Old Chariton, Chariton County, Missouri

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Old Chariton

In the spring of 1817 the town of Chariton was laid out and it was located in Chariton Township, about one-half mile east of where the Chariton River joined the Missouri River and about four hundred yards north of the latter river.

General Duff Green and Sabret Johnson were the original proprietors of the town site. It was always called "Old Chariton," not because there was another town of the same name, but because it was the oldest and first settled town in the county. In fact, it was to Chariton County what Jamestown was to Virginia and St. Augustine was to Florida. Being the most western town on the Missouri River, in a few years after being laid out it grew rapidly and gave promise of being a rival of St. Louis in controlling the trade of the Missouri valley. So bright seemed its future and so enthusiastic its early inhabitants that it would be the great commercial center of the northwest that a shoemaker, William Cabeen, familiarly called ''Uncle Billy Cabeen," sold his property in St. Louis, a block near the old court house, for $3,000 and invested the money in lots in Chariton. But alas for human hopes and expectations, the St. Louis property is now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, while "Old Chariton," the once ambitious and hustling little village is a thing of the past and in the field of growing corn one would hardly recognize the ancient town site.

In the winter of 1816-17, it was the wintering ground of a tribe of the Sac and Iowa Indians and during the summer of 1817 three or four log cabins were built. The Iowas camped for many years in the neighborhood of where "Old Chariton" was afterwards located. Their noted chief was White Cloud, who is said to have possessed many good traits of character and was a fine looking Indian. Wahoochee was one of the prominent chiefs of the tribe of the Sacs. These Indians were not always peaceable and resented the encroachments of the whites and at times were quite hostile, often committing many depredations on the settlements of the early pioneers. Major Stephen Cooper, of Colusa, California, who served as a volunteer in the company of his father, Captain Sarshall Cooper, who had command of Cooper's Fort in Howard County, was detailed as a scout, and often was sent out to look for Indian trails and camps in the territory of the Chariton Rivers. On one occasion, accompanied by Joseph Stills, in October, 1813, they were scouting on the Grand Chariton, when they were surrounded by about three hundred Indians of the Sac nation. In attempting to charge through them Stills was shot from his horse and instantly killed, but Cooper escaped unhurt, after killing one of the principal braves of the Sac Nation.

The town of Chariton could boast of as good society as any city in America, having men of great literary attainments, of skill in their professions, and of great social endowments, many of them graduates of the leading institutions of learning in this country and some even from Edinburgh, Scotland.

Among the early business men were General Duff Green and Stephen Donahoe, John Ross and Company, composed of John Ross, William Glasgow and John Aull.

Fred Beanbrick was the tailor and the only German settler at that time in the county.

John Moore and Isaac Campbell each kept a hotel and lived for many years in the place. Mr. Moore met his death in a very tragic manner years afterwards at the hands of an assassin.

General Duff Green and his brother-in-law, James Semple, were the first lawyers in the place. The latter moved to Illinois and was United States senator from that state for six years. General Duff Green was one of the most noted and prominent citizens of the place and gave tone and direction to all its leading industries. He started the erection of a two-story, fourteen-room brick house, but before its completion he returned to St. Louis to engage in the management of a newspaper that was to promote the interest of John C. Calhoun for the presidency. This enterprise having failed, he was induced to go to Washington, D. C, where he established a paper called the Telegraph, in advocacy of General Jackson's claims. General Green took an active part in politics and by his vigorous espousal of General Jackson's cause he was given credit for his election and was the director of the leading features of his administration.

Col. John White owned a harness shop and made saddles for many years and it is said that the celebrated Kit Carson, scout and noted Indian fighter, worked for him for some time.

In 1818 Capt. W. W. Monroe and family, Edward B. Cabell and family, and Daniel Duvall and family reached the town of Chariton and united their destinies with the people of what is now Chariton County.

 When the county was organized, Edward B. Cabell was appointed clerk of the circuit court and held that office for thirty years. In 1819, Col. Joseph J. Monroe, brother of President James Monroe and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, a man of vast learning, became a citizen of Chariton County for a time, but afterwards purchased land near Fayette, Missouri, and died a few years afterward.

