John Walter Basye

 

 ABOUT JOHN WALTER BASYE, A FOUNDER OF PIKE COUNTY, MO

     In the last days of December, 1790, a young man lacking a few months of his majority, bade his parents goodbye, seated himself in a little boat and started from the Falls of the Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky, and went down the Ohio river. His father sixteen years before had come from Fairfax, Virginia, and built the first house at Louisville. He went up the Mississippi river and landed at Ste. Genevive [sic], Missouri, January 1, 1791. That old French town for a week had been aglow with Christmas festivities. This unostentatious young man was destined to play a goodly part in starting a westward trend. He was a practical dreamer. More than a hundred years before that time his Huguenot ancestors had been driven from France because of their Protestantism... After a few days at Ste. Genevive [sic] and Mine La Motte, thirty-five miles inland, he went on up the river to St. Louis, a trading post containing about five hundred people, mostly French. From there he resumed the journey up the river to Fort Madison, stopping off in Pike County, where Louisiana now is. Returning, he made St. Louis his home for twenty-seven years or until March, 1818. He made frequent trips to the "upper country" and was frequently in Pike. It is said that he knew every man, woman and child in the Missouri Territory when the land was purchased. The news of the transfer of ownership reached St. Louis March 10, 1804. He and John Allen, his old friend, were chosen to make the transfer of flags. That evening the Stars and Stripes were hoisted and the next morning the foreign flag was lowered. St. Louis then contained 825 people, all French except about 150. It was almost exactly one-half as large as Bowling Green is today. The name of John Walter Basye is in the list. That year a daughter was born to his wife and she was named Louisiana.
     When he moved to Pike County in 1818, John E. Allen, his friend's son accompanied him. Many others were attracted by the opportunities in Pike County. The records of St. Louis show several of his clearing out sales of land, preparing to take his permanent abode elsewhere. He entered the southwest quarter, section 13, township 54, range 2, near Louisiana, and at the same time the land where Bowling Green now stands. Louisiana plat filed December 10, 1819, but was laid out in the spring of 1818. At the suggestion of John E. Allen, his friend's son, the town was named Louisiana, for the rollicking girl born at the time of the transfer of flags at St. Louis. The old family Bible bears out the date and the facts given...

 

     The young man, John Walter Basye, referred to above in A History of Northeast Missouri, was born at Point Lookout, Maryland, April 3, 1770, the son of Edmond Basye and his first wife. Reports such as this one and family letters and diaries give us a far clearer picture of him than a more formal recitation of the "facts" could, even though an occasional conflict of dates and the facts as we know them does occur. (This is also true about the lives of his brothers who we will also meet.)

     As I have already mentioned, no record of Edmond's religious affiliations survive, but we do have John's own account of his beliefs and of his membership in the Methodist Church in this letter published in the Western Christian Advocate, January 8, 1841:

 

