Montgomery County Historical Society Montgomery County Historical Society
Dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the rich local history of the Montgomery County, Missouri area.

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Missouri's First General Assembly

Missouri State SealAs scheduled in the new constitution adopted July 17, 1820, 14 state senators and 43 representatives met at the Missouri Hotel in St Louis on September 18,1820, as Missouri’s first General Assembly. The assembly members and state officers elected August 28, 1820, and, in fact, all Missourians had no doubt Missouri was now a state, lacking only the formal act that would come from the federal government when Congress re-convened.
During this first session, a State Treasurer was selected by the General Assembly, and the Governor’s appointments of a Secretary of State, Attorney General and Auditor were consented to. Three judges of the Supreme Court (including Montgomery Countian Matthias McGirk), a Chancellor and judges of the several circuit courts were selected by the Governor and contented to by the State Senate.
Three of the more important duties facing the Assembly were: 1) election of two United States Senators; 2) location of a temporary seat of government while the permanent capitol, placed by the Constitution on the bank of the Missouri River within 40 miles of the mouth of the Osage River, was located; and 3) amendments to the constitution.
In inverse order of their listing:
     3) There was general unrest throughout the new State about the minimum salaries to be paid State officials; the concept of a single chancellor having jurisdiction over all equity and probate cases and cases involving the welfare of minors; and, to a lesser degree, the idea of judges being appointed for life rather than being elected by the people. All these matters were discussed, considered, and some voted on, but none passed and they were held over for a special session of the General Assembly to be held in 1821.
 Missouri map   2) Location of the temporary seat of government took two months to decide. There were applicants by Boonville, Cote Sans Dessein in Callaway County, Florissant, Franklin in Howard County, Herculaneum, Newport in Franklin County, Potosi, St Charles, St Genevieve and St Louis. Each was debated and put to a vote before St Charles was selected on its second submission to a vote.
     1) David Barton, the president of the constitutional convention, was a popular choice for one of the senate seats. He was a native of (now) Tennessee, coming to Missouri in 1809, where he served in Nathan Boone’s Company of Mounted Rangers during the Indian Wars and was attorney-general and speaker of the house while Missouri was still a territory. Barton County is named for him. He served in the U.S. Senate for 10 years before his death September 28, 1837, at Boonville.
     The other senator elected was Thomas Hart Benton. His election was hotly contested and he won by one vote after, it is said, Charles Ralls, Representative from Pike County, for whom Ralls County was named, was brought to the Assembly floor on his death bed to cast the deciding vote. Benton, an attorney, was born March 14, 1782, in Orange County, North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, was on General Andrew Jackson’s staff during the War of 1812, and practiced law in Nashville, Tennessee, before settling in St Louis. He served Missouri in the U. S. Senate for five six-year terms. He died April 10, 1858, and is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St Louis.
The first General Assembly also authorized organization of 10 new counties: Boone, Callaway, Chariton, Cole, Gasconade, Lillard (Lafayette), Perry, Ralls, Ray and Saline. Callaway and Cole Counties were both named for former Montgomery County residents.
This article is one of a series commemorating the 200th anniversary of Missouri’s steps toward statehood. See the previous articles in County History, Misc. Articles.
Home page articles are archived under "Misc. Articles" in County History.                       Return to Top of Page

Missouri in the 1840s

MCHS volunteers discovered a treasure trove of letters written from Montgomery County to relatives in Germany, 1844-1847. The entire story is told in the book Lives and Letters of an Immigrant Family: The van Dreveldts' Experiences along the Missouri, 1844-1866, by Kenneth Kronenberg and C. Hans von Gimborn. The authors (in 1996) shared translations of the letters relevant to Montgomery County. 
New Orleans 1840s Courtesty of The Historic New Orleans Collection
In January of 1844, Gerhard Lensing (1809-1879) wrote to his “old university friend” Theodor van Dreveldt (1811-1880) describing life in Montgomery County. Included are suggestions about what to bring if emigrating as well as a budget. Theodor traveled to what is now Rhineland (via New Orleans) and sent letters home about the land, crops, mosquitoes, drought, cornbread, illness, and many other details of life in 1845. Descriptions of a trip to St. Louis, Illinois, Wisconsin, the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls, helps us visualize the Midwest in the 1840's. His enthusiasm about Montgomery County waned due to poor crops, malaria, miserable weather, etc. His family failed to send his inheritance money and by 1847 he was in low spirits, contemplating a move to Wisconsin. Theodor concluded his American adventure and returned to Emmerich, Kleve, in 1849, building a house in the American tradition. marrying and fathering 11 children.
In the conclusion, the author reminds of immigrants’ contributions to our heritage:
What is too often neglected in history … is the terrible price exacted upon people who wrenched themselves away from their families and familiar surroundings in order to remake themselves in a new land …Their best efforts were as often as not crowned by hardship, loneliness, and failure. Many died trying. That struggle – and failure – is a crucial component of the American experience.
Home page articles are archived under "Misc. Articles" in County History.                       Return to Top of Page

Famous County Residents

Admittedly, our County is not very well known, but we do have some past residents worth “crowing about.” See the section on Families, Bios, Records and learn about:
  • One of Missouri’s first State Supreme Court judges.
  • Children’s book author and illustrator.
  • Missouri pioneer who was a medical practitioner, writer and geologist.
  • Director of Legislative Service for the Missouri Farm Bureau.
  • Prohibition Party presidential candidate and college professor.
As always, we welcome any historical documents, etc. that you may wish to share!
Home page articles are archived under "Misc. Articles" in County History.                       Return to Top of Page

Online References

Older researchers (like your webmaster) remember sticking our heads into a microfilm box and serially scanning through reference material for hours, days and weeks for a mere tidbit of information. Today, many resources are available online with search capabilities that allow task completion in seconds. Many are even free!  See Online References for some sources we have found to be of value; including digitized books, maps and documents. Links to helpful websites are listed.
If you are aware of other useful sites, please send an email to and they will be added to the list. Thank you for taking the time to help your fellow researchers!                                                                            

October 24
MCHS Board Meeting
The MCHS Board meets monthly on the fourth Saturday at the Senior Center while under COVID restrictions.

November 11
Veterans Day
With respect, honor and gratitude ... Thank you for your service. 

November 26
Happy Thanksgiving
tis the time to be thankful!

December 25
Merry Christmas!

January 1
Happy New Year!