A Small Place Called Florissant, MO (not the fossil beds!)     A Small Place Called Florissant, MO (not the fossil beds!)    A Small Place Called Florissant, MO (not the fossil beds!)

 

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The AuBuchon's, Creely's, Tebeau's and Guittar's all owned land in St. Ferdinand (Florissant). The Krausz's bought a house there in the late 1950's. So, in a sense, the Guittar's were on both sides of the tracks!

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Florissant was founded about 1767 by French farmers and fur trappers and has existed under the flags of the French Monarchy, the Spanish Monarchy, the French Republic and the United States .

 

Florissant or flowering, flourishing, was the name given to the valley by the French farmers in 1767. When the Spanish took over this area, the official name became St Ferdinand after a Spanish Saint. The popular name Florissant finally became official in 1939.

 

When Florissant came under the American Flag in 1804 its way of life was set. The population was 40 people. Near the mid-1800's came the German immigration, which settled the top of the hill overlooking the French settlement along the creek. The census of 1950 counted 3,737 residents.

 

Most of the early settlers were simple farmers and merchants who built small French cottages and the Victorian style brick structures of the Germans. A few wealthy men did settle here such as John Mullanphy, who built Taille de Noyer located on McCluer High School campus, and John Myers, whose wife completed the construction of the Myer's farm when he passed away in his 40's.

 

What seems to be generally accepted is that the original Spanish settlement, called St. Ferdinand after the King of Spain, was founded about 1776 by Beaurusier Dunegant. When the St. Ferdinand settlement came under the control of the French by purchase, the name was changed to Florissant , which means "flourishing" and the name was used to designate the whole valley.

 

The beginning of the history of Florissant is generally accounted to be coincident with the founding of the first Church about 1793 which was also called St. Ferdinand. The oldest record found for the church as of the turn of the century was a baptism dated August 4 1792.

 

The original village was laid out on the right bank of the Rio Fernando (Cold Water Creek) in at least sixteen blocks, which in most cases, were three hundred twenty feet square. The streets were at right angles to each other but ran diagonally to the points of the compass. All the streets in the original survey were named for Catholic Saints. From the creek eastward the north and south streets were named Rue St. Charles, Rue St. Ferdinand, Rue St. Pierre , Rue St. Jean Baptiste, and Rue St. Jacques. Beginning at the north the east and west streets were in succession Rue St. Antoine, Rue St. Denis, Rue St. Louis, Rue St. François, and Rue St. Catherine.

 

In block twenty seven bounded by the Rues St. François, St. Catherine, St. Jean . and St. Jacques, was a spring known to the first inhabitants as Fontaine des Biches (Elk’s Spring), also as Fontaine Jaune (Yellow Spring). According to tradition the first settlers built a stockade around the spring to protect themselves from Indian attacks. The danger from Indians continued to be real until well into the nineteenth century. On August 25, 1793 the wife and son of Antoine Rivieré, the village blacksmith, were massacred by Indians in the vicinity of the village.

 

The Founding of Florissant

A few French Canadians were settled on the Missouri River in 1704.  A census conducted in 1744 reports that this number had grown to 200 men and 10 Negroes (men & women).  Captain Rui in a report to Governor O'Reilly dated October 29, 1769 concerning productivity of the land above the fort his men constructed at the mouth of the Missouri River commented, "All the country above is very fertile.  It produces with great abundance whatever is planted.  In my time there was a vast harvest of wheat and corn so that if its inhabitants were to bestow all their labors on the soil, I am of the opinion that they could feed most of New Orleans ." 

 

While these references show that the Missouri River region was inhabited at an early date, they do not specify the number of people in Florissant .  Of particular note is the absence of free women in the 1744 census.  Census information is tabulated by free, slave, male, female and age group.  The absence of free women in the census indicates scattered distribution and pre-settlement conditions.

 

Nicholas Herbert dit Lecompte was a resident of the Florissant area before it was settled in 1769.  Jacques Tabeau was one of the settlers who were farming the area before Francois Dunegant formed the community into a village in 1786.  It was Dunegant , the first civil and military commander of the village, who gave it the name St. Ferdinand after the king of Spain .   However, all authentic records for the town for the period from 1763 to 1792 were destroyed by fire.