In the year 1818, many prominent families came from Kentucky and Virginia and among them were Col. Hiram Craig and family. He was a gallant officer of a Virginia regiment in the War of 1812, and for many years was a surveyor in Augusta County, Virginia. He located a New Madrid claim of several hundred acres, five miles northwest of ''Old Chariton," where the road through the bottom strikes the upland or hills on the road to Keytesville. He was appointed by the legislature in 1820, one of the commissioners to locate the county seat and they selected Old Chariton, making their report January 25, 1821. He was a man of fine education, of heroic build and his advice was sought by his neighbors in every enterprise for the upbuilding and good of the county. He was a man of great force of character, of strong likes and dislikes and was always loyal to his friends and for the man who had little mean traits of character he had the most supreme contempt and did not hesitate to express his sentiments when occasion required. His wife was a no less distinguished personage, a descendant of prominent Scotch-Irish ancestry, the Campbell clan of Argyleshire, Scotland. She was a Presbyterian of the strictest sect, deeply pious and with an unfaltering trust in the one true and living God. Her home was the hospitable resting place of every pioneer preacher, irrespective of the sect to which he might belong, and her house was the regular preaching place for that neighborhood for many years. She was the daughter of Thomas and Jane (Campbell) Tate, of Augusta County, Virginia, and her mother was a sister of General William Campbell, the "Hero of King's Mountain," who married Elizabeth Henry, sister of Patrick Henry, governor of Virginia. In the year 1817, Abraham Locke and his family and his sons, Thomas, John D., Nelson P. and William M. Locke, came from Virginia and settled in the same neighborhood of Colonel Craig.

In 1818, others from Virginia and Kentucky settled in the same neighborhood, among them Nathaniel Butler, Joseph Vance, James Fowler, Thomas Watson, Peterson Parks, Robert Hayes, Daniel Hays, Samuel and Jonathan T. Burch, Samuel Dinsmore, Capt. James Heryford and Abner Finnell.

Near the town of Chariton and west of the Grand Chariton, James Earickson settled and afterwards was elected state senator and state treasurer. His son-in-law, Talton Turner, Archibald Hix, Samuel Williams, Col. John M. Bell, John Morse, Henry Lewis, Richard Woodson, John Doxey, Thomas Doxey, and others occupied the county as far north as the Bowling Green prairie.

Col. Martin Palmer lived in the western edge of the Bowling Green prairie on a creek to which he gave his name. Colonel Palmer went to Texas and tried to start a revolution, but returned to Arkansas, where he was quite prosperous.

On the east fork of the Chariton lived the celebrated Dr. Sappington, who afterwards moved to Saline County and was the originator of the "Sappington pill" composed of quinine, blue mass and piperin and extensively used by the pioneers in the treatment of malarial fevers. It was often stated that one could go from the Missouri River to any point in Texas without money and get accommodation for man or beast at any house or tavern if he had plenty of Doctor Sappington's pills in his saddlebags.

In the eastern part of the county lived John Doxey, who gave name to "Doxey's Fork," that empties into the east fork of the Chariton just above the town of Chariton. In the same neighborhood lived Samuel Forrest, John Tooley, Joseph Maddox, Thomas Anderson, and others.

