Tazewell County’s first European settlers

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, Feb. 2, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the second video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. The video that will be shown is “Tazewell County Memories 1932-1970,” presented by Tom Finson. It includes vintage film footage from around the county, including Pekin. Admission is free and the public is invited.

Our column this week is also about “Tazewell County Memories” – but these memories are much older than the 20th century, for they reach back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, the time when the first permanent European settlers arrived in the lands that would become Tazewell County.

Taking up again our review of the early history of Illinois, let us resume the story of the French colonization of the Illinois Country where we left off last time – with the Illinois Territorial Militia’s destruction of the town of La Ville de Maillet, predecessor of the city of Peoria, during the War of 1812.

To understand why La Ville de Maillet was destroyed by an American militia and its inhabitants – who were all American citizens mostly of French ethnicity – were forcibly carried from their land, one would need to learn about the formation and early history of the Illinois Territory. We will begin to look at those crucial events of our state’s “prehistory” next time, and instead turn our attention to the immediate aftermath of La Ville de Maillet’s destruction.

As we commented before, the end of La Ville de Maillet was not the end of early French settlement in our area, for several of the French former inhabitants of La Ville de Maillet returned to Peoria Lake after the war. There, at a spot near the Illinois River in what was to become Tazewell County, in the area where Fort Crevecoeur had briefly existed, they maintained a trading post and a small settlement – located about three miles south of where the Franklin Street Bridge is today.

The French called it “Opa Post,” but it is often remembered simply as “Trading House.” In a newspaper article entitled “First American Settlers Here Found Trading Post Inhabited by the French” (printed in the Oct. 15, 1933 Peoria Journal-Transcript), Illinois historian Ernest East wrote, “Evidence indicates that Trading House was founded shortly before 1818 when the American Fur company established an agency there.”

On the other hand, Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history, pages 193-194, stated that Trading House may have been around as early as the 1780s or 1790s:

“During the period from the time Laville de Meillet was founded in 1778, or at least after it was moved to the lower extremity of the lake, French traders had a regular established trading post on the Illinois near the site of old Fort Crevecoeur. They carried on an extensive commerce with the neighboring Indians, buying their furs with notions. At this business they became quite wealthy.”

Whenever Opa Post was established, it was certainly already in existence before Illinois became a state in 1818. Consequently, despite Chapman’s absurd (to us) assertion that, “These French traders cannot be classed as settlers,” there can be no question that Opa Post holds the historic title of being the first permanent European (“white”) settlement in what was soon to become Tazewell County. The French trading post dwellings and nearby burying ground were the seed from which Wesley City (today Creve Coeur) would later grow.

This diagram, drawn by Illinois historian Ernest East for a talk he gave in the 1930s, indicates the location of the old burying ground used by the inhabitants of the French Trading House in present day Creve Coeur that predated Illinois statehood. East examined the site on April 20, 1937. IMAGE COURTESY CHRISTAL DAGIT

Here is Chapman’s description of Trading House and its inhabitants:

“The ‘old French trading post,’ by which name it was known, remained at Wesley City for almost a quarter of a century after the first settlers came to the county. A large log building, about 30 by 60 feet in size and 10 feet high, was their principal store-house. Mr. B. F. Montgomery tells us that he visited the place in 1836, and in this building found a very large stock of skins and furs, which they told him were worth in their present state $2,000. The collection contained the covering of almost every animal of any value from the weasel to the buffalo. The principal traders at this point during the early settlement of the county were Tromly and Besau, both of whom were well known by some of the pioneers. These French traders had lived, traded and intermarried with the Indians until there were many half-breeds throughout the neighborhood. They were quiet, peaceable people, and treated the settlers with the neatest kindness. Besau died at the old post many years ago. Tromly went to Kansas in 1844. The former had married an Indian squaw and reared a large family. One of his daughters, Mary Besau, who is said to have been quite beautiful and her personal appearance and bearing graceful, was married to a man by the name of Anderson. About the year 1845 he moved to Kansas, where, near Leavenworth, he resided when last heard from by any Tazewell county people.”

The French trader “Besau” was Louis Buisson, a former inhabitant of La Ville de Maillet, while “Tromly” was Buisson’s brother-in-law and colleague Toussant or Trousoint Tremblay, whose wife Archange Ouilmette was a daughter of Francois Shobonnier, a Pottawatomi chief. The trading post carried on a prosperous business with the Native Americans and the early pioneers of Tazewell County until Pekin and Peoria established themselves, after which the old fur trade dwindled away. The main log dwelling at the post was the home over the years to several Frenchmen and their families, some of whom, as Chapman said, took Native American wives (Buisson’s wife also was a Pottawatomi, a sister of Archange). After the State of Illinois expelled all the Indians after the 1832 Black Hawk War, some of these intermarried French-Indian families left Tazewell County and accompanied their Native American kin to reservations in Kansas.

According to Ernest East’s 1933 article, Buisson was so well known in this area that the stretch of the Illinois River between Peoria and Pekin used to be known as Bee-saw Lake. Along with other former inhabitants of La Ville de Maillet such as Trading House residents Antoine Bourbonne, Francois Bourbonne, and Antoine Deschamp, Buisson is a notable figure in the early history of both Tazewell and Peoria counties.

“Old Buisson owned a log cabin in the village of Peoria after [Peoria] county was organized,” East wrote. “In 1827 Buisson rented this cabin to the county for use as a court house. He likely purchased the property from Joseph Ogee, who earlier rented a cabin to the county.”

