History of Mine A Breton / Potosi
Washington County, Missouri

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Mine Au Breton / Potosi - year 1819. 
From Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's "A View Of The Lead Mines".

 

Mine Au Breton on the south side of Breton Creek was discovered by Francis Azor, aka "The Breton" a retired soldier from Ft. DeChartres, Illinois.  He was called "The Breton" because of his birthplace in Brittany, France. He served as a soldier in both France & the United States.  After leaving the army he came to Missouri & was a hunter & miner.  According to an old legend while Azor & his guide, Peter Boyer, were tracking a bear along a creek in what would later become Washington County, Missouri Azor stumbled over an outcropping of lead. (The street along Breton Creek, Jefferson Street, is called "Bearfoot" by the locals because of this legend.)  Another version of the story says that he built his campfire next to what he thought was a tree root.  When the tree root melted he realized it was lead.   

There is much controversy over the year of Breton's discovery.  Numerous dates are given by various sources:  1760, 1763, 1765, 1773, 1774, 1775, 1779, & 1780.  In 1763 France surrendered Illinois, along with most of its North American possessions to Great Britain.  Many settlers who did not want to live under British rule migrated across the river to Spanish-ruled Missouri.  Azor could have been in this migration.  However, the British did not take possession of Ft. de Chartres until October 10, 1765.  At this time an official transfer ceremony was held.  Afterwards some of the soldiers & other inhabitants withdrew to St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve & other settlements.  It is possible that Azor, being a dedicated life-long soldier who participated in the construction of the third Ft. de Chartres in 1753, would have stayed until the fort was officially surrendered.  If so this would place the discovery of Mine Au Breton at 1765 or sometime thereafter.   In a testimony of Azor's guide, Peter Boyer, stated that he & Azor discovered the future Mine Au Breton while out on a hunt in 1780 & that the place immediately began to be settled & that he was one of the first settlers.  According to Walter A. Schroeder in his book "Opening the Ozarks" Francois Azor along with his guide, Pierre Boyer, discovered Mine A Breton in 1774.  Schroeder states that he deduced this date from a note signed in 1775 that indicates Azor discovered the mine a year earlier.  He gives the source for this document as MN 34.

Azor, "the Breton" received a grant for four arpents of land.  Crude stone furnaces were built & a  primitive mining village quickly sprang up which was called Mine Au Breton or Mine of the Breton.  Mine Au Breton became the most intensely worked lead mine & some French miners used black slave labor.

 

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  MOSES AUSTIN
Founding Father Of Potosi, Mo. ~ Grandfather Of  Texas

After hearing about the rich lead mines of southeast Missouri Territory (at that time called Upper Louisiana) Moses Austin, set out from Virginia in 1796 to investigate them.  In 1797 Austin stated about the mine, "Without doubt, Mine Au Breton is richer than any in the known world." Austin, a wealthy, ambitious businessman, received a grant for 7,153 arpents of land (Spanish Grant #430) & transformed lead mining & smelting into Missouri's first major industry. He sank the first mine shaft in Missouri & built the first reverbatory furnace west of the Mississippi River. As a condition of Austin's grant Austin provided many improvements for this area.  He & his 40 to 50 slaves & employees built bridges,  roads, a store, a blacksmith shop, a flour mill, a saw mill, a shot tower, and turned out the first sheet lead & cannonballs made in Missouri. In 1798 he moved his wife & family here where they resided in beautiful Durham Hall which Austin built & named after his birthplace in Durham, Connecticut.    Austin also had a home in Ste. Genevieve.

 

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DURHAM HALL - was built in 1798.   Moses Austin named it after his birthplace Durham, Connecticut.   This beautiful mansion burned down  in a fire that destroyed much of Potosi.

 

The Osage Indians began to harass Mine Au Breton as early as 1799 and raided the village several times. In 1802 thirty Indians attacked the village and Durham Hall with intentions of killing the Americans and plundering Austin's home and store. The French greatly resented Austin and gave no assistance to him in the battle. The attack on the mining settlement resulted in one person killed and one woman kidnapped.  

In 1807 the village of Mine Au Breton had about 40 houses.  From the time of the discovery of lead a continuous settlement has existed here.

POTOSI

Washington County was organized 21 August 1813.  The influential Moses Austin donated 40 acres of land on the north side of Breton Creek for establishment of a county seat.  Lots and a public square were laid out and a new town evolved around Durham Hall.  The town was named "Potosi" in honor of a silver mining town in Bolivia.  Potosi acquired a post-office & since the distillation of whiskey from rye and corn was a large industry the town eventually accommodated two distilleries.  In 1814-15 the first courthouse was constructed & in 1815 a one room 13x13 ft. hewed log jail was built near the public square.     For all of his improvements of the area & his donation of the land for the county seat Moses Austin is credited with being the founding father of Potosi. Mine Au Breton on the south side of the creek & Potosi on the north side consolidated in 1826 under the sole name of "Potosi".  The name "Potosi" comes from a south American Indian word which means "place of much noise."

