The names of Illinois’ counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the last few weeks we have recalled how Tazewell County was founded and named, and how the county boundaries were redrawn during the 1830s and 1840s. As we noted previously, Tazewell County was named for a Virginia state governor and U.S. Senator named Littleton Waller Tazewell.

But what of the names of the other 101 counties of Illinois? Where did they get their names? Starting today and continuing over the next few weeks, we’ll present the counties of Illinois in order of their founding, telling the years they were established and the origins or meanings of their names. Most of our state’s counties were named for notable men of U.S. and Illinois history.

St. Clair County was established in 1790 when Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory. It was named for Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), first governor of the Northwest Territory.

Randolph County was established in 1795 during the time when Illinois was part of the Northwest Territory. It was named after Edmund Randolph (1753-1813), the first U.S. Attorney General as well as a U.S. Secretary of State.

Three counties were founded in 1812, three years after the formation of the Illinois Territory: Gallatin County, named for Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), the fourth U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (and the one who served the longest); Johnson County, named for Richard Mentor Johnson (c.1780-1850), ninth U.S. vice president and a U.S. senator from Kentucky; and Madison County, named for President James Madison (1751-1856).

In 1814, Edwards County was formed, named after Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards (1775-1833) who later served as Illinois’ third state governor. The city of Edwardsville, county seat of Madison County, is also named after Ninian Edwards.

White County was formed the following year, being named for Isaac White (1776-1811), an Illinois settler who joined the Indiana Territorial Militia and was slain at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The next year, in 1816, Crawford County was founded, named after William H. Crawford (1772-1834), ninth U.S. Secretary of War and seventh Secretary of the Treasury.

Also founded in 1816 were Jackson and Monroe counties, named for Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Monroe (it was Monroe who would admit Illinois to the Union two years later), and Pope County, named for Illinois Territorial Delegate Nathaniel Pope who played a central role in getting Illinois admitted as a state. Then in 1817, Bond County was formed, being named for territorial congressional delegate Shadrach Bond (1773-1832), who would be elected the first Illinois state governor just one year later.

Three new counties were formed in the preparation for Illinois’ admission to the Union as the 21st state in 1818, which explains the very patriotic names they were given: Franklin County, named after the famous Founding Father Benjamin Franklin; Union County, named in honor of the national Union of the states; and Washington County, named for the first U.S. President George Washington.

This map, from the “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the boundaries of Illinois’ counties at the dawn of statehood in 1818.

The year after Illinois statehood, 1819, saw the creation of four new counties: Alexander County, named for William M. Alexander, a pioneer settler of Illinois who was elected to the Illinois General Assembly; Clark County, named for George Rogers Clark who led the Illinois Campaign during the Revolutionary War; Jefferson County, named for Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president; and Wayne County, named for Gen. Anthony Wayne (1745-1796), who fought in the Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War.

In 1821, the state legislature created seven new counties: Fayette, Greene, Hamilton, Lawrence, Montgomery, Pike, and Sangamon. The county seat of Fayette County is Vandalia, second Illinois state capital (1820-1839). The current state capital, Springfield, is also the Sangamon County seat of government.

Fayette County was named in honor of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), a French aristocrat who won the enduring love of the American people by aiding the nascent U.S. army during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette later was a leader of the French Revolution, whose hopes to create an American-style republic in France were dashed by the violent insanity of the Reign of Terror and the rise of the self-crowned despot Napoleon. Lafayette returned to tour the U.S. in 1824-25, visiting with Illinois Gov. Edward Coles and other Illinois dignitaries at Kaskaskia, the former state capital, on April 30, 1825. When the U.S. entered World War I to support the British and French in 1917, the U.S. Expeditionary Force formally proclaimed their arrival in France with the words, “Lafayette, we are here!”

Greene County was named for Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), a Revolutionary War major general. Hamilton County was named after Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (Hamilton’s son William, a pioneer settler of Springfield and Peoria, was one of the dignitaries who met Lafayette at Kaskaskia in 1825).

Lawrence County was named for Capt. James Lawrence (1781-1813), commander of the U.S.S. Chesapeake in the War of 1812, remembered for his command, “Don’t give up the ship!” Montgomery County was named for Gen. Richard Montgomery (1738-1775), a Revolutionary War leader who led a failed American invasion of Canada.

Pike County is named after the explorer Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), after whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named. Finally, Sangamon County is named for the Sangamon River that flows through it. “Sangamon” comes from a Pottawatomi term, Sain-guee-mon, meaning a place where food is plentiful.

