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Jean Baptiste Bossier was the subject of a portrait (above) by John James Audubon done on April 28, 1821 in New Orleans. The portrait is owned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri and has frequently been featured in Audubon collections and catalogues. But until now there has been little biographical material on Bossier to accompany the portrait. The following is an attempt to fill that gap. [1]

 

Bossier was the scion of a family of French Creoles who were among the very first settlers in the Louisiana Colony in 1719. The founding ancestor was Jean Baptiste Bossier dit Le Brun (1676-1745), a native of Casselsagrat, Tarn-et-Garon, France. He was already in his forties when he joined Bernard La Harp's expedition in 1718 to explore concessions in the newly established Louisiana Colony. After arrival in Louisiana the La Harpe expedition was rerouted by Governor Beinville to explore the upper reaches of the Red River for trade purposes. La Harp selected five volunteers and pushed north along the River into present day Arkansas and founded Ft. Charlotta in present day Fulton, Arkansas. On the return trip, Bossier remained at Ft. Jean Baptiste de Nachitoches on the Red River created in 1714 to protect the undefined border with Spanish Texas. [2]

 

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Map of southern France,1724, and Guyenne Region, 1785, showing Castel Sacrat, modern Castelsagrat.

 

Bossier was granted two parcels of land on the east bank of the Red River in Natchitoches, possibly in compensation for rebuilding of the original fort further inland in 1732. By that time he had acquired land in St. Charles Parish near New Orleans and was raising a family there. He had married Anne Chaigneau Rousseau, a Natchitoches widow with two children in about 1728. They had three boys in the years following. Bossier appears to have moved back and forth from his family home in St. Charles and his Natchitoches property. No doubt he farmed land on both sites, but the Company of the Indies also licensed him to make bricks, tiles and earthen pots at his St. Charles site. These two locations became ancestral homes for later generations of Bossiers. [3]

 

The third Bossier child, Francois Paul (1734-1780), married Rosalye Barre, a planter's daughter from the German Coast (St. Charles Parish) area in 1755. They had nine children born both on the German Coast and in Nachitoches. Shortly before Francois Bossier's death in 1780 the family moved to Opelousas, a village midway between the two Bossier home sites. He began a vacherie of cattle ranching and farmed as well. [4]

 

Shortly after his death, his third child, Jean Baptiste (1763-1787), General Bossier's father, married Marie Jeanne St. Gemme Bauvis (1768-1798) from St. Charles on the German Coast. General Bossier (1783-1842) was born there shortly thereafter. During the next year, Jean Baptise's name began to appear in the church records in Natchitoches, indicating a move there. By 1786 his second child, Marie Pelagie, is baptized in the Natchitoches parish church of St. Francis of Assisi. Bossier's occupation is described in one record as a gold and silver smith, a similar description given a younger brother several years later. But in 1787 he is serving as entrepreneur (general contractor) for the building of a new church in the town. His sudden death in November of that year left his estate with tangled financial affairs as both suppliers sought reimbursement and the estate billed the parish committee for expenses undertaken. [5]

 

Young Jean Baptiste and his sister Marie Pelagie appear to have moved with their mother back to St. Charles Parish where her St. Gemme Bauvis family still lived. With the financial complications of her husband's early and sudden death, Marie Bossier must have felt more secure closer to her home. It is doubtful that the family suffered privations since both she and her husband had inherited at the death of their respective fathers in the early 1780s. Madame Bossier died in 1798 in St. Charles, leaving young Jean Baptiste Bossier and his sister still adolescents of fifteen and twelve years old. They both may well have been in school at the time. [6]

 

When and how Bossier migrated north to Missouri is uncertain. Clearly he is in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri by the time of his marriage in 1808. Why he chose this small frontier town is less uncertain. Most of his mother's St. Gemme Bauvis relatives were living there and were leading merchants. He must have seen the economic possibilities of an opening frontier area that was already strong in agriculture and had promise of a burgeoning mining industry. It would have coincided with the recent changeover of the old Louisiana Colony to the status of American statehood. Perhaps Missouri seemed more adaptable to American ways than the old Creole culture of Lower Louisiana. Yet he was to maintain strong family and commercial ties with the land of his birth. [7]

 

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St. Gemme Beauvais House in St. Genevieve, MO

 

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Creole Bossiers continued an active commercial and public life. While they continued locally to serve in various public capacities, several Bossier relatives served with distinction at the state level. Placide Bossier (1794-1839), a nephew of the General, signed the first State Constitution in 1811. Another nephew, Pierre Evariste Bossier (1797-1844), became a prominent plantation owner in the Nachitoches area and went on to serve ten years as State Senator and then United States Representative for Louisiana. Bossier Parish was formed from the northern portion of Nachitoches Parish in 1844 and named for him. [8]

 

