After leaving his native Picardy of France in 1719, Philippe-François Renault came to settle in the Illinois Country where he founded the community of St. Philippe the following year along the King’s Highway, three miles (5 kilometers) north of Fort de Chartres.
Agriculture was the business enterprise he operated with the greatest success. St. Philippe quickly prospered by exporting its food production surpluses to communities in Lower Louisiana via the Mississippi River. Flat-bottomed boats, like this replica in Memphis, Tennessee, were used for transporting foodstuffs. During the navigation, the boats often stopped at the fourth bluff (high ground) in the Chickasaw Country where present-day downtown Memphis is situated.
The breadbasket of Lower Louisiana
Shiploads of food and produce regularly descended the Mississippi while convoys ascended the same waters loaded with merchandise manufactured in France or in French colonies that were bought on the bustling markets of New Orleans. These unknown French facts are hidden behind the fascinating story of the mighty Mississippi’s flat-bottomed boats and their commercial usage.
Following a devastating flood plain, the citizens of St. Philippe abandoned their residence to relocate on the heights of the current village of Renault.
It has been reported that an inspector, named D’Artaguette, in the Illinois Country in the early 18th century, wrote: “This country is one of the most beautiful in all Louisiana. Every kind of grain and vegetables are produced here in the greatest abundance … they have, also, large numbers of oxen, cows, sheep, etc., upon the prairies. Poultry is abundant, and fish plentiful. So that, in fact, they lack none of the necessaries or conveniences of life.”
The Upper Mississippi Valley (Upper Louisiana) was then the “breadbasket” of Lower Louisiana, with the Arkansas River’s mouth as the dividing line between these two zones. Economic data from the era of Colonial French Louisiana revealed the existence of a large food trade between the settlements along the King’s Road in the North and New Orleans in the South. Wheat flour, maize pork, bear fat, bison tongue and salt were traded among many other foodstuffs. At the best of times, agriculture was the livelihood of the northerners and the daily bread of the southerners. A situation that made everyone happy …