Further on in his article, East supplemented Chapman’s account with the information that Buisson’s daughter Marie or Mary “became the wife of John Anderson. Records of Tazewell county show they were married December 14, 1833, by Justice of the Peace Amasa Turner. The bride’s name is spelled ‘Besaw’ in the record.”

Further information about Marie Buisson Anderson is found in Sept. 26, 1904 letter by Pekin pioneer James Haines, who said “Mary Besaw was greatly [admired] or famed for her beauty and education [which she] obtained in a Convent of the Catholic Church of America, whether at St. Louis or Kaskaskia or farther west, I can’t recall.” Continuing further, Haines wrote, “Mary often visited with my sisters at my father’s cabin home, 3 miles south east of Pekin. Was gay, sprightly, French in fashion, and conduct, but spoke English well and was an agreeable associate with the young folks . . .”

East also noted in a historical report that Mary and her husband John were among the founders of Wesley City, their signatures appearing among the “proprietor” plat-holders on the original plat map of the town filed from a survey taken Sept. 5-6, 1836, about a year after Mary was listed on the property tax rolls for Tazewell County for lands in Section 1 of Pekin Township.

Tazewell County’s old French trading post which predated Illinois statehood apparently endured until the 1840s. It is uncertain when Old Buisson died at Opa Post, but the post apparently did not long survive his death, and his daughter Mary and his colleague Tremblay joined their kin and friends on Indian reservations out west in 1844-45 – only a few years before Pekin became a city.


#creve-coeur, #ernest-east, #francois-shobonnier, #french-trading-house, #illinois-bicentennial, #james-haines, #john-anderson, #la-ville-de-maillet, #louis-besaw, #louis-buisson, #mary-besaw, #opa-post, #pottawatomi, #toussant-tremblay, #trousoint-tremblay, #war-of-1812, #wesley-city

Finding Suzanne Malveaux’s Native American Roots in Illinois

Viewers of the the PBS genealogy series “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by American historian Henry Louis Gates, recently got a taste of early Illinois history in the Episode 6 of the series, “Black Like Me,” which first aired in Nov. 2017, then was re-aired this month on WTVP in central Illinois on Tuesday, Jan. 16, and Sunday, Jan. 21. Episode 6 featured the genealogies of Bryant Gumbel, Tonya Lewis-Lee, and Suzanne Malveaux.

Malveaux, a television news journalist, belongs to a family from New Orleans, La., who are of African-American and French descent. As “Finding Your Roots” showed, genealogical researchers have traced the Malveaux line back to a marriage with a woman of a Louisiana French family named Rochon, whose lineage derives from Pierre Rochon, born 4 Oct. 1717 in Mobile, in the French colony of Louisiana (today Alabama). Pierre was one of the children of Charles Rochon (or Rocheron), baptized on 5 July 1673 in Quebec City, New France (Canada), was one of the founding settlers of Mobile who had previously worked as a fur trader in the Illinois Country.

Charles’ wife was Henrietta Colon (Henrica), who was born 27 Nov. 1698 in the Grand Village of the Illinois near present-day Utica, Ill. Henrica’s parents were French colonist Jean La Violette Colon and Catherine Exipakinoa (or Ekipakinoa) born circa 1674 and died circa 1707, a woman of the Kaskaskia, one of the most prominent and numerous tribes of the Illiniwek. Suzanne Malveaux’s Native American ancestress Catherine Exipakinoa was one of the many members of the Illiniwek who converted to Christianity and were baptized as Catholics at the Mission of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, which had been established in 1675 through the missionary activities of Father Jacques Marquette who died that year. “Catherine” was the Christian name Exipakinoa was given at her baptism.

This image from Episode 6 of “Finding Your Roots” highlights the name of Suzanne Malveaux’s Native America ancestress Catherine Exipakinoa on the page of the 1698 baptismal record of Catherine’s daughter Henrica. Catherine, a woman of the Kaskaskia tribe of the Illiniwek who converted to Christianity and was baptized at the Catholic mission at the Grand Village of the Illinois near Utica, Ill.

In the course of our ongoing Illinois Bicentennial historical series, we reviewed the story of Catherine Exipakinoa’s people in our weblog post, “The decline of the Illiniwek.” See also the initial post in our series, “Illinois as the French found it.”

#catherine-exipakinoa, #charles-rochon, #father-jacques-marquette, #finding-your-roots, #grand-village-of-the-illinois, #illiniwek-confederation, #illinois-bicentennial, #kaskaskia, #mobile, #pbs, #suzanne-malveaux

The French settlement of Peoria Lake

By Jared L. Olar
Library assistant

French colonists were the first Europeans to settle in the Illinois Country – including the future Tazewell and Peoria counties. The Illinois Country passed from French to British control in 1763, and then to American control in 1783. However, as we have seen in our review of the early history of our state, regardless of which national government claimed the lands of the future state of Illinois, they remained a sparsely populated area, inhabited chiefly by Native American tribes and relatively small groups of French colonists.

During the Revolutionary War, Britain’s attention was fixed upon its rebellious colonists in eastern North America, which gave George Rogers Clark of Virginia the opportunity he needed to capture the Illinois Country for his home state in 1778-1779 – with the help of Indian tribes and French colonists.

It was against the background of Clark’s Illinois Campaign that a group of French colonists and fur traders in 1778 established a village on the west shore of Peoria Lake – the area of the broadening of the Illinois River known to the native tribes as Pimiteoui. The village was located about where an Indian village had been in the days of Marquette and La Salle and afterwards. The site had also been the location of a French fort named Fort St. Louis du Pimiteoui, built by Henry Tonti in 1691, but a French presence was not continuous from Tonti’s day until Clark’s Illinois Campaign. The village of 1778 was the predecessor of the present city of Peoria.

