Jean Marie Cardinal: Revolutionary War Hero?

The War Years (1775-1783)

June 20, 2024
by Steven M. Baule Also by this Author

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As the American Bicentennial approached, the Smithsonian Magazine in April 1973 ran a story by Richard W. O’Donnell about Paul Revere not being the only messenger who rode to warn Massachusetts colonists on the night of April 18, 1775, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” outlined. Revere did not complete his ride and when detained by British officers, he explained to them that he was riding to warn colonists of the march of the King’s regulars to Lexington and Concord.[1] In a subsequent issue, Smithsonian indicated that O’Donnell’s article left “an awkward gap in the diadem of American Revolutionary heroes.” Smithsonian’s editorial staff suggested that many others deserved credit similar to Revere. The one example provided was Jean Marie Cardinal, a French lead miner from what is now Dubuque, Iowa, sometimes called the “Paul Revere of the West.”

Smithsonian wrote that, before he was “too elaborately celebrated, it should be noted that he had a fairly murky past.” Cardinal appeared to have been fugitive from justice.[2] This did not stop the Des Moines, Iowa, chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution from naming its chapter the Jean Marie Cardinell [sic] Chapter.[3] On May 14, 2022, the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution dedicated a plaque to Cardinal, “Iowa’s Hero of the American Revolution” along the Mississippi Riverwalk in Dubuque, Iowa.

Cardinal’s story as presented at the time of the Bicentennial was fairly straightforward. British troops and their allies came down river from Prairie du Chein (now Wisconsin) and attacked miners at the lead mines at what is now Dubuque, Iowa. Cardinal, and potentially others, escaped. Dubuque Folklore editorialized on Cardinal’s decision to then travel to St. Louis: “Paul Revere’s horse ride pales at the distance of Cardinal’s legendary canoe trip down the Mississippi to warn Saint Louis of impending British attack.” Properly warned by Cardinal, the Spanish and French at St. Louis were able to repulse the attack by British and Indians. Cardinal was captured by Indians and killed trying to escape. This made him the first Iowan to die in the war.[4] The story remains similar on the 2022 plaque erected along the river at Dubuque.[5] However, there are fundamental flaws in the story as presented.

Jean Marie Cardinal was a trapper, trader, and lead miner according to several sources. Most likely he originally worked out of the American Bottom area of modern Southern Illinois near present-day St. Louis.[6] The Cardinal family appears to have been present in the American Bottom area of the Illinois Country by 1691. He appears to have traded up the Missouri River with the Pawnee and Little Osage. Cardinal’s wife, Marie Anne, was a Pawnee, and it is probable that he met her on an early trip to trade up the Missouri.[7] It is unclear when he first arrived in the Upper Mississippi Valley, but most likely he arrived in the area of Prairie du Chien at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers no later than 1755. Historian Mathias Martin Hoffman concluded that Cardinal traveled as far north as the Cannon River near present day Red Wing, Minnesota.[8]

As a result of the French and Indian War, the Upper Mississippi Valley was transferred to British control and the western side of the Mississippi Valley was transferred to the Spanish. This might have had an impact on Cardinal, a Frenchman who had just established himself at Prairie du Chein. The British immediately began to establish themselves in Wisconsin; troops were dispatched to take control of the western posts. According to Lt. James Gorrell of the 1st Battalion, 60th (Royal America) Regiment, who commanded a small detachment at Fort Edward Augustus, near the present location of Green Bay, Wisconsin, the rumor mill was still anticipating a return of French control as French troops remained at Fort Chartres in present day Illinois. British traders arrived by the autumn of 1761 and began trading with the Wisconsin tribes. Gorrell meanwhile spent much of 1762 negotiating treaties with the area’s tribes.[9] In his June 14, 1763, journal entry, Gorrell wrote that traders from the among the Sauk confirmed the rumors that “Landsing[sic] and his son [James] were killed by the French.” According to the same journal, Gorrell and his garrison along with the traders then present abandoned Fort Edward Augustus to avoid becoming casualties to Pontiac’s Rebellion, and travelled to Detroit.[10]

