First American town in Missouri. Founded in 1789 by George Morgan, Princeton graduate and Indian trader, on the site of Francois and Joseph Le Sieur's trading settlement, L'Anse a laGraise (Fr. Cove of Fat). Flood and caving banks have destroyed the first town 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 the 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 mounts in the county, two are near town.
"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.
(Reverse):The New Madrid Earthquake, made up of a series of monstrous and lesser shocks, which began Dec. 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 U.S. relief act, 1815, which benefited mostly speculators.
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 No. 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 5 Spanish districts, later one of Missouri's first 5 counties, serves a farming community. Cotton and soybean crops predominate. Rich land has been reclaimed by the Little River and St. Johns Levee drainage systems.