In October, 1818, Maj. Daniel Ashby and family, accompanied by Abraham Sportsman, James Leeper, Thomas Shumate, Pleasant Browder, and their families, came from near Harrodsburg, Mercer County, Kentucky, and settled on the bluff west of the present town of Keytesville. Major Ashby drove 375 head of stock hogs from Kentucky to where he finally settled in the western part of what was then Howard County. In his autobiography, ''Reminiscences of a Missouri Pioneer" he says: ''I was the northwest pivot man of the pioneer settlements of the United States. There was no white man between me and the Rocky Mountains on the west, nor was there anyone between me and the Lake of the Woods on the north." He learned to speak the language of the Iowa Indians and Gen. Duff Green furnished him with goods and he trafficked with the Indians for five years and they divided the profits equally. He was a member of the first county court of the county, was a member of the lower house of the Missouri general assembly for several sessions, was twice elected a member of the state senate (1834-36), was appointed by President Van Buren a receiver of public moneys in the land office at Lexington, Missouri, and was reappointed by President Tyler. He was a great hunter and in his autobiography he relates many thrilling incidents of the chase, while hunting bear, wolves, elk, deer, and wild turkeys in this county. He owned a celebrated pack of deer hounds and it was the great delight of his children and those of his neighbors to gather around his fireside and listen to the recital of the exploits of old ''Sounder" and "Trailer" on the chase or to his thrilling accounts of fights with Indians and hunting bear and wolves. The recital of the stirring events of the life of this single pioneer would fill a large volume and the experiences of many of his neighbors were equally as thrilling. In his unpublished autobiography he has related many of the stirring events in the lives of the pioneers of this county and has given a vivid pen picture of the trials and hardships as well as the pleasures they enjoyed and the staunch friendships engendered among those sharing a common danger in the winning of the West.

The Rev. John M. Peck visited the town of Chariton in January, 1819, and while there was a guest of Gen. Duff Green. In his memoirs he speaks of organizing a ''female mite society" to aid ''the United Society for the Spread of the Gospel" in sustaining ministers in traveling and preaching in destitute settlements.

The first Sunday school west of St. Louis was commenced in Chariton in the spring of 1819, and it became auxiliary to the Philadelphia Sunday School Union. The Rev. James Keyte, who afterwards founded the towns of Keytesville and Brunswick, was among the early residents of the town and ministered to the spiritual wants of the people as a Methodist preacher. The Baptists started the erection of a church but never finished it.

Among the pioneer physicians were Dr. Willis Green, brother of Gen. Duff Green, Dr. John Bull, afterwards a member of congress who deserves much credit for securing the "Platte Purchase," and Dr. Ben Edwards, brother of Gov. Ninian Edwards of Illinois, Doctors Wood, Holman and Folger were physicians of great skill and ministered to the sick and afflicted.

The Rev. Ebenezer Rogers, a Baptist minister, and a Mr. Pierce were the first school teachers of the town and nearly all the children in that vicinity received their early education under the training of these two men. Another teacher by the name of John Brownjohn also had a school in the town and there was considerable rivalry between the two schools. The pupils of Brownjohn's school concluded they would go over and "clean out" the boys of the Rogers school and at noon they went over in a body. One of the largest and bravest boys challenged the champion of the Rogers school to a fight. William H. Davis, brother of Judge John M. Davis and H. H. Davis, of this county, was one of the big boys of the Rogers school and accepted the challenge and literally "wiped the earth up" with his boastful rival. Mr. Rogers, who was a strict disciplinarian, heard of the fight and called young Davis up to his desk, as he had done several times before for the same offense, and was about to inflict corporal punishment upon him when he informed the teacher that the Brownjohn boys had jeered them and said the teacher of the Rogers boys was nothing but an "Old Tory" and he whipped the bully for saying it. Rogers, when he heard that he had been accused of being a Tory, having come from England, felt keenly the sting of the epithet and told his pupil that under the circumstances he would not punish him that time, but he must cease his fighting.


In the summer of 1825 there was quite a flood in the Missouri River and the Chariton Rivers overflowed the bottom lands and the town of "Old Chariton" was surrounded by the high water. After the water subsided there came sickness and death to many of the inhabitants of the town and surrounding country and the dreaded disease malaria decimated the ranks of these pioneers. There was a camp-meeting in progress in the Missouri bottom where the water overflowed the land and the people had to be rescued in boats. The first attempt to locate another town near Chariton was in 1831, when Dr. John Graves founded the town of Monticello, one mile east of Chariton on the high bluffs where it was thought the location would be more healthful. The town of Monticello was beautifully located and many men moved there with their families and it was quite an aristocratic and social center. Among those who built residences in this place were Judge John M. Feazle, who also erected a large tobacco factory. Walker Lewis, Stephen W. Lewis, William A. McLure, Judge John B. Clark, John P. Morris, Joshua A. Belden, John A. Haldeman, and Judge James Clark.

