What is the origin of the name of the James River?
May 31, 2016 10:43 AM   Subscribe

No one seems to know when the tributary of the White River now called the James River (in Missouri) was named or who named it. Henry Schoolcraft traveled to the Ozarks in 1818-1819. In a View of the Lead Mines of Missouri (1819) he refers to it as the James River. In the 1820s, it was called the James Fork of the White in references in dealing with the relocated Delaware Reservation on that stream.

The most credible theory of the origin of the name is that it was named after the James River in Virginia. But no one has a specific explanation of that theory. Does anyone know who named the James River and when? Also, does anyone know of an earlier reference to the James River, also called the James Fork of the White, in print before 1819? Schoolcraft apparently learned of the name from lead miner Moses Austin.
posted by clockworkjoe to Science & Nature (7 answers total)
By the time Dakota Territory was incorporated, it was being called the James River. This name was provided by Thomas L. Rosser, a former Confederate general who helped to build the Northern Pacific Railroad across North Dakota. A Virginian, he named the river and the settlement of Jamestown, North Dakota, after the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia. However, the Dakota Territory Organic Act of 1861 renamed it the Dakota River. The new name failed to attain popular usage and the river retains its pre-1861 name.

(lifted wholly from wikipedia)

As far as why? I think commemorating a far away hometown is as good an explanation as any. People seem to do this a lot.
posted by ananci at 11:26 AM on May 31, 2016

From this link in a Wikipedia page footnote:
JAMES RIVER (North Dakota to Missouri River) was given its name in 1794 by Jean Trudeau, a French trader, who called it Riviere aux Jacques [literally James River in English] a name which was adopted by subsequent settlers in its Anglicized form. Later, by act of the Territorial Legislature [of the Dakota Territory], the stream was officially named "Dakota River," and that act has never been repealed. But it is universally known as the James River, and so it appears on modern maps. The common nickname for it is "Jim River." The Sioux name for this river is simply, "The River."
"Jean Trudeau, a fur trader" is apparently Jean Baptiste Trudeau, indeed a fur trader but also an explorer of some renown. At the same time that he made his visit to Dakota in 1794 (during which he built the "first house" in what is now South Dakota), a fellow named Jacques d'Eglise pushed up the James River "as far as the Ree villages at the mouth of the Grand River." (Source.)

Twelve years later, Lewis and Clark passed through the area and referred to the river in their journals as the River Jacque.

So the Lewis and Clark journals predate the 1819 Schoolcraft mention (although they were not printed until much later). It seems clear that the river was named after Jacque d'Eglise. This paper concurs that he is "the best candidate."
posted by beagle at 12:28 PM on May 31, 2016

Jacques and James are cognates
posted by bq at 12:41 PM on May 31, 2016

bq, I mentioned that, in brackets in the blockquote.
posted by beagle at 1:08 PM on May 31, 2016

Correction: The Lewis and Clark Journals were first printed in 1814, so that does predate Schoolcraft. They mention the River Jacque, which then got translated to James River.
posted by beagle at 2:31 PM on May 31, 2016

My great-grandpa called it the St. James Fork of the White. Ozarks Watch on the Springfield PBS station had a show about Jamesville in Stone Co. Mo. an early settlement in the Ozarks, but I missed it, so I can't say if they talked about the name.

Good luck, nobody's sure how the Ozarks got it's name. When I was a kid, the Finley was a crick flowing into the James, now its a river too.
posted by ridgerunner at 8:06 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's the video:
Historic Jamesville, Missouri: A Personal Perspective
28:35Video duration: 28:35 Aired: 12/18/11 Rating: NR
Jamesville, Missouri, was one of the first towns created by settlers coming up the White and James Rivers during the 1810s and 1820s. In time a community developed, but like several early towns in the Ozarks slowly declined as local post offices closed and schools consolidated with larger communities. Jamesville native and long-time resident, Dude White shares Jamesville’s history.

There's no transcript and Verizion Wireless sucks for video, so your on your own with it.

Looks like Grandpa wasn't the only one:
Place name: James River (earlier St. James River)
Description: A river, rising in Webster County and flowing through Stone and Greene Counties; formerly called the St. James Fork of White River. Mr. Myers thinks it was named for the James River in Virginia. (O.F. Douglas; Myers, Place Names in Southwest Counties of Missouri (57) )

Source: Bell, Margaret E. "Place Names In The Southwest Border Counties Of Missouri." M.A. thesis., University of Missouri-Columbia, 1933.

posted by ridgerunner at 9:51 PM on May 31, 2016

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