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Territorial History of Illinois - From 1780

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


The following eight articles were written by "An Old Resident," and published in the Alton Telegraph in 1848. These articles detail the first pioneers who were brave enough to venture into the Illinois Country, where they faced many hardships, including attacks from the Native Americans.



In 1778, General George Rogers Clark defeated the British at Kaskaskia, securing the Illinois Country for Virginia.

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris extended the U. S. boundary to include the Illinois Country.

In 1784, Virginia relinquished its claim to Illinois.

In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance placed Illinois in the Northwest Territory, with Arthur St. Clair as the Governor.

On July 4, 1800, Congress created Indiana Territory, which included Illinois.

In 1803, the United States purchased approximately 872,000 square miles west of the Mississippi River (called Louisiana) from the French.

On May 14, 1804, William Clark and his troops departed from Camp Dubois (at the mouth of the Wood River), in future Madison County, to join Meriwether Lewis for their westward explorations.


                     1778 Map of Illinois Country

Note: To view the above map in its entirity, please click here.


By an Old Resident
Source: Alton Telegraph, April 7, 1848
In a few continuous numbers, we propose to place before the readers of the Illinois Journal, as being the oldest newspaper in the State, some sketches, historical and biographical, of the pioneers of Illinois. We allude, particularly, to those of American origin – of the Anglo-Saxon stock – for, in a historical sense, the French were the first to enter and form settlements near the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Our plan does not propose a complete, or even a consecutive series of the scenes through which they passed, but only sketches or gleanings, as may come in hand. The amount we may glean, and the particularity of our sketches, will depend on our leisure and other circumstances. The period through which we propose to range is comprehended in what may be denominated the “Territorial History of Illinois from 1780."

George Rodgers ClarkThe military expedition of General George Rogers Clark, and the conquest of Illinois from the British in 1778, made known its fertile prairies to the people of the Atlantic States. This excited the spirit of emigration to the banks of the Mississippi. Many who accompanied Clark as soldiers returned in after years as colonists.

At the period to which I allude, with the exception of the French villages of Cahokia and Prairie du Pont in St. Clair County; and Kaskaskia, Fort Chartres, Prairie du Rocher; and Village a Cote in Randolph County; the whole State was the hunting grounds of the savages. There were, however, half a dozen French families on the Wabash, opposite Vincennes, and trading posts at Peoria and one or two other places where were to be found a few Frenchmen or half breeds, with their Indian wives. The Indians were by no means as numerous as the fertile imagination of some have made them. At the commencement of the eighteenth century, their whole number, as counted up by the Catholic Missionaries who visited and officiated in all their villages, did not amount to five thousand. A few hunters and an occasional trader visited Kaskaskia before Clark made his formidable appearance, took possession of the place, and literally scared its panic; struck inhabitants into submission and a firm and perpetual friendship.

The first Americans that came to the country were from Virginia, from the south branch of the Potomac, and from the district of country near Wheeling. In 1781, James Moore, James Garrison, Robert Kidd, Shadrach Bond, with families, and probably many others, came in a colony from Western Virginia. Mr. Moore was a native of Maryland, but had removed to the south branch of the Potomac, and thence to the vicinity of Wheeling. Kidd and several others, and amongst these Larkin Rutherford, were soldiers under Clark in 1778, and after returning to Virginia, came back as emigrants. Of James Moore, we have little knowledge, as he died early, but his sons – the late General James Moore and J. Milton Moore, and Enoch Moore, who is still living, with numerous descendants – are well known in Monroe County.
Shadrach Bond
Shadrach Bond Sr., as customarily distinguished – Judge Bond – was a native of Maryland, near Baltimore, but subsequently removed to Virginia. He was an uncle of the late governor Bond, who bore his first name. He was a man of respectable talents, of sound judgment, great firmness, excellent moral character, and took a leading part in the first religious meetings held by the early pioneers, by reading printed sermons and portions of the Scriptures on the Lord’s day. These meetings were frequently held at his house, which was in the American Bottoms, and near the present road from Waterloo, by Columbia, to St. Louis. In the Indian War that followed, it was made a “station,” and known as the “Blockhouse Fort.”

Another colony of Americans arrived from Western Virginia in 1785. Amongst these were Captain Joseph Ogle, James Worley, James Andrews, and several other families. Captain Ogle, as he was always called, many of whose descendants now live in St. Clair County, deserves especial notice. He originated from the south branch of the Potomac, and was amongst the Zanes and others in the first attempt to settle the country in the vicinity of Wheeling. Withers, the historian of Western Virginia, says, “In 1769, Colonel Ebenezer Zane, his brothers Silas and Jonathan, with some others, from the south branch of the Potomac, visited the Ohio for the purpose of making improvements, and severally proceeded to select positions for their future residences.” Captain Ogle was already trained in Indian warfare, and probably he and his brother, Jacob, who was killed at the siege of Fort Henry in 1777, were amongst the “others,” who accompanied the Zanes.