Four more counties were added in 1823: Edgar County, named for John Edgar (c.1750-1832), a very wealthy settler who served as an Illinois delegate to the Northwest Territory’s legislature; Fulton County, named after Robert Fulton, the famous inventor of the steamboat, which greatly aided Illinois commerce and transportation; Marion County, named in honor of Revolutionary War Gen. Francis Marion (c.1732-1795); and Morgan County, named after Revolutionary War Gen. Daniel Morgan who later served as a U.S. Congressman for Virginia.

That brings us to the eve of the arrival of Pekin’s first pioneer settler Jonathan Tharp in 1824 (the future site of Pekin was then in Sangamon County), which is a convenient place for us to pause. Next week we’ll continue with the three counties founded in 1824 – Clay, Clinton, and Wabash counties.

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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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Illinois’ race to statehood: 1813-1818

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

It was less than a decade from the creation of the Illinois Territory in 1809 until Illinois entered the Union as the 21st state. During those years, as we saw last time, the nation would go to war once more against Britain – the War of 1812.

Despite some impressive successes in battle, the U.S. soon found that it had bit off more than it could chew – the British sacked and burned down the nation’s capital in 1814, destroying the original White House. In the Old Northwest, Britain and its Native American allies were able to seize parts of Michigan and Illinois and the entirety of Wisconsin (lands then a part of the Illinois Territory) and maintain control until the war’s end. The British Navy also had the U.S. blockaded, ruining the economy.

With the U.S. facing further humiliation and Britain preoccupied with the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, both sides in the war agreed to cease hostilities. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which the U.S. ratified on Feb. 17, 1815. The treaty called for Britain and the U.S. to restore the territory they had seized from each other – effectively the war ended in a stalemate.

In practical terms, however, the War of 1812 left the U.S. poised to expand further into Native American lands of the Old Northwest. The destruction of Tecumseh’s confederacy in 1813 had brought an end to effective Native American resistance to the encroachment of land-hungry U.S. settlers who had been pouring into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Although the Treaty of Ghent called for the U.S. to respect the rights and territories of the American Indians, the U.S. never honored that article of the treaty – and Britain, which abandoned its former allies at the negotiating table, did not wish to go to war again to enforce it.

Even with Native American resistance in the Old Northwest effectively neutralized, however, there were still legal and economic obstacles that slowed the settlement of the Illinois Territory. As former Illinois Gov. Edward Dunne explained in his 1933 history of Illinois, “Up to this time (1812) there had been but little immigration unto Illinois. Fear of Indian atrocities was one cause, but the greater and more far-reaching one was the inability of settlers to gain legal title to the land upon which they located.” In the eyes of the law, most of the settlers in Illinois were squatters, since the laws up till then discouraged white incursion in a region that the British king had formerly set aside as an Indian Reserve.

Shadrach Bond, first state governor of Illinois, is shown in this image from Edward Dunne’s 1933 Illinois history, “Illinois — The Heart of the Nation.”

That was soon to change. Dunne wrote, “Shadrach Bond, upon his election as delegate to Congress for Illinois Territory in 1812, exerted himself vigorously in securing a preemption law that would enable a settler to secure a quarter-section of land, and thus attract settlers to the territory.” In 1813 Congress approved Bond’s proposed law, which stipulated that if a settler made improvements to the land he’d secured, then he had the first right to buy that land at government sale.

Due to that law, Illinois soon saw a dramatic influx of settlers. According to Dunne, “The passage of this law, the ending of the war with Great Britain, and the subsequent treaties of peace with the Indians in 1815 under which they conveyed their titles to the United States, opened wide the doors in Illinois for rapid settlement and growth for the first time in its chequered history. From now on the condition of Illinois ceased to be static and became dynamic. Its population in 1810 was 12,282; in 1820 it was 55,162.”

Continuing, Dunne observed, “The dammed-up waters of immigration and civilization had sapped and undermined the walls of war, isolation and law that had surrounded Illinois, and the waves began to overflow the fertile prairies of all the section. Riding on these waves came not only men and women from the Southland, as heretofore, but from all over America and from foreign lands.”

By 1816, editorials were appearing in Daniel Pope Cook’s newspapers, the Kaskaskia Herald and the Western Intelligencer, advocating in favor of Illinois statehood and showing the advantages of self-government that statehood would bring. The chief obstacle to statehood was the Northwest Ordinance’s stipulation that a territory’s population must be at least 60,000 before it could be admitted as a state. Nevertheless, Congress had waived that requirement when it admitted Ohio as a state – and Cook argued that Illinois should be granted the same leniency.

As it happened, the simmering controversy over slavery helped to unite the people of Illinois, both pro- and anti-slavery, in support for statehood. As Dunne explained in his history, support for statehood in Illinois was promoted by the fact that a Congressional bill was already pending for Missouri statehood, and everyone expected Missouri to be a slave state.

