Archive | Missouri frontier

Women of the Border: Roddé Christie Viriat Labbé

Rhoda Christie was 21 years old in 1797, a mulatto slave in Davidson County, Tennessee, when she and her two children were sent to Missouri to be sold.  Her daughter Mary was only six weeks old, and her son Orange 18 months, when they made the 300-mile journey.  Frances Baggett, one of her descendants, has […]

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Women of the Border: Mary Kelly Bettis

The life of my great-great-great grandmother, Mary Kelly Bettis, spanned three stages in the evolution of the southern border.  She was born into a family of hunters, trappers and Indian traders, who settled on the St. Francis River, in the remote southeast corner of Missouri, in the first years of the 19th century.  Isaac Kelly, […]

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Becoming “Us” by Getting Rid of “Them”

In a time of tumultuous change, as its society was being transformed by new means of transportation, increased access to information, and an avalanche of settlers, on August 10, 1821, Missouri became a state.  Its new status marked the end of the era of multicultural tolerance in the Mississippi valley. The new settlers considered themselves […]

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Everything Changes: The Arrival of the Americans

The amiable and polished citizens of the French towns were appalled.  The English-speaking Americans, who were crossing the Mississippi River by the thousands in the years after the Battle of New Orleans, were rude, violent, thieving, litigious, and unconcerned with harmony in social relationships.  They ignored all rules and restrictions, settling on Federal land without […]

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The Indian Nations, Moving Endlessly West

When the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet first arrived on the Great Plains in 1673, they encountered a tribe who may themselves have arrived only shortly before.  The Osage had moved west from the Ohio valley over the previous century, because of a long series of conflicts with the Iroquois.  They were a […]

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Women and Slaves in the French Towns of the Mississippi

Land use, political structure and fondness for dancing may have been the most visible differences between the French towns of the Mississippi valley and the settlements of the arriving Americans.  Other aspects of French society, however, may have had more enduring effects. One of these aspects involved the roles and status of women.  French women […]

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A Different World: The French Towns of the Mississippi Valley

The French arrived in the Mississippi valley a full century before the Americans.  They arrived as fur traders, not farmers or hunters, and they settled not on widely scattered farms but in towns and villages.  In those villages they created a world dramatically different from the world of the American borderers who would eventually overwhelm […]

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The Seven Slave Daughters of Elijah Bettis III

The descendants of Drew Bettis, the mixed-race grandson of Elijah Bettis III, have passed down the tradition for nearly 200 years: Elijah had seven enslaved daughters, by seven different enslaved women. All of them were close to each other and considered each other sisters. Some of their names persisted in the family for generations: Martha, […]

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What did it mean to be a “trained doctor” in the 18th century?

At the end of the 18th century, there were perhaps 4,000 people in America who called themselves doctors, 400 of them with formal training and 200 with actual medical degrees. In rural areas, most people acted as their own doctors, with the help of popular self-help books designed to make basic medical knowledge available to […]

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Frontier Aspirations: Cinderella, Charnelcy, Narcissa – and “Harriethusie”?

When the large family of Elijah Bettis Jr. decided to move west in 1805, they were among the richest residents of Moore County, North Carolina.  Elijah Jr. was recognized as a “trained medical doctor” (more on that later,) and either he or his son Elijah III was keeping company with the elite of Moore County […]

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