Fort Henry was situated one-fourth of a mile above Wheeling Creek, the garrison numbered 42 fighting persons, old and young. The storehouse was well supplied with muskets, but sadly deficient in ammunition. In the month of September 1777, about 400 Indians, headed by the notorious S___ Girty, were found concealed in a cornfield, and Captain Mason, with 14 men, was sent out to dislodge them. Their numbers were then unknown, for only a dozen or more had shown themselves. These made a retrograde movement towards the creek, where the main party lay in ambuscade, until Mason and his small party were surrounded, and assailed in front, flank, and rear. The Captain rallied his men, attacked the Indians, and broke through their lines, but in the desperate conflict, more than half the men were killed, and their leader, severely wounded, concealed himself, with two of his men, in the fallen timber, who were all that survived. Soon as their critical situation was known in the fort, by the firing of the Indians, Captain Ogle, with 12 men, went to his rescue. This devoted band, eager to relieve their companions, fell into the ambuscade, and more than half were slain. Three other volunteers left the fort to aid Ogle and his party, and his brother, Jacob Ogle, was mortally wounded, and Captain Ogle and the surviving men had to seek shelter in the woods. Captain Ogle, in running through the cornfield, had several Indians in close and eager pursuit, who were but a few yards behind him. The fence over which he had to pass was ten rails high, and as not a moment’s time could be spared in this emergency, he arranged, while running, to strike his foot on the fourth rail, and by a tremendous effort, pass over. In this he was entirely successful, but was so much exhausted that he fell on the outside, and crawled into the weeds under the fence. In a moment, two Indians mounted the fence and sat on the adjacent panel, their dark eyes peeling into the brush and timber beyond. He retained his rifle, and it was loaded, his finger was on the trigger, and his eyes fixed on his enemies, watching their motions, determining, should he be discovered, to shoot one and rush on the other with his knife. After several minutes, the Indians appeared to relinquish the pursuit, returned to their party, and the fearless Captain made his escape.

The fort now contained but 13 men and boys, with a large number of women and children, when it was invested by Girty with his savage army. Colonel Shepherd, who commanded, received a challenge from Girty to surrender, and replied, “Not while a man of boy lives to defend it.” The Indians attacked the fort with their whole force – the females loaded the rifles, while the men and boys took deadly aim at the assailants. Their store of powder soon became nearly exhausted, but a keg was at the house of Colonel Zane, about sixty yards from the gate of the fort, but what man or boy would hazard his life to obtain it? At this crisis, in which the fate of the whole garrison depended, Elizabeth Zane, a young lady, just returned from school in Philadelphia, volunteered to obtain the supply. The Indians offered no molestation as she went out, but as she returned with the keg in her arms, they suspected her errand, and poured at her a shower of balls. But in the wonderful Providence of God, she escaped unhurt. The attack continued throughout the day, that night, and the next day, when reinforcements, raised by Captain Ogle, came to their relief, and drove off the savages.

Captain Ogle was a man of unblemished morals, of uncommon firmness, and self-possession of which his watching the Indians while lying under the fence is an illustration. He was a great friend to liberty and human rights. He brought his slaves from Virginia and set them free in Illinois. Their descendants are industrious, worthy people, and own and cultivate farms in the northern part of St. Clair County. He was benevolent, humane, and exhibited great moral firmness and decision of character. He had no education from books, and could not read or write, and yet his mind, by self-culture, was well disciplined. He was well qualified, and hence naturally became the leader and counsellor of the people in the settlement where he resided. Mild, peaceable, and kind-hearted in social intercourse, always striving for the promotion of peace and good order in society, yet terribly combative in defense of the frontiers from the tomahawk of the ruthless savage. What the poet says of the fictitious Rolla, may be applied with much pertinence to Captain Ogle: “In war, a tiger chafed by the hunter’s spear. In peace, more gentle than the unweaned lamb.”