Bossier arrived in Ste. Genevieve as it changed its legal --as well as its cultural-- status after 1803. Its standing as a French colonial town was beginning to fade as Americans brought English and free enterprise to its local mercantile elites. Among those elites were the St. Gemme Bauvis family with interests in agriculture, mining and fur trading. For years they had prospered on the Illinois side of the Mississippi and had moved to avoid British rule after the French and Indian War (1757-1763) had ceded the east bank to England. Also, Ste. Genevieve was becoming a strong mining center with rich mineral deposits west of the town. This served as a catalyst to the existing agrarian and fur trade economy of the region. [9]

 

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The Bossier House in St. Genevieve, MO

 

Bossier brought to this transition period a strong bias toward French Creole traditions and ways, but soon showed himself able to maneuver in the growing American business culture. He met Martha Moreau (1787-1860), the oldest of three children of a wealthy widow. The younger sister, Catherine, had recently married Jean Baptiste Valle and that alliance was the occasion for a partition the estate. Whether her connections and inheritance was the sole basis of Bossier's initial success is unknown. He may well have brought his own inheritance to the marriage. Certainly he brought business acumen and a broad classical education. [10]

 

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Cecile Choquette Moreau (1749-1825)

 

Bossier's initial career was in fur trading. He opened a fur trading post in Ste. Genevieve shortly after arriving there. The nature of this enterprise is unclear. He certainly was active in the purchase of fur trade goods in the 1820s, but his post may have also served as a general merchandise store. He was active in real estate for most of his life and owned properties in three counties at the time of his death. Whether these properties served agricultural purposes or were mainly as investments in mineral deposits is uncertain. His later dealings in lead with his son-in-law suggest they may have been mining related. [11]

 

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The Old Bossier Store in St. Genevieve, MO

 

Like his Bossier relatives in Louisiana, General Bossier was active in public as well as commercial life. He was early elected to serve in the first Missouri Territorial Legislature in 1812, one of the few French named persons to do so. He also was a Justice of the Ste. Genevieve County Court in the 1820s. He was active in other community affairs, especially related to the Catholic Parish. He served in the War of 1812 in the Missouri militia as a captain. Whether he attained a rank higher than that in later militia service is unclear, but a portrait in the 1830s shown him dressed in a colonel's uniform (see below). The title of "General" used commonly by his contemporaries may have been an honorary appellation conferred on distinguished public figures. [12]

 

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Portrait of Jean Baptiste Bossier done in the 1830's

 

There was an incident in 1835 suggestive of Bossier's ranking in the community. It originated with John Jacob Astor, the financier and owner of the American Fur Company. Otto II, the young King of Greece, arrived in the United States as an Astor guest. To show the young king the American frontier where the pelts of the Company's came from, Astor sent him to St. Louis and then on to Ste. Genevieve. A selected group of French speaking gentlemen were designated to entertain Otto. Bossier, apparently, assumed a leading role that included riding, shooting and cards. It was the high point of King Otto's American stay. The commentator on the visit remarked about the manners and education of these Creole gentlemen that put the King at his ease. [13]

 

Bossier's family life with Martha was blessed with ten children. The births unfortunately led to many early childhood deaths, and only Carmelite (1814-1896) and Elvina (1824-1873) survived to adulthood. Being from a prominent family meant husbands of (almost) equal standing. Carmelite was the first to marry in 1832. She chose Simon A. Guignon (1806-1891), a doctor's son who began a commercial career just out of school in Fredericktown in 1824, a mining boomtown of the area. Guignon opened a successful merchandise store probably with his brother-in-law, Evariste Pratte, who had a controlling interest in Mine La Motte close to town. General Bossier moved to Fredericktown shortly after the marriage in 1834 and joined his new son-in-law in selling lead products on the Eastern market through a brokerage firm in Philadelphia. He also may have opened a store of his own in town after the move. [14]

 

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Marie Carmelite Bossier (1814-1896) in 1836

Simon Amable Guignon (1806-1891) in 1836

 

His second daughter, Elvina, married Conrad C. Ziegler (1815-1863) who practiced law with John Scott in Ste. Genevieve. Scott was a prominent attorney and a political figure who represented Missouri's controversial admission to the Union in 1821. By 1840 when he married Elvina Bossier, Ziegler was ready to forsake law for developing mining interests. Among other companies that he helped create, he served as manager for the Iron Mountain Mining Company incorporated in 1843. He pushed for a railroad from the mining district to St. Louis for years. During his term as State Senator from 1854-58 he realized his dream when in the Iron Mountain Railroad Company was created in 1857. His fortunes and health both seriously declined in the late 1850s and he died at 48 as an invalid in 1863. [15]

 

Bossier's move to Fredericktown in 1834 indicated a major commitment to the mining industry. How the Panic of 1837 effected Bossier's fortune is uncertain. When he died in 1842--somewhat suddenly it seems--his estate could not cover the debts without selling some of his real estate holdings. Nevertheless, there are many indications that neither his wife nor family suffered deprivation. Indeed, both daughters at the time were wealthy in their own right. [16]

 