     Dear Brethern [sic],--I have long wished to contribute some things to your society, relative to the introduction of Methodism in Missouri, and what I do I must do quickly; for I am now an old man bending over the tomb. I will, therefore, begin with my birth. I was born in Maryland, St. Mary's county.
     When I was about eighteen years old, my father moved near Louisville, Ky. I never knew for two or three years of any Methodist preachers, or any other denomination, till about 1790. That year I heard the first Methodist preaching that I had ever heard. It was near Danville, a distance of about eighty miles from my father's; and I cannot now recollect his name. But about this time a Mr. Lee, (some have told me he was the father of Rev. Jason Lee,) passed through my father's neighborhood, and formed a society of a few members. Religion was at a low ebb, for we had perilous times, the savages were around us, not a week would pass but what we heard of the destruction of whole families by the cruel hands of the Indians. But as you have frequently heard of the sufferings of the pioneers in Kentucky, I will pass it over. But I cannot do it without relating that memorable campaign that I was in under General St. Clair in the fall of 1791. The sufferings of the troops, and my own too, were indescribable; but God supported me through those perilous times. In the fall of 1792, I started from my home and landed at New Design, Illinois. This was March, 1793. The inhabitants of the place were holding a meeting when we landed. At these meetings the power of the Lord was visible; indeed many6 lying upon the ground, crying and praying to God for mercy. This was entirely new to me. I did there feel the Spirit of God striving with me, but I did not yield. I never had seen such strange things before. This year a Mr. Lilard (I think his name was Joseph Lilard) preached the first Methodist sermon that was preached in Illinois. I shall always remember his text. It was, "I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and his crucified." He left us in the fall of 1793, and we had no more Methodist preaching till 1796. Then old father Clark came and gathered up Lilard's converts. Now then we come to Missouri. There was but one American family in the city, and but very few scattering families of Americans in the whole territory. The most of the then inhabitants were French and half-breeds and Indians. I settled in St. Louis County, (Owen's Station.) There were but five families of Americans at the station. The summer following I opened my house for Methodist preaching. Father Clark used to slip over the river and preach to us occasionally; for you must understand he was forbidden to live here and preach the Gospel. Under the old Spanish law no Protestant had a right to preach; hence he had to steal his way in and preach to the people in 1798. From this time till the change of government, which I think, in 1804, we had but occasionally a Protestant sermon. But after 1805, father Clark moved over on this side and preached to us. He was constantly traveling, and 1807 he found father Walker in Illinois. He, (Clark), then came on, giving out appointments for father Walker. Father Walker was the first Methodist preacher that ever preached in Missouri. This year, 1807, I, with many others, embraced religion...
                                                                                                          John Walter Basye

 

     Thus we have seen our family as members of the Church of England, Baptists, Scotch-Presbyterians, and now most vividly as Methodists. We can also see by John's first-hand account the constant danger from Indians during these first five generations.

     On Christmas Day, 1794, three years after fighting in the Indian Wars and one year after he attended the meeting where he "never had seen such strange things before", John married his first wife, Agnes Ballew, at what is now Belleville, Illinois. She is the mother of my great-great grandmother, the daughter Louisiana mentioned above.

     Three years after this marriage Frances Ballew, Agnes's mother, married James Piggot who had been a Captain in the army of General George Rogers Clark of Revolutionary fame and was entitled to a land bounty because of his service. He located a one hundred acre military claim on the Illinois shore of St. Louis in order to establish a landing for a ferry across the Mississippi River and he built roads leading from this landing, and a bridge across a creek nearby to connect with other roads.

     In 1797 he applied for and obtained a concession for the operation of his ferry from the Spanish Commendant [sic] Trudeau, and he ran it until his death in 1799. The Piggott family, including John who owned a part of the ferry, made improvements and John ran it. It was sold in 1815 and eventually became known as Wiggins Ferry.

     Samuel Wiggins had obtained an exclusive charter which forbade any other ferry to operate within one mile of his ferry in 1819, two years after the first steamboat, the "General Pike", arrived at St. Louis and made several ferry trips to demonstrate its possibilities for profit from the greatly increasing numbers of immigrants coming to Missouri and the West. However this modern development was to be eventually replaced. According to an 1880 report by George C. Higgins, the exact location of the original ferry was about eight miles north of St. Louis at what is "known as Big Bend, at the place of the Pictured Rocks, --I think that is the name--also the place at which the new bridge talked of for the Mississippi river crosses."

     This ferry was not, as we have already seen, John's first nor last experience on the river. According to A History of Northeast Missouri, "He was probably the first white man in Pike unless it be some French with M. de la Motte, or Crozet in 1712... It is said he was with Lieu8tenant Pike in August 1805, when he sought the source of the river, but returned to St. Louis after reaching Hurricane Island."

     John also made explorations through the country west of the Mississippi River, up the Missouri River, and overland through St. Charles, Lincoln, and other counties in Missouri ate4r the Spanish Lieutenant-Governor gave permission for such explorations in 1794. His interest in and knowledge of rivers were shared by his brothers, Isaac, Jesse, and Edmond.

