Note of Jacques Clamorgan agreeing to pay skins worth $153 to Pierre Chouteau on July 19, 1807. [Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, Clamorgan Family Papers, A0288-00017]

Jacques Phillippe Clamorgan arrived on the Missouri frontier in the early 1780s and spent the rest of his long life as a trader, land speculator, merchant, financier, statesman, explorer, and promoter. Abraham P. Nasatir, his biographer, described Clamorgan as “endowed with a tremendous imagination, together with an illusive pen and glib tongue. His ability to put vast dreams onto paper and persuade all of their reality was envied by everyone.” Respected by all who knew him, his background kept him from being socially accepted by the aristocratic French Creoles of the area. He kept a “well-stocked harem of colored beauties,” and though he never married, Clamorgan fathered four children by three women. His amorous activities may explain his lack of social acceptance. Some contemporaries also wondered at his proclivity for intrigue and at times doubted his probity, but he maintained friendships with the most important merchants in New Orleans, Cahokia, Kaskaskia, and Montreal, as well as St. Louis.

Born about 1730 in the West Indies, Clamorgan could trace his ancestry to Welsh, French, Portuguese, and probably African antecedents. He became associated with Thompson and Company of Kingston, Jamaica, as early as 1780, “probably in the slave trade between that island and New Orleans.” He also became associated with Marmillion and Company of New Orleans at about the same time. By 1783 Clamorgan had arrived in Spanish Louisiana, and a year later he appeared in Upper Louisiana in the company of St. Louis merchant François Marmillion. Court records disclose that he participated in litigation in 1787, and land records show him engaged in land speculation. At one point his unconfirmed claims reached one million arpents, equivalent to about 850,000 acres. He took an interest in civic affairs, contributing to and serving as warden in the Catholic church in Ste. Genevieve. Clamorgan’s trading led him to travel extensively in the Missouri River valley. Nasatir called him “the precursor of Lewis and Clark.” He traveled across Texas and engaged in trade with Santa Fe “long before his successors made those trails famous.” 

Clamorgan is best known for his involvement in the Missouri Company, a creation designed to remove the British from Spanish territory and to monopolize the trade with Native Americans on the frontier during the 1790s. Clamorgan’s plans included discovering a route to the Pacific and becoming rich as a result of the Missouri Company. One of nine board members of the company, Clamorgan served as its director and “chief dreamer.” The company sent three expeditions up the Missouri River in attempts to dislodge the British from the trade with Native Americans and to reach the Pacific. It failed in both efforts. Clamorgan manipulated the company’s articles to gain more control, ingratiated himself with Baron de Carondelet, Spanish governor of Louisiana, to secure “exclusive trade of the Upper Missouri,” and gained a paper monopoly on the Native American trade of the upper Mississippi valley. Ironically, credit from Andrew Todd, a British subject, financed Clamorgan’s activities, and when Todd died in the yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans in 1796, Clamorgan’s empire and the Missouri Company collapsed. Most of the board members went bankrupt, and Clamorgan faced ruin too, but former enemies Daniel Clark and Auguste Chouteau of St. Louis saved him from bankruptcy in 1799.

When the United States acquired Louisiana, Clamorgan seemed to move easily with the change, receiving appointment “as one of the first judges of the common pleas and quarter sessions in St. Louis” from William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory and administrator for the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. Clamorgan also rented his house to the government to use as a jail. In 1807 he received a license from the United States to trade with Santa Fe, arriving there with three other traders, an enslaved man, and trade goods. Though delayed by Spanish officials, he returned to Missouri in 1808, the first Missourian to trade in Santa Fe. By then almost eighty years old, Clamorgan lived another six years, dying in St. Louis on October 30, 1814.

Further Reading

Christensen, Lawrence O., ed. “Cyprian Clamorgan: The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis (1858).” Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society 31 (October 1974): 3-31.

Nasatir, A. P. “Jacques Clamorgan: Colonial Promoter of the Northern Border of New Spain.” New Mexico Historical Review 17 (April 1942): 101–12. 

Tharp, Dan L. “Jacques Clamorgan.” In Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography. Glendale, CA: Arthur H. Clark, 1988. 

Winch, Julie. The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.

Winch, Julie, ed. The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis, by Cyprian Clamorgan. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.

Published April 26, 2024

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