Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

It comes as a surprise to many people that...

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 again.

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 Bartons.

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."

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