard Edwards and Menra Hopewell, authors of the first book-length history of St. Louis— which appeared in 1860—wrote, “The love

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