During the first half of the nineteenth century, St. Charles County evolved much like the Virginia communities from which many of its American settlers came after the Louisiana Purchase. By 1850, these Virginia gentry found themselves living in a county where nearly half of the inhabitants were German-speaking immigrants who did not share their values on a number of issues. Following are the histories and experiences of four of these Virginia families who settled in our community.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, St. Charles County evolved much like the Virginia communities from which many of its Americans settlers had come after the Louisiana Purchase. Edward S. Lewis later recalled, “St. Charles county had been settled … by farmers from Virginia who came in covered wagons and carriages, bringing their families, slaves, horses and cattle. They had prospered and were living comfortable and contented lives, in conformity with the laws of God and man, as had their ancestors in Virginia.”
By 1850, these Virginia gentry found themselves living in a county where nearly half of the inhabitants were German speaking immigrants who did not share their values on a number of issues, the most important of which was slavery. When Civil War came, some Virginia families sent their sons to fight for the Confederacy. While other Virginia families opposed secession with varying degrees of enthusiasm, most opposed the abolition of slavery. Most of the German immigrants supported the Union and abolition, creating competition within the pro-Union forces over the use of martial law in the county and state. Hard feelings continued after the Civil War as the German-speaking population continued to grow. As it lost its demographic dominance, former slaveholders lost their political dominance. Each family and each family member to deal with the new reality. Some stayed, while many left St. Charles County to seek opportunities elsewhere. Those who left and those who stayed continued to be influenced by their experiences in St. Charles County during the war and its aftermath.
The best known of these former Virginians was Edward Bates who came to Missouri at the age of 21 in 1814 and became a successful lawyer. He was delegate to the first Constitutional Convention. He was appointed the first attorney general of Missouri in 1821 and his older brother Frederick was elected the second governor of Missouri in 1824. The year before, Edward Bates married Julia Coalter, the daughter of David Coalter, who had moved his family to St. Charles County from South Carolina. Her sister was the wife of Hamilton Gamble, born in Virginia and later a member of the Missouri Supreme Court. Another sister married John Hugh Means, who later served as governor of South Carolina. Elected to Congress in 1826, Edward Bates lost his bid for reelection and returned to the practice of law and moved his family to Cheneaux, his plantation on Dardenne Prairie in St. Charles County, where he lived until 1842. He was elected to the Missouri Senate in 1830 and House of Representatives in 1834 as a candidate of the Whig Party. Serving with him in the House was his brother-in-law, John Coalter, a successful lawyer in St. Charles County.
John Orrick, born in Virginia in 1805, became a merchant’s apprentice in the free state of Pennsylvania in 1818, spending three years among the Pennsylvania Dutch, from whom he learned to speak German. In 1833, he and his wife Urilla Stonebraker Orrick moved to St. Charles and established a fur trading business. After serving four years as county sheriff, he was elected to the House of Representatives as a Whig. After leaving the legislature, John Orrick became captain of the steamboat packet Faway, which operated between St. Charles and St. Louis. He took the federal census in St. Charles County in 1850 and served on the Board of Directors of St. Charles College and the North Missouri Railroad later in that decade. Though concern primarily with mercantile interests, he owned four slaves and 88 acres of agricultural ground in 1860.
John Jay Johns was born in Virginia in 1819, moved to Mississippi with his family, and graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He relocated from Mississippi with his nine slaves to 250 acres of partially improved land in the floodplain north of St. Charles in 1846. John Jay Johns married Jane Durfee, daughter of a Presbyterian minister who had come to Missouri from Massachusetts. In 1851, the Johns family retained their 300-acre farm, worked by their nine slaves, but moved to St. Charles, where John Jay served as an elder in the Presbyterian Church and was elected the first St. Charles County public school commissioner.
George Dyer, born in 1806, was the son of John Dyer, a native of Virginia. He moved to St. Charles County in 1840 with his wife, Margaret Hayden Dyer. George became a successful farmer on his 400-acre farm on Dog Prairie, between the Cuivre River and Peruque Creek. He was a well-respected citizen of Cuivre Township, where he served as constable for many years. Unlike most other St. Charles County families from Virginia in 1860, the Dyers owned no slaves and were Catholic. Among his children were Elizabeth and William.
The first Bates family child was born in 1823, shortly after Edward’s law partner Joshua Barton was killed in a duel. Edward and Julia named him Joshua Barton but he came to be called Barton. They would have 16 other children, including Fleming Bates and John Coalter Bates. The Orricks’ son John Cromwell was born in 1830. The Dyers’ son William was born in 1838. George Sibley Johns, named after George Sibley who, along with his wife Mary Easton Sibley, founded Lindenwood, a Presbyterian school for women, was born in 1857. All would grow up in St. Charles County. Although separated by age, their destinies would be shaped by the attitudes instilled in them by their parents, and the events unfolding in St. Charles County.
John Orrick got on well with the increasing number of German-speaking immigrants arriving in St. Charles County after 1834. Reviewing the announced candidates for sheriff, the St. Charles Demokrat, a German-language newspaper, suggested “perhaps Mr. John Orrick would be the appropriate man, for he speaks English and German.” The Dyers also got along with the Germans, many of whom were Catholic and their co-religionists. William Dyer married Margaret McMenamy, who had emigrated with her family from Ireland in 1851.
The Bates and Johns families did not get along as well with the newcomers. Both families were part of the slaveholding aristocracy who felt socially superior to the German immigrants. Garland Broadhead commented years later, “Most of the Coalters with the Naylors and Bates and other relatives resided for a number of years on Dardenne Prairie, St. Charles County, and between 1820 and 1850 there was no better society in Missouri than that of Dardenne Prairie.” Referring to these aristocrats, the St. Charles Demokrat, a German language newspaper edited by Arnold Krekel, an attorney who also served in the Union Army, the Missouri House of Representatives, and the Missouri Constitutional Convention , stated, “The families constituted a kind of closed society among themselves, and from here the fate of St. Charles County is determined, or at least so they believe.”