 

Francois Dunegant was born in Montreal Canada in 1752.  He was a civil engineer and military commander who moved to St. Louis in 1768.  He married Marie Catherine nu Noise dit Labbe the widow of Jean Baptiste Bidit dit Lanpoumour on Jan 31, 1776.  The other citizens of Florissant came from St. Louis , the Illinois towns, Cahokia, St. Genevieve , Quebec , and Old France.

 

Settlers were attracted to the area by the promise of free land in return for agreeing to improve the land.  Grants were fairly easy to obtain, You needed only to show hardship, show that you performed some service to the crown, or agree to improve and work the land.  Many a grant defaulted because it was not worked.

 

The layout of the village followed the Old French feudal system, which consisted of three unique areas working together, the village, common fields, and common lands.

 

The village which was laid out as a large square as shown in the 1803 survey of the city, the 1794 survey while accurate is incomplete because it only shows the areas that were deeded at that time.  The current size of the city reflects the expansion of 18xx. The 1794 village survey map gives an outline of the village, the description of the properties, and the names of the respective current owners.  Jacques Tabeau was one of the earliest farmers and owned land block #B.  Charles Mercier was a merchant that was one of the original settlers at Fort Charties and owned Block #106, the same land upon which St. Ferdinand Church would later be built. Jean Baptiste Creely was a farmer who came from Kaskaskia and owned block #6.   Note blocks #1, #2, and #3, the parade field, church and cemetery, and commandant's quarters respectively.  Village lots were private property.

 

The common fields were also private property, only the fence around the fields was common. This was the rich valley for which the city was named.  On the 1797 map of the common fields of St. Ferdinand, you will note the long narrow fields running from Cold Water Creek, west to the Missouri River .  A typical field is 386 feet wide and three or four miles long.   The practice was to try to assign the fields from top to bottom, which would mean that the earlier settler's fields were north, while the later settler's fields where in the south.  Note, the last field belonged to Joseph AuBuchon who arrived in 1796. 

 

The purpose of this arrangement of fields was to allow one common fence to enclose the entire area.  Each landowner was responsible for fencing the ends of his property.  And because the west end of the fields is the Missouri River , only the East end needed to be fenced.  The specification called for a split-rail-fence that was deer high and hog tight.  This sounds pretty good, unless you were Joseph AuBuchon who had the southern most strip of property requiring four miles of fence.  It wasn't long before he traded his original grant for property safely in the center of the common fields requiring just 386 feet of fence. Because of the ease with which a land grant could be obtained, it was common practice for people to obtain grants in multiple settlements.  The intent was to show a profit when new settlers arrived after all the land was allocated.  The result was that they could not work more than one field at a time, and they had little interest in maintaining the fence for fields in which they had no interest. Gradually people gathered their property into more compact shapes and fenced their own land.

 

NOTE: When Norman Guittar, Jr. asked Norman Sr. why the fields were so long and narrow he replied “If you started at dawn you could plow all the way to the river, sit under a tree and eat your lunch, then you could plow back to the house and be home in time for supper”.

 

The common lands were a tract of land of 5,206 3/4 arpens (about 4,400 acres) surrounding the village on three sides, deeded to the city for the common use of all the people of the village on which to pasture their livestock, collect firewood, and cut timber.  This seven-square-mile area is shown as U.S. survey #1202 on the 1893 St. Louis County Map.  The land at that time was reported to be swampy, and occasionally under water, and consisted mostly of scrub vegetation.  Livestock roamed free, being kept out of the common fields by the common fence.  Livestock was put up at night for protection, because while the bear were no longer in the area, wolves and bobcat were common.  After 1843 the common lands were leased (1000 years).     

 

According to an official report by Major Amos Stoddard, the town of St. Ferdinand had grown to about 60 houses by 1808.   Please note that this growth was in addition to the growth at St. Charles which was established at the same time as St. Ferdinand, and the growth at Village A Robert which was established immediately adjacent to the south of St. Ferdinand's common fields in 1794.  Village A Robert, originally named Marais des Liards, is known today as Bridgeton .  It has also been called Grosse Pointe and Owens Station, after Robert Owens, a shoemaker from Maryland , who laid out the village.  The 1830 U.S. Census for the Township of St. Ferdinand showed 2,175 whites, 731 slaves, and 5 free colored.

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