The Clamorgans: One Family's History of Race in Americaby Julie Winch
The historian Julie Winch uses her sweeping, multigenerational history of the unforgettable Clamorgans to chronicle how one family navigated race in America from the 1780s through the 1950s. What she discovers overturns decades of received academic wisdom. Far from an impermeable wall fixed by whites, race opened up a moral gray zone that enterprising blacks
The historian Julie Winch uses her sweeping, multigenerational history of the unforgettable Clamorgans to chronicle how one family navigated race in America from the 1780s through the 1950s. What she discovers overturns decades of received academic wisdom. Far from an impermeable wall fixed by whites, race opened up a moral gray zone that enterprising blacks manipulated to whatever advantage they could obtain.
The Clamorgan clan traces to the family patriarch Jacques Clamorgan, a French adventurer of questionable ethics who bought up, or at least claimed to have bought up, huge tracts of land around St. Louis. On his death, he bequeathed his holdings to his mixedrace, illegitimate heirs, setting off nearly two centuries of litigation. The result is a window on a remarkable family that by the early twentieth century variously claimed to be black, Creole, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Jewish, and white. The Clamorgans is a remarkable counterpoint to the central claim of whiteness studies, namely that race as a social construct was manipulated by whites to justify discrimination. Winch finds in the Clamorgans generations upon generations of men and women who studiously negotiated the very fluid notion of race to further their own interests. Winch's remarkable achievement is to capture in the vivid lives of this unforgettable family the degree to which race was open to manipulation by Americans on both sides of the racial divide.
A slow retracing of the roots of one of America's earliest—and most racially diverse—families.
Winch (History/Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston;A Gentleman of Color, 2003, etc.) explores real-estate tycoon Jacques Clamorgan's rise to prominence in St. Louis in the late 18th century, as well as the entangling aftermath of the land and children he left behind. "This is a tale about money, land, power, and the nation's obsession with race," writes the author—all of which she explores within the single Clamorgan family line. The family was full of colorful characters, such as the biracial Apoline Clamorgan, the daughter of Jacques, who employed sexuality as a tool for her own advancement; and Louis, Apoline's son, who used his street smarts to become "a man of prominence" throughout St. Louis.Of the many branches of the twisted family tree, the story of Cyprian Clamorgan, Apoline's youngest son, proves most captivating. Though he easily passed for a white person, his primary power was unrelated to race, but in his ability to swindle. Cyprian's varied schemes pegged him as a notorious fraud who regularly spent time in the courtroom, earning a number of enemies along the way.Yet perhaps the most engaging aspect of the Clamorgan story isn't what the family was, but what they might have been. Winch notes that if Jacques's vast land claims had been recognized, St. Louis might be called Clamorganville today. Likewise, with the proper schooling and connections, the gun-toting, scheming Cyprian might have become a governor or a "leading African-American writer, challenging the nation of the post–Civil War to examine anew its understanding or race."
A tale well worth telling, though the stilted pace may limit the book's appeal to general readers.
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1Sieur JacquesIT WAS THE SUMMER OF 1781. Jacques Clamorgan was not supposed to be in St. Louis and he knew it. He had tried to get the necessary licenses from the Spanish authorities in New Orleans to travel up-river, but the alcalde, the city’s chief administrative and judicial officer, had forbidden him to leave until he had paid off a substantial debt he owed. Clamorgan rarely accepted being told he could not do what he wanted. He had his trade goods surreptitiously loaded onto a flatboat and then sneaked out of the city to board the bateau at a remote spot, away from the eyes of officialdom.1For many weeks he followed the Mississippi north, the boatmen straining against the current, poling the bateau and occasionally dragging it along the riverbank. Finally the vessel reached its destination, a settlement of about a thousand people set high on a limestone bluff overlooking the great river. Back in New Orleans, Clamorgan’s friend François Marmillon had assured him he could make his fortune in St. Louis, but Jacques Clamorgan was beginning to have his doubts. His first sight of St. Louis did not inspire confidence. This brash new community, with its cluster of homes and warehouses, a church, and a few taverns, had an unfinished look, and its inhabitants, even the wealthiest of them, a decidedly backwoods appearance.2A longer look and a moment’s reflection restored his faith. The town was strategically located at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers. The homes might be rough-hewn, but they were neat. Some families had an entire block to themselves, and others at least a quarter or a half block. Most had gardens, where the women raised vegetables and herbs, and a few had their own orchards. The site had been well chosen. When the rivers flooded, as they were bound to from time to time, the town’s elevation would spare it. The street plan was coherent enough. Three largish unpaved streets, Rue Royale, Rue de l’Eglise, and Rue des Granges, ran parallel to the Mississippi and were intersected by a series of small cross streets. Beyond the town were the Great and Little Prairies, where the town’s inhabitants planted crops and pastured livestock.3 And everywhere were the very visible signs of the wealth on which the community had been built. Outside almost every home were drying racks festooned with furs of every kind—beaver, bear, wolf, and others that Clamorgan could not immediately identify. As a rule, not many native people turned up in St. Louis to exchange their furs. White voyageurs went out to their villages with a selection of trade goods and did the bargaining. Once the furs had been obtained, they were carefully dried, packed, and taken down to New Orleans to be shipped to Europe. There was also an illegal trade—illegal as far as the Spanish authorities were concerned—with British-held Montreal.4Jacques Clamorgan assessed the potential of this new community. It might be possible to push farther into the interior, establish ties with more distant peoples, and even challenge the monopoly of the allpowerful Hudson’s Bay and North West companies trading out of Canada. There might be other commodities worth dealing in besides furs. It was all a matter of opportunity, of talking to the right people, and of greasing a few palms. A man with vision and a modest amount of capital could indeed make his fortune here. Clamorgan’s friend Marmillon had not steered him wrong.Well traveled and well informed, Jacques Clamorgan understood that this was contested terrain. For eight decades France had laid claim to a swath of real estate that stretched from the present-day border between the United States and Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. To the east French land extended to the “Ohio Country,” the region of western Pennsylvania and Ohio so hotly disputed with the British. To the west … well, no one was quite sure. French authority had come to an end as a consequence of the French and Indian War. When Louis XV saw defeat staring him in the face, he secretly offered his ally Carlos III of Spain the whole of Louisiana, including the “Illinois Country,” the land on the eastern side of the Mississippi. Carlos knew France was offloading an unprofitable colony. However, Spain wanted to expand its hold over Texas, and that could be jeopardized if France was forced to surrender Louisiana to the British. On the advice of his ministers, Carlos agreed in 1762 to the Treaty of Fontainebleau.5Peace negotiations with Britain the following year resulted in a modification of that treaty. The British got the Illinois Country, but Spain was confirmed in its ownership of the Louisiana Territory. The news of the land swap caught many people off guard, among them Pierre Liguest Laclède. When he left New Orleans in 1763 to stake a claim to the lucrative fur trade in Upper Louisiana, Laclède carried with him a license from the French authorities. On reaching his destination he discovered two things: first, none of the existing French settlements suited his needs, and second, he was now in Spanish territory. Undeterred by the regime change or the lack of trading facilities, Laclède established his own base of operations. He marked out the site of what would become St. Louis and set his teenage stepson, Auguste Chouteau, to work to build him a store and a house. He also began attracting settlers. Many of the French in the Illinois Country were appalled at the thought of being under the dominion of Britain. If they had to swear allegiance to Carlos III in order to join Laclède in St. Louis, that was vastly preferable to becoming subjects of George III.When Jacques Clamorgan arrived in St. Louis in 1781 he was, to all intents and purposes, in a French town, even though it was under Spanish rule. The mix of French from the Illinois Country, French from British-controlled Canada, and French from the mother country ensured that French would remain the dominant language for decades, especially since the Spanish Crown saw the wisdom of appointing officials who were themselves of French extraction. The French-speaking inhabitants did not seem resentful of Spanish authority. The most serious threat to Spanish power came from the British. Spain had backed Britain’s thirteen rebellious American colonies in the War for Independence, and in the spring of 1780 the British and their Indian allies had launched an assault on St. Louis. But the attack failed, and by the time Jacques Clamorgan stepped ashore and began unloading his merchandise, things seemed to be quiet enough.He quickly assessed where the real power lay. He was already familiar with the Spanish governmental structure. Presiding over the whole of the Louisiana Territory was a governor, a royal appointee headquartered in New Orleans. Taking into account the factor of distance and the difficulties of communication, the king of Spain and his ministers had seen the sense of splitting the Louisiana Territory in two. The northern part became Upper Louisiana. St. Louis emerged as its administrative center, and it was from St. Louis that the lieutenant governor operated. He had charge of all sorts of matters that related to the security and good order of his region, although he was ultimately answerable to the governor and was expected to send reports to him on a regular basis and to defer to him on all major issues.Jacques Clamorgan understood that if he hoped to make his fortune in St. Louis he would need to be on good terms with the lieutenant governor, but there were other individuals besides the lieutenant governor whom Jacques quickly realized he had to cultivate. The half-brothers Auguste and Pierre Chouteau were two of the richest and most influential men in Upper Louisiana, and arguably in the whole of the Louisiana Territory. Pierre was the unacknowledged son of Pierre Laclède and his chère amie, Marie-Thérèse Bourgeois Chouteau. Married as a teenager to the New Orleans tradesman René Chouteau, Marie-Thérèse had found herself abandoned with a small child, Auguste, when René took off for France. Before long she had moved in with Laclède, but since she