He was strict in the fulfillment of all his engagements, and expected from all his neighbors the same honesty and punctuality. He professed to be converted to God under the preaching of Elder James Smith, who made his first visit to Illinois in 1778, and subsequently joined the Methodists, being the first person to put his name to the Class paper in 1793. He had two wives in successive periods, both members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, as are many of his numerous descendants. He had three sons – Benjamin, Joseph, and Jacob – and several daughters. One daughter was the wife of the late Charles R. Matheny, Esq., of Springfield. Captain Ogle died, honored and beloved by all his acquaintances, in the northern part of St. Clair County (where he had resided from 1802), February 24, 1821, at the age of more than fourscore years. His three sons have all died within two years.


By an Old Resident
Source: Alton Telegraph, April 14, 1848
Amongst the colonists who accompanied Captain Ogle, we mentioned James Worley. His history is told in a few words. Of his early life, we now nothing. In 1796, a party of Osage Indians came over the Mississippi on a marauding enterprise, stole some horses, and were pursued by the Americans. Mr. Worley got in advance of the party, was shot, killed, scalped, and his head cut off and left on the sand bar in the river where the Indians re-crossed.

In the summer of 1787, the little settlement was strengthened by the arrival of James Lemen (whose wife was the daughter of Captain Ogle), George Acheson, David Waddel, William Biggs, and several other families. The same year the Indian hostilities commenced, and continued for nearly ten years, with intervals of apparent quietness. During this period, the Indians were hostile throughout the frontier settlements of the northwest, and along the lake country to the State of Pennsylvania.

The American settlers in Illinois began to erect blockhouses of “stations,” as they were called, for defense in 1788, where occasionally, for a whole season, a number of families lived in a sort of community form for mutual protection. A number of cabins, equal to one for each family in the community, were erected, usually on two sides of a square or area, which made a large yard in common. The doors and apertures of the cabins opened into the yard. A second story of logs was laid over the first, especially on those cabins placed at the corners of the enclosure – the logs projecting over a few inches so as to afford convenient opportunity to shoot obliquely downward at the assailants. The spaces around the yard were fitted up with palisades – these were logs, a foot or more in diameter, and twelve or fifteen in length, planted firmly in the ground and closely joined together. The gate for the common pass way was usually made of thick slabs, split from large trees, and hung with stout, wooden hinges. In time of alarm, the few cattle and horses owned by the people were brought within the enclosure. With a supply of water and plenty of provisions, rifles and ammunition, a corps of resolute white men would beat off five times their number of Indians. In only a very few instances were such “stations” overcome by an Indian army.

The Indian method of besieging a fort is peculiar. They are seldom seen in any considerable numbers. They lie concealed in the woods, bushes or weeds, and toward autumn, in the cornfields adjacent, or behind stumps and trees, they waylay the path or the field, and cut off individuals in a stealthy manner. They will crawl on the ground, imitate the noise and appearance of swine, bears, or any other animal in the dark. Occasionally, as if to produce a panic and throw the besieged off their guard, they will rush forward to the palisades or walls or gateway, with fearful audacity, yelling frightfully, and even attempt to set fire to the buildings, or beat down the gate. Sometimes they will make a furious attack on one side, as a feint to draw out the garrison, and then suddenly assail the opposite side. More frequently, if they have a strong party, the main body lies in ambuscade, while a small number show themselves, as was the case at Fort Henry, as noticed in our first number. Indians are by no means brave. Naturally they are cowards, especially those of the Algenuin(?) race, which included all those tribes which assailed the settlements in the northwest.

In 1788, the war assumed a more threatening aspect in Illinois. The principal cause of this series of Indian wars, after peace with Great Britain, will be given in a future number.

James Lemen Sr.We now return to a brief sketch of Mr. Lemen, from whom nearly all of that name in Illinois have descended. James Lemen was born in Berkley County, Virginia, in the autumn of 1760. His grandmother was an emigrant from the north of Ireland. His father died when he was a year old. He had one brother and two sisters. His mother married for a second husband a pious Presbyterian, by whom he was partly brought up. At the age of 17, he entered the American Army, in which he served his country two years, under the immediate command of Washington. He went north, and was at the battle of White Plains. After receiving an honorable discharge, he went to Western Virginia, where he became acquainted with the family of Captain Joseph Ogle, whose eldest daughter, Catharine, he married. Family traditions give some pleasant incidents of their early acquaintance. Both had been educated religiously, and upon their first acquaintance, both became impressed with the idea that they were destined for each other. It proved that their affection for each other was strong, rational, and remained unimpaired through life.