     Nancy Ashpaugh Basye tells of her father-in-law Isaac's life in a letter written April 26, 1907:

 

     My husband's father left Illinois near St. Louis in 1834 with family to Des Moines county, Iowa. He was a christian [sic] man long years before I knew him. He belonged to the Baptist and remained faithful; and always a benevolent and poor man's friend... He went to war, 1812. He went up the Missouri river three years before Clark and Lewis, and he piloted a boat called a pirogue. He was on the river three months without a bite of bread. They lived on game. He said he never lived healthier in his life. He had never sickness enough to call a Doctor.

 

(Isaac's grandson, Captain Dewitt Clinton Basye, the first white child to be born in Brunswick, Missouri, continued this tradition. He writes in a letter dated January 22, 1903, at the age of sixty-six:

 

At 16 I went on the river and learned piloting. I have been to the headwaters of the Missouri and the headwaters of the Yukon in Alaska, having spent one winter and four summers in the land of the midnight sun in charge of a steamer on the Yukon.)

 

     Isaac served as a corporal in Captain James Moore's company of mounted rangers of the Illinois Territory. The War of 1812, as was the Indian War fought by John in 1791, was first stirred according to the American Pageant

 

...by the red men north of the Ohio River...welded into a formidable confederacy by two remarkable twin brothers, Tecumseh and The Prophet, who were actually persuading their thirsty braves to give up firewater. The Indians, with insatiable tomahawks, were once more ravaging the frontier north of the Ohio River, using weapons purchased from the so-called British "hair-buyers" of Canada...
     General William H. Harrison, advancing with a thousand men upon the Indian headquarters, repelled a night surprise attack at Tippicanoe in present Indiana, on November 7, 1811...
The battle of Tippicanoe further inflamed American patriots, especially when they learned that British made arms had been found in the bloody field...

 

Seventeen Basyes fought in this war in Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia. John was also a corporal serving under his friend Captain John E. Allen in the Missouri Infantry Militia.

    Isaac was opposed to slavery, and said that he wanted to live long enough to see the slaves set free. He did, dying in 1864 at the age of eighty-four.

     Jesse and Edmond were not so fortunate. They both drowned in the Ohio River, Jesse at the age of forty-four. According to records Edmond was trying to pilot a traveler across the Ohio River at Louisville when he drowned.

    A fourth brother William received a cut from an ax when he was clearing ground outside Louisville and he was only twenty-thee when he died from the effects of the wound. Still another brother Elizamond was involved in a less serious incident while clearing with his ax in Indianapolis where he was one of the earliest settlers. The History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana tells of it:

 

     In order to open Washington, which the plan of the town had appointed for the principal thoroughfare, and offer was made by the settlers to give the timber to anybody who would clear off the trees. It would have been a very profitable contract a year later. The offer was accepted by Lismond Basye, who had come from Franklin County, that same fall. The trees were oak, ash, and walnut mostly, and he thought he had a small fortune safe. When he got them all down, and the street "to be" was worse blocked than before, and there was no mill to saw them, he gave up the job in despair, and the people burned the supurb [sic] timber as it lay.

 

     Both The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin and A History of Northeast Missouri say that Elizamond built the first home in Indianapolis after it was platted. He was a physician, a Methodist, and was elected as one of its first justices of the peace who, aside from county officials, were the only local officials for the next ten years. His candidacy is described in Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis:

 

     While Mr. B. was a candidate, Mr. Nathanial [sic] Cox wishing to vote understandingly and for those he considered qualified, in order to satisfy himself on this point, propounded this question for the (would-be) esquire to answer: Said Cox, "Should you be elected, Mr. Basye, and a person was brought before you charged with burglary, and proved guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt, what would you do with him? Basye studied a few moments, raised his spectacles, looked wise (as he was) and said: "I would fine him one hundred dollars and compel him to marry the woman." This answer was satisfactory to Mr. Cox, as he generally gave 'Squire Basye what business he had in after years. The 'Squire almost invariably decided in favor of the plantiff [sic], which had a tendency to secure him nearly the entire business of the village; and when defendants in former cases became plantiffs [sic] in others, they always patronized 'Squire Basye, for two reasons: first, they were sure of success; and second, they would know the exact amount of judgment before the trial, which was considered in those days an advantage to the person bringing suit. There were a great many amusing trials had before 'Squire Basye, that are yet fresh in my mind; but as the mention of them might not be agreeable to some of the parties yet living, I refrain from publishing them.

