Mine au Breton (Potosi) and its “lead soldier”

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In the 1770s, sixty-year-old François Azor, known as “The Breton”, because of his birthplace in the province of Brittany, France, was a former miner from Old Mines, located north of the current city of Potosi, Missouri, and a pioneer citizen.

The Breton was also a former soldier in the Marine Troops garrisoned at Fort de Chartres along the King’s Highway, in the Illinois Country. He lived in Ste. Geneviève (Missouri). Over the years, he developed a taste for adventure and hunting. Legend has it that Azor, while chasing a bear along a creek in the mining zone discovered a rich surface outcropping of lead ore at what is now Potosi. Everything then went very quickly. The mineral wealth drew many settlers, mostly French speaking, and a mining camp sprang up along the south side of the creek and up into the mining site, and later a village – the mining center (the mine, creek and village) was named “Mine au Breton” in honour of its founder, The Breton.

In 1791, a road was built to link Mine au Breton to Ste. Geneviève on the western shores of the Mississippi River, so that the lead could be shipped downstream to New Orleans. In 1798, American entrepreneur Moses Austin came to the area and transformed the village’s small-scale mining activity into a major operation which became Missouri’s first industry. A new town, established in 1814 as the county seat was developed on the north side of the creek. It was named Potosi. In 1826, the twin communities incorporated under the single name Potosi. Today, the larger city of Potosi has not forgotten The Breton, its distant founder who was a recognized adventurer and hunter. However, his military past remains unknown, and deserves here a short acknowledgment.

An extraordinary destiny

Potosi at the beginning of the 19th century might have had full cognition of François Azor (photo H.R. Schoolcraft)

The two known feats of arms of soldier François Azor go back to wars of King Louis XV of France, in both Europe and the New World. The Breton served under the command of Marshal Saxe at the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745 in the Belgian Hainaut, where the British were defeated. He then moved to America where he contributed, at the start of the Conquest of New France by Britain, to defeat British General Edward Braddock in July 1755, at the Forks of the Ohio (where Pittsburgh is presently situated). When France ceded the eastern half of Colonial French Louisiana to Britain, that is the area from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains, had The Breton already reached the western shores of the Mississippi River? One thing is certain though, his life as an adventurer did not prevent him from living until the age of 111 years! In spite of this remarkable longevity, what an extraordinary destiny it was!

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