Cardinal and his French partner Thibaut appear to have been engaged as guides, trappers, or courier du bois in the employment of Abraham Lansing and Garrit Roseboom who established a trading post about fifty miles east of Prairie du Chien along the Wisconsin River at the present location of Muscoda, Wisconsin, shortly after the British took control of the upper Mississippi Valley.[11] The merchants were originally from the area around Albany, New York.[12]

Abraham Lansing and his son were killed in the spring of 1763. Cardinal and Thibaut Lansing’s partner, Garrit Roseboom, along with other merchants, Tunis Fischer, Cummin Shields, and William Bruce, all listed as “Merch’s from LaBay,” were deposed by a British Army court of inquiry at Detroit on July 4, 1764. They stated that “both the French and Indians told Roseboom that Lancing and his son were killed by two Frenchman, Tibot & Cardinal.” Roseboom identified them as servants of Lansing and was told they escaped to Illinois after the murders.[13] Several historians have identified Cardinal as the probable killer and justify their conclusions based upon Cardinal’s move from Prairie du Chein to the west bank of the Mississippi River.[14]

Cardinal appears to have continued to trade but moved his focus from the mouth of the Wisconsin River. Potentially, he retained property at Prairie du Chien, or his wife and children remained there at times. On May 30, 1776, Cardinal was in St. Louis when he was formally married in the Catholic Church in that village. It was common for French traders in the upper Mississippi Valley to establish marriages to Indian women “selon la coutume de la pays” or according to the custom of the country. It is less established how many of these relationships were later formalized with church marriages. Cardinal’s wife, Marie Anne, was listed as a forty-year-old Pawnee Indian. Eight of their children were baptized at the same time, the oldest being twenty-one-year-old Genevieve. The youngest was Paul, fourteen months.[15] In a Spanish report of traders dated November 28, 1777, a Juan Cardinal is mentioned as having previously traded with the Little Osages, a tribe living on the Upper Des Moines River, moving 2,100 pounds of deer skins at that time. He acquired property in and near St. Louis in 1776 and 1777.[16]

King Carlos III of Spain declared war on England on June 21, 1779, after signing the Treaty of Aranjuez with France that April. This news made it to the Fernando de Leyba, the Spanish lieutenant governor at St. Louis, potentially as late as February 1780. It appears that many of the traders at more remote outposts did not learn of Spain entering the war until British forces started down the Mississippi in the spring of 1780.[17]

Cardinal had submitted a mining claim to the Spanish in 1769, the year Spain seems to have officially taken control of the western bank of the Mississippi; he could have been mining earlier.[18] Cardinal, his wife, at least one son, and an Indian slave appear to have been present at the mines in April 1780, and most likely were unaware that Spain was now at war with the British. A force directed by the British at Prairie du Chein were sent to capture the lead at the mines to ensure it did not fall into the hands of Americans in Illinois or the Spanish at St. Louis.

According to Patrick Sinclair, the British Commandant at Ft. Michilimackinac, where the British expedition originated, the attack on the lead mines at present day Dubuque stopped fifty tons of lead ore being delivered to the Americans, and took seventeen prisoners. Native warriors were sent to the mines with orders to only release the lead to those with a British pass.[19] Hoffman stated Joseph Baptiste Parent apparently “put up an armed resistance before he capitulated.”[20]

The timing of a late April attack on the lead mines, and the main body of the British force not leaving from Prairie du Chein for approximately a week or more after the attack on the mines, reduces the validity of Cardinal being the Paul Revere of the West. De Leyba wrote to Gov. Bernardo de Galvez at New Orleans on March 9, 1780, that he expected an attack by the British and their native allies.[21] According to recent scholarship by Carolyn Gillman, John Conn brought news of the English preparing to attack St. Louis in late March.[22]

Cardinal was in St. Louis on May 26, 1780, when the Native warriors simultaneously attacked that town on the west bank of the river and Cahokia, garrisoned by Americans, on the east. According to eyewitness Jean Baptiste Riviere, Cardinal was wounded and captured by Native warriors; he then tried to escape and supposedly lived until he reached Beaver Pounds, about two or three miles away.[23] Lieutenant Governor de Leyba’s May 26, 1780, roster of casualties indicates that fifteen whites including Cardinal and seven enslaved people died in the fighting.[24]

