Settlers pour into Peoria and Tazewell counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, March 2, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the third video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. The video that will be shown is 34 minutes in length and is entitled, “Farming in Tazewell County During the ’30s and ’40s,” presented by Tom Finson. Like last month’s Finson video, it includes vintage film footage from around the county. Admission is free and the public is invited.

For the pioneer settlers of central Illinois, farming wasn’t merely a business, but was crucial for a settler family’s survival. Our column this week recall the first of the post-War of 1812 settlers in our area.

The summer before Illinois was admitted as the 21st state of the Union in 1818, a territorial census counted 40,258 souls living in the soon-to-be state – but the new state’s population rapidly increased over the next decade. Up to that time, American settlers in Illinois had come chiefly from southern states and had settled almost exclusively in southern Illinois.

But with the dawn of statehood a new wave of migration arrived, in which settlers from southern Illinois began to move north, joined by newcomers from states north of the Ohio River. These new arrivals to central Illinois came up the Illinois River or overland from southern Illinois to Fort Clark (Peoria) and its environs – and as we shall see, these newcomers included William Blanchard and Nathan Dillon, names prominent in early Tazewell County history.

As we saw previously, American soldiers built Fort Clark in 1813 on the ruins of the old French village of La Ville de Maillet, which Capt. Thomas Craig had burned the year before during an Illinois militia campaign meant to warn the Indians of Peoria Lake not to ally with Britain during the War of 1812 (but which likely had the opposite effect).

In relating the story of Craig’s burning of the French village, S. DeWitt Drown’s “Peoria Directory for 1844” says (italics as in original), “Capt. Craig excused himself for this act of devastation, by accusing the French of being in league with the Indians, with whom the United States were at war; but more especially, by alledging (sic) that his boats were fired upon from the town, while lying at anchor before it. All this the French have ever denied, and charge Capt. Craig with unprovoked, malignant cruelty.”

Craig’s accusation that the French Americans of Peoria Lake were in league with Indians hostile to the U.S. was based on the fact that the French not only lived peaceably with the tribes of the area, but even sometimes intermarried with them. But the tribes of Peoria Lake had declined to join Tecumseh’s confederacy and were considered to be friendly until the unprovoked attacks of Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards and Capt. Craig.

The destruction of La Ville de Maillet essentially ended the French phase of the European settlement of central Illinois – afterwards only the French fur traders of Opa Post at the present site of Creve Coeur were left in the area. The early historians of Peoria and Tazewell counties tended to disparage the early French settlers of central Illinois, even to the point of claiming that they weren’t really settlers at all. For example, Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” described the men and women of Opa Post in this way:

“These French traders cannot be classed as settlers, at least in the light we wish to view the meaning of that term. They made no improvements; they cultivated no land; they established none of those bulwarks of civilization brought hither a half century ago by the sturdy pioneer. On the other hand, however, they associated with the natives; they adopted their ways, habits and customs; they intermarried and in every way, almost, became as one of them.”

Chapman’s comments reveal that his disparaging appraisal of the French fur traders was due not only to disdain for the social class and lifestyle of a fur trader, but also the pervasive racist bias against Native Americans that spread westward with American expansion. Other influences included the age-old enmity between England and France that stemmed from the medieval Hundred Year’s War, with religious estrangement and animosity between Protestants and Catholics also thrown into the mix.

Those same attitudes toward the Indians and the French were also exhibited by Charles Ballance in his 1870 “History of Peoria.” In his history, Ballance argues at length that the French Americans of La Ville de Maillet were culturally and socially greatly inferior to the Americans of British origin who supplanted them, finding fault with the style of the homes they built and even denying the reports of the village’s former inhabitants that their settlement included a wine cellar and a Catholic church or chapel. Maybe behind Ballance’s common ethnic, racial, and social disdain for the Indians and French, there was an uneasy conscience over the fact that the city of Peoria of Ballance’s day only existed because the French settlement had been wiped out in 1812.

The construction of Fort Clark at the site of the French village in 1813 planted the seed of the present city of Peoria, for a new village quickly grew up around the fort (the site is today Liberty Park on the Peoria Riverfront, at Liberty and Water streets). According to Chapman, the fort itself burned down five years later. But in 1819, one year after Illinois statehood, the pioneer founders of Peoria arrived: Joseph Fulton, Abner Eads, William Blanchard (1797-1883), and four other men, who had traveled by keelboat and on horseback.

The next few years saw the arrivals of even more settlers. In 1825 the state legislature created Peoria County, which originally covered a large area of central and northern Illinois, including the future Cook County and the soon-to-be formed Tazewell County. Ten years later, Peoria was officially incorporated as a town, and by 1845 Peoria was large enough to incorporate as a city.

