“I have been so much taken up with my own distresses that I could say nothing on any Other subject…”—Moses Austin
Moses Austin & Co
Moses Austin & Co.
On March 28, 1812, Moses Austin advertised in the Missouri Gazette that his partnership with John Rice Jones was ending and all of their merchandise was for sale.
[St. Louis Missouri Gazette, March 28, 1812, Page 3, Column 2]
Starting in 1807, Austin experienced a series of financial setbacks. First, the price of lead shot dropped by about 40 percent. Then a large load of Austin’s lead got stuck at the port of New Orleans for over a year because Austin’s agent there committed suicide. Aside from high legal fees from his lawsuits with Smith T, Austin paid his brother Stephen $5,000 to settle old debts. In 1812 another large lead shipment was delayed when it got stuck in a sandbar. The price of lead dropped sharply before it could be recovered.
This image of Herculaneum shows a shot tower and furnace in 1817. The shot tower was used to create lead balls for guns.
[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (016247)]
Austin’s response to these setbacks was to take out loans and expand his businesses. He planned the town of Herculaneum as a port on the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River runs south from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico and is considered the chief river in North America's largest drainage system. Bordering Missouri on the east, the river flows for 2,530 miles. Along with the Missouri River and several other tributaries such as the Ohio River, the Mississippi became part of the nation's first major transportation system in the early 1800s after the invention of the steamboat. Missouri has historically engaged in international trade by shipping and receiving goods along the Mississippi through the port of New Orleans, which lies at the river's mouth.
, and built a nice home, a store, and a tower to manufacture lead shot there. However, Mine á Breton’s production dropped. Most of the workers left to mine newly discovered lead deposits. The War of 1812
The War of 1812 was fought by the United States against Great Britain, the British colony in Canada, and Britain's Native American allies and lasted from 1812 until 1815. It was caused by unresolved issues left over from the Revolutionary War. On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Britain due to the continued British occupation of U.S. territory, the ongoing practice of the British capturing American sailors and forcing them to serve in the Royal Navy against their will, British support of Native Americans who were hostile to American expansion, and British efforts to deny Americans the right to trade freely with European countries, particularly Britain's enemy, France.
In 1813 the United States launched an invasion of Canada that failed, but U.S. forces managed to obtain important victories over the course of the war. Oliver Hazard Perry led American naval forces to victory at the Battle of Lake Erie and General William Henry Harrison defeated the British and their Native American allies at the Battle of the Thames. The British attacked Washington, DC, and set several government buildings on fire, including the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
The Treaty of Ghent brought the war between the United States and Britain to an end on December 24, 1814. Because news of the treaty had not yet reached troops in the west, the last battle between British and American forces took place at New Orleans, with General Andrew Jackson securing a final victory for the United States.
severely disrupted business on the western frontier as well. In 1812 the mine produced about half of its 1808 total. When Maria, Brown, and Emily ran out of money on a trip to Philadelphia in 1811, they had to live off the charity of others for two years because Moses could not afford to bring them home.
Austin attempted to remedy his financial problems by leasing a large number of slaves to work in the mines, but this proved too costly and only caused more debt. Moses tried placing Stephen F. in charge of the mine, but it did not help. As a final attempt to change their fortunes, Moses and his son Stephen F. helped start a new bank, called the Bank of St. Louis. Their finances were utterly ruined when the bank failed during the Panic of 1819
The first major economic depression in American history, the panic of 1819 was largely caused by a collapse of cotton prices, which then led to bank closures and foreclosures on farms. It was called a "panic" because the collapsing prices made people fear that their banks would go out of business and that they needed to withdraw their money quickly, before it was lost. The panic lasted until 1821.
Austin’s inability to pay his enormous debts led to a wave of lawsuits from his creditors. He became so desperate for money that he was willing to sell Mine á Breton for less than one-third of its market value, but still could not find a buyer. On March 11, 1820, Moses Austin was arrested and put in jail for failing to pay his debts. Ten days later, Mine á Breton was seized by the government; eventually it was sold to settle a portion of Austin’s debt.