In 1839 a seminary for male and female students was conducted at Monticello and the catalogue of the opening session of Monticello Seminary, which began the last Monday in July, 1839, shows that the school had a four years course and a splendid curriculum. It continued to prosper for eight years and finally reached an enrollment of nearly four hundred pupils. It was a noted institution of learning through-out the state. The school was conducted by the Rev. William Henry Lewis, as principal, an active minister of the Methodist Church South for more than a half century.

Alfred Mann, for many years a resident of Keytesville and a noted educator in this county

James W. Lewis, brother of the Rev. William Henry Lewis, were assistant teachers

Miss Martha W. Lewis, who afterward married Dr. J. J. Watts, of Fayette, and is the mother of Mrs. J. C. Wallace, of Keytesville, presided over the women's department.

Among the pupils enrolled at the first term were:

Alfonso Moore, of Keytesville

Miss Frances Lockridge, who afterwards married Alfred Mann, their son, Horace L. Mann, now resides in Brunswick

Miss Susan M. Fristoe, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Fristoe, a pioneer Baptist minister. Miss Fristoe married Jordan Bentley and now lives near Forest Green.

Among the pupils we recognize many former citizens of Chariton County, among whom were:

Sarah A. Keyte
James Fallen Keyte
John M. Spencer
Benjamin D. Spencer
Marie E. Spencer
Julia E. Spencer, of Brunswick
Jonathan T. Burch
William V. Hall
James W. Lewis, Jr.
William Lewis
J. Lewis,
James Moore
Adelia and Amanda Campbell
Richard C. Cabeen
Robert E. Cabeen
William T. Cabeen, Chariton

The Point

An attempt was made in 1835 to start another town at what was called ''The Point,'' just east of the mouth of the Chariton River where a ferry was operated on the Missouri River. The ferry was owned by R. B. Thornton and Andrew Thrash and the town was called Thorntonburg, in honor of one of the proprietors of the ferry. Capt. Thomas Joyce, of Louisville, Kentucky, made claim to the land and after several years' litigation, gained title to the land and christened the town Louisville-on-the-Missouri. The proprietors of the new town were Thomas Joyce, Tilly Emerson and R. B. Thornton. Carson and Hays and John Mulligan operated stores there and Irving Hays operated a grist mill at the place for many years. Like Monticello and Old Chariton, this town has become a thing of the past, as the business from these places finally went to Glasgow after it was laid out.

There were no mail facilities west of Chariton for ten or twelve years after it was founded and no mail route on the north side of the Missouri River until 1833.

James Wilson was the first mail contractor for carrying mail westward from Chariton and his son was the first mail boy to carry mail from Chariton to Liberty, Clay County.

The next boy to carry mail was Charles Mann and he in turn was succeeded by John M. Davis, who when fifteen years of age, carried the mail for several months. It took six days to make the round trip from Chariton to Keytesville, then to Grand River, then to Cary's post office in Carroll County, then to Richmond and Liberty in Clay County.

The mail westward could be carried in a small mail sack and the mail eastward, being mostly letters, could be easily carried in a pair of old-style saddlebags, as there were no newspapers printed west of Old Franklin, in Howard County. This boy, who received the munificent sum of $9 a month, his board and expenses paid, the carrier providing his own horse for carrying the mail 120 miles, afterwards became sheriff and county judge and one of the wealthy men of the county. He often spoke of the changes that had taken place within his recollection in the facilities and quantities of mail distributed over this route. In 1833, he could carry the accumulation of a week's mail in his saddlebags, while today more than a ton of mail passes daily over the same route. 


© Missouri American History and Genealogy Project
Created August 16, 2017 by Judy White

Source: History of Northeast Missouri, edited by Walter Williams, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1913