James Compton Sutton (later Sr.) and his wife Ann Wells Sutton might have been the earliest settlers of European ancestry of the area known today as Maplewood, Missouri. At least I don’t know of anyone here earlier. Ann West Evans McElderry didn’t buy her 320 acres (west of Big Bend, north of Manchester, sold to Charles Rannells in 1848) until 1839. Henry Bartold didn’t build his stone roadhouse (at Hanley and Manchester) until 1840. John Baptiste Bruno, whose farm was just north of Sutton’s, got here early but I don’t know how early.
That James C. Sutton Sr. was once highly regarded in this community is beyond doubt. He was a blacksmith, an inventor, a successful businessman, and a successful farmer. He and his wife raised nine children, John L., Mary C., Charles W., Henry L., Sarah W., Kate C., James C. Jr., Joe (Josie) A., and William B. Sutton. His namesake, James C. Sutton Jr., was active for a very long time in the local school district even giving land (as his father had done earlier) for one of the school buildings – the Sutton School on Cambridge. Another son, Henry, was the first presiding justice of the newly organized St. Louis County. The first meetings were held at the Sutton mansion.
William Lyman Thomas, in chapter five of his “History of St. Louis County”, mentions an early school in Maplewood known, in 1854 as The Washington Institute. James C. Sutton Sr. donated the land for the school and was also the chairman of the board of trustees. He held that position until 1866 when his son, John L. Sutton Sr., took over. John L. was succeeded by his brother, John C. Sutton Jr.. J.C.Jr. remained on the board until 1908 when he declined to serve again.
The Washington Institute was not an early version of Washington University. It was located on an acre that James Sr. had given it which today would be the NE corner of the intersection of Southwest Ave. and the railroad tracks. (Later the Ellendale train station would occupy that location.) Eventually the Washington Institute moved and was known as first, Bartold Valley School, then just Valley School and by 1911, the Maplewood High School, built the prior year. Its location at that time was directly across Manchester from our present (in 2019) city hall. (Only the stone wall remains, now bordering an apartment complex.)
William Lyman Thomas, who seems to have been a very honorable man himself, writes glowingly of James Sr. Even mentioning, as others did as well,that he was of a very stern but reasonable manner. We have much positive information about him. Yet, we also know that he was a slaveholder. WLT never mentions that. We know that Sutton’s wife, Ann, in April 1860, paid the equivalent of $33,350 in 2019 dollars for four human beings. Almost exactly one year later the Civil War began. She most likely made that purchase with his knowledge and approval. And the human beings that she bought – a young woman and her infant daughter – a six year old female child and a two and a half year old boy. Horrendous to our minds today. We cannot imagine it.
Members of the Sutton and the Rannells families have contributed much to our community. They deserve recognition and memory. That their grandparents held slaves is true but unpleasant to contemplate. It is very important to remember and honor these enslaved and indentured people who are every bit as deserving of recognition for their role in creating the world we know today. In many of the records their names were not preserved. There is nothing we can ever do that could somehow pay back all of those who suffered and died. But we need to do what we can to respect and honor them. The battle to prevent that sort of evil from rising again is ongoing and unending.