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 193, briefly tells the story of this village in these words:

“The next attempt to settle this section of Illinois [after La Salle’s expedition] was made at the upper end of Peoria lake in 1778. The country in the vicinity of this lake was called by the Indians Pim-i-te-wi, that is, a place where there are many fat beasts. Here the town of Laville de Meillet, named after its founder, was started. Within the next twenty years, however, the town was moved down to the lower end of the lake to the present site of Peoria. In 1812 the town was destroyed and the inhabitants carried away by Captain Craig. In 1813 Fort Clark was erected there by Illinois troops engaged in the war of 1812. Five years later it was destroyed by fire.”

The French predecessor of the city of Peoria is more accurately spelled “La Ville de Maillet,” meaning “Maillet’s village.” According to Peoria Historical Society records, the town’s founder was a French trader named Robert Maillet, who built a cabin for himself and his family near the outlet of Peoria Lake in 1761. The small village that grew up around Maillet’s cabin moved upriver to the future site of Peoria in 1778, growing to become a town and flourishing as a trading link between Canada and the French settlements on the Mississippi until the War of 1812. During that war, the town was destroyed in an attack that American militia forces of the Illinois Territory launched against the Indian tribes around Peoria Lake. Although the townsfolk were U.S. citizens, they were taken prisoner and carried off to southern Illinois – but a few returned after the War of 1812.

Shown is an artist’s conception of La Ville de Maillet, predecessor of the city of Peoria, as it may have appeared on the eve of its wanton destruction by Illinois Territorial militia during the War of 1812. Tazewell County’s first permanent settlers of European descent included refugees from the sack of La Ville de Maillet. ILLUSTRATION BY KAY MARSHALL-SMART COURTESY OF THE PEORIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Nehemiah Matson’s 1882 book “Pioneers of Illinois” includes the following eyewitness descriptions of La Ville de Maillet:

“In 1820 Hypolite Maillet, in his sworn testimony before Edward Cole, register of title land-office at Edwardsville, in relation to French claims, said that he was forty-five years old, and born in a stockade fort which stood near the southern extremity of Peoria Lake. In the winter of 1788 a party of Indians came to Peoria to trade, and, in accordance with their former practice, took quarters in the fort, but getting on a drunken spree they burned it down. In the spring of 1819, [when] Americans commenced a settlement here at Peoria, the outlines of the old French fort were plain to be seen on the high ground near the lake, and a short distance above the present site of the Chicago and Rock Island depot. . . .

“According to the statements of Antoine Des Champs, Thomas Forsyth, and others, who had long been residents of Peoria previous to its destruction in 1812, we infer that the town contained a large population . . . The town was built along the beach of the lake, and to each house was attached an outlet for a garden, which extended back on the prairie.

“The houses were all constructed of wood, one story high, with porches on two sides, and located in a garden surrounded with fruit and flowers. Some of the dwellings were built of hewed timbers set upright, and the space between the posts filled in with stone and mortar, while others were built of hewed logs notched together after the style of a pioneer’s cabin. The floors were laid with puncheons, and the chimney built with mud and sticks. When Colonel Clark took possession of Illinois in 1778 he sent three soldiers, accompanied by two Frenchmen, in a canoe to Peoria to notify the people that they were no longer under British rule but citizens of the United States.

“Among these soldiers was a man named Nicholas Smith, a resident of Bourbon county, Kentucky, and whose son, Joseph Smith (Dod Joe), was among the first American settlers of Peoria . . . Mr. Smith said Peoria at the time of his visit was a large town, built along the beach of the lake, with narrow, unpaved streets, and houses constructed of wood. Back of the town were gardens, stock-yards, barns, etc., and among these was a wine-press, with a large cellar or under-ground vault for storing wine. There was a church with a large wooden cross raised above the roof, and with gilt lettering over the door. There was an unoccupied fort on the bank of the lake, and close by it a wind-mill for grinding grain. The town contained six stores or places of trade, all of which were well filled with goods for the Indian market.”

The destruction of La Ville de Maillet was not the end of early French settlement in our area, for several of the French former inhabitants of La Ville de Maillet returned to Peoria Lake after the war, setting up a trading post and small settlement near the Illinois River in what was to become Tazewell County.

Next week we will review the story of that French trading post.

#dod-joe-joseph-smith, #antoine-des-champs, #capt-thomas-craig, #george-rogers-clark, #henri-de-tonti, #hypolite-maillet, #illinois-bicentennial, #la-ville-de-maillet, #nicholas-smith, #opa-post, #peoria, #pimiteoui, #robert-maillet, #thomas-forsyth

Illinois in the Old Northwest

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As we saw in this column last time, the vast Illinois Country – encompassing far more than the land of the future state of Illinois – passed from British to American control as a result of Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign of 1778-1779.

But Clark, as a patriotic citizen of Virginia, didn’t seize the Illinois Country simply to increase the size of the nascent United States of America. As a Virginian, Clark achieved his conquests on behalf of his native state – he had this vast territory organized as “Illinois County,” a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry – of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame – appointed Col. John Todd as the military commandant and first county administrator, governing from the county seat at Kaskaskia (future first capital of the state of Illinois). As a reward for the help they gave Clark during his campaign, Virginia granted full citizenship to the French Canadiens and Indians of Kaskaskia and Vincennes (in the future state of Indiana).

While Clark’s exploit effectively neutralized the threat of Britain opening a western front against the United States during the Revolutionary War, nevertheless the leaders of the other 12 states – who also harbored hopes and ambitions to expand their states westward – resented Virginia’s land-grab.

