Many people of Jesse Evans’s time traveled more than might be expected. Steam engines had existed for much of his life, but it is doubtful that he ever saw a railroad, and he may never have traveled by steamboat. Although Evans had seen steamboats on the Missouri River for 25 years by the time he died in 1843, his known travels were by horse, foot, or keel boat. (Note 1.)
Evans made a return trip east the year after he moved to Missouri. That trip in September 1816, which was presumably back to Virginia to take care of unfinished business, was documented by John Scripps, a pioneering preacher of the Methodist Church. (Note 2.) In the 1840s, Scripps wrote his reminiscences for the Western Christian Advocate, a Methodist Episcopal Church newspaper published in Cincinnati. (Note 3.) In Scripps’s third installment, published January 13, 1843, he described traveling with Evans through southern Illinois between St. Louis and Vincennes:
On the 9th of September  I set out to join [Rev. Jesse Walker] at his last quarterly meeting for this year, near Vincennes, my instructions being to acquaint myself with the direct route from St. Louis, in order to become qualified to conduct Bishop M’Kendree and other preachers through to the first Missouri conference, set off from the Tennessee by the last General conference. I found brother Walker at the camp ground, about 6 miles from Vincennes. Here I parted from my company, by one of whom, Major Evans, (from Wythe county, Virginia, but recently removed to Cote-sans du-sein, Missouri) I had been entertained with his early reminiscences of his last march on this road, as an officer under Gen. Clarke, when he conquered this country from the British. His reminiscences were awakened by recognitions of many localities, associated with interesting incidents which occurred in that campaign. We found our way but a narrow circuitous horse path, of about 180 miles, (on which traveling through the recent war had been discontinued) and but lately resumed; and from the bounds of the Illinois circuit to the settlements on the Wabash river entirely uninhabited, so as to oblige us to camp out two nights on our journey.
By 1817, the territory of Scripps’s ministry had shifted to Missouri and included Boone’s Lick and other settlements along the Missouri River extending west from Cote Sans Dessein. If the account above hints at Evans’s sociability, that characteristic is reinforced by Scripps’s next installment, published January 20, 1843. (Note 4.) Scripps depicts Evans at Cote Sans Dessein as a community leader among a population largely made up of French Catholics.
The eastern extremity of my circuit was on the Monituer [Moniteau] creek; from which eastwardly, still further down, on the north side of the river, were several scattering settlements, to the village of Cote-sans-du-sein, a distance of 70 miles. To this I resolved to extend my labors, and renew my acquaintance with Major Evans, my fellow traveler to Vincennes, in September, 1816. I preached several times on my way down, and formed a society of thirteen members on Ceder creek. The village of Cote-sans-du-sein was populated principally by French Catholics, over whom the Major (a reputed deist) was said to exercise great influence, and it was thought would not suffer preaching there. Every argument was used to deter me, but I pressed on. He cordially received me, obtained for me the largest room in town to preach in, and procured the attendance of all the inhabitants to preaching; nor did he ever seem to grow weary in his efforts, although he remained irreligious. The place became a regular appointment, and a small class was formed here; as also in General [Jonathan] Ramsay’s [Ramsey] settlement, about 4 miles higher up the river, where Mrs. Ramsay [Ramsey], her father-in-law [Josiah Ramsey], Mrs. [Mary] Ferguson, and brother Tom [Nash] (the name he principally went by), an old Methodist negro, four in all, joined this year. This place was, I believe, nearly opposite where the city of Jefferson, the seat of government for Missouri, now stands. My circuit extended on the north side, from Cote-sans-du-sein (pronounced Cote-sans-dusan) to Grand river, and on the south side, from Jefferson City to near the present town of Lexington.
In the 1880s, Mary Ferguson’s son Thomas J. Ferguson (1809-1890) wrote about Scripps’s early efforts at Cote Sans Dessein. (Note 5.) Ferguson’s account, which is included on the page “1817 – Ferguson’s Description of Cote Sans Dessein,” is remarkably consistent with that of Scripps.
Scripps was strongly anti-slavery. He frequently found himself preaching to slaveowners and slaves in this part of Missouri, which is sometimes called “Little Dixie.” His writing reflects a cautious approach that valued expanding the church over insisting that congregants free their slaves. The status of Tom Nash, mentioned in the passage above, is not stated, but it is noteworthy that the four chief members of a congregation that Scripps founded near Cote Sans Dessein included both a black man and Josiah Ramsey, who owned slaves until his death in the 1830s. (Note 6.)
Jesse Evans, too, owned slaves all of his life and would have had little interest in that aspect of Scripps’s preaching. Evans apparently had little interest in any of the theological aspects of Scripps’s work either, although he would continue to host traveling Methodist preachers as will be seen in Part X and Part XI.
Statehood and the Founding of Jefferson City
In August 1821, Missouri was admitted to the union as the twenty-fourth state. The town of St. Charles served as a temporary seat of state government while a permanent capital city was being established.
In preparation for statehood, a state convention was held in 1820 to draft a constitution. Among the 41 delegates was Josiah Ramsey’s son Jonathan, representing Montgomery County. (Note 7.) In the first state election, Jonathan Ramsey ran unsuccessfully for the office of lieutenant governor, but Joseph Evans was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives from St. Charles County. (Note 8.)
In addition to his surveying work with Prospect K. Robbins, Joseph Evans had conducted business and bought property in the town of St. Charles. (Note 9.) By 1820, however, he was selling his property there, perhaps precipitated by the economic conditions of the Panic of 1819. (Note 10.) By 1821, he was faced with court judgments that were executed by the sheriff selling some of his property. (Note 11.) These included a debt he had owed to his youngest brother, George, who had assigned rights to Daniel Colgan, Jr. (Note 12.) These financial difficulties eventually led to Joseph leaving St. Charles for Jefferson County by 1828. (Note 13.) Within a few years, he would be living further southwest in Washington County in the lead mining region of the state. (Robbins also experienced financial hardship during this period—as well as suffering the death of his wife Betsy—and also left St. Charles.)
At the inception of statehood, the decision had been made to establish the capital along the Missouri River in the center of the state, and a commission was appointed to recommend specific locations to the General Assembly. From the outset, the leading candidate was Cote Sans Dessein. Uncertainty over land titles there may have contributed to the ultimate decision to locate the seat of government 10 miles further upriver, although the General Assembly’s final deliberations were conducted in secret and remain murky. (The flood plain at Cote Sans Dessein would eventually have proven to be unsuitable anyway.) Joseph Evans was serving as chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives at the time and played a key role in the deliberations. In the final roll call vote, he voted against the Jefferson City site that was approved. (Note 14.)
As a result, the new town of Jefferson City was established to serve as the state capital. Local histories note that one of the first two households residing at that place was that of Josiah Ramsey, Jr. (Note 15.) The name would suggest that he was the son of Jesse Evans’s old friend of the same name, but the connection remains unestablished.
Evans wasted little time in acquiring property in the undeveloped town. On November 22, 1825, he purchased Lot 341 as the original purchaser from the city trustees and the State of Missouri. (Note 16.)
The property is on the southwest side of what is now East Capitol Avenue in the center of downtown, two blocks from the capitol building and one block from the governor’s mansion. The location, which is marked with a red circle on the Jefferson City map above, is currently occupied by a parking lot and garage.
Evans would own the property for about 10 years, selling it to Israel B. Read on October 21, 1834, for 100 dollars. (Note 17.)
Copyright 2012-2014 Gregory Hancks
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