was still tied to the absent René, each of the children she bore received the last name Chouteau, although no one was in any doubt as to their true paternity.6Clamorgan never met Pierre Laclède, who died in 1778, but he may have been introduced to Madame Chouteau, and he certainly made the acquaintance of her sons. Auguste and Pierre were men to be reckoned with. From their youth they had lived for months at a time with the Osage, the most powerful native people of the region. They spoke their language and knew their ways. And although both would eventually marry white women, they had Osage wives and children, too, which made them real as well as fictive kin of many of the Osage hunters they traded with. Spanish officials recognized the influence the brothers wielded, and the two men got all manner of trading licenses to work with the Osage. The Chouteau brothers could prove useful allies or dangerous adversaries if Clamorgan followed through on his plan to settle in St. Louis. First, though, he had other matters to attend to.Once he had sold his merchandise, Clamorgan asked the lieutenant-governor, Francisco Cruzat, for permission to return to New Orleans. Cruzat refused at first, but eventually relented. Clamorgan got a passport for part of his journey, and Cruzat put into his hands some documents to be delivered to his superior in New Orleans. Clamorgan was instructed to go only as far as Arkansas Post, a fort located at the point where the Arkansas flowed into the Mississippi, and wait there while officials assessed the danger posed downriver by British Loyalists operating out of Natchez. Cruzat was not especially worried about Clamorgan’s safety, but he could not allow the dispatches he’d given him to fall into enemy hands. He soon learned what kind of man he was dealing with. It did not suit Clamorgan to break his journey. Once at Arkansas Post, he pushed on to New Orleans, and Cruzat was thrown into a panic about the documents he had somewhat rashly entrusted to Clamorgan. When Cruzat learned they had been delivered safely, he was both relieved and angry. He urged the governor of the Louisiana Territory to punish such flagrant disobedience, but Clamorgan emerged from the episode unscathed, unrepentant, and determined to return to St. Louis to make his fortune.7
In the literature on the early days of St. Louis, Jacques Clamorgan has achieved near-legendary status, and like so many heroes and villains, his origins have been obscured by the passage of time. In Clamorgan’s case even his name is a matter of contention. He was a Spaniard, declare some commentators, and in one sense he was a Spaniard. As a resident of the Spanish province of Upper Louisiana, he was technically a subject of the king of Spain, but that did not mean he had been born in Spain. He was not Spanish but Portuguese, insist other sources, one of which bestows on him the very un-Portuguese name of Clem Morgan. No, say others, he was not from Iberia but from Britain: he was a Welshman, and his name a corruption of the Welsh shire of Glamorgan. He was no Welshman, insist others: he was a proud Scot. He was neither, others maintain: he was an Irishman, and his name was not Clamorgan or Glamorgan but James Morgan.8Then there are the reports that he was a man of color and a friend of Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable, the legendary black founder of Chicago, though there is no evidence that the two ever met.9 No matter the origin prescribed him, Jacques Clamorgan evoked strong emotions: if some of his contemporaries praised him to the skies, others vilified him as an unmitigated scoundrel. Had he been known to be of even partial African descent, surely one of his enemies would have played the race card … And yet no one ever did.Those who actually met Jacques Clamorgan identified him fairly readily as a Frenchman, and with good reason.10 The Clamorgans were French nobility (although admittedly fairly minor nobility), and their roots were dug deep into the soil of Normandy. As one early twentieth-century chronicler observed, the family was “more distinguished for its antiquity than for its achievements.”11 The most prominent Clamorgan up to the time of Jacques’s birth was Jean de Clamorgan, an officer in the embryonic French navy who in 1566 authored a treatise on wolf hunting. Curiously, Jean had more than a passing interest in the exploration of the Americas.12 Maybe Jacques was a descendant of his and inherited his fascination with America and its peoples, although Jacques’s personal papers reveal nothing whatsoever about his parentage. Just how he fitted into the family is anyone’s guess, but the Clamorgans were prolific and there were plenty of branches from which he could have sprung.13 He might have been born in France or he might have been the child of French parents born in one or another of France’s overseas colonies.14Jacques’s date of birth is uncertain, although by his own account he was born in 1744 or 1745.15 His education was superior to that of many of his contemporaries: the contents of his library reveal a man who was well read and had more than a passing acquaintance with the classics. 16 Beyond that, determining what his background was, where he was, and what he was doing at any one time is a challenge. This much one can say: by the 1770s, when he was in his early thirties, he was in the West Indies and dealing in any commodity likely to earn him a profit. In December 1777 he was in St. Pierre, on the island of Martinique, and while there, he contracted a substantial debt to Bernard and Jacques Texier, merchants headquartered in the Dutch Antilles. Jacques being Jacques, the debt went unpaid. The Texiers won a judgment against him in Martinique, only to spend years tracking him down. Finally, in 1781, they got word that he was in New Orleans and they applied to the alcalde for justice. That was the reason the authorities had tried (in vain, as it turned out) to keep him from making his first departure for St. Louis. 17Although Jacques was a frequent visitor to New Orleans, he had not been in town very long when the Texiers caught up with him. He had just returned after a failed venture as a blockade runner, trying to outwit the British Royal Navy and get cargoes of West Indian rum, sugar, molasses, and coffee to rebel-held ports along the Atlantic seaboard. His base of operations was Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti), and his vessel was a small sloop, the appropriately named Hazard. Things went fairly well for Captain Clamorgan until the spring of 1780, when the Hazard was captured on her way to Philadelphia by a British warship and he lost both his vessel and her cargo.18Both before and after his unfortunate experience at sea, Jacques Clamorgan made New Orleans a regular port of call. He was trading slaves in the city at least as early as 1778. After his first visit to St. Louis he returned to New Orleans, where he was joined by François Marmillon. Jacques did not stay put for long. Marmillon handled their slave-trading operation in New Orleans while Jacques headed off to the Caribbean again. In the spring of 1783 he was in Jamaica, arranging with the British firm of Thompson and Campbell for a shipment of slaves. Soon after Jacques’s return from the Caribbean, he and Marmillon had a falling-out over the deal with Thompson and Campbell, but they patched things up, and before long they were on their way back to St. Louis.19 They arrived toward the end of 1783. Within a year Marmillon died. He had no immediate family. He named as his principal heir the surgeon Claude Mercier, but he did remember Jacques. In token of their friendship he forgave the younger man a four-hundred-dollar debt.20Even before Marmillon’s death, Jacques Clamorgan was searching out other partners. In the autumn of 1784, he and Pierre Lacoste purchased a piece of land and a smallish house in St. Louis to serve as both their home and a place of business. Over the next couple of years Jacques bought other properties—a piece of land and a more substantial stone house, two adjoining lots with an even larger house and outbuildings, and yet another lot with a simple wooden structure on it.21 It was in one of these homes, probably the largest of them, that a census taker found Jacques living in 1787, at which point his household comprised nine persons: Jacques himself, two enslaved women, a free black man, four white day laborers, and a carpenter. A year or two later Jacques took in an elderly Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Tardif. Tardif was a childless widower with whom Jacques did business on occasion, and in gratitude for Jacques’s care, Tardif left him his entire estate. With land, money, credit, and contacts, in a few short years Jacques Clamorgan had become a fixture in St. Louis.22
In navigating his way through the complex world of commerce in Upper Louisiana and across the river in the Illinois Country, Jacques Clamorgan had a distinct advantage over many of his rivals. French was his mother tongue, but he also had an impressive command of English, since the breadth of his business contacts in the Caribbean had demanded it. On the “American” side of the Mississippi—with Britain’s defeat in the War for Independence, the Illinois Country was now U.S. territory—English was rapidly gaining ground. Not to be able to converse with buyers and sellers, or scrutinize a written agreement for loopholes and disclaimers, was to expose oneself to all manner of financial embarrassment. Jacques sometimes went over to Cahokia to do business in the court there, and the people he crossed paths with were a mixed bunch—French men and women and French-speaking Canadians, but also plenty of folks with decidedly “Anglo” names. Occasionally he wrapped up legal matters for friends back in St. Louis. Mostly, though, he was in pursuit of money he was owed, for his credit network had begun to expand in all directions.23 Usually payment was to be made in Cahokia or St. Louis, but not always. In 1787, Pierre Lacoste entered into an agreement to pay Clamorgan almost sixteen thousand livres, and that agreement stipulated that part of the debt was to be liquidated at Michilimackinac, the old French trading post on the straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron that had been under British control since the end of the French and Indian War.24 Promissory notes changed hands, traded like currency in a specie-poor region. Jacques assigned notes to other people and received notes from them, putting him at one remove, sometimes more, from the original debtor, and he collected his debts in many forms: a house, a shipment of furs, a quantity of flour or tobacco, even crops still in the ground.25What kind of a businessman was Jacques Clamorgan? People in the Illinois Country soon discovered what others in the West Indies had already learned. He needed watching. In 1788, for instance, several American traders made a concerted effort to bring him to book. He had racked up a debt he could not pay, but as long as he stayed in Spanish territory and kept his trips to Cahokia brief, he was essentially immune from prosecution. However, his creditors got a tip that he was heading to Louisville on an extended “Speculating journey,” and the chase was on. Clamorgan had no intention of being hauled into court, especially by Americans, whom he had somewhat rashly described as “nothing less than a Set of Cattle.” By the time the necessary paperwork for his apprehension and prosecution reached the right people in Louisville, he had left for Nashville. From Nashville he took to the Cumberland River and traveled back to St. Louis by canoe.26 To get Clamorgan when he was in U.S. territory and answerable to American justice, one had to move swiftly; and always, it seemed, he moved more swiftly.
