The area that would become Pettis County was settled several years before the county was formally established in 1833.
A small settlement had grown up around a mill established by Thomas Wasson and James Ramey at a bend in Muddy Creek named St. Helena but informally called Pin Hook. This settlement was named the county seat.
The circuit court met, according to family legend, in the dining room of Ramey’s home.
According to the 1882 History of Pettis County, however, the court was held in a room adjoining a log cabin used as a store near the mill.
The county established a county commission presided over by Ramey, Elijah Taylor and William Miller.
Amos Fristoe, one of the early settlers in the county, was both the clerk of the civil and criminal court and of the county commission, and was known, according to the 1882 History, for carrying his documents in a basket.
Fristoe was born in Virginia in 1791 and came to Pettis County in 1832. He acquired 800 acres of what Claycomb describes as “mostly productive prairie land north of Muddy Creek.” The 1840 census, which identifies heads of households and individuals only by age and sex, briefly describes Fristoe’s family.
Fristoe and his wife were then between the ages of 40 and 50. Their children included one son between 20 and 30 years of age, one daughter between 15 and 20, two daughters between 10 and 15, two sons between 5 and 10, one son under 5 and two daughters under 5.
The 1850 census identifies individuals by name. At the time of the 1850 census, Fristoe, 60, and his wife, Susan, 52, had four children living at home. Thomas, born in 1831, and Charles, born in 1833, assisted their father on the family farm. Daughter Julia was 13 and son Amos was 12.
According to the 1860 census, Amos and Susan were still living on the family farm, as were children Julia, then 25, and son Amos, then 22. (The discrepancies in Julia’s age as reported in the census seem to be the result of the time of year each census was taken and possibly an error on the part of the census taker.)
The 1882 History reports that one daughter, Mary, had been married in 1836 to Aaron Jenkins and so was not listed in the 1840 census as Fristoe’s child. Local historian Betty Singer cites newspaper references to N.V. Fristoe, possibly another of Fristoe’s sons. Claycomb notes that Amos and Susan had 13 children.
Fristoe was a prominent member of the Disciples of Christ (Christian) Church in Pettis County. Bird Smith, who wrote a history of the Christian Church, identifies Fristoe among the “most influential, intelligent citizens of that part of the county.” Fristoe was an elder in the church.
Fristoe’s career in politics moved beyond his service as court clerk. He continued to be court clerk until 1847. In 1848, he began a two-year term as a representative in the Missouri General Assembly. He was elected again in 1852 for a two-year term.
The 1882 History largely ignores the issue of slavery and does not mention Fristoe’s position as a slaveholder. Claycomb identifies Fristoe as a Southern sympathizer.
The census provides the most complete information about Fristoe’s slaves. According to the 1840 census, Fristoe owned seven slaves.
By the time of the 1850 census, Fristoe owned 10 slaves, identified by the census by age, sex and racial background. Five of the slaves were adults; five were children.
The 1860 census shows Fristoe owning nine slaves: four adults and five children.
After the Civil War and passage of the 13th Amendment, Fristoe’s slaves were free. Claycomb notes that in 1870, eight African Americans who had taken the surname Fristoe lived with their former master Amos Fristoe.
The five older slaves were identified as illiterate, a reminder that before the Civil War, blacks were forbidden from learning to read and write. One of these young men must have been particularly close to Fristoe, for he left the young man five acres in his will when he died in 1872.