An outline of the life of John W. Basye and the beginning of his Bowling Green
Compiled by Donald W. Hamilton in October 2021
John W. Basye April 3, 1770 was born in Point Lookout, Maryland. He died May 25, 1845 and is buried in his town of Bowling Green, Missouri. The Basye ancestry always had a pioneer spirit to explore and move, even when the Basye ancestors lived in Europe before coming to America. As a young man in 1788 his family moved to what in now Louisville, Kentucky, The time spent in Kentucky proved to be a very influential in John Basye’s life. He made many lifetime friends in Kentucky during this period of life. The town of Bowling Green, Missouri was named in honor of friends that joined him to settle here, from Bowling Green, Kentucky, known as “Bowling Greeners.”
In 1791 John Basye left Kentucky and crossed over to Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, the first permanent settlement in the Missouri territory. That same year he explored Pike County as possibly the first white man to see Pike County. Later in 1791 until mid-1792, he returned to Kentucky to serve in the military to fight in the Indian Wars, as they were responsible for massacres of white people in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. On Christmas Day 1794 he married his first wife, Agnes Ballew near what became Belleville, Illinois. The Basyes spent a short time as ferry boat owners, operating near the bend of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. John Basye would live in the St. Louis area until the time he settled in the Pike County area in early 1818.
In 1804, a special honor was bestowed upon John W Basye and his friend John E. Allen. The two were business associates in St. Louis. The US had these men participate in the “northern” transfer ceremony that took place in St. Louis: celebrating the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France. A similar ceremony was also held in New Orleans. During the ceremony: they raised and lowered the flag of Spain, followed by raising and lowering the flag of France and then the raising flag of our country. In the Basye family book, it is written that when John Basye, returned home from the ceremony, he found that he had a new born daughter. He and Agnes named her Louisiana Basye, in honor of the Louisiana Purchase. It is also printed that years later that the City of Louisiana Missouri was actually named after Louisiana Basye, thus indirectly naming that city after the Louisiana Purchase. In 1814, Agnes died in Child birth, while having their eighth child. John was now 44 years old. Later in the same year he married his second wife Ann Temple. They would have together four children of their own.
….. Over his time he lived in St. Louis, he had regularly journeyed up and down the land on the Western side of the Mississippi River, traveling between St. Louis and what would become Fort Madison, Iowa… From his work travels, he knew where his favorite land was; being located in what would become Pike County. When he moved from St. Louis, he settled in what was the newly laid out town of Louisiana, Missouri. They lived on a lot where the Louisiana Carnegie Library in now located. What attracted him to the Pike County area was fertile land, many springs, and after his military experience, an appreciation that there were few if any Indians in the area to fight. John especially loved the area of Spring Hollow, near Louisiana, which is where Bowling Green and land to the East is now located. John called himself a farmer and a stock raiser, but he also had an understanding of surveying from his travels and life experiences.
Over his lifetime to this point, he tackled many vocational experiences: being involved in trading of furs and other goods, as well as operating a ferry boat service. He was a hard working family man with many children and the desire to build and to grow, not only as a farmer and family man, but as a Christian of the Methodist denomination.
His greatest and most historical achievement was getting the 160 acre land grant from the US Government, for his own personal farm. Included on the grant survey was a 75 acre square super imposed on that grant, for his future town. This was not his first land grant. Years before he was granted a Spanish land grant of 1300 acres which was later found that he hadn’t been given proper title documents. He traded that flawed grant later for 1000 acres in what would become Pike County. Historically that wasn’t the grant that ended up reserving his place in history. During the year 1818, the federal government opened up a land rush in the State of Missouri. It is said that St. Louis is the Gateway to the West. Actually the Eastern half of Missouri was the Gateway to the West. The government opened this area up for grants because people were simply passing through with few stopping to settle in this area. The government didn’t want big gaps in the population locations in this country. John Basye was determined to get the land in Spring Hollow for himself and his town. He had to be persistent in that he had to travel all the way to Boonville to the land office, in December, where there would have been a threat of bad weather and obviously a bad time to be away from family near Christmas. He had to beat anyone else taking his claim before he had a chance to file.
According to our sources, the County of Pike in the Missouri Territory was founded on December 14, 1818. Originally Pike County covered much of Northeast Missouri, before later being divided up into manageable sized counties. The final area of Pike County was located across from Pike County, Illinois. It gives meaning to the folklore of Sweet Betsy from Pike and her brother Ike passing through this area on their migration West. Nine days later on December 23, 1818, John Basye would file for and be granted his desired Pike County land, by C. W. Boardman, Register of lands at the land Office in Boonville.
Point to consider: Boonville is about 108 miles by car today from Bowling Green. How far did John actually ride by horse? Where was he able cross the Missouri River? We have no evidence that this process could have been completed by mail and he likely couldn’t have waited since this was the exact parcel of land he wanted. Considering muddy roads, possible winter weather and having to cross the Missouri River, how long did it take? He obviously had to start before Pike County was officially named a county on December.14, 1818. There is so much historical information that we will never know. The great land rush of Missouri started in 1818 and lasting for several years. Imagine the motivation that drove John Basye to claim this piece of land before anyone else had the chance?
