Two county seats for Callaway County

Elizabeth Davis

Callaway County was created Nov. 25, 1820. A commission consisting of Henry Brite, Enoch Fruit, William McLaughlin, Samuel Miller and Josiah Ramsey Jr. was appointed by the general assembly to find a suitable location for a permanent seat of government.

Their report was returned March 8, 1821, and said they chose Elizabeth for the county seat.

Or at least Brite, McLaughlin and Miller chose Elizabeth.

Fruit disagreed and voiced his opinion in writing at the end of the report. “I do hereby enter my protest against the foregoing county seat, in consequence of its not being nearer the center of the county. Enoch Fruit.”

Ramsey did not sign the report and resigned from the commission Oct. 1. His seat was filled by James Nevins who was appointed by the first judge of the circuit court of Callaway County, Rufus Pettibone.

Elizabeth, named by Brite, was located on 100 acres on the northwest edge of Ham’s Prairie. The land was donated to the county by Judge Benjamin Young and Thomas Smith.

After Elizabeth was platted, lots were sold. Among the purchasers were Brite, McLaughlin, and Miller, the three commissioners who chose Elizabeth in the first place; Smith and Young who donated the land; and Nevins who replaced Ramsey on the commission. The proceeds were used to build a jail. There are no records to indicate any houses were built. Another home was unnecessary as most of the owners had farm land in the county.

For the next three years Callaway’s county seat remained in Elizabeth. Brite kept a tavern on Ham’s Prairie east of town and the tavern was used as the courthouse. However, it appeared a majority of the citizens disagreed with Elizabeth as the county seat. In 1824, they petitioned the general assembly to change it. Following the will of the people, Fulton became the county seat.

All land that was donated to the county for the town of Elizabeth reverted to the original owners.

NOTE: The quote from Fruit voicing his opposition to Elizabeth can be found in “The Old Town of Elizabeth,” Missouri Historical Review, Volume 008, Issue 2, January 1914, pages 86-89.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she syndicated her column statewide in September 2018 and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to