James Lemen was quite independent in his feelings and judgment, rigidly honest, and a humane, benevolent man. He was determined, very conscientious, very firm, but never quarrelsome or vindictive. In principle, he was opposed to war, and yet when compelled from a sense of duty, arising from necessity, as was the case when the Indians assailed the settlements, he would fight like a hero in their defense. Early in the Spring of 1780, he fitted out a flatboat, near Wheeling, to transport his family and moveables down the Ohio River. On the second night, the river fell, and his boat lodged on a stump, careened and sunk, by which casualty he lost all his provisions and furniture. Though left destitute, Mr. Lemen was not the man to become disheartened. He persevered, got down the Ohio River, and up the Mississippi to Kaskaskia, where he arrived on July 10. He eventually settled at New Design. He was an industrious man, strictly honest, and devoutly pious from early youth, but did not make a public profession of religion until some years after his arrival in Illinois. Himself, his wife, and two others were the first persons ever baptized in Illinois, which took place in February 1794. They raised a family of six sons and two daughters, all of whom have had large families, and their descendants are quite numerous in the southern counties in this State. A large proportion who have come to years of understanding, are members of Baptist Churches. Four of his sons have been ministers of the gospel from early life, as their father was from about the age of fifty years. His third son, James Lemen, was a member of the Territorial Legislature, a delegate to the Convention that formed the first constitution, and subsequently, for several years, a member of the State Senate. Robert, the eldest son, was for many years U. S. Marshal, first of the Territory, and then of the State. James Lemen, the father, was a man of method and system, an enterprising farmer, at one period a Judge of the County Court, under Territorial jurisdiction, and in various ways an influential and useful citizen. He died of the winter fever, after a few days’ illness, surrounded by all his children, in December 1823, in the calmness and fortitude of the Christian hero. His venerable widow survived until 1840.


By an Old Resident
Source: Alton Telegraph, April 21, 1848
[Note: This article was extremely hard to read, resulting in blanks and possible errors.]
A very common notion has been entertained in the “old thirteen States,” and more especially New England, that the pioneers of the West were a rough, half-civilized class; ignorant, indolent, and altogether unfit to constitute the _____ of virtuous society. Proofs of this in the minds of strangers are drawn, as the schoolboy says, a _____. Here are the reasons. They lived _____ hunting, fought Indians, were hunting-_____, shirts, moccasins and skin caps – envied a ____ with a belt, powder huru, butcher-knife, and tomahawk, by their side, when _____ading the forests or prairies – lived in log cabins – eat their homely and often scanty meals from platters or wooden trenchers, pound their corn in a handmill, or pounded it in a mortar, and drank their milk from a tin cup. They were an uncivilized, un-Christianized, barbarous, fighting, flory-_____, whisky-drinking race, who ought to have been prevented from making Territorial and State Governments “by law,” - they were squatters, who settled on the public lands, that specially belonged to the old “thirteen States,” and got preemption rights, thereby depriving enterprising and respectable land jobbers of the privileges of monopoly. These pioneers were very unreasonable for not living in densely populated districts, and being satisfied with the guardianship of their betters, who were _______ to form the social compact, and make laws for their Government.

Such have been the reasonings of thousands, both statesmen and Christians. By the same mode of drawing inferences, we, ____ the West, can prove to a demonstration, that the pioneers of New England were ____ a backwoods race. They lived on _____ hunted game, wore an uncomely dress, showed a sun-browned, weather-beaten, ______; domiciled in log houses, killed Indians, and what is more to the _______, organized Governments, like Western Pioneers, and made their own laws, or, as ________ historian, Hugh Peters affectionately “adopted the laws of God until they did get time to make better.” There are _____ direct, that the pioneer puritans were very uncivil people, and wholly unfit to _______ settlements in a new country. They ought to have stayed at home, minded their betters, and waited until the country became populous, intelligent, and ______.

Last summer, a venerable clergyman ____ “down cast” – came to Chicago to ___ the great internal improvement Convention. He had gotten, as he supposed, to “””” renowned place, ______ the Far West. He opened his eyes with a wide stare, raised his hands towards heaven in astonishment, and prepared a written speech, expressive of his amazement that the people were civilized – for they looked almost like Christians, and read a prosy speech to show that all this wonder of wonders was produced by the peculiarities of New England puritanism. He was replied to by Senator Corwin of Ohio, in a witty, amusing and satirical style, which proved a “knock-down” argument to the old gentleman’s fancies. This story illustrates the propensity uncommon, to judge that people at a distance, and of whom we have no particular knowledge, are of course so vastly out inferior in knowledge, common sense, and virtue.

