Jefferson County Early History in Brief

Click here to go to the JOIN-N home page.

JOIN-N Home Page


Jefferson County
alendar of Events 



Community Services





Health & Wellness

Just for Kids



Pet Adoption/Rescue


Business Resources

JOIN-N Members

Employment and Careers



Radio Stations

TV Stations

Contact Us

About JOIN-N

Site Index




Jefferson County Early History in Brief

By Alice Emberton, for the Edition (November 2003)

Archeologists have found remains of eight different Indian cultures dating back 10,000 years in our area. European settlement of Jefferson County began in the late 1700’s. At this time, the territory was under Spanish rule, and land grants were offered to settlers along the main transportation “highway” system of the creeks and rivers. John Hildebrand*, of German descent, the earliest known white settler,
came from Pennsylvania down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi River in a flatboat during the early 1770's with his wife and two sons. He established his homestead near Saline Creek in the northeastern portion of the county around 1774. John's son, Peter Hildebrand, was first settler to what is now the area of Cedar Hill. He was killed there by Indians in 1784. Later this area was known as the Meramec settlement. New Hartford, the first town in the county, was laid out by Christian Wilt and John Honey in 1806, near present day Herculaneum.

In 1798, Moses Austin, a Connecticut Yankee, obtained a Spanish land grant of one square league of land after learning of the richness of the area’s rich mineral deposits. A league is about 3 miles. Bringing in equipment and workmen from Virginia, he began mining and smelting lead despite frequent problems with the Osage Indians. In 1808 Austin and Samuel Hammond laid out a town at the mouth of Joachim Creek for their lead shipping headquarters. Legend has it that Austin named the town Herculaneum because the limestone strait was so eroded that it resembled seats in the amphitheater of the ancient buried city near Naples. John Maclot built the first shot tower west of Pittsburgh in 1809 with Austin erecting it high on the Mississippi bluffs in 1810.

The earliest settler in De Soto was Isaac Van Metre, who built his cabin in the area of what is now known as Main and Stone Streets in 1803, with the town of De Soto becoming incorporated in 1869.

Along with seven other counties, Jefferson County was formed from parts of Saint Louis and Ste. Genevieve Counties by an “Act of the Territory” December 8, 1818. It was named “Jefferson” in honor of the third President of the United States and father of the Louisiana Purchase. Herculaneum, with a population of 200, was named the first county seat in 1821, the same year Missouri attained statehood.

By 1831, a more central location for a county seat was desired. At the west edge of Hillsboro flowed a spring. A good water source and the fact that Hillsboro was a stopping point in the trail which passed between Potosi and St. Louis became deciding factors in relocating the county seat. The railroad shops of De Soto, the discovery of high quality sand in Crystal City, the establishment of the largest lead smelter in the United States, and the entry of the Frisco Railroad added greatly to the county's continued growth.

* Information provided on John Hildebrand was contributed by Patricia Base Schlabach Davis, Dade City, FL

Contact JOIN-N |