Master of Arts (M.A.)
“The Valor and Spirit of Bygone Times”: The Memory of the Battle of St. Louis and the Persistence of St. Louis’s Creole Community, 1820-1847 In the context of the American Revolution, the Battle of St. Louis is a mere footnote, resulting in under 100 casualties. But to the St. Louisans who experienced it – mostly French civilians living in a Spanish territory, many of whom lost loved ones in the battle – it was the defining event of their lifetimes. This paper focuses on two antebellum tellings of the battle story - Thomas Hart Benton's speech in the United States Senate in 1822 and Creole Wilson Promm's speech at St. Louis's anniversary celebration of 1847 - to explore the ways in which Creoles and their allies altered the battle narrative to serve their own cultural or political ends. A close reading of these tales reveals that despite their declining numbers and waning cultural influence, French Creoles remained a distinctive and politically important community in St. Louis throughout the antebellum period. Furthermore, Primm's speech complicates traditional narratives of the nativist moment, showing that some Catholic non-immigrants - such as St. Louis Creoles - risked being targets of nativist prejudice and that they took steps to prevent this, such as invoking the Battle of St. Louis as proof of American bona fides. Crossing Jordan: Black St. Louisans and the Mississippi River, 1815-1860 In the antebellum United States, two rivers – the Ohio and the Mississippi – combined to form a thousand-mile border between slavery and freedom. Yet political boundaries between slavery and freedom do not always map neatly onto cultural or ideological landscapes. A close examination of Mississippi River crossings and trans-Mississippi connections of slaves and free blacks from St. Louis (by far the largest southern city located on the boundary) complicates any simple dichotomy of “Missouri-slave” and “Illinois-free.” In addition to the (hopefully) one-time crossings of blacks fleeing slavery in Missouri, St. Louis free blacks established social networks that extended across the river, and used both temporary and permanent crossings as strategic solutions to problems they faced in St. Louis. At other times, however, they chose to stay in St. Louis, strategic decisions which suggest reveal much about their attitudes toward the river and suggest the limited nature of the freedom available in Illinois. An examination of these crossings reveals the ambiguous and permeable nature of the Mississippi as a boundary between slavery and freedom.
© The Author
Roberts, Anna K., "Finding Their Place In An American City: Perspectives On African Americans And French Creoles In Antebellum St. Louis" (2016). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. Paper 1477068251.