From Tallow to Dream in New Madrid

St. Johns Bayou

Elders from New Madrid County, Missouri, will tell you that 240 years ago there was plenty of game in the area. Deer, coyotes and foxes roamed the territory in abondance. No one went hungry.

Around 1780 François and Joseph Lesieur, born in Yamachiche, Quebec, arrived at St. Johns Bayou to establish a trading post among the Shawnees. They named the place “Greasy Bend” because on the river edge and the ascending hill towards the interior , the Lesieur brothers spotted pieces of animal fat scattered here and there on the ground. The culprits seemed to decimate the area’s wildlife, not to feed their families but to harvest the precious fatty substance called “tallow”. While the meat was left to rot, the tallow was used for the softening and waterproofing of fur skins.

Fort Céleste and New Madrid

David Rumsey Historical Map

Many French settlers inhabited Greasy Bend, then called “Anse à la Graisse”, in the spring of 1789, when George Morgan, a hero of the War of Independence, arrived with a dream and proposed to the Spanish administration of Louisiana a huge real estate development plan on 15 millions of acres. This impressive urban project was named New Madrid after the capital of Spain. However, it had to be scrapped because it did not receive the approval of Governor Esteban Miró. In the fall of that year, at the request of the governor, Lieutenant Pierre Forcher and some thirty soldiers erected Fort Céleste on the Mississippi’s West Bank.

Seven years after the construction of Fort Céleste, named after the wife of Governor Miró, the waters of the Mississippi had already begun to eat away at the palisades, as can be seen from the map below. Today, old New Madrid is completely flooded. Like many municipalities in Quebec, several streets in present-day New Madrid bear the name of a saint, such as St. Catherine Street.

The American Queen in New Madrid (photo Rock Ends)

François and Joseph Lesieur were descendants of Charles Lesieur, born in Ozeville, Normandy, who arrived in New France around 1670. In 1671, he married Françoise de Lafond, niece of Pierre Boucher, governor of the Trois-Rivières territory in Canada. She was thirteen years old. Charles became a wealthy landowner and a tax lawyer, nicknamed “Lapierre”. Nine children were born of their union. The couple settled in Batiscan, named after an Algonquin chief living in the Trois-Rivières territory between the cities of Montreal and Quebec.