During this period, chattel slavery was woven into the social and economic fabric of St. Louis, as it was into that of the other French communities of the region. Slaves were much in demand in the town: by 1787 almost a quarter of the population was classed as black or of mixed African and European descent, and the majority of those so classified were unfree.27 Enslaved men raised crops and tended to livestock. They served as boatmen on the river and mastered all manner of skilled trades. Women did domestic work as well as field labor, and in a frontier setting where white men outnumbered white women, inevitably some became the concubines of their owners. The existence of a ready market for slaves suited Jacques Clamorgan very well. Long before he ever set foot in St. Louis, slaves had constituted a large part of his stock in trade. The Spanish, eager for good relations with native peoples, had outlawed Indian enslavement in 1769, eliciting howls of protest from Upper Louisiana’s French settlers, since French law had sanctioned the practice.28 The ban on Indian slaves did not bother Clamorgan. He had his sources for supplies of black people and had no need to deal in Indian captives. Perennial lawbreaker that he was, though, he would undoubtedly have violated that prohibition had it been in his interest to do so.The roster of the enslaved who passed through Jacques’s hands is a lengthy one. In most cases a first name and an approximate age were all that were recorded. Slaves’ names were not of their own choosing, and tracking them is a lesson in the mutability of language. Françoise was “Francisca” to the Spanish clerk and “Fanny” to his English-speaking counterpart. Juan Bautista was “Jean-Baptiste” in the French records and “John” or “Jack” in an English bill of sale—assuming a new owner did not completely rename the woman or man he had purchased.29Trips downriver to New Orleans to see the governor or take care of some other piece of business gave Jacques Clamorgan ample opportunity to pick up a “likely” slave or dispose of one. Closer to home, he was often in the old French settlement of Ste. Geneviève, where the inhabitants were just as eager as the residents of St. Louis to buy and sell slaves. Occasionally he ventured across the river into American territory to trade a slave or two.30 There were many more sales in and around St. Louis, though, the earliest in 1785. Jacques purchased slaves from and sold them to his neighbors.31 He also hired slaves. In 1787 one such arrangement led to a lawsuit when Charles Sanguinet’s man Cezar drowned while in Jacques Clamorgan’s employ. Sanguinet alleged negligence. Jacques responded that Sanguinet had known the risks of renting out a slave. This was purely a property dispute. Neither party cared about the loss of a human life beyond its cash value.32One transaction almost landed Jacques Clamorgan in jail, however. In 1789, Daniel McElduff complained to the court in Cahokia that Jacques had broken into his home in Ste. Geneviève and made off with two slaves, a woman and her newborn baby. McElduff had agreed to sell a parcel of slaves to Clamorgan, but they had had a falling-out over payment and over when exactly the mother and child would be fit enough to travel to St. Louis. Clamorgan concluded that McElduff was trying to cheat him, and he and two of his male slaves set off to take his property by force. Housebreaking was a felony, and the court ordered Clamorgan’s arrest, but matters were soon resolved.33 As for the unfortunate woman dragged off in the middle of the night by total strangers, she became yet another of Jacques’s items for sale, as did her infant.Now and again some of Clamorgan’s slaves got the better of him. In 1790 he purchased two men and a woman in Nashville for delivery to him in St. Louis, but the trio fled en route, obliging him to sue their seller. He was luckier in another matter, that of the slaves Will and Phebe: they had the decency not to abscond with their children until after Jacques had sold them to one of his neighbors. Because they waited until they had been handed over before making their escape, the loss was the purchaser’s and not the seller’s.34Jacques Clamorgan obeyed some of the provisions of the Spanish slave code when it suited him. Although he was not noted for his piety, until he had a falling-out with the parish priest Father Didier toward the end of 1793, he was reasonably zealous about seeing that his slaves received the sacraments. Not until Didier died and another man was appointed in his stead did Jacques again start having his slaves baptized. 35 Not that his attention to his slaves’ spiritual lives indicated any real solicitude for their well-being. The brief history of one family makes this abundantly clear. Charles and Catherine, an American-born couple he owned, were fairly prolific, and he arranged for the baptism of each of their children. Even so, he had no compunction about splitting up the family in 1793 when he needed cash. Charles went to one buyer and Catherine to another, while Jacques kept their children.36Besides trading in slaves, Jacques saw tremendous potential in real estate. He picked up parcels of land in St. Louis, confident they would increase in value as the community grew. He was also keen to acquire property on the Meramec River, which flowed through a good part of what is present-day southern Missouri before emptying into the Mississippi twenty miles below St. Louis. Farming land along its banks was good, and those same banks were dotted with salines, or salt deposits. In an era before refrigeration, a reliable supply of salt was vital for preserving meat. Jacques was eager to monopolize the salines, and he came close to doing so, acquiring in 1791 almost 13,500 acres on the Meramec at a place called the Tête de Boeuf.37Indian raids were a fact of life in these outlying areas, however, as Jacques had reason to know. In the summer of 1788 a roving band of Osage descended on one of his farms, killing one of his tenants, an Englishman by the name of Keer; Keer’s wife; and three of their five children. This did not deter Jacques from buying more land in areas subject to attack.38 The Meramec holdings were ones he was especially eager to develop. Writing to the lieutenant-governor of the territory in the spring of 1793, he detailed all that he had done to increase the prosperity of the area. He had kept local farmers supplied with essentials and paid to set up a saltworks. Then he cut to the chase. He had debts to pay off, but he did not want to lean too heavily on the farmers who owed him money. Why didn’t the government establish a settlement on the Meramec? It would do much to curb the aggression of the Osage and give a real boost to the area’s white inhabitants. Naturally, he did not mention that the settlement he proposed would drive up land values and benefit him personally. The answer he received was that although a settlement would do much good in the region, international tensions would have to ease before the government could bring in farming families from Europe, as Clamorgan had suggested.39Despite his disappointment, Jacques continued acquiring land along the Meramec. In June 1793 he talked the lieutenant-governor into giving him 800 arpents (equivalent to 670 acres). Over the course of the next few months he got two more concessions totaling 4,800 arpents. Some of it he leased out, and another of his tenants suffered the same fate as the Keer family. Whenever Jacques Clamorgan could get a grant along the Meramec he was happy to take it, and the authorities obliged him again and again, in one instance with no less than eight thousand arpents “for the purpose of procuring wood for [his] salt-works.” He also got a sizable grant on Gingras Creek, another rather exposed area to the north of St. Louis. His tenants would have to farm with one eye open for roving Osage, but that was no concern of Jacques’s, as long as the rent came in. By the mid-1790s Jacques Clamorgan was one of the largest private landholders in the region, and certainly one of the most aggressive.40
Among Jacques Clamorgan’s many talents was the talent to flatter, and he wasted no time in exercising it in 1792, when a new governor was appointed to oversee the whole of the Louisiana Territory. Jacques and other prominent citizens of St. Louis greeted the Baron de Carondelet with a flowery congratulatory address. The following year, Zenon Trudeau arrived in St. Louis to take charge of Upper Louisiana, and Clamorgan helped craft a memorial to the king of Spain in which he praised Trudeau to the skies.41 Jacques Clamorgan meant to work himself into the good graces of Governor Carondelet and Lieutenant-Governor Trudeau, find out what policies they intended to pursue, and use that knowledge to his advantage.From the start, the most pressing concern of the two new officers of the Spanish Crown was that of territorial integrity. The British might have suffered a humiliating defeat in the War for Independence, but they were hardly a spent force on the North American continent. They had a firm hold on Canada and every intention of exploiting it. The Spanish authorities had good reason to feel uneasy. Pushing down from Canada, by the early 1790s the British were gaining the upper hand in the fur trade, strengthening their influence among the Indian peoples who lived along the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and generally reorienting business, diverting more of it up to Montreal via the straits of Mackinac.42 Losing out in the fur trade was