Benito Andres Vasquez was born in 1738 in Torrente, Galicia, Spain. Torrente was a village near Santiago de Compostela. Benito’s father was a farmer and carpenter, but Benito joined the Spanish Army in 1762 and was assigned to the Regiment of Leon. In 1766, he volunteered to join an elite one hundred-soldier company to accompany the new governor of the Louisiana Territory in America, when the territory was ceded from France to Spain. One of the officers of that company was Captain Pedro Piernas. They sailed first to Havana, where the governor, Antonio Ulloa, was waiting for them. They then sailed to New Orleans.

Vasquez was then ordered to accompany Piernas to establish a Spanish settlement on the west bank of the Mississippi River across the river from Natchez. In August 1768, Piernas was ordered to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to relieve Franco Riu, who had failed in his mission to build a Spanish fort there. Piernas received special permission from Ulloa for Vasquez to accompany him on that mission, due to their long service together. In the spring of 1769, they arrived at the trading post named St. Louis, which had been built by Pierre Lacléde and Auguste Chouteau just south of the proposed fort. After a short stay, they returned to Havana due to a rebellion by the French settlers against the Spanish. The rebellion was put down and they returned to St. Louis. Piernas was appointed lieutenant governor of the northern portion of the territory. Piernas, Vasquez, and their troops stayed in St. Louis to consolidate the Spanish governance rather than occupying the failed fort.

In 1772, Vasquez retired from active military service but chose to remain in St. Louis. He was very close to Piernas and was granted a lot just where the north leg of the St. Louis Arch is located today. He became involved in the fur trade with the Osage and other tribes up the Missouri River, and in 1774, married sixteen-year-old Marie Julie Papin, a member of an early French-Canadian family.

Benito and Julie had eleven children, several of whom were involved in the fur trade and exploration of the west. Benito was appointed captain of the St. Louis militia and was cited by the Spanish king for his heroism in the defeat of the attempted British invasion of St. Louis in May of 1780. Benito and his family members stood with tears in their eyes in 1804 as the Spanish flag was replaced by the French flag and then by the American flag on successive days due to the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the United States. Benito’s fur trade efforts were quite successful until he invested in the formation of the Missouri Fur Company which failed, and he was never able to recover. He passed away in 1810 with his burial next to the St. Louis Cathedral, under the ringing of the beautiful bell, which Benito had procured and transported from New Orleans in 1774 for the cathedral and dedicated to his patron, Pedro Piernas and his lady.

Submitted by Douglas W. Whitney, third great-grandson of Benito Andres Vasquez
April 2021

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Last Modified: 18-Nov-2021 14:14