Moses Austin is not only credited with being the founding father of Potosi but also "The Grandfather of Texas."   In 1821 Moses Austin traveled to San Antonio where he received the first American grant for a colony in Texas.  Upon his return he was exposed to severe hardships & became ill.  He died 10 June 1821 in St. Francois County & was originally buried at Hazel Run.  In 1828 his body was disinterred & reburied in the Potosi City Cemetery.  A very unusual occurrence was discovered at this time as John S. Brickey tells the story:

"There is one other circumstance which may be thought worthy of remark.   A gentleman with whom I was well acquainted died in 1821, & was buried in the usual way at Hazel Run Mines, in St. Genevieve County, on Big River.  In 1828, his friends thought proper to disinter his remains at Hazel Run & bury him at Potosi.   When the coffin was taken up it was found to be rotten, but to the utter astonishment of all present the body of the deceased was in a state of perfect soundness, except the nose & some of the fingers, all the features, except as above, remaining perfect & entire & having every appearance of petrification.  Though not one present did anything more to the body than press it with their hands, several who saw it have affirmed that it was as hard as wood, if not stone.  I simply mention the fact as being out of the ordinary course of nature.  The body was accordingly brought to Potosi & buried.  There are several persons now living here who were eye-witnesses to the fact above related.  The body appeared of a dark or black color.   The gentleman I knew well.  He had lived an abstemious life, & was inclined to corpulence & died suddenly.  I could give you his name necessary.   The gentleman with whom I was well acquainted was Moses Austin. What is more the petrification story got abroad after the reinterment, & the grave .............   was opened by parties who were curious to learn if it was true, & the coffin found open, as if the vandals had been interrupted in their work.  The body, however, was not disturbed, & the grave has not been molested again to this date."  From: Wetmore's Gazeteer of Missouri

 

After Moses' death his son Stephen took over the project of moving 300 families from Potosi to Texas thereby making Stephen "The Father of Texas."  Austin, the capitol of Texas, is named for Stephen Austin.


At right is Moses Austins tomb in Potosi City Cemetery (Photographed: October, 1998.)  The cracks on the tomb were made by Texans in 1938 when they wanted to move the body of Moses Austin to Texas.  They sent an undertaker & a hearse to Potosi.   The undertaker was discovered chipping away at the tomb thinking the body was just inside (actually it is down in the ground).  The Marshall was called, the town aroused, & the Texan sent packing!  A few weeks later the Governor sent the Secretary of the State of Texas to Potosi with a public apology for the incident.   Potosians like to brag that we are the only town that ever took on the state of Texas & won!!!!!!

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DURHAM HALL WALL - This is now all that's left of Durham Hall.  Gene Carroll helped clear brush & weeds from this site in 1986 in preparation for a historic marker ceremony.  A plaque, at far right, was placed on the adjoining concrete wall.      Photographed: October, 1998

 

MORE ABOUT MOSES AUSTIN 

From:  Ellen McMullin MacKenzie, a native of Hillsboro, MO - 19 November 2001

Hello Esther - - - As an Austin descendant I have some additional info about the mine and the Austins.  My gr. gr. grandfather Elias Bates was a nephew of Moses Austin, being the son  of Moses' sister Martha & Moses Bates.  The two Moses were business partners in CT and in VA where they had a lead mine in Austinville.

Elias was sent to Louisiana Territory by his uncle, Moses Austin, in December of   1797, with Judather Kendal, to take possession of the property granted to him for one league (about 4,250 acres) covering one third of the mines in the territory.   They left VA with at least three wagons of goods and supplies, seven men and a crude map to find the property and claim it. They were to lay out the settlement on Breton Creek and construct a furnace, mills, and other buildings, and to begin sinking a mine shaft.

 Jun 8 1798 Moses Austin, his wife, children, the Moses Bates family, and others to number 40 persons loaded nine wagons and a coach and left Austinville, taking the road to the Morrisses Boat Yard on the Great Kanawa.  On the 4th day of July entered the Ohio and arrived at Kaskaskia on 8th day of Sept.  Sick and debilitated to such a degree, that out of 17 persons that arrive, two only could walk on shore from the barge, at Kaskaskia Mrs. Bates and Parson paid the debt of nature and Henry Bates unhappily drowned passing the falls of Ohio.   From Bates Family of VA newsletter #12, dated Oct. 1973 "Arrived at their destination, forty miles west of St. Genevieve, Missouri, on Sep 8 1798"  On twelve days they recuperated. Finally on Oct.1, 1798, four days before his 35th birthday, Moses Austin moved them across the Mississippi River to take up their new life in a new land and a new country".  From the book "Moses Austin -His Life" by Dr. Gracy.

When Moses Austin was on his way home from Texas in 1820, he was taken ill and stayed in Natchitoches with a friend. Hugh McGuffin who lived 20 miles west ot there.  Elias Bates went there in December and brought his uncle Moses, back to Herculaneum via the Red River to the Mississippi. (From the American Historical Association - Year of 1919, vol.   II  "The Austin Papers, Part 1")

When his cousin, Stephen F. Austin was in prison in TX, Stephen called on Elias to come down and bail him out.

Moses Austin's death certificate: State of Missouri, 16 June 1821, by Jefferson County Court Justice Elias Bates, witnessed by Court Clerk Samuel Woodson. ". . . I was personally present at the decease of Moses Austin . . . at the dwelling House of James Bryan (son-in-law) on the 10th inst." Courtesy of the Eugene C. Barker Texas History

 

MORE PICTURES OF POTOSI:

OLD PHOTOS

BRETON STREET

FIRE & FLOOD

HAUNTED HOUSES

HIGH STREET

HISTORIC HOMES

JEFFERSON STREET

MARKET STREET

MINE STREET

NORTH MISSOURI STREET

 

 

Back to Carroll's Corner
 

Moses Austin and the Development of the Missouri Lead Industry
OZARKS WATCH ~ Vol. VI, No. 1, Summer 1992 / No. 2, Fall 1992

For more information on Moses Austin:
The Texas Handbook Online