Cardinal Spring and Cardinal Avenue in the Fairgrounds Park area of St. Louis were both named in honor of Cardinal, who was apparently buried in the area in an unmarked grave.[25] Most sources claim that Cardinal’s widow, Marie Anne, remained at Prairie du Chein until her death in 1825 at the age of 89.[26] Another source claims she was buried in Missouri in 1830.[27]

Cardinal’s sons, Jean Marie, Junior and Paul, were in the La Charette area along the Missouri River in 1806, when U.S. Army Lt. Zebulon Pike visited with them to identify the route of what would be known as the Sante Fe Trail. The Cardinal sons were related to the Pawnees through both their mother and potentially through marriage, and they used those relationships to trade all the way to Santa Fe. It is possible they provided some guidance to Lewis and Clark when they passed through the area in 1804. Jean Marie Cardinal Jr. was said to have been an active supporter of the American war effort during the War of 1812, in part due to the death of his father at the hands of the British and their allies.[28]

Jean Marie Cardinal did lose his life at the Battle of St. Louis. He may have intended to come south to warn the Spanish of the oncoming British and Native Warriors after escaping capture at the lead mines at present day Dubuque. However, he may have already been in St. Louis, and that could explain why he was not captured along with his wife, son, and their enslaved person on that April day in 1780. If he did warn the Spanish at St. Louis, such a warning was not recorded by any of the key players at the time. Cardinal did contribute to American expansion through the roles his sons played in assisting both the Lewis and Clark and the Pike expeditions to explore the lands of the Louisianna Purchase. Cardinal does not appear to have provided the vital warning to the Spanish that the British were coming down river—but he does seem to be Iowa’s only Revolutionary War casualty.

 

[1] Richard W. O’Donnell, “On the Eighteenth of April in Seventy-five … Longfellow didn’t know the half of it,” Smithsonian Magazine (April 1973), 72-76.

[2] Phenomena, comment and notes. Smithsonian Magazine (June 1973), 6-7.

[3] Jean Marie Cardinell Chapter History, www.isdar.org/chapters/jeanmariecardinell/history.html.

[4] “Jean Marie Cardinal,” in Dubuque Folklore, 1776-1976 (Dubuque, IA: American Trust of Savings Bank, 1975), 12-14.

[5] “Jean Marie Cardinal,” Encyclopedia Dubuque, www.encyclopediadubuque.org/index.php/CARDINAL,_Jean_Marie. This entry includes the full text of the NSSAR’s plaque erected in May 2022.

[6] Louis Houck, The Spanish Regime in Missouri (Chicago: RR Donnelly & Sons, 1909), 2:390-391. Bernard Cardinal was listed as one of the pioneers at Fort de Chartres in 1721 and was most likely the progenitor of the Cardinal family on the Upper Mississippi.

[7] M. M. Hoffman, Antique Dubuque, 1673 – 1833 (Dubuque: Loras College Press, 1975), 55. In 1776, when Cardinal formalized his marriage to Marie Anne, their oldest child was twenty-one years old. Schake gives Cardinal’s wife’s name as Angelique. Schake, La Charrette, 108. Some sources identify her as an enslaved Omaha, or Panis Maha. Lowell Schake, La Charrette: A History of the Village Gateway to the American Frontier (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2003), 19.

[8] Hoffman, Antique Dubuque, 49-51. Hoffman thought 1730 was too early of a date and 1767, also given by early sources, was too late for Cardinal’s appearance at Prairie du Chien. He felt 1755 was about the time that Prairie du Chien was settled and Cardinal arrived there. Louise Phelps Kellogg places Cardinal in Prairie du Chien in 1754 as one of the settlement’s original settlers. Louise Phelps Kellogg, The British Regime in Wisconsin and the Northwest (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1935), 171.

[9] “Timeline of Wisconsin History, www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS1895.

