It comes as a surprise to many people that a catastrophe in Missouri’s
southeast corner had a direct bearing on the early development of Boone
County. In 1811 and 1812 the earth shook, rattled and rolled, the river
overflowed and changed its course, and when it was over, parts of Missouri,
Illinois and Kentucky had crossed each other’s borders. Earthquake! Residents
of New Madrid were repeatedly rousted from their beds in the middle of the
night to flee from their homes in order to survive. It happened time and time
Each time, after the dust settled some homes were gone or beyond repair,
broken treasures were relegated to the junk piles and those sturdy pioneers
faced a frightening future over which they had no control. Some rebuilt on
safer ground. But the quakes kept coming.
President Thomas Jefferson discouraged rebuilding near where earth faults
would be likely to shift again. He offered free plots of land near the western
edge of Boone County, to those who would move to Central Missouri. Rocheport
was similar to New Madrid in several ways. It had rich river bottom land and a
port for shipping and receiving supplies. It also had Indians who were usually
friendly, tending to their own business. Surprisingly, few of the earthquake
victims accepted the free land at first.
Twenty families loaded what belongings had survived the quakes and headed for
“Madrid Locations,” near Rocheport. These victims proved to be intelligent,
frugal and “among the best citizens of that time.” Many other families
followed a few years later.
As the War of 1812 spread to the frontier, the savages became such a threat
that settlers took refuge in the nearby forts. Earthquake victims went to Fort
Head, a small fort near where the Boonslick Trail crossed Moniteau Creek. Now
known as “Thrall’s Prairie,” their settlement was about four miles north of
Rocheport. Among those very first Madrid settlers, Edwin Stephens lists the
following: Anderson Woods, Robert Barclay, John Barnes, William Pipes, Absalom
Hicks, John Stephenson, Jefferson Fulcher, Jesse Richardson and a family of
After the three-year war, settlers who had been "inmates" fled the forts and
set about the business of raising crops and improving their homes. In 1818,
President Jefferson established a federal land offi~ce in Franklin.
Rocheport was an active settlement but Franklin was the place to be! It had,
according to Stephens, attracted “the wealthiest and best families of
Kentucky and Virginia who, perceiving the inevitable destiny of that region,
purchased large tracts of land.”
In 1818, also, a “cluster” of five or six cabins, called Smithton, had to
move down to a lower level in order to get enough water for newcomers.
Franklin was a metropolis which had more than 200 buildings including a
printing office, newspaper, two academies of learning, a jail, a library,
three taverns, a tobacco factory, and many Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian
churches. Suddenly in 1828, as with New Madrid a decade before, Franklin was
doomed. A flood swept the metropolis away!
Edwin Stephens wrote this epitaph for the beloved frontier site: "Of Franklin,
once the abode of wealth, enterprise and intelligence, not a landmark remains.
Where once stirred the busy hum of labor and industry, now flows the placid
Missouri River. The roar of waters alone reminds the traveler of the historic
spot resting in its bosom."