 

     As we have seen, Taylorsville, Kentucky became the Spencer County Seat and we will next see John establish the county seat of Pike County at Bowling Green, Missouri, but Elizamond and his family and friends hit the land speculators' jackpot in Indianapolis.

     In Kentucky the people of Louisville (the largest city) and Lexington waged such a bitter conflict to win the designation as state capital that Frankfort was named in 1792. Indiana's capital was migratory, but it finally settled in Indianapolis. Boorstin explains why:

 

...Vincennes, its oldest town, was a territorial capital (1800-1813), but demand for a more central location caused removal to a now forgotten place called Corydon, which had been the site of the constitutional convention of 1816. Corydon, suddenly equipped for its new dignity, soon possessed a grand new hotel (only a mile from the capitol), "built for the ages," with solid stone walls eighteen inches thick. But by 1825 Corydon's day of glory had already passed, for in that year the capital was moved to Indianapolis (which had been settled only in 1820).

 

     As we have already seen, John Walter Basye was one of the first settlers in Louisiana, Missouri. The St. Louis Republic reported:

 

     The present site of Louisiana was explored, so the history runs, by John W. Basye, who came up from St. Louis as early as 1791. He found the timber very heavy and so densly [sic] grown with underbrush and grapevine as to make progress through it very difficult. He returned to St. Louis, but came here again, and later founded Bowling Green. He boasted that at the time the Louisiana Purchase was made he personally knew every white man within the limit of the territory now included in Missouri and Illinois, and no doubt he did.

 

     His first wife Agnes died in the early part of 1814 after giving birth to their eighth child. Louisiana, next in our line, was six years old and Walter was forty-four. He married Ann Templeton later that same year and they had four children. John and Ann moved to Louisiana and in 1818 John and his friend John Allen formed a partnership in order to establish a horse saw and grist mill. John had originally been granted 1,300 acres by the Spanish but when the title proved to be unclear he exchanged it for about 1,000 acres in Pike County.

     Transportation by water was as important in Missouri at this time as it had been in Virginia and some of the land he chose fronted the Mississippi River as we can see in this surveyor's diagram:

 

 

     The town was platted six months after John and Ann moved there and they lived in a one room log house he built where the Carnegie Library now stands on Third Street.

     In 1820 they moved to the present site of Bowling Green. To get there they went for a few miles on Grassy Creek Road which ended at the salt works and had been established as one of the first acts of the county. Then they went on through untraveled forest to the "top of the hill" as it was called then. John had built another log house there and the main consideration for its location was a big spring, but it is said that he regretted having to take so much prairie land in order to get the spring property.

     A grandson, Isaac Walter Basye, speaking at Bowling Green's Centennial Celebration, said:

 

...How I wish they would paint me pictures of those first days and nights 100 years ago spent on "top of the hill" with no near neighbors. They need not give me a picture of the hour of nightfall, for that is already ingrained in my being--the hour which his companion and the seven children are gathered around the family altar, and he reads aloud a chapter from his guide book. All this is familiar from which was told me, but I should so like to have them repeat in audible tones the patriot's prayer on that first night here, as he committed the infant babe, my father and the older children to the watch-care of Him who never sleeps.

 

     John and the commissioners appointed to locate the county seat laid out the town in 1826. It had been designated as such in 1823 when the term of court first convened at John's home. 

     As a result of John's exchange of visits with Elizamond while he still lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and their reports of the opportunities in Pike County, many people moved to John's town and it was named in honor of this Kentucky group.

     In 1929 John built another house, this time a large two room log house which Otto Basye describes:

 

     The house was built of logs about seven or eight inches in diameter laid in the American way, horizontally, not in the French way, perpendicularly. No nails were used in its construction, because nails were in that day all hand made and expensive. The ends of the logs were trimmed or mortised so as to fit into each other and then held fast by wooden pins fitted into holes bored through the ends. 

