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St. Charles History

The history of our past and the events of today

And the List Just Keeps Growing

Many years ago I wrote a blog about how much we take for granted, when it comes to our history, culture and traditions. I had a wake up call six years ago, to remind me of my own words, when I had an email from Germany asking “how much remains of the German history and culture in Missouri?” That resulted in the International traveling exhibit of Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America that 60,000 visited at the Missouri History Museum before it closed in April. Then I met Steve Belko, the new Director at the Missouri Humanities Council in St. Louis with his new brainchild – the German Heritage Corridor!

Today 46 Million Americans list German as their ethnic background. Germans were arriving before we were even the U.S.,  when October 6, 1683, thirteen German Mennonites from Krefeld arrived at Philadelphia’s harbor aboard the ship Concord. Those families founded Germantown, the first German settlement in the original thirteen colonies. German-American Day, celebrated that fact on October 6th, died out in World War I, due to the anti-German sentiment that began then. It was revived in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. Those families emigrated westward in the early 1800s with the western expansion and attracted the attention of the writer Gottfried Duden who published his book A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America. First published in 1829, it was about Missouri and started a whole new wave of immigration of Germans who didn’t stop in Philadelphia anymore.

And they came by the thousands! They filled the valleys and the hillsides, and brought us our hard working culture, our stubborn show-me spirit, and a love for family and a good bottle of wine. We have forgotten that more of our traditions are German in origin that those that are not!  The Kindegarten, the Gymnasium and even the Christmas Tree are from our ancestors. Many of those early emigrants came in groups, from Solingen or Osnabrück, and emptied out whole German villages. Or they came because they were wanting to continue their religious beliefs like the Saxony Lutherans that settled in Perry County, in southern Missouri. Or maybe they were all united by a love for political freedoms, such as the Giessen Emigration Society who were from many parts of Germany and many walks of life.

German immigrant Theodore Lock arrived in Loose Creek in 1841 and established the Lock mill with his family.  Many German families who settled in Loose Creek in 1851, also came from the Krefeld.  The community appeared in the German television series Germans in America. Missouri’s history is so filled with German heritage we often forget that it is even German. Small towns like Loose Creek and Dutzow are about to join the list of towns like Dortmund and Hamburg that have already disappeared. Large cities like St. Louis and St. Charles once so totally German that you didn’t even hear English, are rapidly loosing their German identity.

Belko is making a list. He has great plans for that list! Every house, village or site that relates to our German heritage. Every museum, or archives; every society or club; and every fest. And the list just keeps growing. Join me on June 28th, at 2:00 pm at the Frenchtown Heritage Museum at 1128 North Main in St. Charles, as I talk on their new exhibit The German Heritage of St. Charles County, from the St. Charles German Heritage Club. It is free, fun and everyone is Wilkommen!

June 1804

In 1812, our ancestors did not know that our young country had just officially gone to war for the first time, with President Madison’s signature. Without today’s internet, facebook, blogs and tweets, they were totally unaware that the House of Representatives had hotly debated the issue, behind closed doors, ending with the closest vote for war in our Nation’s entire history. For most of the United States, this war would be over the issues of trade embargoes and the capture and forced service of over 10,000 of our men into their British Navy. But for those living here on the frontier, it was the Indian War, and we had been fighting it here for years. The British used the Indian tribes, inciting them to harass and slaughter, because of our expansionist activities. Britain was involved in a fierce struggle with Napoleon in Europe. Our pride would not allow us to ignore these threats to our national honor, that most viewed as a continuation of our war for Independence.

Saint Charles, June 1804

Here, the war of 1812 began with President Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1804. Quite a deal had been cut because France needed the money. Saint Charles territory stretched northwest of the Missouri River to uncharted lands. After the Corps of Discovery departed that May, the Territory’s trickle of settlement began. We were far outnumbered though, by the Indian tribes as the Territory contained nearly the entire domain of the Sauk and Fox. We lived with the constant fear of attack.

When Sauk and Fox killed several settlers north of Saint Charles, they turned over one of the warriors involved in the incident, with a petition for pardon to Governor Harrison. The result was a Treaty, in 1804, that read,

“As long as the lands that are now ceded to the U.S. remain their property, the Indians belonging to the said tribes shall enjoy the privilege of hunting on them.”

Some questioned whether the U.S. even really had the right to Treaty as the acquisition was so freshly inked. The land involved included today’s Saint Charles County.

To read the entire story….