“The fear that the Missourians would anticipate the men of Illinois in securing admission of their state into the Union caused prompt action,” Dunne wrote. “The anti-slavery element feared that if Missouri was admitted as a slave-state, that it would be used as a precedent for slavery in Illinois. On the other hand, the pro-slavery element feared the admission of Missouri to statehood before Illinois because, as they believed, it would attract immigration from the South and prevent settlers from coming to Illinois. It developed that both discordant elements, from different motives and activated by different fears, were united in favoring the admission of Illinois to statehood before the pro-slavery crowd in Missouri could secure statehood from Congress.”

Although Illinois would not become a state until 1818, the bill to admit Illinois to the Union was first introduced in Congress on Jan. 23, 1812, by Illinois’ territorial delegate (and former territorial secretary) Nathaniel Pope (1784-1850). According to Dunne, in its original form the bill would have set Illinois’ northern boundary “at a line drawn east and west from a point drawn ten miles north of the most southerly part of Lake Michigan in an attempt to approach compliance with a provision of the Ordinance of 1787.” That would have given Illinois only a very small amount of Lake Michigan shoreline.

Nathaniel Pope, Illinois territorial delegate to Congress who submitted the petition for Illinois statehood in early 1818, is shown in this image from Edward Dunne’s 1933 Illinois history, “Illinois — The Heart of the Nation.”

But while the bill was still in committee, Pope had the proposed northern boundary moved 41 miles north, to the position where it is today. The members of the committee accepted the new proposed boundary because it would make the new state more economically viable and, through the Great Lakes system, would firmly link Illinois to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. How very different Illinois history would have been if Chicago had instead developed as the largest and wealthiest city of Wisconsin!

On Jan. 16, 1818, the Illinois Territorial Legislature formally petitioned Congress to become a state, sending the petition by the hand of Delegate Pope. The same month, the Legislature, seeking to emphasize to Congress that Illinois would be a free state, approved a bill that would have reformed labor contracts to eliminate the practice of indentured servitude whereby slavery was able to exist in Illinois despite being illegal. However, Gov. Ninian Edwards (1775-1833), himself a wealthy aristocratic slave-owner, vetoed the bill, claiming it was unconstitutional. It was the only time Edwards ever exercised his veto power as territorial governor.

The issue of slavery would remain at the forefront of Illinois political issues in the early years after statehood, as pro-slavery forces strove to legalize it. In anticipation of Illinois’ admission to the Union, the territory framed a state constitution in August – but it is significant that, whereas the Ohio and Indiana state constitutions explicitly forbade any amendments or the writing of new constitutions that would legalize slavery, Illinois’ first constitution had no such provision, a “loophole” of which pro-slavery leaders soon tried to avail themselves.

After the ratification of the constitution, Illinois held elections to fill the state offices. Maryland-born Shadrach Bond (1773-1830), former territorial delegate to Congress, was elected the first Illinois governor, taking office on Oct. 6, 1818, about two months before Illinois became a state. The march to statehood proceeded apace throughout the remainder of 1818, until at last, on Dec. 3, 1818, President James Monroe signed the bill granting Illinois admission to the Union as the 21st state. The new state’s population was tabulated in an 1818 census at 40,258.

The territorial capital at Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River now became the first state capital, even as it formerly had been the seat of government reaching back to the days of Virginia’s vast Illinois County during the Revolutionary War. Flooding of the Mississippi led to the removal of the state capital to Vandalia in just two years, however.

The Illinois State House at Kaskaskia, where the first state legislature convened in 1818, from an image in Edward Dunne’s 1933 Illinois history, “Illinois — The Heart of the Nation.”

At statehood, Illinois already had 15 counties, but within a year four more counties were added. At that time the yet-future Tazewell County’s lands were included in the oversized Bond and Madison counties which then extended all the way to Illinois’ northern border.

The Illinois General Assembly established Tazewell County a mere nine years after statehood. During those years Illinois experienced a rising tide of immigration – and many of those settlers came up the Illinois River or overland from southern Illinois to Fort Clark (Peoria) and its environs. We’ll look closer at that wave of settlement next time.

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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.

#battle-of-the-thames, #black-partridge, #capt-thomas-craig, #chief-pacanne, #george-rogers-clark, #gomo, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-territory, #indiana-territory, #la-ville-de-maillet, #little-turtle, #ninian-edwards, #shabbona, #tecumseh, #tenskwatawa, #tippecanoe, #treaty-of-fort-wayne, #war-of-1812, #william-henry-harrison, #william-wells

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 Cedar 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.

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