serious enough for the Spanish, but there was a growing fear that the British were intent on pushing farther south, working their way down the Missouri and its tributaries to New Mexico. The fears of Carondelet and Trudeau were reinforced by reports they were receiving. In the autumn of 1792 the independent trader Jacques D’Eglise recounted his venture up the Missouri. He bore the disquieting news that the British were only two weeks’ travel from the Mandan villages, in the southwestern part of what is today North Dakota.43Jacques Clamorgan played with consummate skill on the panic induced by news of the encroaching British. “Our New Mexico … continually arouses their desires, especially since they have found out that they can get there by land in fifteen or twenty days,” he wrote Carondelet in 1793. Almost as ominous as the British were the Americans, who might abandon their neutral stance at any moment and decide on an incursion into Spanish territory. The solution Jacques offered for the whole of Upper Louisiana was the same one he had put forward a few months earlier on a smaller scale for the Meramec region: managed immigration. The Spanish government should recruit immigrants in Europe, ship them across the ocean in neutral vessels, land them in Philadelphia, bring them overland to Illinois, and settle them on small farms in Spanish territory, to constitute a “human rampart.” Jacques even had cost estimates to show that the initial outlay could be recouped in three or four years. He capped off his proposal by making the point that he was a man of erudition, throwing in a couple of classical allusions and mangling a quote from Horace’s Epistles to the effect that a job begun was a job already half completed. Clearly, if the governor wanted someone with the wisdom and experience to handle this resettlement program, he need look no further than Jacques Clamorgan.44Carondelet did not follow up on Jacques’s suggestion. He had already devised his own plan for thwarting the British. Jacques was only briefly disappointed. When he found out what the governor had in mind, Jacques Clamorgan saw a way to make his fortune and serve the interests of the Spanish Crown at the same time.Carondelet was convinced of the necessity of encouraging Spanish commercial endeavors on the upper Missouri. His predecessors had not been sufficiently energetic or farsighted in that regard: the “old ways” had been the only ways they knew. It was time to abandon the restrictive practices that had limited the initiative of many an ambitious merchant. In 1792, Carondelet opened the Missouri trade to any Spanish subjects who wanted to engage in it, provided they got the appropriate licenses. Taking things one step further, the following summer he sent Zenon Trudeau his outline for a thoroughgoing reorganization of commerce. It was his belief that distributing the trade on the Missouri by lot each year, under the direction of a syndic (a principal agent and administrator), would be both fair and effective.45Trudeau assembled the merchants in St. Louis on October 15, 1793, to share with them Carondelet’s proposals. Although they reacted positively, they had a few modifications to make. They wanted the governor to give them exclusive trading rights with all the peoples north of the Ponca (who lived in what is today South Dakota) for ten years. They also insisted on permission to buy trade goods from the British and the Americans, given the difficulty they often encountered getting merchandise through officially sanctioned Spanish channels. And they wanted to set up a company to squeeze out the British and sponsor expeditions to the West. They were convinced, as were many of their contemporaries, that one could reach the Pacific Ocean by following the Missouri River. Before disbanding, they elected as their syndic Jacques Clamorgan.46Through the winter months, when many of the traders were out among the various Native American peoples buying furs, Clamorgan gave a great deal of thought to Carondelet’s proposal and his brother merchants’ response. How should he proceed as syndic, and of course how could he make money for himself? As a first move, he sought and got Trudeau’s permission to hold a meeting to distribute shares of the trade. That meeting went ahead on May 3, 1794, when the traders were back in town. There were nine trading posts already established on the Missouri, and Clamorgan oversaw their division among twenty-five merchants from St. Louis and three from Ste. Geneviève, with an additional share set aside for Trudeau.47That was not the end of Clamorgan’s planning, however. Again with Trudeau’s consent (and very active encouragement), he held another meeting two days later at which he presented his ideas for the trading company they had talked about the previous autumn. The plan was straightforward. The company would receive from the authorities a ten-year monopoly on trade with the northern tribes. Everyone who bought in would make an initial pledge of one thousand pesos (well over twenty thousand dollars by today’s reckoning) to fund expeditions. When shipments of furs arrived in St. Louis, there would be a general sharing out of the profits. The meeting adjourned and the assembled merchants were given a week to mull over Clamorgan’s proposal. On May 12 they reconvened, and at that point nine men signed on to what became known as the Commercial Company for the Discovery of the Nations of the Upper Missouri. For his help in moving things along, Trudeau was given a share.48 In his report to the governor, Jacques Clamorgan had harsh words for those who did not join the new endeavor. While some were reluctant to take risks, others had remained aloof, “with the intention of harming … the enterprise.” This was no doubt a swipe at Auguste and Pierre Chouteau, who already had the Osage trade sewn up. Some men, of course, were disinclined to gamble on what seemed like a speculative venture.49Zenon Trudeau earned his stake in the company. As he explained to Carondelet within a couple of weeks of that May 12 meeting, he had already pushed the partners to send out one expedition to the Mandan. Another would be sent the following year.50 Carondelet heartily approved, and wasted no time granting the company the asked-for ten-year monopoly. So delighted was he, in fact, that in the king’s name he offered a prize of two thousand Spanish silver dollars (later raised to three thousand, equivalent to fifty thousand dollars today) to the first Spanish subject to reach the Pacific via the Missouri.51Jacques Clamorgan had had some experience fitting out trading expeditions in the past, but this would be a far more ambitious undertaking than anything he had engaged in before.52 The Missouri Company’s first expedition set out in June 1794 under the command of the local schoolmaster Jean-Baptiste Truteau, who was, despite the slightly different spelling of their last names, a relative of the lieutenant-governor’s. Clamorgan and fellow company director Antoine Reihle gave Truteau specific instructions. He was to establish good relations with the Mandan and get as much information as he could from them about more distant peoples, especially those “on the other side of the Rocky chain.” Along the way he was to make notes about distances and water courses, and pick up any furs he came across. He was also to find out what trade items appealed to what peoples.53Truteau’s party got as far as South Dakota before disaster struck: the Teton Sioux pillaged their supplies of trade goods. The traders took refuge among the neighboring Arikara, only to find that they had already disposed of their furs to free-lancer Jacques D’Eglise. Truteau moved south and spent time with the Pawnee, gaining much knowledge but precious little else. He warned, though, of the energy the British were displaying. Let them once get hold of the trade on the Missouri and there would be no stopping them.54Although the company had gotten off to a less than profitable start, its members remained confident through the first year or so. On July 8, 1795, Clamorgan and Reihle responded to a request from Zenon Trudeau for a progress report. They confessed to the lieutenant-governor that they were a little disappointed. Building and maintaining forts and buying the favor of the various tribes cost money, and the British and their Indian allies were proving very aggressive. However, the Missouri Company was dispatching well-organized expeditions under capable leaders, and in the next few months one of them would surely cross the Rockies and reach that elusive goal, “the Sea of the West.” Before long there would be a chain of forts all the way from St. Louis to the Pacific.55The company’s second expedition was a failure, but planning soon started on a third. Although Jacques Clamorgan exuded confidence, Zenon Trudeau was beginning to have his doubts, telling Governor Carondelet the expense of yet another expedition had frightened off several members of the company, himself included. Trudeau was rapidly coming to the conclusion that Clamorgan “has at heart his own interests.”56The third expedition was the best organized. Its leader was James Mackay, a Scotsman who had worked for some years for the British trading companies before switching his allegiance and becoming a Spanish subject. Mackay reported back to Clamorgan, describing the problems he had confronted and offering suggestions about how to avoid future depredations. It was vital to win over the Oto, who lived along the Missouri in what is today southeastern Nebraska. Mackay had