     The logs were cut from selected trees in the forest and hauled to the building site and laid green. Walnut logs were usually selected. The logs were stripped of bark and trimmed, the lower ones being somewhat larger and resting on large stones set in the ground at intervals for the foundation. There was, of course, no excavation made for a basement. With the help of his sons, it took Basye only a few days to build this home.

     The log house is about twice as long as it is wide, and is an example of the third stage in pioneer-co0lonial log houses. The earliest ones had only one room with an outside chimney. The sloping roof of the Basye house was covered with clapboard shingles, but the second generation removed them and put on machine-made shingles. The floor was a puncheon floor, and later was replaced with lumber flooring.

     From the center of the house there rises a wide brick chimney about five feet through, on each side of which is a large fireplace. Extending from one side of the chimney to the wall were two parallel partitions to made a clothes closet. A partition, with door opening through it, extended from the other side of the chimney to the other wall, thus making the two original equalized rooms of this early home. The chinks between the logs were filled with mud, but the second generation plastered and papered the inside walls and ceilings, and weatherboarded [sic] the outside.

     In one of the two rooms all cooking was done in the fireplace, and it was both the dining room and the living room, also serving as a bedroom. Trundle beds were used. The second generation added three rooms of frame construction, one called the boys' room, another the girls' room, and the third a kitchen. The long porch was later inclosed [sic] and made into a dining room

     Originally there was only one outside door. The next generation made three other outside doors and seven inside doors, a total of 11 doors in this house now of six rooms.

     The water supply was a matter of utmost concern. For two years all water for household used was carried uphill from the big spring about three or four blocks away. Thereupon in 1831 John dug a large cistern by the side of his home, which has for more than a hundred years furnished the water supply. This is said to be the oldest cistern in northern Missouri.

     Then he dug an outside cellar, walling it with stones and covering it with dirt. Here was kept all fruit, vegetables, milk and butter. The next generation built a carpenter shop over the cellar.

 

     The first Methodist services were held in the Basye home which was also the first post office, jail, funeral home, tavern, and inn for travelers. Court was held in his loom house.

     John was the Methodist class leader and taught the first Sunday School; he was the first postmaster, coroner, inn-keeper and jailer. He also killed a first and only bear ever killed inside the town limits--he was a broad-shouldered, muscular man, about five feet eleven inches tall and was never sick until the last two days of his life. He died in 1845 at the age of seventy-five.

     John had bought Daniel Logan and his wife Jemima at a slave auction in St. Louis. He was opposed to slavery and gave them their liberty. They were living by themselves in a log cabin on his farm when he died and they continued to live there until their deaths--highly respected by all of the family.

     The Civil War was not declared for another fifteen years but the events leading up to it were happening now. It was to badly affect many in our family, especially the Basyes who had lived as slave-owning "southerners" for almost two hundred years.

 

Note from contributor: Pat King:
Dear Rhonda--This is what I wrote many years ago about the Basyes after I had visited the Carnegie Library in Louisiana and found Otto Basye's book on the Basye Family. I located the son of Otto Basye and began a delightful correspondence with him. (He had been a law professor a at Stanford CA when I was living there many years before.) It was my first venture into genealogy and it was quite a dejavu experience to walk into the library and to discover that it was built on the very spot where John Walter Basye built his first home in Pike County. I was driving from VT to CA and had stopped at Hannibal MO to "experience" Mark Twain (I was an English teacher). I met a delightful couple and their grandson on the River Boat and told them that I had heard that there was a town named after a great-grandmother of mine in the area. They said it must be Louisiana, the next town south on the river. They encouraged me to go and visit the library there, so I did ,and spent the night in a motel overlooking the River. When I came out of the library the next day, the man from the riverboat was waiting for me in his jeep, and said that his wife had insisted that he invite me to their home. I went, and it turned out that they were Starks, cousins of the Basye's. . .so I was really hooked!!!!!I have done so much research over the past 30 years, but this is what I wrote then, to save it for the future. A lot of it is from The Basye Family. I have a copy, and am happy to share. But I do know that there was a copy in the library in Louisiana. . .then.
Thanks for your encouragement. . .Pat King

 

 

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