Three years after William Blanchard’s arrival at Fort Clark, he and a few companions crossed Peoria Lake to present-day Fon du Lac Township in Tazewell County, building a dwelling and growing crops south of the future Woodford County border. Here is how Chapman told the story of Blanchard’s earliest pioneer activities:

“Wm. Blanchard, Jr., is a native of Vermont, where he was born in 1797; left that State when seven years of age, and with his parents went to Washington Co., N. Y., where his father, William, died. When seventeen years of age he enlisted in the regular army, and took an active part in the war of 1812, serving five years, when he, with Charles Sargeant, Theodore Sargeant and David Barnes, veterans of the war, started West, coming to Detroit, Mich., thence to Ft. Wayne, whence they journeyed in a canoe to Vincennes, thence to St. Louis. From there they came up the Illinois in a keel boat manned by a fishing crew, and commanded by a man named Warner, and landed at Ft. Clark, now Peoria, in the spring of 1819.

“Crossing the river to what is known as the bottom lands they found a cleared spot, and with such tools as they could arrange from wood put in a patch of corn and potatoes. This land is now embodied in Fond du Lac township. Looking farther down the stream they found, in 1822, an old French field of about ten acres, on which they erected a rude habitation, and soon this soil was filled with a growth of blooming corn and potatoes. This was the first settlement between Ft. Clark and Chicago, and was the first dwelling erected. The site is now covered by the fine farm of Jacob Ames.”

In this map detail from an 1873 atlas of Tazewell County, the farm of Jacob Ames —
designated on the map as land owned by “Rachael Ames” — is shown in Sections 11 and 12 of Fondulac Township, around the area of Grosenbach Road. William Blanchard’s “rude habitation” is said to have been built in 1822 on land that later was included in the farm of Jacob Ames.

One year before Blanchard came to the future Tazewell County, North Carolina native Nathan Dillon (1793-1868) brought his family overland from Ohio to Sangamon County, first dwelling on Sugar Creek south of Springfield. Dillon then struck out north, arriving in the future Tazewell County in 1823.

Dillon has traditionally been called Tazewell County’s first white settler, but he arrived here a year after Blanchard and long after the Frenchmen of Opa Post. The confusion arose from the haste with which Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history was compiled and edited – Chapman didn’t learn that Blanchard preceded Dillon until the printing of his book was underway, so Chapman’s book at first states that Dillon was the earliest, then later on corrects and apologizes for that error. The monument at Dillon’s grave erroneously pronouncing him the county’s first white settler stems from Chapman’s mistake.

But regardless who was first, Blanchard and Dillon both possessed pioneering courage and grit, paving the way for many others who were soon to follow.

Next week we’ll review the story of the creation of Tazewell County.

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War returns to Illinois

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Following the conclusion of George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign in 1779 during the Revolutionary War, peace would reign over the wider Illinois Country for the next three decades.

During that period, off to the east the Ohio Country was the theater of numerous battles during the Northwest Indian War, and while Native Americans from Illinois joined in the fighting in Ohio, Illinois itself was not a field of battle.

That long peace, during which several Ohio tribes began cultural accommodation with white Americans, would be broken a mere three years after the 1809 formation of the Illinois Territory, with the outbreak of the War of 1812, at which time war returned to Illinois.

But given the state of affairs in the territories of Indiana and Illinois in the years leading up to the United States’ declaration of war against Britain, it was inevitable that Illinois would also be caught up in bloodshed.

Illinois was caught up in war at that time as a consequence of an important treaty that Indiana Territorial Gov. William Henry Harrison had negotiated with a number of Indian tribes of Indiana and Illinois in 1809 – the same year that the U.S. Congress separated the Illinois Territory from Indiana and erected it as a separate territory.

Throughout his time as territorial governor of Indiana, Harrison had pursued a consistent policy of negotiating treaties to open up more Native American land for European-American settlement. One of the most important of his treaties was the Treaty of Fort Wayne (also known by the nicknames of the Ten O’Clock Line Treaty or the Twelve Mile Line Treaty), initially signed Sept. 29, 1809, only seven months after the Illinois Territory was separated from Indiana.

Through this treaty, the U.S. acquired 3 million acres of land in Indiana and Illinois – but the treaty caused great unrest among the Native American tribes of these territories, soon leading to war. The difficulty was that at the outset, three important tribes, the Kickapoo, the Wea, and the Miami, were absolutely opposed to selling any more of their land near the Wabash River. Contrary to President James Madison’s wishes, Harrison adopted a divisive strategy of making an agreement with tribes who were willing to sell their land, then using their agreement to pressure unwilling tribes to sign the treaty.

Harrison’s strategy was successful – the Pottawatomi persuaded the Miami to sign, Miami Chief Pacanne then persuaded the Wea to sign, and the Wea then persuaded the Kickapoo to sign. Thus the Treaty of Fort Wayne was finalized by the spring of 1810.