promised them that the company would build a fort to protect them against their enemies and supply them with guns. The company had to make good on that pledge, and of course that meant coming up with money.57Jacques Clamorgan promptly embarked on an aggressive letterwriting campaign, always promising Governor Carondelet what he could achieve if he got more trading licenses and funds from the Spanish treasury. On December 15, 1795, for instance, he proposed building a fort near the mouth of the Des Moines River to beat back the British and keep the way open on the Missouri for the company’s boats. Recompense would be in the form of exclusive rights for six years to trade with the peoples of the Des Moines, Skunk, and Iowa rivers. Trudeau, however, cautioned Carondelet that Clamorgan’s “ambition makes him promise more than he will be able to execute.”58What Trudeau did not know was just how subtle a game Jacques Clamorgan was playing. He was busy cultivating an influential young Irish merchant to serve the interests of the company and, more important, the interests of the company Clamorgan himself was hoping to build. Andrew Todd was a junior partner in the Canadian firm of Todd, McGill and Co. His uncle, Isaac Todd, and his uncle’s partner, James McGill, held shares in the North West Company and also ran their own fur trading concern. The younger Todd was industriously pursuing the trade in furs, partly on behalf of his uncle’s firm and partly on his own account. Hitherto he had operated out of Canada through the straits of Mackinac, shipping furs to Europe via Montreal. Such dealings as he had had in the Mississippi and Missouri trade had not been very fortunate, and more than once he had fallen afoul of the Spanish authorities. Why, then, was he amenable to Clamorgan’s suggestion that he reroute his trade via St. Louis and New Orleans? Because in June 1796, under the terms of Jay’s Treaty, the British were obligated to hand over Fort Mackinac (the trading post that had replaced Michilimackinac) to the United States, and Todd anticipated a considerable financial loss as a result. When the young merchant visited St. Louis in the autumn of 1795, Jacques Clamorgan went to work on him. The plan they came up with was that Todd would have trade goods shipped from London to New Orleans and brought upriver to St. Louis, instead of downriver from Montreal via Mackinac.59 Clamorgan would get commissions from the company and from Todd on all the merchandise he arranged for the company to purchase. In every way Clamorgan stood to gain.60Clamorgan wasted no time letting Governor Carondelet know of the new arrangement and stressing the need to do everything possible to bind Todd to the Missouri Company. More forts were needed, and more men capable of garrisoning them. Todd had promised to recruit those men in Canada. With Todd’s backing, the Missouri Company could send out more expeditions, and Clamorgan confidently predicted that a year hence he would be able to send Carondelet “the exact map of the Missouri as far as its sources and the exact voyage [to] the western sea.” They must spare no effort. James Mackay had reported that the British were building forts and encroaching where they had no business to be. “It is time to close the doors to this nation if we do not wish them to kick us out.”61 And the Spanish could do just that with Andrew Todd’s help.In letter after letter, Clamorgan harped on his ties with Todd, boasting that he had single-handedly brought him on board to become the Missouri Company’s “supply-house.” He conceded that Todd had lavished certain favors on him, but that was only fair since, in promoting the company, “I have exposed my reputation, my credit, and my fortune.” He also announced that as of May 1, 1796, there would be a new business concern, Clamorgan and Loisel. He was joining forces with Regis Loisel, a young French Canadian who had been the Chouteaus’ clerk in Mackinac. Just what the relationship of this new entity would be to the Missouri Company he did not bother to explain. He was also endeavoring to persuade the other members of the Missouri Company to deal exclusively with Todd for their trade goods. Some were opposed to this, and he begged Carondelet to authorize him as director to require them to patronize Todd. No, Todd was not yet a Spanish subject, Jacques conceded, but he was willing to demonstrate his loyalty to Spain.62 That was good enough for Carondelet. He gave Todd the exclusive right for ten years to trade with the Sac and the Fox, two peoples of the upper Midwest, and sanctioned his admittance to the Missouri Company, even though, as a foreigner, he was technically ineligible for membership.63 Carondelet also agreed to require Missouri Company members to buy their merchandize from Todd, a move that delighted Clamorgan because it would silence the discontent and “malicious envy” of certain individuals.64Jacques Clamorgan made use of his ties with Todd to gain real estate as well as money and influence. In the summer of 1796 he traveled to New Madrid, another Spanish outpost downriver from St. Louis, and petitioned Charles Dehault Delassus, the commandant of the region, for a grant of 536,904 arpents (over 450,000 acres) some 30 miles below the village of New Madrid. He explained that he had been encouraged by Carondelet to establish a rope manufactory to supply cordage to the Spanish navy. Since he was “connected … with a powerful house in Canada,” he was in an ideal position to recruit farmers to grow and process hemp once tensions between Spain and Britain eased. (The two nations were on the brink of war, so recruiting settlers in Canada was likely to prove difficult.) Delassus reviewed the request and recommended to Carondelet that it be approved, given that “this remote country [was] so miserable on account of the … want of population.” Jacques Clamorgan got his land. He never did get his settlers, but the grant was his, and that was all that mattered.65From New Madrid, Clamorgan continued on to New Orleans. Upon his arrival he contacted Carondelet to thank him for his past favors and inform him of certain revisions he had made to the articles governing the Missouri Company, most of which, it went without saying, gave him as director far greater authority.66 Trudeau had warned Carondelet to expect just such a move. “[D]riven by his ambition,” Clamorgan “wanted to usurp everything.” Trouble was already brewing over the order that the company buy exclusively from Todd. Clamorgan had contracted with him without consulting the other members, because it suited his own interests: “[H]e seeks to force his associates … to resign … in order alone to profit from the privileges … Your Excellency has solicited in favor of the … Company.”67 Still, the arrangement with Todd was Clamorgan’s trump card, and he played it for all it was worth.Especially heartening to Clamorgan was the news Carondelet had received from Spain. The Missouri Company had finally received royal approval, along with authorization to raise one hundred militiamen at a cost of ten thousand pesos a year. Jacques Clamorgan assumed, as did Carondelet at first, that the king would pay. However, Intendant Morales, who would have to sign off on the appropriation, insisted this was not what the king had in mind. The Missouri Company would be responsible for paying the men it recruited and for maintaining the forts it built.68In late October 1796, Andrew Todd arrived in New Orleans to finalize arrangements with Clamorgan. He undertook to use his own contacts in Canada to get the firm of Clamorgan, Loisel and Co. all the men it needed for its expeditions. He also promised to ship in trade goods from Britain via New Orleans for the partners.69 Just as Zenon Trudeau had warned, somewhere along the line the Missouri Company had faded out of the picture and been replaced by Clamorgan’s personal company.Todd planned on stopping in New Orleans just a week or two before heading back up north. It was not wise for those unused to the climate to expose themselves to the heat and humidity that beset New Orleans even in the fall. That particular year the summer heat lingered longer than usual, and soon the first cases of yellow fever were reported. And while Jacques Clamorgan had become inured to the deadly malady during his various sojourns in the West Indies, Todd had not. He fell ill, and by the end of November he was dead. It was a financial and personal blow for Clamorgan. Todd had advanced the now hopelessly intertwined Missouri Company and Clamorgan, Loisel and Co. over eighty thousand dollars in trade goods. Everything hinged on how Todd’s heirs and creditors decided to proceed. Would they keep his business arrangements going, or would they demand their money?70Jacques Clamorgan soon got his answer. He and the two companies were caught in the middle of a fight between a couple of hardheaded men of business. Daniel Clark, Jr., had been Todd’s representative in New Orleans, and he wanted to maintain ties to Clamorgan, Loisel and Co. and the Missouri Company. He had advanced money and merchandise to both enterprises and faced a hefty loss if either or both failed. He asked the authorities to continue the concessions granted to Todd. Governor Carondelet was sympathetic. Clark was a longtime resident of New Orleans: he was also wealthy and well connected, and Carondelet thought it in everyone’s best interests to accommodate him. 71 Clark was not, however, Todd’s heir. Isaac Todd was, and he had no wish to take over his nephew’s trading venture. What Todd Sr. wanted