St. Gen is the oldest permanent European settlement in Missouri and was founded about thirty years before St. Louis. It was located about five miles north of the settlement at Kaskaskia and about five miles south of Fort de Chartres. St. Gen was a settlement located very much in the heart of the French Illinois Country.
I've been poking around the history and records of Kaskaskia and St. Gen for years, looking for evidence of baseball activity during the colonial period. I firmly believe, based on the fact that young French boys were playing ball games in St. Louis in the 18th century, that there was some form of ballplaying going on in Kaskaskia and St. Gen in the second half of the 1700s. There was a common culture among the Creole settlers of the Illinois Country and if there was ballplaying among children in St. Louis, there must have been ballplaying in Kaskaskia and St. Gen. More importantly, that ballplaying probably predates ballplaying activites in St. Louis, based on the fact that Kaskaskia and St. Gen were founded earlier than St. Louis. That's my thinking, anyway, and I have no problem stating that I have precious little evidence to support this idea.
However, Ekberg has given us a tantalizing clue about the activities of children in St. Gen and I believe it's relevant to what we're doing here.
When in December 1797 De Luzieres described Fremon de Lauriere's position as schoolmaster in Ste. Genevieve, he mentioned that Fremon had been teaching his pupils "according to a rational plan of education..."
This, to me, is rather significant.
Most of what we know about early ballplaying in the Illinois Country in the first half of the 19th century comes from people reminiscing about their days at school. These pioneers talk about playing town ball, long ball, bullpen, ante over and ball games like that. The earliest reference to ballplaying in Missouri that we have comes from Henry Gratiot talking about "playing ball" as a child. So we know that children, particularly school-age children, were playing ball games in the region, going back to the 1790s. And here we find Ekberg telling us that outdoor game-playing was a central part of a child's education in St. Gen at the same time that we know that Gratiot was playing ball games as a child in St. Louis. Based on all of this, I'm assuming that part of the "etc.," unmentioned in de Lauriere's plan, was ball games.
Ekberg also notes that there were schools in St. Gen, dating back to the 1780s, and it's possible that we may find evidence of ball-playing in the Illinois Country going back that far. It certainly wouldn't surprise me.
There are many other interesting things in Ekberg's book and I would recommend you take a look at it, if you're interested in the colonial history of the Illinois Country. Ekberg is, without a doubt, the expert on the subject and his French Roots in the Illinois Country is also excellent. He's had a profound impact on my thinking about the period and I can't recommend his work enough.