James Caldwell: Citizen Soldier and First Missouri House Speaker
This Saturday, October 15, 2022, an unveiling ceremony will reveal markers placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution at the grave of James Caldwell at Parkview Cemetery in Farmington. Caldwell was not only a veteran, but an under-appreciated pioneer and legislator in Kentucky and Missouri, and a local leader in Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois counties.
Born July 4, 1764, in Virginia, Caldwell first served 15 days in the militia at age 15 in pursuit of a party of native people after they burned Farley’s Fort in present-day Summers County, West Virginia. The next spring, he served as a substitute for his father. Stories of open and rich land in Kentucky led many Virginians to settle that state beginning during the latter stages of the American Revolution. The Caldwell family were among those emigrating to Kentucky in fall 1779. James briefly returned to Virginia in 1781, serving two more short tours in the militia. Leaving Virginia for good, Caldwell settled in Lincoln County, Kentucky, and served in three additional expeditions. The conflict in Kentucky among indigenous people and between them and European settlers was so prolonged and so bitter that it was often deemed “that dark and bloody ground.”
In fall 1782 Caldwell participated in George Rogers Clark’s attack on the Shawnee settlements in southern Ohio. He continued serving short tours during the conflict over the Ohio Valley in the 1780s, including an expedition to Mussel Shoals on the Tennessee River under Gen. Griffith Rutherford. Caldwell married Meeke Perrin November 29, 1786, in Lincoln County. His Indian War service culminated in the army under General Josiah Harmer, which suffered a devastating loss to the Shawnee, Miami, and allied tribes and lost over 200 men at the Battle of Pumpkin Fields in 1790. He received a military pension for his aggregate service in 1833.
Caldwell’s political career commenced with his election to the Kentucky General Assembly from Harrison County in 1800. He served until 1807. The family moved to Missouri in 1810 and settled in Cook’s Settlement, later Libertyville, in Ste. Genevieve County. Voters elected him as a representative from Ste. Genevieve County to the territorial legislature and he took his seat in 1815. The House chose him as Speaker. The House reaffirmed him when the first State legislature organized in 1820, making him the first Speaker of the House for the State of Missouri.
Cook’s Settlement became part of St. Francois County in 1821. James Caldwell stood for State Senate in 1822 and won election from St. Francois County. He lost his re-election bid in 1824 to James Kerr, his son-in-law. Kerr’s wife was Caldwell’s sole surviving child Angeline. Kerr resigned his seat after the first session to emigrate to Texas. Possibly, the poor relationship with Caldwell after his defeat by Kerr encouraged the Kerrs to leave for Texas. Sadly, Angeline and two of their children died on the trip or shortly after they arrived in Texas. Kerr became one of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” and became a successful Texas politician.
Caldwell only did limited local public service after his loss in the State Senate election. He continued farming and speculating in land. He died September 6, 1836. Oddly, the division of his estate included his widow, siblings, and half-siblings by his stepmother. Whether his administrator assumed his surviving granddaughter was dead or was disinherited is unknown.
His widow Meeke Perrin Caldwell lived until 1858.