was payment in full for the trade goods.72Even with disaster looming, Jacques Clamorgan pushed ahead with building up his real estate empire. On March 1, 1797, he approached Trudeau. The lieutenant-governor had been kind enough to encourage his “industrious exertions,” and His Majesty, in gracious acknowledgment of Jacques’s “excessive expenses,” had allowed Jacques ten thousand pesos a year. (Clamorgan glossed over two crucial facts: the money was supposed to go not to him personally but to the Missouri Company, and Intendant Morales had vetoed payment anyway.) The subsidy had not been paid, and Clamorgan hoped Trudeau would recompense him with a modest land concession—not much over a half million arpents—on the Missouri, to erect sawmills and gristmills and maintain a herd of cattle so he could supply New Orleans with salt provisions. Trudeau complied, and Carondelet signed off on the grant. It seemed a simple enough way of saving a business enterprise neither of them wanted to see fail.73Buoyed up by his success, Clamorgan kept asking. Could he have a few thousand arpents here? What about a concession there? He pledged to put the land to good use. And always there was the promise that, with enough land, he would have the means to launch another expedition up the Missouri, to the greater glory of Spain and the undoing of the British. By the autumn of 1798, Trudeau had received nine separate requests from Clamorgan, and he was getting a little irritated. Clamorgan also had to reckon with a change in personnel in New Orleans. Carondelet had been replaced, and the new governor, Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, was less generous.74At this point, the one remaining independent shareholder in the Missouri Company, Joseph Robidoux, launched an attack on Clamorgan. The petition Robidoux submitted to Gayoso de Lemos put a very negative spin on the evolution of the Missouri Company. Naturally, he could not vilify Carondelet or Trudeau; instead, he painted a picture of well-intentioned officials led astray by a glib talker. The project was “wisely conceived,” and Robidoux had been persuaded to buy in, as had others. Clamorgan had taken them in with his “intriguing [and] great talking.” Some investors pulled out when the first expedition ended in failure. Robidoux kept at it longer, and that decision cost him ten thousand dollars. No, he had no intention of suing to recoup his losses, but he wanted the Missouri Company reconstituted and Clamorgan barred from any role in its activities.75Gayoso de Lemos told Trudeau to call Clamorgan to account, and Trudeau was obliged to inform his superior that things did not look good. Clamorgan, Loisel and Co. had indeed managed to get their hands on all but one of the shares of the Missouri Company. With Todd’s death, though, “the great project has gone to the four winds.”76 Clamorgan was still boasting about what he could achieve if the government gave him his ten thousand pesos a year. The company would drive back the British and “place … the standard of our empire in the midst of the most distant savage nations.”77 Trudeau was unimpressed: these were “the absurdities of a … madman.” Of course Clamorgan wanted the ten thousand pesos, but by then it was a pittance compared to what he owed.78Jacques Clamorgan’s financial woes were not his alone. He had extended credit to scores of people in St. Louis itself and in outlying villages such as Marais des Liards and St. Ferdinand. To try to save himself, he began pressing them to pay up. Daniel Clark and Isaac Todd both appointed attorneys, and they began harassing anyone unfortunate enough to have become enmeshed in Jacques Clamorgan’s financial web. Debtors were forced to pledge their farms, their cattle, everything they had. Farmers and small-scale traders did not know whom they were supposed to listen to: Clark’s man, William Porter; or Todd’s, John Hay; or Clamorgan himself. Most could not pay up anyway.Tensions rose, and Jacques found himself on the receiving end of threats of bodily harm.79 He tried everything he could think of to dig himself out, but it was only a matter of time before he was driven into bankruptcy. In the summer of 1798 he dispatched a pleading letter to Clark, declaring that he and Regis Loisel would willingly hand over to Clark’s representative everything Clamorgan, Loisel and Co. had to liquidate the debt, but Isaac Todd’s attorney had “embargoed” all their assets. That approach cut no ice with Clark, so Jacques traveled down to New Orleans to make a personal appeal. Would Clark give the firm more time? He was begging for mercy.80This tactic did not work, so once he was back in St. Louis, he tried another. On the morning of September 27 he rushed to Trudeau with a tale of woe—one that involved selling out a friend. Jacques Clamorgan and John Hay had been acquainted for several years. Hay boarded with Clamorgan when business brought him over to St. Louis from his home base in Cahokia, and in 1797, when Hay married, Clamorgan presented him and his new bride with an elegant carriage by way of a wedding gift.81 However, Hay’s role as Isaac Todd’s representative complicated the relationship between the two men, and Clamorgan was quite prepared to try to save himself by casting aspersions on Hay. He explained to Trudeau that Hay had skipped town the previous night. Clamorgan knew Hay had the books of Clamorgan, Loisel and Co. at his lodgings in St. Louis, so he had hurried over to retrieve them, only to discover that Hay had done some fancy bookkeeping with the intent of defrauding Clark for the benefit of Todd. Clamorgan asked for Trudeau’s help in authenticating the accounts. According to Clamorgan, he and Loisel had bought the shares of three of the members of the Missouri Company on behalf of Andrew Todd, who had wanted to increase his holdings without having that fact generally known. There were other matters. Clamorgan, Loisel and Co. had paid to construct a storehouse in New Orleans for the furs that were to be sent downriver from St. Louis on Andrew Todd’s account, and had outfitted a bateau to bring trade goods upriver from New Orleans to St. Louis for Todd. The point Clamorgan was anxious to make was that a large part of the debt he and Loisel owed had been incurred on instructions from and in the interests of Andrew Todd. Unfortunately, Hay had appropriated the correspondence proving that.82Trudeau was understandably skeptical, as were Daniel Clark, Jr., and Auguste Chouteau, the man to whom Clark had given power of attorney. Figuring that William Porter needed help to bring Jacques Clamorgan to book, Clark had enlisted the aid of Chouteau, who was only too familiar with Jacques Clamorgan’s penchant for playing fast and loose with the truth. Neither Chouteau nor Clark was inclined to buy the story of purloined papers or to see Jacques Clamorgan as an innocent victim of the machinations of John Hay and Isaac Todd. Clark wanted his money. On his behalf, Chouteau requested that Trudeau seize all of Clamorgan’s property in St. Louis, and the property of Regis Loisel and John Hay (on the basis that everything Hay had recouped in Isaac Todd’s name actually belonged to Clark).83 Trudeau complied and began inventorying the assets of the three men. Trade goods of all kinds came to light in Clamorgan, Loisel and Co.’s warehouse— fabrics, needles, razors, candle molds, snuff boxes, lancets, beaver traps, whistles, earrings, a small bugle, a large quantity of firearms, and “Four silver crosses for the Indians.” Loisel and Hay had very little personal property in St. Louis. It did not take long to seize their assets. Trudeau then turned his attention to the contents of Jacques Clamorgan’s home, noting down all his possessions, including his slaves, his furniture, and the contents of his library. He also demanded a list of Jacques’s real estate. Jacques tried to hide everything he could by conniving with one or two trusted friends, but there was only so much he could do.84Jacques Clamorgan was desperate. Once more he hastened down to New Orleans to plead his case. He ended up staying longer than he intended, for Clark used the power of the law to prevent him from absconding. Eventually, after much haggling, Jacques reached an agreement with Clark, and both Clark and Chouteau helped him with credit.85 They awoke to the realization that if Jacques went under he would drag down many more people, not just in St. Louis but also throughout Upper Louisiana, with devastating repercussions for the financial life of the region. As for Isaac Todd, he was ultimately frustrated in his bid to get anything back from “that Rascal Clamorgan.”86