So it was that in 1784 Virginia’s leaders were persuaded to cede Illinois County to the government of the U.S., which was then organized and loosely linked under the Articles of Confederation, which was the constitution of the U.S. prior to 1789. Virginia’s Illinois County thus ceased to exist after a mere six years. Not only Virginia but every state gave up their expansionist dreams and agreed to allow the Congress of the confederated states to determine what was to be done with the newly acquired lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.

Congress made that determination for the area north of the Ohio River on July 13, 1787, when the Congress of the U.S. Confederation passed the Northwest Ordinance, erecting the Northwest Territory, a vast area encompassing the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance – the one lasting achievement of the Confederation Congress – set up a process to enable parts of the Northwest Territory to be formed into smaller territories that could then later become new states of the union. The new territory’s first governor, appointed in 1788, was Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), who had served as President of the Confederation Congress when the Northwest Ordinance was passed.

Arthur St. Clair was President of the Confederation Congress of the United States and was appointed first governor of the Northwest Territory, which encompassed the lands that became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

The Northwest Territory was made up of land that the British king had set aside as the Indian Reserve – a region for Native Americans forbidden to American colonists of European descent. Despite the king’s proclamation, however, settlement in the Indian Reserve still went on. When the United States secured their independence in 1783, Britain ceded all of that territory west to the Mississippi to the new nation, and the movement of land-hungry settlers soon increased, inexorably dispossessing the native peoples.

Nevertheless, Britain continued to maintain forts in the Northwest Territory. With British help the Indians of the Ohio and Illinois countries valiantly resisted American control of the Northwest Territory during a 10-year conflict known as the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795). In 1785, a group of nine tribes and tribal confederations in the Northwest Territory – including tribes from Illinois – banded together for mutual defense, forming the Western Confederacy. The confederacy included warriors from the Huron, Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Miami, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, Cherokee, the Council of Three Fires (Ojibway, Ottawa, and Pottawatomi), and the Wabash Confederacy (whose members included the Piankeshaw). The Western Confederacy’s objective was to maintain the Ohio River as the boundary between themselves and American settlers.

Little Turtle, a chief of the Miami, was one of the main leaders of the Western Confederacy during the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795).

Most of the fighting in this war took place within the future state of Ohio, but the prospects for further European-American settlement in the Illinois Country depended on the war’s outcome. The most memorable event during this conflict was the Battle of the Wabash on Nov. 4, 1791 – more usually known as St. Clair’s Defeat or the Battle of a Thousand Slain. Historian Landon Jones has dubbed this battle “the most decisive defeat in the history of the American military.”

As the Northwest Indian War continued, in the fall of 1791 Northwest Territorial Gov. St. Clair mustered a force of 2,000 poorly-trained men for a planned attack on Kekionga, capital of the Miami tribe, located near modern Fort Wayne, Ind., but by the start of November desertion and supply problems had shrunk St. Clair’s forces to about 1,120. On Nov. 3, St. Clair’s army encamped near modern Fort Recovery, Ohio, and the headwaters of the Wabash River. Meanwhile the Western Confederacy’s chiefs – Little Turtle (Mihšihkinaahkwa) of the Miami, Blue Jacket (Weyapiersenwah) of the Shawnee, and Buckongahelas of the Lenape – gathered a force of 1,000 Indians, and on Nov. 4 they led a surprise pre-dawn attack on St. Clair’s camp, inducing a panic in the U.S. Army’s troops that quickly turned into a total rout. When the battle was over, a thousand of St. Clair’s men were dead and only 24 of the survivors were uninjured, while the Western Confederacy lost only 50 warriors – the greatest victory Native Americans would ever achieve against the U.S.

Following this setback, the U.S. mustered a new, well-trained army, and the tide of war turned in the U.S.’s favor. The Western Confederacy was decisively defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794 – and Britain declined to help Blue Jacket’s fleeing warriors. The following year, the native tribes of the Northwest Territory signed the Treaty of Greenville, recognizing U.S. control of the Northwest Territory and giving the U.S. most of Ohio and a part of the Illinois Country (including important sections of land at the future sites of Chicago and Peoria and the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers). The same year, Britain signed the Jay Treaty, agreeing to give up their forts in the Northwest Territory.

With the end of the Northwest Indian War, the Ohio Country was rapidly flooded with new American settlers, and the way was prepared for inevitable expansion into Native American lands in the future states of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. As Ohio’s population soared, the Northwest Territory was divided: on July 4, 1800, only five years after the war’s end, the Indiana Territory was formed, encompassing territory that included the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and half of Michigan. The first territorial governor was future War of 1812 hero and U.S. President William Henry Harrison, who negotiated numerous treaties with the Indians while he was governor. The remainder of the old Northwest Territory, encompassing a part of Michigan, would continue to be known as “the Northwest Territory” for only three more years – in 1803, the state of Ohio was admitted to the Union, and the rest of the Northwest Territory was reassigned to the Indiana Territory.

As a part of the Indiana Territory, Illinois was included in three counties – Knox County (made up of Indiana and eastern Illinois), Randolph County (southern Illinois), and St. Clair County (the remainder of Illinois as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota). The Illinois Country was then peopled mainly by Native Americans and relatively small groups of French settlers, but territorial leaders and land speculators were laying the groundwork for further westward expansion. In the period from 1773 to 1819, a series of land purchases and treaties were made with the Illini, Piankeshaws, Kaskaskias, and Kickapoos that extinguished Native American title to most of the lands of future state of Illinois, opening the land to further European-American settlement. The future Tazewell County was included in the lands ceded to the U.S. by an Aug. 13, 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskias and a July 30, 1819 treaty with the Kickapoos (in the year after Illinois became a state).