[10] “Lieut. James Gorrell’s Journal,” Collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society (Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1903), 1:41-42. Schake, La Charrette, 20. Schake identifies Lansing’s son as James, and articulates that Cardinal and Jose Tebeau, Sr. removed themselves to Charrette Bottoms near present day, Warren, Missouri, by late 1763, prior to the founding of St. Louis. Tebeau may have been the same man listed in Captain Pure’s Second Company of Militia at St. Louis in 1780.

[11] Due to the murder of the two Englishmen, the area of known as English Prairie as late as the 1840s. Thibault’s name also appears as Tibot, Thebalt, Thobeau, Thiebau, and Tibeau. No first name appears to have ever been given. In 1790, there were five families with this surname in the Illinois Country. Kellogg, The British Regime in Wisconsin, 264n42.

[12] Kellogg, The British Regime in Wisconsin, 263.

[13] Ibid., 263-264.

[14] William J. Petersen, “Jean Marie Cardinal,” The Palimpsest, v. 12 no. 11, (November 1931), 414-421.

[15] Hoffman, Antique Dubuque, 59. Robert F. Klein, Julien Dubuque: Portrait of a Pioneer (Dubuque, IA: Loras College Press, 2021), 75-76. Klein lists Jean Marie Cardinal’s namesake son as later marrying Elizabeth, a Fox Metisse woman, as well. Julien Dubuque, the namesake of Dubuque, Iowa, was a brother-in-law to the junior Jean Marie Cardinal.

[16] Hoffman, Antique Dubuque, 59.

[17] Kristine L. Sjostrom, Fernando de Leyba: A Life of Service and Sacrifice in Spanish Louisiana (St. Louis: n.p, 2022), 184.

[18] Schake, La Charrette, 18-19.

[19] “Papers from the Canadian Archives, 1778-1783,” Wisconsin Historical Collections, v. 118 (Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1888), 151. The Little Maquoketa is generally acknowledged as the upper boundary of the lead mines, Catfish Creek being the southern boundary on the west side of the Mississippi River. William E. Wilkie, Dubuque on the Mississippi 1788-1988 (Dubuque: Loras College Press, 1987), 61-62.

[20] Hoffman, Antique Dubuque, 67-71. Hoffman felt some of the lead miners may have been wounded and left at Prairie du Chein along with Cardinal’s wife, child, and an enslaved person, who Hoffman names as Nicholas Colas. He appears to have later married Cardinal’s widow. Schake, La Charrette, 22. Joseph Baptiste Parent, whose mother was at Detroit, had been trading in the Illinois Country since 1759. In June 1778, Parent obtained from Leyba a license to trade at Dubuque on the Little Maquoketa River. He had a large stock and sixteen men working for him. Wilkie, Dubuque on the Mississippi, 61-62. Since Parent was noted to have sixteen men in the area under him, the seventeen prisoners would have been all of the whites in the area of the mines save Cardinal. It is unclear what the relationship between Cardinal and Parent was at the time.

[21] Sjostrom, Fernando de Leyba, 186.

[22] Carolyn Gillman, “L’ Annee du Coup: The Battle of St. Louis, 1780, Part 2,” Missouri Historical Review, v. 103 no. 4 (July 2009), 195-211.

[23] Wilkie, Dubuque on the Mississippi, 71.

[24] Sjostrom, Fernando de Leyba, 201; Schake identified Cardinal as the first casualty of the attack and that he was captured and killed on his own property. Schake, La Charrette, 19.

[25] Schake, La Charrette, 18.

[26] Jean Marie Cardinal, in Dubuque Folklore, 1776-1976, 13.

[27] Schake, La Charrette, 63. Schake states the widow Cardinal was buried on May 2, 1830, in St. Charles, Missouri.

[28] Ibid., 24-25 and “La Charrette (Marthasville), on the western frontier of Colonial Louisiana,” louisiane.cheminsdelafrancophonie.org/en/la-charrette-marthasville-on-the-borders-of-louisiana/.

2 Comments

  • Fascinating piece! I’m always curious about folks who fall outside of mainstream histories, but whose stories open up entire worlds to historical exploration. Thank you for tackling it.

  • I have enjoyed very much the so important history in 10 years my family will have been here for 400 years starting in the Massachusetts Bay in 1634. These, like your story are the kind of people who made this land worth fighting for.

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