Lesser men would have retired from business at this point. Not Jacques Clamorgan. He had his fortune to rebuild, and it was time to see what he could achieve with a new governor. Gayoso de Lemos died in 1799, and the Marqués de Casa Calvo replaced him. This called for yet another trip to New Orleans. Early in 1800, Clamorgan arrived in the city to present his case. He described to Casa Calvo all he had done, or wanted the governor to believe he had done, to promote trade and exploration, and he detailed the expenses he had incurred. Most unfairly, Zenon Trudeau had not given him (on behalf of the Missouri Company, of course) the trading licenses he should have received. The company had established posts among the Oto, Omaha, and Ponca, and Jacques needed those licenses. He got the privileges restored, but then he asked for exclusive rights to trade with the Kansa people. He would have done better to leave well enough alone. Casa Calvo, irritated by the incessant pleading, reversed himself on the Omaha and Ponca.87 No matter. Casa Calvo was soon replaced by Juan Manuel de Salcedo. Clamorgan tried his luck with him. He did not get everything he wanted, but he did secure exclusive trading rights with the peoples of the Kansas and Platte rivers for five years. With the licenses he already had from Casa Calvo, he had almost the entire trade of the Missouri, except for the Osage and some of the Pawnee.88 Did he have these privileges on behalf of the Missouri Company or as a private trader? That was a matter of opinion.Back in St. Louis, Trudeau had been replaced as lieutenant-governor by Charles Dehault Delassus, so Clamorgan took up with him the matter of the ten thousand pesos. Could Delassus get him the money, with arrears from June 1796, when the king had given his blessing to the Missouri Company? And would Delassus grant him the right to build forts along the Kansas and Platte rivers to protect a new route to the Mandan villages?89 Delassus soon discovered what Trudeau could have told him after six long years of dealing with Jacques Clamorgan: Give the man anything, and he would be back for more. Refuse to grant his requests, and he would simply fire off another barrage of petitions.Not surprisingly, Jacques Clamorgan had no shortage of enemies. Many of his fellow traders resented the monopolies he seemed to secure with relative ease, despite his past.90 In 1800, Joseph Robidoux spearheaded a petition drive to wreck the Missouri Company (insofar as it was still functioning) by getting the governor to revoke its privileges. Failing in that attempt, he conspired against Clamorgan with another trader, Manuel Lisa, but Clamorgan won out.91 Robidoux and Lisa were up against a consummate risk taker. In an era when travel entailed not only a huge expenditure of time but also considerable danger, Jacques Clamorgan was ready to drop everything and head off to New Orleans. Most of his enemies were content to send the governor a respectful letter or two when they wanted a favor. Jacques Clamorgan was far more likely to turn up on the governor’s doorstep.Despite the differences Clamorgan had with his brother merchants, his desire to make money resulted in interesting alliances. In 1801, he and Auguste Chouteau joined forces to equip Regis Loisel for an expedition to the Upper Missouri. And in 1803, Jacques Clamorgan and Joseph Robidoux, once sworn enemies, collaborated to outfit another expedition.92 It was the same with Manuel Lisa. As Clamorgan knew from long experience, greed had a way of transforming rivals into partners. And given the changes that were about to overtake everyone who did business on the Missouri, the willingness to enter into alliances would prove crucial.
In the early weeks of 1802 the inhabitants of St. Louis learned of Spain’s agreement to trade them, along with the rest of the Louisiana Territory, to France.93 Actually, Spain had been trying to unload the province for several years, but cash-strapped France lacked the means to pay. Then, for reasons of his own, France’s first consul decided it was time to talk. In 1800, in the supposedly secret Treaty of San Ildefonso, Napoleon pledged to make the king of Spain’s brother-in-law the ruler of the Duchy of Tuscany in return for the Louisiana Territory and a pledge never to relinquish it to a third power and imperil Spain’s far more valuable provinces of Mexico and Texas. Ultimately Napoleon reneged, but he still expected Spain to give up Louisiana, which he envisaged serving as the breadbasket for France’s colony of Saint Domingue once his forces had crushed the slave rebellion there and restored French control.The white citizens of St. Louis, many of them of French ancestry, may have welcomed the return to French rule, but they had little time to savor it. With the failure of his armies to retake “the jewel of the Antilles,” the Louisiana Territory lost its strategic importance in Napoleon’s grand design. It was at this juncture that Thomas Jefferson, getting wind of the transfer from Spain, dispatched negotiators to Paris to buy New Orleans. For years Midwestern farmers had been demanding that the government secure them unimpeded access to the Mississippi. Wrangling between Spain and the United States had ended in 1795 with the Treaty of San Lorenzo, but the treaty would be meaningless if the Mississippi and the great port at its mouth were no longer under Spanish control.94 Jefferson’s emissaries queried the asking price for New Orleans and were stunned to be offered all of Louisiana for a bargain.Word of this second regime change broke upon St. Louis in August 1803.95 In light of his trips to New Orleans and his habit of welcoming all manner of visitors to his home in St. Louis, Jacques Clamorgan may have gotten wind of it even before that. Little went on concerning the Louisiana Territory that he did not learn of from one or another of his sources. Even so, there was precious little he could do about the transition to American rule beyond preparing himself for momentous changes.On November 30, 1803, in a formal ceremony at the Cabildo in New Orleans, prefect Pierre de Laussat took possession of the city and the entire Louisiana Territory from Spain. The transfer from France to the United States did not happen for another three weeks. Things were more casual in St. Louis. Napoleon saved money by not bothering to send anyone over from France to accept Upper Louisiana and then surrender it to the United States. The American commissioner, Amos Stoddard, agreed to handle things. On March 9, 1804, Stoddard crossed over from Illinois and headed for Government House. Delassus welcomed him, and the flag of Spain was lowered. The tricoleur flew for just one day before it was hauled down and the Stars and Stripes hoisted in its stead. In twenty-four hours the people of Upper Louisiana, Jacques Clamorgan among them, went from being subjects of His Catholic Majesty to citizens of the French republic to citizens of the United States of America.Awaiting the formal transfer of sovereignty were the members of the Corps of Discovery, the scientific and military expeditionary force Thomas Jefferson had commissioned to explore the newly purchased territory. They were camped across the river from St. Louis in Illinois, mindful of the need to stay in what was indisputably U.S. territory until the handover had been completed. Finally, on May 14, William Clark set off. Meriwether Lewis left a week later, accompanied on the first leg of his journey by Auguste Chouteau and “many other respectable inhabitants of St. Louis,” among them almost certainly Jacques Clamorgan, if he was in town.96 Two years later the Corps made a triumphal return, having accomplished what Clamorgan had hoped an expedition in his employ would achieve.When he took control of Upper Louisiana in the name of the United States, Amos Stoddard reported that the people of St. Louis seemed perfectly content with the new state of affairs. That happy situation changed as soon as the town’s leading men found out what was to happen to the territory and its inhabitants. The Governance Act, technically the “Act erecting Louisiana into two Territories and providing for the Temporary Government thereof,” signed into law by Jefferson on March 26, 1804, divided the vast chunk of real estate into two separate entities, the territory of Orleans and the district of Louisiana. The district of Louisiana, which included all the land above the southern border of present-day Arkansas, was placed temporarily under the governance of the Council of Indiana. This immediately raised concerns. Slavery was banned from the territory of Indiana. Would it now be outlawed in Missouri? Equally alarming was the issue of land claims. Congress had decreed that no Spanish grants made after the signing of the Treaty of San Ildefonso (October 1, 1800) and the formal handover to the United States in New Orleans on December 20, 1803, were to be recognized unless the claimants or their families actually lived on the land.97 Many of the influential men in and around St. Louis felt ill-used and betrayed, and they made sure the president and Congress knew it.98The uncertainty over slavery was soon ended. On October 1, 1804, the Council of Indiana introduced a Black Code for Missouri, modeled on those already in force in Kentucky and Virginia. Slavery was given the sanction of the law.99 The matter of the Spanish land claims, however, proved far more contentious.Those like Jacques Clamorgan who had invested heavily in real estate rejoiced when they received word in the spring of 1805 that the Governance Act had been modified. Their happiness was short-lived: once they had the chance to study the new act, they concluded that it was scarcely any better than the old one. Actual occupation of the land was still a prerequisite for confirmation. No claims larger than one square mile would be approved, and claimants had just twelve months to make their case.100 Clamorgan was among a dozen or so large-scale landowners at a protest meeting at the St. Louis courthouse on February 1, 1806. Congress’s latest effort, they argued, robbed honest men of their rights. Unfortunately, their contention that they were not speculators was undermined by the fact that that was exactly what they all were.101For years Jacques Clamorgan had been amassing land titles. Once he learned of the cession of Louisiana to the United States, he snapped up as much land as he could, wherever he could find it—in St. Louis