A Brief Look at Early St. Louis

Author unknown. Found on Andy Wurm Parking lot. August 2014.
Author unknown. Found on Andy Wurm Parking lot. August 2014.

Before 2014, Fergusson Missouri remained a hamlet in the quiet backwaters of St Louis, mostly forgotten by the world.  However, one fateful day in August, Michael Brown was gunned down cruelly by the Poice and it put Fergusson on the maps and catapulted to the world stage.  In order to truly understand Fergusson, one must understand it’s history.

The History

St. Louis and Missouri has always been a complicated region, not counting its pre-European history: which is a story for a different time. The history of European St. Louis starts with Philippe François Renault, who brought in the neighborhood of five hundred African slaves to mine lead in what is now modern-day St. Louis and Jefferson counties in 1720, although extensive exploration and resource extraction had been occurring since the early 1670’s.

The city of St. Louis as a European city itself began with King Louis XV of France granting land (that wasn’t his) to Pierre Laclede Liguest to use as a fur trading outpost in 1764.

Although Spain nominally gained control of the area in accordance with the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1762. After spending some time as a Spanish colony, St. Louis was transferred back to Napoleon in 1803 and then sold to the United States the same year.

Slavery was abolished by the French in 1794 in all of its colonies, but reinstated by Napoleon in 1802 and wouldn’t have mattered after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Via Ferguson Municipal Public Library
Via Ferguson Municipal Public Library

This is an interesting document I found in the cataloging room of the library I used to work at. The only printed copies exist at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, St. Louis University’s archival library and doesn’t exist online as far as I know.  This history of Ferguson is one of the many pieces to the St. Louis puzzle and cannot be separated from the history of American slavery or the history of French slavery. This is just the first chapter, I will have the whole document uploaded in a future blog.

Slavery in Fergusson


Slavery in Ferguson comes down to two major individuals: Marshall Brotherton and his brother James Brotherton. They were both slave owners who moved to the Florissant Valley region of Missouri in the early 1800’s.  Marshall and his brother James Brotherton were both sheriffs for St. Louis County. Marshall was a St. Louis County judge before the abolition of slavery in the United States.  Another major slave owner in Ferguson was named Thomas January, who would later go on to do business with the Wabash Railroad.

Another major slave owner in Ferguson was named Thomas January, who would later go on to do business with the Wabash Railroad.

Vis Ferguson Historical Society
Vis Ferguson Historical Society

Despite the rich history slavery, the city of Ferguson, still, engages in revisionist history.


The city of Ferguson was a sundown town and even had city officials threaten to build a fence between itself and the neighboring African American municipality of Kinloch when a black man moved in, St. Louis is still in the shadow of the massive policy failure that was Pruitt-Igoe and families that were destroyed with it.  This refusal to acknowledge history is the reason why this region will continue to have problems in the future.


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – Jorge Santayana
About JD 7 Articles
JD Weigel is a live streamer, activist, and writer from San Diego California who lives in St. Louis Missouri. You can follow JD on Twitter here: @JDACW and you can support his cigarette habit here: paypal.me/JDWeigel