We have already described the “stations” the people had to erect for their safety, and their constant exposure to Indian assaults. From 1786 to 1795, an Indian War prevailed through the frontiers of the northwestern territory, and the settler in Illinois were sufferers to no small extent. We are aware there are fixed impressions in the minds of many humane, benevolent persons, whose notions of Indian character have originated, or been strengthened, by occasional speeches in Congress, made not exactly for “Banklim,”(?) but for the special benefit of party, by newspaper editorials and fancy sketches – that Indian assaults originate in the mal-administration of the national Government or the culpidity of the whites in their invasion of Indian lands. Nothing is further from the facts of history. Much that has been written in favor of Indian humanity, fidelity, and “attachment to the graves of their fathers,” is poetry. Nearly every tribe of the Black Hawk of the Sauk NationAlgonquin race have been a roaming, marauding people, delighting in war and eager for plunder. There never was a war in Illinois between the real aboriginals, and either the French or the American immigrants. Black Hawk and the Sauk nation were intruders on Rock River, long after the French explored, took possession of and negotiated with the Indians who claimed it. And the depredations on the settlements in Monroe County, from 1786 to the close of the Indian War, were by Kickapoos and Shawnees, neither of whom, according to Indian rights, were owners of the land in Illinois. The whole country south of a line about the latitude of Ottawa, when first discovered by the French, was claimed by the Illinois confederacy, which consisted of the Kaskaskias, Cahokias, Taumanvans, Peorias, Mascoutahs, and Michiganies. The last-named tribe occupied the country on Fox River, and along lake Michigan to Milwaukie. Their name is transferred to the lake. This confederacy was conquered by the Iroquois or Five Nations, from western New York, about 160 years ago, a confederacy that subjugated two-thirds of the United States east of the Mississippi, and claimed the right by conquest to dispose of the conquered country, leaving the tribes and confederacies to manage their internal affairs as they choose, and exacting tribute as vassals. The Iroquois, by treaty, in 1701, sold the whole of Illinois, south and east of the Illinois River, to the British crown. The Illinois tribes had previously entered into a treaty of amity with the French, authorized them to establish trading posts and missions, and many of them became converts to the Catholic faith. These tribes never made war on the French, British, or Americans, as the country came by conquest under each nation.

These facts are a sample of what may be found in exploring the history of other Indian tribes. A large portion of the notions entertained about Indians and their wrongs, by numerous persons in the northern States, are wholly fictitious. We have no patience in listening to the sickly sentimentality of those who throw the blame of the border wars upon the national government or the hardy pioneers, who they fancy are obtruders on Indian rights, and thus sympathize with the “poor Indians.” And let it be understood, the writer is a warm and consistent advocate for sending the blessings of the gospel, and of civilization to the “red skins,” not because he is an honest, inoffensive being, but because he is ferociously wicked, deceitful, and cruel, because he delights in war, and because in each marauding enterprise he commits depredations for the love of fighting, and an insatiate desire of plunder. And he has been a steady advocate for the removal of the Indians from within the boundaries of organized States and Territories ever since the humans and truly national plan was laid in the cabinet of President Monroe, and received the hearty cooperation of the Great Patriot, whose recent death the nation mourns.


By an Old Resident
Source: Alton Telegraph, April 28, 1848
Amongst the individuals and families who were sufferers by the depredations of the Indians at the period of these “incidents,” were the names of Andrews, Smith, Biggs, and McMahon.

James Andrews came to the Illinois Country in 1785, in company with Captain Joseph Ogle and others. The next year, his cabin was assailed by a party of Indians – himself, wife, and daughter, killed and scalped, and two other daughters taken prisoners and carried to the Kickapoo towns on the Wabash. One of the girls was lost sight of amongst the Indians, and it was never known whether she lived or died. The other was ransomed by some French traders and restored to her friends. She is still living, the aged mother of a large family, within three miles of the writer.