itself, in neighboring St. Charles, on the Meramec, and farther afield.102 He even had a title to land in what is today South Dakota. His former business partner Regis Loisel held a concession from the Spanish for the huge Cedar Island tract on the upper reaches of the Missouri. Loisel died in 1804, and Clamorgan, who just happened to be one of his executors, purchased the claim for a trifling sum.103The assumption on the part of speculators such as Jacques Clamorgan was that the U.S. government would make them rich by confirming their claims. New arrivals from the east—and Clamorgan and his friends anticipated there would be a flood of them—would have to buy land from the legal owners, namely them. That was not what Jefferson or the majority in Congress had in mind, however. They made it their business to be sure each claim was carefully scrutinized by a specially appointed board. Honest farmers trying to legitimize their titles to a couple of hundred acres had nothing to fear. However, “a set of covetous, rapacious land jobbers” wielding “false, antedated, counterfeited deeds” could expect very different treatment.104The federally appointed Board of Land Commissioners had begun holding hearings in the summer of 1805, several months before Clamorgan and his friends met at the courthouse in February 1806 to register their displeasure. Claimants were instructed to come in with such documents as they had, and such witnesses as they could muster, and state their case. Almost immediately problems arose—problems beyond the obvious one that the majority of claimants and witnesses spoke French, most of the land concessions were written in Spanish, and the commissioners spoke and read English. The board could not help noticing that a remarkably large number of claims had been surveyed in the brief period since the Louisiana Purchase, and this prompted inquiries into the role of Antoine Soulard. He had held the post of surveyor-general during the last years of Spanish rule, and the American authorities had decided it would be politic to keep him on. They did not know what that would lead to. He devoted time and energy to concocting surveys for his friends (Clamorgan among them) and for those willing to pay for his help. When challenged by the board, he insisted he was not guilty of malfeasance; he had simply made a good-faith effort to put the records in order, a task complicated by the fact that few grants had actually been surveyed during the Spanish administration.105The Board of Land Commissioners did not function as smoothly as the federal government had hoped. Quite apart from the problems over language and Surveyor-General Soulard’s handiwork, there were bitter divisions among the commissioners. Clamorgan and his associates exploited those divisions for all they were worth. Meanwhile, many of the smaller landowners, who could not afford to wait around for months, even years, for the board to act, sold their claims for whatever they could get.106 A good many of those claims ended up in the hands of Jacques Clamorgan and other well-heeled individuals. For those who had the luxury of being able to wait, things improved slightly. In 1806, Congress ruled that actual settlement for a ten-year period could be taken as proof that permission to settle had been granted by the Spanish. Another act the following year extended the period for presenting proof of ownership and allowed the board to confirm grants of up to two thousand arpents.107Even with the changes in the law, Jacques Clamorgan did not get everything he wanted, any more than the likes of the Chouteaus and other substantial landowners did. Their smaller claims were confirmed, but the much larger claims they submitted raised eyebrows.108Nevertheless, Jacques Clamorgan did not do badly under the new regime. The governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison, had arrived in St. Louis in October 1804 eager to appease influential French inhabitants. Clamorgan secured an appointment as a judge, despite his lack of formal legal training. He even made money renting one of his houses (suitably reinforced) for use as a jail.109Missouri did not remain under Harrison’s jurisdiction for long. In the spring of 1805 it became a territory in its own right, and President Jefferson announced the appointment of General James Wilkinson as governor. On July 4 there was a gala Independence Day celebration to welcome him. On the organizing committee for the festivities was none other than Jacques Clamorgan, as eager to ingratiate himself with Wilkinson as he had been with Carondelet and Caso Calvo.110 A different government, a different language, a different man at the helm—Clamorgan would make the best of the situation. Well disposed though Clamorgan was to the general, there is nothing to suggest that he was in Wilkinson’s inner circle, and certainly no indication that he met Wilkinson’s good friend, the former vice-president Aaron Burr, when Burr visited St. Louis to plot the creation of an empire in the West. Co-conspirator Jacques Clamorgan might not have been, but he certainly approved of Wilkinson, and he was among those who petitioned Jefferson to retain the general when rumors began circulating that Wilkinson was not to be trusted.111The pace of Jacques Clamorgan’s business activities was as hectic as ever in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase. He made use of the newly created Court of Common Pleas and the Circuit Court, juggling dozens of cases involving everything from unpaid debts to the ownership of hogs and horses. His adversaries were a mix of old French inhabitants and newly arrived Americans. Sometimes he prevailed, and sometimes they did, but anyone he believed owed him a cent could expect to be hauled into court.112 And of course he continued buying real estate in the expectation that sooner or later the commissioners would confirm his titles and make him rich.He also tried his hand at diplomacy in a somewhat unlikely quarter. Since the Americans did not follow the Spanish example of giving exclusive trading rights, it was left to the traders themselves to reach informal agreements about who should do business with which Indian tribes or peoples. Jacques Clamorgan’s old foe Manuel Lisa had a grudge against the Chouteaus that was poisoning the atmosphere and causing difficulties all around. Clamorgan helped arrange a rapprochement. In the early weeks of 1805 he hosted a couple of dinners to which he invited, among others, Lisa, his brother Joachim, and the Chouteaus. Plied with good food and good wine by an attentive host, the guests reached an amicable agreement: Lisa would focus his energies on the peoples of the Upper Missouri and not challenge the Chouteaus over trade with the Osage.113In the months that followed, Clamorgan and Lisa, who had once been at each other’s throats, joined forces, setting their sights not on the Upper Missouri but on the far more enticing prospect of Santa Fé. They had heard that trade goods were much in demand among the people of the Spanish borderlands and that the intrepid adventurer who could get to Santa Fé was assured of returning home a rich man. Clamorgan and Lisa made their preparations. They got the commercial licenses they would need—Clamorgan for the Republican Pawnee and Lisa for the Republican Osage.114 As far as the American authorities understood it, the two were going to trade with these peoples. In reality, though, they intended simply to pass through their territory.Jacques Clamorgan had no illusions about the risks he was taking. He was sixty-three years old, and the journey would tax him to the utmost. Hazards aplenty awaited him in the wilderness. Sluggish rivers unexpectedly became raging torrents. Storms sprang up out of nowhere. Native peoples resented incursions into their hunting grounds. And then there was the unpredictable attitude of Spanish officials toward traders from the United States. No matter. Clamorgan would trust to luck and to his powers of persuasion. In 1781 the Spanish authorities had forbidden him to go to St. Louis and he had defied them. Defiant still, he seldom backed down when money was to be made.115
Before leaving St. Louis, Jacques had certain family matters to attend to. Although in the eyes of the Church and the law he had no wife or children, the reality was very different. Cohabitation outside the bonds of marriage was commonplace among the merchants of St. Louis. A good many traders had wives and progeny in Indian country. Some of their brother merchants opted for long-term relationships with African American or West Indian women in St. Louis itself. Invariably, though, these men also took white wives and fathered legitimate as well as “natural” children. Jacques Clamorgan rejected monogamy in any form. More to the point, he did not trouble to hide his domestic arrangements. Over the years he lived openly with a succession of black women, all of them at some point his slaves, and several of these women bore him children. One of his final acts before he set off on his epic journey was to ensure that his family—the family so many of his contemporaries refused to recognize as a family—was in good hands.116Copyright © 2011 by Julie Winch
Meet the Author
Julie Winch is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is the author of A Gentleman of Color and Philadelphia's Black Elite.
Julie Winch is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is the author of A Gentleman of Color and Philadelphia’s Black Elite.
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