Soon after reading about Alleys on STLDotage a couple of weeks ago, I took a walk around Laclede’s Landing and stumbled upon Clamorgan’s alley (one of the most popular locations to photograph the arch).
Then, on the website of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in an online exhibit called 1804, I found the origins of Claymorgan Alley. Apparently, the name of this alley is one of the last references to pre-United States St. Louis that we still have in the city. Jacques Phillippe Clamorgan (1734 – 1814) was a Haitian Refugee (leaving Haiti along with the founder of Chicago Jean Baptist DuSable) who became a wealthy fur trader in St. Louis in the late 18th century under Spanish Rule.
He was part of St. Louis’ “Colored Aristocracy” (a phrase possibly coined by one of his own children Cyprian Clamorgan). In 1804 he owned an entire block of Laclede’s landing and had “several houses, structures, barns and outbuildings on this block” including a “small stone house [that] was built in 1800 by Jacques Clamorgan and used by his children. Clamorgan’s children all had slave mothers.” Jacques Clamorgan has an interesting story involving one of his mistresses, Esther. The story says that before taking on a risky business venture (The Missouri Trading Company, an attempt to add to what was already a monopoly Clamorgan held on trading with area natives), he freed his current slave mistress Esther so that she could shield some of his assets from a potential bankruptcy. The business was in fact a failure, but Esther had invested herself in the property and refused to give it up. Lawsuits ensued over this for years, even after the death of Jacques Clamorgan.
More on Multicultural St. Louis can be read here. My favorite fact outside of the Clamorgan history is that after Missouri was admitted to the Union as a Slave state (preventing black people from receiving an education), “an ingenious minister, the Rev. John Berry Meachum, established the Freedom School aboard a steamboat anchored in free territory in the middle of the Mississippi River.“