James Smith was a Baptist minister from Kentucky, who visited the settlement of New Design the first time in 1788, and spent some weeks in preaching the gospel to the destitute population. He was the first preacher (in distinction from Roman Catholic priests) who officiated as a minister on the prairies of Illinois. Previous to this, and subsequently to, the people were accustomed to meet at each other’s cabins on the Sabbath, sing hymns and read a sermon of portions of the Scriptures. A revival of religion followed the preaching of Smith, and a number professed to be converted, but no church was organized. On his second visit to Illinois in 1790, he was taken prisoner by the Indians. He had been preaching in the settlement, and transacting business for several days, and a number of persons were seriously disposed – amongst whom was a Mrs. Huff. On May 19, in company with this lady and a Frenchman from Cahokia, he was riding from theKickapoo Indian blockhouse to another settlement called Little Village. A party of Kickapoo Indians lay in ambuscade near their path, fired on the party, killed the Frenchman’s horse, and wounded Smith’s horse, which threw him. He had presence of mind to toss his saddlebags, containing some money and some valuable papers, into a hazel thicket, and attempted to escape by running down a bluff. The Indians seized Mrs. Huff, who had an infant in her arms, and commenced the work of murder, while the preacher, having no means of defense, threw himself on his knees in prayer to God for her. The Frenchman escaped on foot into the woods; Smith, knowing that he could not escape (for he was a large and gross man, unable to run), approached the Indians, baring his breast and pointing to his heart, as though he defied them to shoot him. He knew well how to manage Indians, rightly by judging they would mistake him for a “grave,” and spare his life. The woman and her infant they had already dispatched, and loading Smith with packs of plunder they had stolen from the people, they took up the line of march in a northeastern direction through the prairies. The prisoner thus heavily loaded, and under a hot sun, became fatigued and could not keep up with the Indians. They held several consultations over him. Some were for dispatching him at once, and pointed their guns at his breast, but by bearing his bosom and pointing upward, he signified the Great Spirit would protect him. At all opportune moment, he knelt down and prayed, and then began to sing hymns, which he did to relieve his mind from despondency. After various consultations, the Indians came to the conclusion he was a “Great Medicine,” took off his burden, and gave him water and jerked venison, and treated him kindly. They took him to their towns on the Wabash, from whence, in a few months, he obtained deliverance through the French traders; the inhabitants of the Illinois settlements paying one hundred and seventy dollars for his ransom - a very heavy sum in those days of poverty and privation.

William Biggs, with his family, came to Illinois from the vicinity of Wheeling, Virginia in 1785. On March 28, 1788, in company with a young man by the name of John Vallis, he was going from Bellefontaine to Cahokia, when they were attacked by sixteen Indians. The horse he rode was shot in several places, reared, plunged, and threw him off the saddle. He attempted to run, but became entangled in his overcoat and shot pouch, was overtaken and made prisoner. Vallis was shot in his thigh, but being on a large, fine horse, made his escape and reached the settlement, but he died of the wound about six weeks after. The Indians took Biggs to their towns on the Wabash, treated him kindly, and proposed to adopt him into the tribe in place of a brave who had been killed. He was a portly, fine-looking man, and a young squaw, who was a handsome, neat widow, manifested strong and persevering desires to adopt him as her husband. She was a daughter of the principal Chief, and her style of courtship was modest and decorous according to approved Indian fashion. She combed and braided his long hair into a cue, cooked his breakfast, and brought it to the door of his camp at an early hour, followed from village to village, endured with high-souled feeling and patience the jeers of her Indian relatives for her devoted attachment, and deemed the excuse of Biggs for not complying with her matrimonial proposals a very silly one - that he had a wife and three children in Illinois. At the Kickapoo village he met with Nicholas Koniz, a young German about nineteen years of age, who had learned their language and acted as a sort of interpreter. Koniz afterwards obtained his release, went to Missouri, and settled ten miles west of St. Charles on the Old Boon’s Lick Road, where he kept a house of entertainment until his death. Mr. Biggs also became acquainted with a British trader by the name of McCausland, through whose kindness, and that of some French traders at Vincennes, he negotiated his ransom for $200, including his expenses, for which he gave his note payable in twelve months in the Illinois country. He returned home by the way of Vincennes and the Wabash and Ohio Rivers, after an absence of nine weeks. Subsequently, Mr. Biggs became a resident of St. Clair County, four miles northeast from Belleville, was a member of the Territorial Legislature, a Judge of the County Court, and lived and died in the confidence and respect of the community. In 1826, he published a narrative of his captivity, visited Washington City, and obtained the amount paid for his ransom and expenses, to which he was justly entitled from the Government.