When was Bowling Green considered founded as a town? This controversy came up before the 1973 Sesquicentennial. Was it the date of the land grant in 1818? Was it 1820 when Basye built his first cabin? Was it 1826 when the lots and blocks were finally established in Bowling Green? Was it February 5, 1829 when the county commissioners, with John Basye as a commissioner, ordered all remaining lots in Bowling Green to be sold at auction; with a $1 per lot minimum price required at the courthouse door.
There was no controversy concerning the year in 1923 during the Centennial celebration. Those individuals in charge would have only been a few generations removed from the beginning of Bowling Green. That fact alone would leave us to believe that their celebration was held during the accurate year. Why can the year not be proven in documents? The Secretary of State’s office in Jefferson City, directly told me that documents during that era were destroyed by a fire at their facility. In 1915 Pike County had its own court house fire which destroyed the building and many old records. Abstracts are the best accurate real estate exchange records that still exist but they cannot tell us an exact founding date. Many folks may have in their bank safe deposit boxes or in their personal safes original abstracts. Using the abstracts I was allowed to see, helped cross references the dates of real estate transfers. If we had the time and energy to ask every Bowling Green resident that still has access to their original abstracts, we could possibly verify transfers concerning their own lot’s history. I found Interesting side facts on my own office abstract which covers today 106 South Court Street. The Basyes deeded four lots on March 1, 1831 to David Parsons at the edge of Bowling Green. We presume he was the one that built the livery stable. Later at that location, a boarding house was constructed. While building our office in 1991, physical evidence of both the stable and boarding house was excavated at our site. The original natural spring/well that served them still exists in the back yard today. We attempted but could not save and reuse the original sidewalk concrete of the boarding house. How many of you current residents have little historical facts buried in your abstracts?
In 1823, Bowling Green officially became the county seat recognized by the state prompting a log courthouse being built on the square. The fact that the courthouse was not going to be in Louisiana but in Bowling Green, has caused a rivalry that has lasted 200 years between the two towns. In 1823 Bowling Green also officially got a log cabin Post Office and John Basye was the first postmaster. Prior to that the mail was delivered and distributed from his house. In 1823 many businesses started springing up around the square. In essence 1823 was the year Bowling Green really got going as a town which we presume is why the centennial was celebrated in 1923. The biggest factor in having the town settled was that John Basye contacted many acquaintances from Kentucky, fellow war veterans and others, to encourage them to come settle here. There is nothing like choosing the people who will live in you town and be your neighbors. He definitely was a pioneer real-estate developer as many people that settled here came due to his invitation. Progress was obviously slow during these times, but John Basye was persistent and was successful.
It is known that John Basye constructed at least 3 cabins for himself and his family.. He built, owned and operated a grain mill that was also able to saw logs. At his house before there were boarding facilities, the Basyes would host overnight travelers, preachers and others. He also used his house for a post office, for funerals and at this time he was also a jailer and hosted grand juries in his home. Before there were churches in 1845, he hosted weekly Methodist Sunday school and church services. The history books also show that education was important to John Basye and his extended family. No matter what the need of early Bowling Green, John Basye and his family tried to meet that need.
In closing as with any historical thought; what are the “what if’s” and what effect would they have had on us? What if John Basye had not gotten his land grant for Bowling Green? Would he have moved his town plans elsewhere, or would Louisiana have been the county seat, or would Frankford have become the center crossroads of the county?
John Basye was brilliant. He had a vision, knowledge and energy to see it through. Without John Basye there definitely would have been no Bowling Green as we know it today. The generations since then and in the future will always owe him much gratitude for the gift of Bowling Green.
Reference Materials Utilized: The Basye Family in the United States- by Otto Basye- Copyright 1950- Mid-State Printing Company- Jefferson City, Missouri. The History of Pike County-Missouri—Encyclopedia-of Information- Copyright 1883-Mills and Company – Des Moines, Iowa. Pike County Missouri- Peoples, Places and Pikers- Compiled by Karen Schwadron under Auspices of the Pike County Historical Society-Copyright 1981; Walsworth Publishing- Marceline, Missouri. The 1923 Souvenir Program Booklet of the Bowling Green Centennial; Printed by Bowling Green Times Printing, Bowling Green, Missouri. The 1973 Souvenir Program Booklet of the Bowling Green Sesquicentennial; Printed by Bowling Green Times Printing, Bowling Green, Missouri. Private Abstracts of: John W Basye Home fronted on College Street (Now Champ Clark Drive) Located across from Champ Clark Honey Shuck -provided by. Mrs. Julia Black. The Sue Haley Home located on West Main provided by Sue Haley. The Farmers Insurance Office- (106 S. Court St) – Provided by Don and Marilyn Hamilton. Internet Source: Pike County Genealogy- pcgenweb.com
2 thoughts on “John W. Basye’s Bowling Green”
Don, in the headline Basye is misspelled. Thanks, Bev
Thanks for catching that! We have it fixed! 🙂