|1857 map of St. Louis County
In the 1857 Kennedy's Saint Louis Directory, John Murdoch is listed as living "in country", though the business of Murdoch & Dickson remained located on Main Street in downtown St. Louis. An 1849 deed indicated that John J. Murdoch, Charles K. Dickson and Mary T. Dickson, his wife, purchased 613.71 acres of land in the County of St. Louis from Adam G. Stewart and his wife. A portion of this property was sold by Murdoch and Dickson in 1850 to John J. Wilshusen. Wilshusen was a farmer in St. Louis County, and his property abutted what would become the farm of Murdoch. It is likely then, that Murdoch Farm was carved out of the 613.71 acres purchased by him and the Dicksons in 1849.
|illustration of Murdoch mansion
The Murdoch family lived in a two-story stone mansion, and the 350 acres included orchards as well as farm land. There were several outbuildings as well, including at least two slave houses and a barn. A newspaper article described the barn as "one of the finest in the county, being three stories high including the basement, and cost about $15,000."
It is interesting to note that Laclede Station on the Pacific Railroad, which both Murdoch and Dickson helped to finance, was located just north of this land. Was it a coincidence that the two men purchased over 613 acres in the area where the new train line would be built? In the same year that Missouri issued the charter for the Pacific Railroad? In any event, perhaps Murdoch took the train each day from his farm to the office in St. Louis.
In 1859, John and Julia had their first child, whom they named John. The 1860 census lists a total of sixteen people at the farm. The value of Murdoch's real estate is $85,000, and his personal estate is $10,200. In addition to John, his wife and their son, John's brother William and his two daughters are listed, as well as his and William's mother Maria. There are also two farm hands and two servants shown. The remaining people on the census are William M. Plant and his family. Plant's occupation is Merchant and Farmer, the same as Murdoch, but his real estate is valued at $8,000 and his personal estate at $10,000. Plant settled in the Webster Groves area nearby in the 1860s. It would be interesting to know why his family was living with the Murdochs. Were they waiting for their home to be built?
The 1860 U.S. Federal Slave Schedule shows John J. Murdoch as the owner of ten slaves, four females and six males, ranging in age from four years to thirty-eight years. One of the slaves of a neighboring estate ran away, and Murdoch placed an ad in the newspaper offering a reward for the return of the thirty-five-year-old male to the office of Murdoch & Dickson. Apparently this was another service offered by the firm.
|notice of runaway slave
The Civil War was right around the corner. What impact would it have on business in St. Louis? And on John Murdoch with his large farm?