Hon. Spencer Pettis.--We herewith give a brief biographical sketch of the eminent man whose name this county bears. He was born in the State of Virginia in the year 1802, receiving an academical education, subsequently studied law, commencing the practice of his profession at Fayette, Howard county, Missouri. At an early age he displayed great ability, and soon rose to the very best estimation of the people of his adopted State. At the age of twenty-seven years he appeared in the zenith of his political glory before the people, as a candidate to Congress. Prior to this date (1828), Missouri had sent but two representatives to Congress, Hon. John Scott, elected in 1820, serving six years, and Hon. Edward Bates, elected in 1826, serving two years. In this campaign there were three candidates for Congress: Edward Bates, a Whig, and Wm. Carr Lane and Spencer Pettis, Democrats, the latter of whom so equally divided the strength of the party that the election of Hon. Edward Bates was inevitable if both continued in the race. Finally, the question as to which of the two should retires was submitted to Col. Benton. He, without hesitation, decided that Lane should withdraw and Pettis continue before the people. This fact was made known by sending and posting hand-bills throughout the State, for at that time there were no lines of telegraph and but few newspapers. The result of this election was that Pettis was elected by a handsome majority. Hon. Spencer Pettis was a warm friend of Col. Thomas H. Benton and an outspoken Democrat, who had earnestly entered the contest against United States banks, in harmony with Gen. Jackson. He served in the Twenty-first Congress from December 7th, 1829, to March 3d, 1831.
During the administrations of Andrew Jackson (1820-1829), who was really the people's choice for president in 1824, when the house of representatives gave the office to John Q. Adams, the war against the United States National Bank by the military hero, whose great talents, inflexible honesty and iron will were unassailable, created considerable excitement throughout Missouri, and all over the Union. In 1830 politics was warmly discussed in Missouri. At that time Missouri contained but one congressional district, and the Hon. Spencer Pettis, a shrewd, talented young lawyer of St. Louis, was a candidate for re-election to congress. He was a supporter of Jackson's administration, and caustic and severe in his opposition to the national bank. No doubt the Hon. Spencer Pettis had become the most popular politicians in the State. At his last election he had a large majority over the Hon. David Barton, who had lately retired from the United State Senate, and had been brought forward by his friends for the lower hours of congress. During the political canvass many personal controversies appeared in the public prints, some of which had a melancholy termination. It appears that Mr. Pettis had a personal quarrel with Maj. Thomas Biddle, then paymaster in the United States army, and a brother of Nicholas Riddle, then president of the United States bank. Another brother of his was Commodore Biddle, of the navy. Through the influence of the Hon. Thomas H. Benton, Mr. Pettis was prevented from going into a duel with Mr. Biddle until after the election, which was then the first Monday in August. After the election a challenge passed from Mr. Pettis to Mr. Biddle, which was accepted, and the parties met on a sand bar, opposite the city of St. Louis, August 27th, (Friday), 1831. It is said by old settlers that the river was lined by people on both sides to witness the tragedy. On account of Mr. Biddle's near-sightedness, the distance measured was five feet, so that when they presented their pistols they overlapped. The firing was simultaneous. Both were mortally wounded, and when notified of this fact by the surgeons, like Hamlet and Laertes, they mutually forgave one another. Mr. Pettis died the next morning, and was buried on the following Sunday, the day on which Mr. Biddle expired. Thus ended the career of one of the most prominent young men of Missouri. The following appears in the archives at Washington: "Spencer Pettis, St. Louis Co., Mo., elected August, 1828, for two years. Re-elected 1830. Killed in a duel with Biddle, August 1831. Term of service, three years."
So dear was this young hero and champion of the people's rights in the memory of those who associated in forming this county out of Cooper and Saline counties, on January 26th, 1833, that the name of Pettis was bestowed upon it. Messrs. Joseph S. Anderson, of Cooper county, John Stapp, of Lafayette county, and John S. Rucher, of Howard county, were commissioners in 1834, to locate the county seat of Pettis. Accordingly they met in St. Helena, commonly known by the soubriquet of Pin Hook, or Wasson's Mill, in the following March, and in 1837, Gen. David Thompson, father of Mr. Mentor Thompson, now of Sedalia, assisted in "laying out" Georgetown, naming it for Georgetown, Ky., his old home.
Soon after the duel between Pettis and Biddle was fought, the name Blood Island was applied to the ground upon which the fatal tragedy took place.
The name of Pettis is supposed to have formerly been spelled Pettus. Sir John Pettus, an English writer, was born in Suffolk, England. He became deputy governor of the royal mines, and published "The History, Laws, and Places of the Chief Mines in England and Wales," in the year 1670. He died about A. D. 1690.
Source: Demuth, I. MacDonald, The History of Pettis County, Missouri (1882), pp. 208-210.