#battle-of-a-thousand-slain, #battle-of-fallen-timbers, #battle-of-the-wabash, #blue-jacket, #buckongahelas, #george-rogers-clark, #illinois-county, #indian-reserve, #indiana-territory, #jay-treaty, #john-todd, #knox-county, #little-turtle, #northwest-indian-war, #northwest-ordinance, #northwest-territory, #patrick-henry, #st-clair-county, #st-clairs-defeat, #treaty-of-greenville, #western-confederacy, #william-henry-harrison

Virginia conquers the Illinois Country

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The British had possession of the Illinois Country for a mere 12 years when the unrest began in the Thirteen Colonies that soon would break out into the American War of Independence – the Revolutionary War – which would last for eight years, ending with Britain’s recognition of the independence of the United States of America in 1783.

Naturally, most of the action in the war took place within the 13 colonies that had declared themselves to be independent states. In the years 1778 and 1779, however, an officer in the militia of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark (1752-1818), led a small and swift military force which executed a daring campaign that wrested control of the Illinois Country from Britain. As we saw previously, Britain’s hold on the sparsely-populated Illinois Country was then still rather tenuous, and neither the Indians nor the French settlers living there nurtured strong ties of loyalty to Britain.

This lithograph of Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark was printed in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

Clark himself almost lived long enough to see Illinois statehood, and it is thanks to Clark and his men that Illinois and its neighboring states are parts of the United States of America today. (Clark County in southeastern Illinois, on the Indiana border, established in 1819, is named in honor of George Rogers Clark.) However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Clark was fighting as much for his home state of Virginia as he was for the newly-minted confederacy of upstart English colonies that were claiming the dignity of sovereign states – states that each had hopes and plans for their own westward expansion in the Indian Reserve.

Consequently, when Clark completed the conquest of the Illinois Country, he immediately organized it as a new – and immensely vast – county of the Commonwealth of Virginia: Illinois County, which included not only Illinois but also Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, with the county seat at Kaskaskia, an arrangement that, as we shall see next time, was to last a mere five years.

The story of Clark’s Illinois Campaign was told in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 51-55, in these words:

“The hero of the achievements by which this beautiful land was snatched as a gem from the British Crown, was George Rogers Clark, of Virginia. He had closely watched the movements of the British throughout the Northwest, and understood their whole plan; he also knew the Indians were not unanimously in accord with the English, and therefore was convinced that if the British could be defeated and expelled from the Northwest, the natives might be easily awed into neutrality. Having convinced himself that the enterprise against the Illinois settlement might easily succeed, he repaired to the capital of Virginia, arriving Nov. 5, 1777. While he was on his way, fortunately, Burgoyne was defeated (Oct. 17), and the spirits of the colonists were thereby greatly encouraged. Patrick Henry was Governor of Virginia, and at once entered heartily into Clark’s plans. After satisfying the Virginia leaders of the feasibility of his project, he received two sets of instructions, — one secret, the other open. The latter authorized him to enlist seven companies to go to Kentucky, and serve three months after their arrival in the West. The secret order authorized him to arm these troops, to procure his powder and lead of General Hand at Pittsburg, and to proceed at once to subjugate the country.

“With these instructions Col. Clark repaired to Pittsburg, choosing rather to raise his men west of the mountains, as he well knew all were needed in the colonies in the conflict there. He sent Col. W. B. Smith to Holstein and Captains Helm and Bowman to other localities to enlist men; but none of them succeeded in raising the required number. The settlers in these parts were afraid to leave their own firesides exposed to a vigilant foe, and but few could be induced to join the expedition. With these companies and several private volunteers Clark commenced his descent of the Ohio, which he navigated as far as the falls, where he took possession of and fortified Corn Island, a small island between the present cities of Louisville, Ky., and New Albany, Ind. Here, after having completed his arrangements and announced to the men their real destination, he left a small garrison; and on the 24th of June, during a total eclipse of the sun, which to them augured no good, they floated down the river. His plan was to go by water as far as Fort Massac, and thence march direct to Kaskaskia. Here he intended to surprise the garrison, and after its capture go to Cahokia, then to Vincennes, and lastly to Detroit. Should he fail, he intended to march directly to the Mississippi river and cross it into the Spanish country. Before his start he received good items of information: one, that an alliance had been formed between France and the United States, and the other, that the Indians throughout the Illinois country and the inhabitants at the various frontier posts had been led by the British to believe that the ‘Long Knives,’ or Virginians, were the most fierce, bloodthirsty and cruel savages that ever scalped a foe. With this impression on their minds, Clark saw that proper management would cause them to submit at once from fear, if surprised, and then from gratitude would become friendly, if treated with unexpected lenity. The march to Kaskaskia was made through a hot July sun, they arriving on the evening of the 4th of July, 1778. They captured the fort near the village and soon after the village itself, by surprise, and without the loss of a single man and without killing any of the enemy. After sufficiently working on the fears of the natives, Clark told them they were at perfect liberty to worship as they pleased, and to take whichever side of the great conflict they would; also he would protect them against any barbarity from British or Indian foe. This had the desired effect; and the inhabitants, so unexpectedly and so gratefully surprised by the unlooked-for turn of affairs, at once swore allegiance to the American arms; and when Clark desired to go to Cahokia on the 6th of July, they accompanied him, and through their influence the inhabitants of the place surrendered and gladly placed themselves under his protection.

