Why Is Saint Paul the Capital of Minnesota?

(Last Updated On: February 5, 2020)
Why Is Saint Paul the Capital of Minnesota?

Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. Full of natural beauty and resources, it is a state with much to offer. And this is particularly true of Saint Paul, the capital of Minnesota. 

Built near the Mississippi River, Saint Paul is the second most populous city in the state, and it continues to experience rapid growth. Together with Minneapolis, it forms part of the Twin Cities Metro Region. 

But with both Saint Paul and Minneapolis being so close, and with Minneapolis being larger, have you ever wondered why Saint Paul got the nod as capital? Let’s explore more about this city’s history and find out why Saint Paul is the capital of Minnesota. 

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The Capital of Minnesota

The land around Saint Paul had long been inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Sioux and Ojibwa people, when the area began to attract European explorers in the 1600s. Among the first Europeans to visit was Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan missionary. Other notable visitors included the explorer Johnathan Carver, who came several decades later in 1766, and explored a nearby cavern which he later called “Carver’s Cave.”

In 1787, the land east of the Mississippi River was organized into a new US territory–Northwest Territory. Just a few years later, in 1803, the area west of the river was granted to the US via the Louisiana Purchase, thus giving the US control over what would become Minnesota.

However, many Native Americans were still living in the region. In 1805, an American expedition led by Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike would set off to explore the headwaters of the Mississippi River. During this journey, a treaty was made between the US government and the Sioux tribe, which gave full possession of the region to the US. This treaty, known as Pikes Purchase, gave the US more than 100,000 acres of land.

The area continued to attract settlers, notably fur traders. In 1838, Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant claimed a large chunk of land, eventually establishing the settlement, “Pig’s Eye Landing.”

In 1841, a log chapel was built by missionary Lucien Galtier in the settlement. Galtier was the first Roman Catholic priest to hold services in Minnesota, and he dedicated the chapel to the apostle Paul. He renamed the settlement Saint Paul, after the church. 

Why is Saint Paul the Capital of Minnesota? 

In 1849, the Territory of Minnesota was established. At the time, Minnesota had three significant settlements: Saint Paul, Saint Anthony (now part of Minneapolis), and Stillwater. Territorial officials made the decision to divide the major territorial institutions among these three towns. Saint Paul was made the capital; Minneapolis would be home to the University of Minnesota; and Stillwater was selected as the site of the Minnesota Territorial Prison.  

However, that was not the end of it. In 1857, there was a serious attempt to move the capital from Saint Paul, which was in the eastern extreme of the territory, to the much more centrally located Saint Peter. A bill was even passed in both houses of the Territorial Legislature to make the move. It didn’t hurt that the territorial governor, Willis A. Gorman, also owned the land on which a new Saint Peter capitol building was planned to be built. 

But before Governor Gorman could sign the bill into force, it was stolen by Joseph J. Rolette, chairman of the Territorial Council’s Enrolled Bills Committee. According to the story, Rolette hid with the bill in a Saint Paul hotel (or perhaps brothel), playing cards and drinking until the end of the legislative session. When he finally returned with the bill, the session had ended. 

Today, Saint Paul lives on as Minnesota’s capital and second largest city, while Saint Peter is fairly small and rural.


Do you want to learn more about capital cities and how they came to be? Check out these articles. 

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About Mark Heald 221 Articles
Mark Heald is the Managing Editor of Sporcle.com. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.