This month, we had a chance to visit Ste. Genevieve, billed as the “Oldest Town in Missouri.” It may well be. The original town was founded ca. 1735, but was washed away by a flood in 1785. At that time, the town was moved to its current location. The oldest structure still standing in town is from 1790.
The French history of Missouri is on display in town, from the artifacts in the small museum, to the use of the fleur de lis everywhere, to the language on the tombstones. Here is just one example.
If you can read French, ponder this stone, and let me know if you can translate it. I have a shaky knowledge of German, but not of French.
Ste. Genevieve offers more than some interesting epitaphs — of the five known examples of French Colonial vertical log construction in the United States, three are in town. The town also boasts many small shops and restaurants. We always make a point to eat at the Anvil because their onion rings are the best.
In fact, here’s me with an onion ring.
If you travel around the area to the town of Kaskaskia, you can also find the Liberty Bell of the West, which was rung on July 4, 1778, to commemorate the capture of the town from the British by George Rogers Clark. Though you might not realize that this area of the United States played a part in the Revolutionary War, it did. The western side of the river was under Spanish control, but everything east of the Mississippi was claimed by Britain, even though most of the residents were French. Today, the river’s course has moved east so that Kaskaskia is accessible by road from Ste. Genevieve without crossing the river. It is, in fact, a tiny of slice of Illinois on the Missouri side of the Mississippi.
But for the taphophile, the cemetery is the main draw. It’s small but well-maintained and offers plenty of shade and intriguing stones. It’s just a little interesting slice of early French-American life and, of course, death.