Hannibal as seen from Lover's Leap
Human habitation of
Marion County dates back to the Mississippian mound building culture that
dates to as early as the 800s whose mounds can still be seen in the county.
The last Native American culture to inhabit the area were the tribes of the
Sac and Fox who were forced to migrate south from their traditional home by
the French in the mid-1700s, displacing the Illinois Confederation. The
first European in Marion County was Father Louis Hennepin, a French
missionary, who was exploring the Mississippi River north of the Illinois
River. Father Hennepin landed just north of Hannibal in an area called Bay
de Charles, erecting a cross and claiming the land for the King of France.
Bay de Charles was the
first settlement in Marion County. Manturi Bouvet, a trapper and fur trader
formed this settlement to carry on trade with the local tribes in the late
1700s. After the Louisiana Purchase, immigrants from Kentucky, Virginia, and
North Carolina started settling in Marion County. The communities of Palmyra
and Hannibal were established in 1819. In 1826 the Missouri Legislature
passed legislation creating Marion County from land being subdivided from
Ralls County and Palmyra was selected as the county seat. Marion County was
named for Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox"
Palmyra grew quickly,
aided by its status as county seat and the establishment of a U.S. Land
Office in 1825. The Land Office sold over 3 million acres by time it closed
in 1858. In 1835 Col. William Muldrow founded the town of Marion City, which
he billed as the "The Gateway to the Orient." Muldrow's 1836
promotion of Marion College and Marion City brought a large number of
immigrants from the Atlantic coast, particularly Pennsylvania, which was so
large that it was commonly called The Eastern Run. Successive floods in
1836, 1844, and 1851 eventually destroyed the town with its inhabitants
moving on to Palmyra and Hannibal. Similarly the arrival of the railroads to
both Palmyra and Hannibal helped these communities to grow.
The great American
author Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, is Marion County's most
famous native son. Twain's family moved to Hannibal in 1839 from his
birthplace in nearby Florida, Mo. Twain lived in Hannibal until 1853 working
for local newspapers. The characters and settings of two of his most
important books, "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn,"
draw heavily from his experiences in this river town. Today a large tourist
industry and a number of attractions draw heavily from the fact that Twain
lived in Hannibal.
Marion County did not
escape the strife that the Civil War caused Missouri. In the summer of 1862
Confederate Col. Joseph E. Porter was conducting successful raids on Union
outposts and patrols. In September of that year, when the Union Col. John
McNeil was elsewhere, Porter entered Palmyra almost unopposed and freed some
50 prisoners and captured 3 of their own, including an Andrew Allsman, who
was a Union informer. Col McNeil posted public demands for Allsman's
release. When Allsman wasn't
released McNeil ordered the controversial execution of 10 Confederate
prisoners in retaliation. A monument to these men is located on the grounds
of the Marion County Courthouse in Palmyra.
County has a lot to offer to those who wish to visit its attractions and
communities. Palmyra has been called the Handsomest City in North Missouri
and has over 200 antebellum structures. Maps for a walking tour can be
obtained at the visitor's center in the Gardner House on Main Street. Two
visitor centers can be found in Hannibal to help those interested in the
River Road Communities
in Marion County, Missouri