“In the person of M[onsignor] Gibault, priest of Kaskaskia, Clark found a powerful ally and generous friend. Clark saw that, to retain possession of the Northwest and treat successfully with the Indians, he must establish a government for the colonies he had taken. St. Vincent, the post next in importance to Detroit, remained yet to be taken before the Mississippi valley was conquered. M. Gibault told him that he would alone, by persuasion, lead Vincennes to throw off its connection with England. Clark gladly accepted this offer, and July 14th, in company with a fellow-townsman, Gibault started on his mission of peace. On the 1st of August he returned with the cheerful intelligence that everything was peaceably adjusted at Vincennes in favor of the Americans. During the interval, Col. Clark established his courts, placed garrisons at Kaskaskia and Cahokia, successfully re-enlisted his men, and sent word to have a fort (which proved the germ of Louisville) erected at the falls of the Ohio.

“While the American commander was thus negotiating with the Indians, [Col. Henry] Hamilton, the British Governor of Detroit, heard of Clark’s invasion, and was greatly incensed because the country which he had in charge should be wrested from him by a few ragged militia. He therefore hurriedly collected a force, marched by way of the Wabash, and appeared before the fort at Vincennes. The inhabitants made an effort to defend the town, and when Hamilton’s forces arrived Captain Helm and a man named Henry were the only Americans in the fort. These men had been sent by Clark. The latter charged a cannon and placed it in the open gateway, and the Captain stood by it with a lighted match and cried out, as Hamilton came in hailing distance, ‘Halt!’ The British officer, not knowing the strength of the garrison, stopped, and demanded the surrender of the fort. Helm exclaimed, ‘No man shall enter here till I know the terms.’ Hamilton responded, ‘You shall have the honors of war.’ The entire garrison consisted of one officer and one private.

“On taking Kaskaskia, Clark made a prisoner of Rocheblave, commander of the place, and got possession of all his written instructions for the conduct of the war. From these papers he received important information respecting the plans of Col. Hamilton, Governor at Detroit, who was intending to make a vigorous and concerted attack upon the frontier. After arriving at Vincennes, however, he gave up his intended campaign for the winter, and trusting to his distance from danger and to the difficulty of approaching him, sent off his Indian warriors to prevent troops from coming down the Ohio, and to annoy the Americans in all ways. Thus he sat quietly down to pass the winter with only about eighty soldiers, but secure, as he thought, from molestation. But he evidently did not realize the character of the men with whom he was contending. Clark, although he could muster only one hundred and thirty men, determined to take advantage of Hamilton’s weakness and security, and attack him as the only means of saving himself; for unless he captured Hamilton, Hamilton would capture him. Accordingly, about the beginning of February, 1779, he dispatched a small galley which he had fitted out, mounted with two four-pounders and four swivels and manned with a company of soldiers, and carrying stores for his men, with orders to force her way up the Wabash, to take her station a few miles below Vincennes, and to allow no person to pass her. He himself marched with his little band, and spent sixteen days in traversing the country from Kaskaskia to Vincennes, passing with incredible fatigue through woods and marshes. He was five days in crossing the bottom lands of the Wabash; and for five miles was frequently up to the breast in water. After overcoming difficulties which had been thought insurmountable, he appeared before the place and completely surprised it. The inhabitants readily submitted, but Hamilton at first defended himself in the fort. Next day, however, he surrendered himself and his garrison prisoners-of-war. By his activity in encouraging the hostilities of the Indians and by the revolting enormities perpetrated by those savages, Hamilton had rendered himself so obnoxious that he was thrown in prison and put in irons. During his command of the British frontier posts he offered prizes to the Indians for all the scalps of the Americans they would bring him, and earned in consequence thereof the title, ‘Hair-Buyer General,’ by which he was ever afterward known.

“The services of Clark proved of essential advantage to his countrymen. They disconcerted the plans of Hamilton, and not only saved the western frontier from depredations by the savages, but also greatly cooled the ardor of the Indians for carrying on a contest in which they were not likely to be the gainers. Had it not been for this small army, a union of all the tribes from Maine to Georgia against the colonies might have been effected, and the whole current of our history changed.

“In October, 1778, after the successful campaign of Col. Clark, the assembly of Virginia erected the conquered country, embracing all the territory northwest of the Ohio river, into the County of Illinois, which was doubtless the largest county in the world, exceeding in its dimensions the whole of Great Britain and Ireland. To speak more definitely, it contained the territory now embraced in the great States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. On the 12th of December, 1778, John Todd was appointed Lieutenant-Commandant of this county by Patrick Henry, then Governor of Virginia, and accordingly, also, the first of Illinois County.”

#cahokia, #col-henry-hamilton, #george-rogers-clark, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-county, #john-todd, #kaskaskia, #patrick-henry, #vincennes

The Illinois Country under the British

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously in this column, we reviewed the period from the early 1600s to 1763, when the Illinois Country was a part of France’s colonial empire in North America. However, with the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, Britain acquired about half of France’s territories on the North American mainland, while France’s vast territory of Louisiana was given to Spain.

At that time France handed over all of its forts and outposts in Illinois to British control. There then ensued a brief period of 15 years when the Illinois Country was governed as a part of the British province of Quebec.

During the period of French rule, the Illinois County at first had been administered by a series of five military commandants stationed at Fort St. Louis du Roche (Starved Rock) who answered to the Governor General of New France in Canada. In 1718, the French king transferred the Illinois Country to Louisiana, and Illinois was then renamed Upper Louisiana. From that time until the end of French control, the territory was administered by a series of 10 military commandants stationed at Fort de Chartres on the Mississippi, located near Prairie du Rocher in Randolph County (in the general area of the French colonial villages of Cahokia and Kaskaskia). The commandant at Fort de Chartres reported to the French governor in New Orleans. Following Britain’s victory in the French and Indian War, Fort de Chartres was handed over to the British.