However, many of the Shawnee as well as members of different tribes rejected the treaty. In August 1810, a Shawnee chief named Tecumseh, who opposed any further Indian accommodation with white encroachment and aspired to bring about an independent Native American nation in the Old Northwest, brought 400 warriors to a meeting with Gov. Harrison at Vincennes, Ind. At the meeting, Tecumseh pronounced the new treaty to be illegitimate and warned that any attempt by whites to settle the newly acquired lands would be met with war, in which Tecumseh said he would seek an alliance with Britain.

This led to the outbreak of Tecumseh’s War in 1811, a two-year conflict that overlapped with the War of 1812. The most memorable – and first regular battle – of the war was the Battle of Tippecanoe on Nov. 6, 1811. In response to Tecumseh’s plans to wage war, Harrison led an army on a mission to destroy Prophetstown, Ind., capital of Tecumseh’s confederacy. Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa, an influential Indian holy man known as “the Prophet,” then attempted a surprise attack on Harrison’s camp, but Tenskwatawa was defeated, and Harrison’s men destroyed Prophetstown the following day. Harrison’s victory gave him his nickname of “Tippecanoe” – a reputation he would ride all the way to the White House in the presidential election of 1840.

With the aid of British arms, Tecumseh maintained the struggle until he was finally defeated and slain during the War of 1812 at the Battle of the Thames on Oct. 5, 1813, near present-day Chatham, Ontario, Canada. One of the United States’ chief purposes for declaring war on Britain in 1812 was to conquer and annex Canada – the American victory at the Battle of the Thames temporarily gave the U.S. control of western Ontario, and also destroyed Tecumseh’s Indian confederacy. (A warrior who fought alongside Tecumseh at this battle was an Ottawa-born Pottawatomi named Shabbona, who would live for a while at Pekin, Ill., in the latter 1820s and very early 1830s.)

With the outbreak of war against Britain and Britain’s Native American allies, Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards became convinced that the Indian tribes of Illinois would enter the war on Britain’s side. Edwards came to that conviction following the massacre at the Battle of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) on Aug. 15, 1812, where the Pottawatomi and Winnebago obtained a complete victory and burned down the fort. Among the slain at Fort Dearborn was well-known Indian agent and scout William Wells, an adopted member of the Miami tribe (in which he had the name “Apekonit”), son-in-law of Miami chief Little Turtle who had fought the U.S. during the Northwest Indian War.

Ninian Edwards (1775-1833) was the first and only territorial governor of Illinois, serving from 1809 to 1818, and the third state governor of Illinois, serving from 1826 to 1830.

Aiming to prevent Native American alliances with Britain, in Oct. 1812 Edwards personally led a small force from southern Illinois north to Peoria Lake, attacking and destroying a few Kickapoo and Pottawatomi villages, including villages of Pottawatomi chiefs Gomo and Black Partridge in the area of Upper Peoria Lake, and that of Kickapoo chief Pemwotam (the latter’s village being located on Peoria Lake in present day Fondulac Township, Tazewell County).

In a second attack, Edwards sent Capt. Thomas Craig to Peoria Lake, where Craig attacked the French settlers and their Native American neighbors and relatives living at La Ville de Maillet (Peoria). Even though the French were U.S. citizens, because they were on good terms with the Pottawatomi Craig claimed they were supplying the Indians with guns – so he set fire to La Ville de Maillet, slaughtering many inhabitants and taking the survivors prisoner, taking them downriver to Alton. These atrocities were later condemned by Congress and the French survivors were compensated for their losses.

This diagram-map from S. DeWitt Drown’s “Peoria Directory for 1844” shows the layout and land-ownership of the old French-American village of La Ville de Maillet (Peoria) in 1812, just before it was destroyed by Illinois militia during the War of 1812. Many of the residents were slain in the attack, but some escaped while most survivors were taken prisoner and carried down to Alton, Ill.

Edwards’ unprovoked attacks angered the U.S. government because the Indians of Peoria Lake were considered to be friendly, some of their chiefs having declined to join Tecumseh’s confederacy (Black Partridge had even helped the Kinzie family escape at the Battle of Fort Dearborn). As a result, the native tribes of this area became hostile to all white settlers, Black Partridge became a British ally, and Gov. Edwards, now out of favor with President James Madison’s administration, found it advisable to move to Kentucky until the end of the war.

The following year, Illinois militiamen and U.S. troops returned to the ruins of La Ville de Maillet, where they drove out all Native Americans and built Fort Clark (named for Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark) at what is now the corner of Water and Liberty streets in Peoria. Fort Clark was the nucleus of the present day city of Peoria.

As for Gov. Edwards, once the War of 1812 had ended, he managed to get himself reappointed as Illinois Territorial Governor in 1815. In the next three years, Edwards oversaw the process of turning Illinois from a territory into a state. We’ll tell that story next time.

The map from Gov. Edward Dunne’s 1933 “History of Illinois,” vol. I, shows the Illinois counties and the locations of Native American tribes in 1812.

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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.

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