The Indians rarely came into the settlements in the winter months – their usual custom leads them to commit depredations in the Spring and Autumn, though it was not safe to be exposed at any period during the Summer. At times, for many months, or nearly a year, no Indians would be seen, and then the first notice would be the death of an individual or the massacre of a family. One of the most afflictive instances was the murder of the family of Mr. McMahon in 1795. No depredations had been committed for many months, and the impression prevailed that the war was over. People began to leave the “stations,” and improve their own land. Mr. McMahon had built a cabin, and made a little improvement in what is now called “Yankee Prairie,” about four miles southeast from Waterloo, in Monroe County. This location was nearly two miles from that of James Lemen Sr., his nearest neighbor. Towards night, seven Indians were seen coming up a ravine from an adjacent thicket, and approaching his cabin. Mr. McMahon saw them, and justly suspected their intentions were hostile. He had a large blunderbuss [short-barreled, large-bored gun with a flared muzzle, used at short range], loaded with twenty small rifle balls, and had he fired on them and barred the door, he might have saved his family. Unfortunately, his wife, being frightened, caught his arm and would not let him fire. The Indians entered the cabin in a friendly manner, shook hands with the family, and immediately caught and tied Mr. McMahon so that he could make no resistance. His wife ran, but they shot and dispatched her and four of the children with the tomahawk. An infant slept in the cradle, which they did not discover, but as it was the second day after the massacre before the people found it, the little one was dead. The Indians decamped with Mr. McMahon and one little daughte4r prisoners, and took their customary course northeast through the prairie and points of timber, leaving the Kaskaskia River on the right. The first night, they securely tied the afflicted father, but the second night he made his escape, leaving his little daughter, and started homeward. For one day he lost his course, but reached the settlement in safety, just as his neighbors were burying his murdered wife and children. He calmly gazed on their mutilated remains in the rude coffins in which they were about being enclosed, as he came in sight, and with pious resignation repeated the words of Scripture, “They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death, they were not divided.” His daughter was subsequently restored to her friends, grew up, married a Mr. Gaskill, and became the mother of a large family in Madison County.


By an Old Resident
Source: Alton Telegraph, May 5, 1848
It is necessary here to inquire into the circumstances of the country and the national government, and the policy pursued toward the Indians of the northwest, that the causes of the border depredations already narrated may be understood.

At the commencement of the American settlements in the Illinois country, it was almost literally without an organized government. Originally, Illinois constituted a portion of Louisiana, and its civil organization and laws originated from that source. The war between England and Spain on the one part, and France on the other, from 1754 to 1782, produced great and essential changes on the continent of North American, and no less in the Illinois country. France at that period was under the curse of a traitorous and licentious monarch in the person of Louis XI, through whose profligacy and that of his mistresses and minions, the nation lost its possessions in North American. By a secret treaty at Paris (1762), the King gave Spain all Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, together with New Orleans and the country south of the Ibbeville pass; and by the treaty with Great Britain of 1763, all Canada and the Illinois country were ceded to the latter power. How much British and Spanish gold was received to support the King and his minions in their profligacy, the nation never knew. British power was not exercised over Illinois until 1765, when Captain Sterling, in the name and by the authority of the British crown, established the provincial government at Fort Chartres.

In 1766, the “Quebec Bill,” as it was called, passed the British parliament, which placed Illinois and the northwestern territory under the local administration of Canada. The conquest of the country in 1778, by Colonel C. R. Clark, brought it under the jurisdiction of Virginia, and in the month of December of the same year, an act was passed by the House of Burgesses of that State, organizing the county of Illinois, and providing for the administration of government under the authority of a Lieutenant Governor, who was also commandant. During each of these changes, the French laws and customs remained in operation.

Virginia, at an early period (1779) had by law discouraged all settlements made by her citizens in the territory northwest of the Ohio River. This has been the footing, and in many instances, the legislative policy of the old States. The Great West has grown up, not so much by the fostering policy of the old States, as by the restless enterprise of the pioneers. The spirit of adventure and migration has ever been stronger than arbitrary laws. For several years, the position of things in relation to the protection of government was precarious in the northwest. The territory was claimed under the ill-defined boundaries of royal charters, by Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. But the latter State had the additional claims of conquest and possession. These and other difficulties were adjusted by each State transferring the right of sovereignty and title to the wild lands (after some reservations), to the national confederation. The cosstoir(?) of Virginia to the Continental Congress was made in 1781, but it was not till July 1787 the “Ordinance” was passed which provided for a territorial government northwest of the Ohio River. But the governor and judges were not appointed until 1788, and the government was organized at Mariota in the month of July of that year. Still, the Illinois country remained without an organized government till March 1790, when Governor St. Clair and Winthrop Sergeant, Secretary, arrived at Kaskaskia and organized the county of St. Clair. Hence, for at least six years, there was no executive, legislative, or judicial authority in the country. The people were “a law unto themselves.” There was in reality no authority to which they could apply for protection from Indian assaults.

The war with Great Britain, in which many of the northwestern Indians were employed as allies, ceased by the adoption of the provisional articles of peace at Paris, on November 30, 1782, and all hostilities with the mother country ceased in January following. The definitive treaty was made in September 1783. But a cessation of hostilities with Great Britain was not necessarily a cessation of hostilities with the Indian tribes. And while it was hoped the border wars were at an end, none could foresee the result.