Fort de Chartres in Randolph County was the seat of French rule in the Illinois Country until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Most of the fort later fell into ruin, but the powder magazine survived, the oldest remaining European structure in Illinois. The fort was reconstructed in the 1920s and 1930s.

British rule brought major changes to the Illinois Country. To begin with, the British king George III issued a royal proclamation on Oct. 7, 1763, that forbade any colonial settlement to territory west of the Appalachian Mountains. The territory from the Appalachians to the Mississippi was erected as the Indian Reserve, and European settlers already living in the Indian Reserve were required to obtain special licenses if they wished to remain there. In addition, grants of land west of the Appalachians that previously were given to English colonists as rewards for their service in the French and Indian War were invalidated, causing the first of several grievances that led to the revolt of the 13 colonies in 1775-76.

Britain began its occupation of the Illinois Country in 1764, taking possession of Fort de Chartres on Oct. 10, 1765, and renaming it Fort Cavendish. The Catholic French settlers were ordered to leave the area, now a part of the Indian Reserve. However, most of the Catholic French settlers in Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Prairie du Rocher – unwilling to buy licenses for permission to remain in Illinois, and probably preferring Catholic Spanish rule to being under a regime that discriminated against Catholics – elected to cross the Mississippi and found new settlements such as St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve in the Spanish territory of Louisiana. The British subsequently rescinded the expulsion order, offering the French colonists the same rights they had under French rule, but most remained in their new homes west of the Mississippi.

British rule over the Illinois Country during these years was informal and disorganized. The territory was administered as a part of the British province of Quebec in Canada, but there was little in the way of formal governmental structure, apart from a common law Court of Justice set up in Sept. 1768. The British king approved the Quebec Act of 1774 which would have formally set up a government in the Illinois Country, but the act was never implemented prior to the Revolutionary War. Around that time, flooding of the Mississippi River in 1772 convinced the British to abandon Fort de Chartres and build a new outpost at Kaskaskia, called Fort Gage. (Most of Fort de Chartres subsequently fell into ruin, but the gunpowder magazine survived – the oldest remaining European structure in Illinois. Fort de Chartres was reconstructed as a historical site in the 1920s and 1930s.)

While the erecting of the Indian Reserve signaled that the British Crown wished to be fair to the native nations of North America, a few months before that several tribes in the Great Lakes area, the Ohio Country, and the Illinois Country used the hiatus of effective European control west of the Appalachians that ensued in the immediate aftermath of the French and Indian War as an opportunity to attempt to expel all of the European interlopers.

Thus, in May 1763 a conflict began usually known as Pontiac’s War, called after an Ottawa chief named Pontiac (Obwandiyag) who, along with Seneca leader Guyasuta, was one of the prominent Native American chiefs in this war, which was provoked by the racist contempt that Gen. Jeffrey Amherst, British commander-in-chief in North America, and his soldiers and many English colonists had for the Indians. The American Indians seized eight British forts in present day Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Indiana, and Pontiac, with the aid of warriors of the Pottawatomi, Ojibway, and Huron, besieged Fort Detroit in Michigan. The British soon got the upper hand and the Native American forces dispersed, with most hostilities ending in 1764. By this time, the European disease smallpox was decimating the native peoples of eastern North America.

In 1764 the British had not yet taken possession of the Illinois Country, where the anti-British Shawnee chief Charlot Kaské wielded great influence and sought to enlist the aid of French colonists in further war. The British made diplomatic overtures to Chief Pontiac, however, who went to New York and signed a treaty of cessation of hostilities in 1766. Kaské, meanwhile, though unable to wage a war, nevertheless refused to submit to the British, and instead moved west across the Mississippi with his people and his French compatriots.

Pontiac himself settled with his people in the Illinois Country, where, as we noted previously, he was killed by a Peoria chief in Cahokia on April 20, 1769.

#charlot-kaske, #chief-guyasuta, #chief-pontiac, #fort-de-chartres, #fort-gage, #french-and-indian-war, #gen-jeffrey-amherst, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-country, #indian-reserve, #kaskaskia, #pontiacs-war, #starved-rock, #upper-louisiana

The decline of the Illiniwek

By Jared L. Olar
Library assistant

When French missionaries and explorers first came to the Illinois Country in the 1600s, they encountered the group of 12 or 13 Algonquin-speaking Native American tribes who are most commonly known today as the Illiniwek or Illini, and the French gave their land the name “Pays de Illinois” – the Illinois Country.

The Illinois Country is shown in this 1688 map of Western New France by Marco Vincenzo Coronelli.

The Illiniwek first appear in the written record in 1640, when French Jesuit missionary Father Paul LeJeune listed a people called the “Eriniouai” who were neighbors of the Winnebago. Then in 1656, another Jesuit missionary, Father Jean de Quen, mentions the same people by the name of “Liniouek,” and in the following year Father Gabriel Druillettes called them “Aliniouek.” About a decade later, Father Claude Allouez told of his meeting some “Iliniouek.” In the 1800s, American writers began to adapt the spelling of the name to “Illiniwek.”

The French missionaries also noted in their American Indian language dictionaries that the Illiniwek’s own name for themselves was Inoka, a word of unknown meaning and derivation. According to the historical records of the French missionaries, however, the ethnic designation “Illinois” meant “the men.” The 1674 journal of Father Jacques Marquette’s first voyage says, “When one speaks the word ‘Illinois,’ it is as if one said in their language, ‘the men,’ – As if the other Indians were looked upon by them merely as animals.

