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The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

A History of Colonial St. Louis

Patricia Cleary

Publication Year: 2011


As Anglo-American colonists along the Atlantic seaboard began to protest British rule in the 1760s, a new settlement was emerging many miles west. St. Louis, founded simply as a French trading post, was expanding into a diverse global village. Few communities in eighteenth-century North America had such a varied population: indigenous Americans, French traders and farmers, African and Indian slaves, British officials, and immigrant explorers interacted there under the weak guidance of the Spanish governors. As the city’s significance as a hub of commerce grew, its populace became increasingly unpredictable, feuding over matters large and small and succumbing too often to the temptations of “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” But British leaders and American Revolutionaries still sought to acquire the area, linking St. Louis to the era’s international political and economic developments and placing this young community at the crossroads of empire.
            With its colonial period too often glossed over in histories of both early America and the city itself, St. Louis merits a new treatment. The first modern book devoted exclusively to the history of colonial St. Louis, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil illuminates how its people loved, fought, worshipped, and traded.  Covering the years from the settlement’s 1764 founding to its 1804 absorption into the young United States, this study reflects on the experiences of the village’s many inhabitants.
            The World, the Flesh, and the Devil recounts important, neglected episodes in the early history of St. Louis in a narrative drawn from original documentary records. Chapters detail the official censure of the illicit union at the heart of St. Louis’s founding family, the 1780 battle that nearly destroyed the village, Spanish efforts to manage commercial relations between Indian peoples and French traders, and the ways colonial St. Louisans tested authority and thwarted traditional norms. Patricia Cleary argues that St. Louis residents possessed a remarkable willingness to adapt and innovate, which enabled them to survive the many challenges they faced.
            The interior regions of the U.S. have been largely relegated to the margins of colonial American history, even though their early times were just as dynamic and significant as those that occurred back east. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil is an inclusive, wide-ranging, and overdue account of the Gateway city’s earliest years, and this engaging book contributes to a comprehensive national history by revealing the untold stories of Upper Louisiana’s capital.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xviii

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pp. 1-9

I have a confession to make. A native St. Louisan, I spent my youth oblivious to my hometown’s colonial past. I can’t accuse my parents of a lack of civic pride or blame them for indifference to the city’s history. My father, an immigrant of Irish and English background who lived in St. Louis from the age of three, made the place his own and was a walking...

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Chapter 1: From France to the Frontier

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pp. 10-35

On June 7, 1755, Pierre de Laclède Liguest left France aboard the Concorde, a ship bound for America. Twenty-five years old, he parted from his family, not knowing whether this would be a final good-bye. With the energy of youth and a spirit of adventure, he had his ambitions focused beyond the...

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Chapter 2: Settling “Paincourt” : Indians, the Fur Trade, and Farms

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pp. 36-68

With French colonists from Illinois rapidly populating the post in the spring and summer of 1764, St. Louis was off to a good start. But its future success was far from determined. Over the course of the next few years, it became clear that international political conflicts would keep British, French, and Spanish colonists and officials at odds. Throughout the region...

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Chapter 3: “A Strange Mixture” : Rulers, Misrule, and Unruly Inhabitants in the 1760s

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pp. 69-101

In the fall of 1768, General Thomas Gage, the commander of British forces in North America, sent his superiors in England a curious report about the state of affairs in St. Louis and its environs. His informants in Illinois had told him of “a Strange Mixture of French and Spanish government on the opposite Side” of the river. While the French commandant, ...

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Chapter 4: Power Dynamics and the Indian Presence in St. Louis

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pp. 102-131

When Governor Ulloa decided to remove Captain Ríu from his post in August 1768, he had no idea of how tenuous his own position was. Anxious to establish a firm foothold for crown and country in Spanish Illinois, Ulloa searched for a replacement for Ríu, someone with the skills to make Spain’s imperial dreams a reality. Little did Ulloa imagine that within a few...

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Chapter 5: Sex, Race, and Empire: The Peopling of St. Louis

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pp. 132-163

As 1775 opened, Pedro Piernas found himself in an uncomfortable spot. Although he had done well in his position as lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana, fulfilling the expectations of his superiors, Piernas had received an order which he found very difficult to follow. Governor Unzaga had sent word from Lower Louisiana that a woman in St. Louis, legally married to a...

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Chapter 6: “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil” : Conflicts over Religion, Alcohol, and Authority

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pp. 164-191

On the morning of July 19, 1779, around 5:30 a.m., St. Louis resident François Larche made a startling discovery when he found Domingo de Bargas, a thirty-five-year-old Spanish merchant, dead in his bed. Immediately, Larche went to inform the ranking official in the community, Fernando de Leyba, an unpopular man who replaced the previous lieutenant...

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Chapter 7: A Village in Crisis: Conflict and Violence on the Brink of War

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pp. 192-221

In late 1777, Pierre Laclède undertook preparations for a trip to New Orleans, a journey that proved his last. During his final months in St. Louis, the village that he founded saw moments of celebration amidst a season of suffering. In November, around the time of Laclède’s forty-eighth birthday, news of a distant Spanish victory was officially commemorated, with gunfire...

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Chapter 8: “l’Année du Coup” : The “Last Day of St. Louis” and the Revolutionary War

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pp. 222-248

On February 17, 1780, Patrick Sinclair, the lieutenant governor of Michilimackinac, a British post in the Great Lakes, predicted that a planned attack on Spanish interests in the Illinois Country—with St. Louis as the centerpiece of a three-pronged offensive—would prove a certain success.1 Once Britain and Spain were officially at war, Sinclair had been assigned by...

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Chapter 9: The Struggles of the 1780s

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pp. 249-268

Eventually, with the end of the Revolutionary War, the threat of British hostilities receded, and the newest power in the region, the United States, brought a fresh source of anxiety and instability. The erstwhile friendship between Spain and America, established so quickly and warmly in St. Louis between Leyba and Clark, lasted only as long as the war. Once the war was...

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Chapter 10: St. Louis in the 1790s: The Enemies Within and Without

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pp. 269-304

In 1791, when François Louis Hector, the baron de Carondelet, replaced Esteban Miró as governor of Louisiana, the appointment foreshadowed a change in the diplomatic and military posture of Spain in America. More inclined to resort to military action, the baron de Carondelet began his tenure in office by making plans for the defense of the Louisiana territory...

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Conclusion: “The Devil Take All” or “A Happy Change” ? : The End of European Rule and the American Takeover

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pp. 305-326

As a new century dawned, the inhabitants of St. Louis and its environs were in a strange, in-between state, adrift from the authorities that had governed the past and not yet integrated into the new sources of power in the region. The convergence of different groups and ambitions in the...

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pp. 327-328

Born in St. Louis in 1888, Nobel Prize–winning poet T. S. Eliot was the grandson of William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian minister who was instrumental to the founding of one of the city’s finest institutions, Washington University. Eliot traveled far from his birthplace, eventually settling in and...


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pp. 329-346


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pp. 347-357

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272423
E-ISBN-10: 0826272428
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219138
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219136

Page Count: 375
Illustrations: 17 illus, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1