The Civil War made a difference in fortune for many in Missouri, not least the old Creole families of Ste. Genevieve. Because southeast Missouri was rich in minerals, a prime war materiel, the Union and Confederacy both sought to control it. Young General Grant led his troops against a Confederate Army at Fredericktown in October 1861. After a Union victory, the federal troops entered the town and sacked the homes and businesses of "Southern sympathizers." The Guignons were among those targeted. They decided to move back to Ste. Genevieve and never returned to Fredericktown or to the affluence of its boom times. The Guignon grandchildren were the only descendants that General and Martha Bossier had. [17]

 

Bossier had made the move from an established world of French Creole culture to a raw and changing one of the American frontier. He retained much of his prior life and ways but also showed flexibility in mastering the new mercantilism of the frontier. Like many French names in American history, his was lost to those more prominent in the enduring contests between Americans and their adversaries, the British, the Native Americans, and eventually the slaveholders. This is regrettable because it masks the achievements of the original French pioneers on which were built the modern States of Louisiana and Missouri.

 

--Last updated August 2001

 

End Notes

 

Introduction: Much of the following is drawn from my earlier monograph on Bossier: Patrick D. McAnany, "General Jean Baptiste Bossier and Descendants: A Family of Portraits," July 2001.

 

[1] Two examples the portrait without any significant biography are: Stanley Clisby Arthur, An Intimate Life of an American Woodsman, New Orleans: Harmonson, 1937, p. 181 on Audubon; and Henry Adams and Margaret Stenz, American Drawings and Watercolors From the Kansas City Region, Kansas City, Missouri: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 1992.

 

[2] For genealogical details on the original Bossiers, see Audie Barnhill Smith, The Bossier Families of Louisiana on file in the Louisiana State Archives at Baton Rouge. For details of the La Harp expedition, see, Glenn R. Conrad, ed. La Harp, Historical Journal of the Establishment of the French in Louisiana, Lafayette. Louisiana: University of Southern Louisiana History Series No. 3, 1971. On Bossier in Natchitoches, see Louis Raphael Nardini, Sr., My Historic Nathcitoches, Louisiana and Its Environment, Nathcitoches, Louisiana: Nardini Publishing, 1963.

 

[3] For parish records in St. Charles Parish, see Glenn R. Conrad, ed. St. Charles: Abstracts of Civil Records of St. Charles Parish 1700-1803, Layfayette, Louisiana: University of Southern Louisiana History Series, 1974.

For similar records for Nathcitoches, see Elizabeth Shown Mills, ed., Natchitoches 1729-1803, New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1977.

 

[4] For details, see Smith above note [2].

 

[5] For details, see Smith above note [2], Conrad and Mills, above note [3]. The details of the ill-fated church building are contained in the Melrose Collection in the Watson Library, Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Nathcitoches, LA.

 

[6] For details, see Conrad above note [3] and Smith above note [2]. Apart from statements about Bossier being well educated, I have not found where and how he was educated. There is a suggestion that several Bossiers attended Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., founded in 1789. I think it more likely that Jean Baptiste went to France for his education, following the tradition of French Creoles of St. Domingue.

 

[7] For details on Ste. Genevieve prior to the Louisiana Purchase, see Carl J. Ekberg, Colonial Ste. Genevieve: An Adventure on the Mississippi Frontier, Tucson, AZ: Patrice Press, 2nd ed. 1995.

[8] For details on these Bossiers, see Donna Rachel Mills, ed. Biographical and Historical Memories of Nathcitoches, Tuscoloosa, AL: Mills Historical Press, 1985.

 

[9] See Ekberg above note [7]; for the St. Gemme Bauvis family in Kaskaskia, Illinois, see Charles Walworth Alvord, The Illinois County 1673-1818, Chicago: Loyola Press, 1965.

 

[10] For background on the Moreau Family and the French network they represented, see Ekberg above note [7]. For details on the Moreau Family assets, see "Inventory of Property of Widow Moro, June 7, 1806," File 1, Mathias Ziegler Papers, Archives of Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, MO.

 

[11] For details on the Fur Trading Post which still exists, see Gregory M. Franzwa, The Story of Old Ste. Genevieve, St. Louis, MO: Patrice Press, 1967.

For details on Bossier's business dealings, see McAnany above Introduction to End Notes.

 

[12] For details on his political and military service, see Louis Houck, History of Missouri, vol. 1, Chicago: R.R. Donnelly, 1908. For his County Court office, see Guignon Papers, owned by author and cited in McAnany above Introduction to End Notes.

 

[13] For details, see John Darby, Personal Recollections, St. Louis, MO: S.I. Janes, 1880.

 

[14] For details, see McAnany above Introduction to End Notes.

 

[15] The Guignon Papers referred to above note [13] contain over 200 documents relating to Conrad Ziegler's legal and commercial activity. There is no biography for Ziegler.

 

[16] Bossier's estate was probated on November 15, 1842 with Martha Bossier as administratrix. For details of the estate, see Madison County Probate Records, Reel C 11836 Madison County Library, Fredericktown, MO

 

[17] For a description of the military action, see William E. Parrish, A History of Missouri, vol. 3, Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1989. For a personal account of the Guignons, see Maude E. Guignon, "Reminiscences," typewritten history of the Guignon families, c. 1960.

 

Last Updated 2001