About two decades later, Father Louis Hennepin observed, “The Lake of the Illinois signifies in the language of these Barbarians, the Lake of the Men. The word Illinois signifies a grown man, who is in the prime of his age and vigor . . . The etymology of this word ‘Illinois’ derives, according to what we have said, from the term Illini, which in the language of this Nation signifies a man who is grown or mature.

That is all that historical sources have to say about the meaning of “Illinois.” More recently, linguistic scholars of the vanished Algonquin dialects have speculated that “Illiniwek” may in fact have derived from a Miami-Algonquin term that means “one who speaks the normal way,” and that the French throughout the 1600s and 1700s misunderstood the name that the Inoka’s Algonquin-speaking neighbors gave them as their own name.

Be that as it may, it is thought that when the French first encountered the Illiniwek tribes, there were perhaps as many as 10,000 of them living in a vast area stretching from Lake Michigan out to the heart of Iowa and as far south as Arkansas. In the 1670s, the French found a village of Kaskaskias in the Illinois River valley near the present town of Utica, a village of Peorias near modern Keokuk, Iowa, and a village of Michigameas in northeast Arkansas.

The Kaskaskia village near Utica, also known as the Grand Village of the Illinois, was the largest and best known village of the Illinois tribes. A French Catholic mission, called the Mission of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and a fur trading post were set up there in 1675, causing the village population to swell to about 6,000 people in about 460 houses. It was not long, though, before European diseases and the ongoing Beaver Wars, which we recalled previously in this column, brought suffering and tragedy to the Illiniwek, causing their population size to plummet over the coming decades.

In the early 1690s, the expansionist wars of the Iroquois League of New York, which sought to control the fur trade, forced the Kaskaskias and other Illiniwek to abandon the Grand Village and move further south to the areas of the present sites of Peoria, Cahokia, and Kaskaskia. At the height of Iroquois power, the League was able to extend its reach as far as the Mississippi and most Illiniwek fled from Illinois to escape, while some Illiniwek groups accompanied the Iroquois and fought as their allies against their enemies. The Iroquois did not have enough people to hold the Illinois Country, however, and before long the Illiniwek were able to reclaim their old lands. Other tribes also found it necessary or advantageous to move into the Illinois Country during this period and soon after, however, such as the Pottawatomi, Kickapoo, Ottawa, and Piankeshaw.

In the early decades of the 1700s, the Illiniwek became involved in a feud with the Meskwaki (Fox), during the series of battles between the French and the Meskwaki known as the Fox Wars. In 1722, the Meskwaki attacked the Illiniwek in retaliation for the killing of the nephew of Oushala, one of the Meskwaki chiefs. The Illiniwek were forced to seek refuge on Starved Rock, and they sent a messenger southwest to Fort de Chartres asking their French allies to rescue them, but by the time the French leader Boisbriand and his men had arrived, the Meskwaki had retreated, having killed 120 of the Illini. Four years later, the Marquis de Beauharnois, Governor of New France, organized an attack on the Meskwaki in Illinois in which 500 Illini warriors agreed to take part, but the Meskwaki escaped. The feud between the Illini and the Meskwaki culminated in early September 1730, when the Meskwaki were all but annihilated by an allied force of French, Illini, Sauk, Pottawatomi, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Miami, Ouiatenon, and Piankeshaw warriors.

By the middle of the 1700s, the original 12 or 13 Illiniwek tribes had been reduced by the wars and diseases of the 17th and 18th centuries to only five: the Cahokia, the Kaskaskia, the Michigamea, the Peoria, and the Tamaroa. According to legend, the Illiniwek suffered their most grievous defeat after the French and Indian War, when the great Ottawa chief Pontiac (Obwandiyag) was killed by Kinebo, a Peoria chief, in Cahokia on April 20, 1769. In revenge, the Ottawa and Pottawatomi banded together in a war of extermination against the Illini of the Illinois River valley, a large number of whom again sought refuge on Starved Rock. The Ottawa and Pottawatomi are said to have besieged the Illini on Starved Rock, where most of the Illini died of starvation (hence the name Starved Rock).

Starved Rock is shown in this photo from John Leonard Conger’s 1932 “History of the Illinois River Valley.” According to legend, the majority of the Illiniwek died atop Starved Rock near Oglesby in La Salle County when they were besieged there in 1769 by their enemies the Ottawa and Pottawatomi.

There is no contemporary record to substantiate that the Battle of Starved Rock, as it has been called, ever really took place. However, an elderly Pottawatomi chief named Meachelle, said to have been present at the siege as a boy, told his story to J. D. Caton in 1833, while an early white settler in the area, named Simon Crosiar, is said to have reported that Starved Rock was covered with the skeletal remains of the Illini in the years after the siege.

Whether or not that is really how the Illiniwek met their end, their numbers did drastically decline throughout the 1700s. By the early 1800s, only the Kaskaskia and Peoria tribes remained, about 200 people living in an area of southwestern Illinois and eastern Missouri near the Mississippi. In 1818, the Peoria, then in Missouri, ceded their Illinois lands, and in 1832 they ceded their Missouri lands and moved to Kansas. The descendants of the Illiniwek are today known as the Peoria Tribe of Indians, with their reservation in Ottawa County, Oklahoma.

#beaver-wars, #cahokia, #chief-pontiac, #father-gabriel-druillettes, #father-jacques-marquette, #father-jean-de-quen, #father-louis-hennepin, #father-paul-lejeune, #fox-tribe, #grand-village-of-the-illinois, #illiniwek-confederation, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-country, #iroquois-league, #kaskaskia, #kinebo, #la-salle, #meskwaki, #ottawa, #peoria-tribe, #pottawatomi, #starved-rock