Missouri State Historical Society Marker
City's Name & Foundation
First American town in Missouri. Founded in 1789 by George Morgan, Princeton graduate and Indian trader, on the site of Francois and Joseph LeSieur's trading settlement, L'Anse a la Graise (Fr. Cove of Fat). Flood and caving banks have destroyed the first site.
Named for Madrid, Spain, the town was to be an American colony. Morgan was promised 15 million acres by the Spanish ambassador, eager to check U.S. expansion with large land grants. Spain did not confirm his grant, but gave land to colonists. Morgan left but he had started American immigration to Missouri.
French and American settlers contributed to town growth. Here were founded a Catholic church, 1789; a Methodist church, 1810; and here was the southern extent of El Camino Real or King's Highway, 1789. There are over 160 Indian mounds in the county, two near towns.
"Boot Heel" counties, including a strip of New Madrid, are said to be part of Missouri through efforts of J. H. Walker (1794-1860), planter at Little Prairie (Caruthersville), Pemiscot Co. In nearby Mississippi Co. is Big Oak Tree State Park, a notable hardwood forest
The 1811-1812 Earthquakes
The New Madrid Earthquake, made up of a series of monstrous and lesser quakes, which began December 16, 1811, and continued over a year, centered here. One of the great earthquakes of the world because of severity and length it caused little loss of life in a thinly settled region. Some of the shocks were felt as far as 1100 miles. Reelfoot Lake across the river is a result of the disaster. New Madrid land certificates, good for public land elsewhere, were provided sufferers by the U.S. relief act, 1815, which benefited mostly speculators.
On the Civil War
In 1862 Union forces captured New Madrid and by means of a canal sawed through a submerged forest to a bayou, gained control of island number 10 and command of the river. Nearby in Mississippi Co. is Belmont battlefield, scene of an 1861 engagement in which both Federal forces under Grant and Confederates under Pillow claimed victory.
New Madrid, seat of government of one of five Spanish districts, later one of Missouri's first five counties, serves a farming community. Cotton and soybean crops preodominate. Rich land has been reclaimed by the Little River and St. John Levee drainage systems.