Granville Abbington of the U.S. 56th Colored Troops

In the early 1830s, Henry Abington, born in Henry County, Virginia in 1767, moved west to Missouri. The U.S. financial status had caused many of the old plantation owners to look west, to the new territory, the young state and its plentiful lands. He and his wife, the former Elizabeth Johnson brought their huge clan, including their sons Henry (1793-1851) and William (1794-1840). The family were large slave owners, and would fight, steal and bicker over them in the St. Charles County courts for years. They left a large amount of records that tell a story that has helped provide the U.S. 56th Colored Troops a monument in Jefferson Barracks nearly two hundred years later..

Before dying in October 1840, Henry’s oldest son William had married Francis Shelton and had two sons William and Samuel  who would inherit their father’s fifteen slaves brought from Virginia. In addition to the slaves they inherited from their father, came also their share of inheritance of slaves from Grandpa Henry when he died in 1844. One of those Abington family slaves William Abbington married Louise Allen in 1866, in which those St. Charles County Colored Marriage Record Book list their son Granville Abbington. Granville is an ancestor to a George Abbington.

Granville Abbington was a member of the U.S. 56th Colored Troops (Union). In St. Louis in August of 1863, the 3rd Regiment Arkansas Volunteer Infantry was assigned to the Union Army, then dispatched to Helena, Arkanasas where it was re-organized as the 56th United States Colored Infantry, commanded by a German, Col. Carl Bentozoni. He trained the troops for combat, which they saw July 29, 1864.

The enemy were concealed in the thick timber and were within 150 yards of us before I opened on them, when they charged with a yell, but being well supported by Captain Brown, of the Sixtieth, with sixteen men, and Captain Patten, of the Fifty-sixth, with twenty-five men, and using canister rapidly and carefully, we repulsed them….During the whole fight the colored men stood up to their duty like veterans, and it was owing to their strong arms and cool heads, backed by fearless daring, alone that I was able to get away either of my guns. They marched eighteen miles at once, fought five hours, against three to one, and were as eager at the end as at the beginning for the fight. Never did men, under such circumstances, show greater pluck or daring.I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,H. T. CHAPPEL,First Lieutenant.

(Ref.Christ, Mark, “Re: Battles of Helena and Jenkins Ferry”, Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board, Posted 7/25/2006, Accessed 24 May 2015  http://www.history-sites.com/cgi-bin/bbs62x/arcwmb/arch_config.pl?md=read;id=13202)

(The unit’s connections with Napoleon Bonaparte Buford, half-brother of Union cavalry leader and Gettysburg hero John Buford, began in 1864. The unit was one of 14 that Buford commanded in Eastern Arkansas.)

The 56th Colored Regiment losses during service consisted of four officers and 21 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded; and two officers and 647 enlisted men by disease; for a total of 674 fatalities.The vast majority of the deaths due to disease occurred during a cholera epidemic that struck in August 1866. The unit was mustered out of the service on September 15, 1866, and the 56th was traveling aboard 2 steamers to be mustered out. During the trip several soldiers died of an undiagnosed illness. A surgeon inspected the men and reported no cholera among them. The men arrived in St. Louis at night and were kept onboard until the next morning, rather than being allowed to roam the town. The next morning, it was clear that the 56th Regiment had cholera. Ordered back to Quarantine Station, the unit lost 178 enlisted men and one officer in the next few weeks. Granville Abbington was one of those soldiers.

A monument to the 56th Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops honoring the memory of the 175 soldiers of

Monument naming the U.S. 56th Colored Troops buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
Monument naming the U.S. 56th Colored Troops buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

the 56th USCT who died of cholera was placed on Quarantine Island where the soldiers had been held. In 1939 the monument and the remains were removed from “Quarantine Station, Missouri” by authority of the War Department, to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. From 1939 to August 2014 that obelisk marked the grave of Granville Abbington, as one of those “unknown” soldiers.

George Abbington at the grave of his family ancestor Granville Abbington.
George Abbington at the grave of his family ancestor Granville Abbington.

However, the St. Louis African American Genealogical Society was determined to change this, lobbying, and writing, they wanted a monument to list these brave soldiers, listing their names. The U.S. Government would grant this if they could produce proof and a descendant of one of those soldiers known to have died due to the Cholera.

Enter George Abbington, who had gone in search of his grandparents, all four of which were born into slavery and who had lived in St. Charles County. George Abbington’s search into his families past provided enough documentation that in 2014, a new and long overdue monument was placed with the names of the soldiers of the 56th upon the grave formerly marked as “unknown”.  And Granville Abbington would finally receive his own memorial headstone.

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