Answer Man

August 20, 2014

Did Thomas Jefferson visit St. Louis?

Answer Man

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Did Thomas Jefferson ever visit St. Louis? -- S.D.P., of Belleville

You would think that after buying a huge chunk of the American West through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Thomas Jefferson would have mounted up and explored some of his 530 million-acre acquisition.

And it would have been a great source of pride had he stopped in St. Louis, seeing that Lewis and Clark pretty much set out from here to explore the new territory. It certainly would have given extra meaning to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial -- especially now that the city is celebrating its 250th birthday this year.

But as it turns out, Jefferson was a homebody when it came to following Horace Greeley's admonition to "Go West, young man." Despite an intense interest in the West, he never came any closer to the Pacific Ocean than his own state of Virginia, Anna Berkes, at the Jefferson Library at Monticello, told me.

In 1997, James Bear and Lucia Stanton edited "Jefferson's Memorandum Books: Accounts with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826." It followed Jefferson's life from the time he was 24 until he died. Through it, historians have ascertained the extent of Jefferson's travels.

As it turns out, within the United States, Jefferson traveled as far north as Chimney Point, Vt., as far east as Portsmouth, N.H., as far south as Norfolk, Va. -- and as far west as Falling Spring Falls, Va. That's just 100 miles west of his beloved homestead of Monticello.

In brief trips outside the country, his extremes were Birmingham, England, in 1786, Milan, Italy, in 1787 and a latitude of about 35 degrees in the Atlantic during an ocean voyage back from France in October 1789.

I'm not sure this is a proper discussion for today's society, but I was told as a young boy in Freeburg that there were laws against bastardy, specifically against men who fathered illegitimate children. I also was told that there was a state vagrancy law in that anyone who did not have "visible means of support" could be declared a vagrant and arrested. Were these laws repealed or did they even exist? -- J.R., of O'Fallon

Even though it wouldn't be written until 1934, I'm sure some Illinois old-timers in the Roaring '20s could have lamented the changing times with a rousing rendition of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes."

You know: "In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, but now, God knows, anything goes," etc.

That's how some may have felt in 1921 when social workers urged the Illinois Legislature to pass the Uniform Illegitimacy Act, according to the White Oak Foundation, which deals with post-adoption issues involving Illinois.

The new law ended the practice of stamping "illegitimate" on the birth certificates of those born out of wedlock. Not only that, it also banned the use of the i- word on both the petition for adoption and the final decree of adoption.

Experts figured it was traumatic enough for children to go through the adoption process without going through life branded with a red "I." Others, however, may have argued that the law would lead to looser morals and more children born out of wedlock. That's why, according to White Oak, even at the end of World War II, harsh 19th century laws were still on the books in Illinois to stem the tide of immorality.

One 1874 law targeted cohabitation and "unlawful intimacy." There was also a so-called "bastardy" law dating back to 1872, although it limited a biological father's legal support to $100 for the first 10 years of his "illegitimate" child's life. Not surprisingly, these laws did little to change human behavior and eventually were scuttled after out-of-wedlock birth rates continued to soar through the 1940s.

Vagrancy laws met the same fate. In 1916, the Legislative Reference Department of Michigan State University compiled the vagrancy laws from all 48 states into a 62-page book. Illinois' law ran just more than a page long and began its tortured prose this way:

"All persons who are idle and dissolute and who go about begging, all persons who use any juggling or other unlawful games, (etc., etc., etc.) ... shall be deemed to be and they are declared to be vagabonds."

The law also spent two long paragraphs dealing with dependent, neglected and delinquent children. As punishment, it decreed fines of $20 to $100 or imprisonment at hard labor of 10 days to six months. Now, Chapter 65 of the new state statutes merely says, "The corporate authorities of each municipality may prevent vagrancy, begging and prostitution."

Today's trivia

When did Leonard "Mr. Spock" Nimoy first play an outer-space alien?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: In 1961, Danish jazz artist Bent Fabricius-Bjerre wrote a little ditty he called "Omkring et flygel" ("Around a Piano"). In 1962, Atco Records released it as "Alley Cat," and "Bent Fabric" rode it to No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard charts.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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