Soon, an unhappy controversy arose between Great Britain and the United States, about carrying out certain provisions of the treaty. Article 4 provided, “That creditors on either side should meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery in full value, in sterling money of all bonafide debts heretofore contracted.” The Continental Congress had no power to compel the States to observe this or any other article. Congress further agreed “to recommend to each of the States to restore to the original owners all the rights, properties, and claims, that had been confiscated, belonging heretofore to real British subjects.” And “His Britannic Majesty shall with all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any negroes or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons and fleets, from the said United States, and from every port, place and harbor, within the same, leaving in all the fortifications the American artillery that may be therein.”

These articles were violated by both parties. Some of the States made ex post facto laws, virtually debarring the collection of debts in sterling money, and though Congress recommended it, the States refused to restore confiscated property. The British government, in the spirit of recitation, refused to pay for negro slaves carried off, and remained possession of the military posts of Oswego, Niagara, Presque Isle, Sandusky, Detroit, Michillmackluae, and Prairie du Chleq. Those posts were places of resort for the British traders. Through their agency, the Indians of the northwest obtained their supplies, and to these traders they sold their furs. There is no documentary evidence that the British government countenanced and encouraged the Indians in their hostilities to the Americans, but there is abundant evidence that the traders, who were British subjects, did. The traders were not benefited directly by the border wars that followed, but the state of hostilities kept off all Americans as competitors in the Indian trade, and furnished a market to the British traders for supplies of munitions of war, clothing, and other articles.

He celebrated and much abused treaty of the Hon. John Jay, concluded in November 1784, and ratified by the President of Senate of the United States in August 1795, adjusted the _____ in controversy with Great Britain, and produced the cession of the military posts to the northwest, and with the treaty with the Indians at Greenville, Ohio, the same summer, put an end to the long series of Indian wars, and opened the period of prosperity and growth to the northwestern territory. Jay’s treaty did not obtain all that was claimed by the United States, but it obtained all that could then be secured. No one but a grave man, or a political desperado, devoid of every spark of real patriotism, would have advocated a war with Great Britain at that period, under the depressed circumstances in which the nation was placed. And yet, for political purposes, and to break down the administration of Washington, this treaty was opposed with great vehemence and violence, especially in the House of Representatives, where supplies were voted to carry it into effect. The interests of the south were thought to be neglected. It became the watchword for a political party then attempting an organization, and political aspirants then were the same selfish, intriguing demagogues, and could make the “worse seem the better reason,” as at this day. The treaty went into effect only through the influence and unbounded popularity of Washington, and proved in the issue a great benefit to the whole northwest.


By an Old Resident
Source: Alton Telegraph, May 12, 1848
Is the question asked, “Why did not the national government protect the people of the Illinois country and other portions of the northwestern territory from the marauding savages?” The answer is, it was wholly deficient in means, and until the adoption of the Constitution in 1780, it was impotent in authority. The Continental Congress could not levy a dollar, nor even provide troops, except by the action of each State. Speele currency was hardly to be found in the country; the people were impoverished by the seven years struggle and privations of the Revolutionary War, and even after the adoption of the Constitution in which ample provision was made for national authority, the government was deficient in means. The policy pursued towards the Indians was a wretched one. It was a peace policy when the tribes were induced and disposed to be hostile.

General Henry KnoxThe national government was, through its commissioners, in the attitude of a suppliant for peace. On June 15, 1789, General Knox, Secretary of War, made to the President of the United States a report relative to the Indians in the territory northwest of the Ohio River. This report alludes to “several murders, committed on the inhabitants by small parties of Indians, probably from the Wabash Country;” the alarm amongst the inhabitants along and both sides of the Ohio for several hundred miles; the spirit of retaliation on the part of the white people in carrying hostilities into the Indian country; and urges “that unless some decisive measures are adopted immediately to mitigate those mutual hostilities, they will probably become general among all the Indians northwest of the Ohio.” Two modes were pointed out by which the object could be effected. 1. “Raising an army and extirpating the refractory tribes entirely.” The General questions the right of the United States “consistently with the principles in justice and the laws of nature” to destroy the Indians, if even a sufficient force could be raised, and that he questions. The regular troops of the United States on the frontiers were less than 600 men, and the Indians were estimated at from 1,500 to 2,000 warriors; and the Secretary supposed it would require an army of not less than 2,500 men to ensure success. To raise, equip and provide for such an additional force for six months, he estimates at the additional expense of $200,000; “a sum for exceeding the ability of the United States in advance, consistently with a due regard to other indispensable objects.”

His second plan was to form “treaties of peace with them, in which their rights and limits should be explicitly defined, and the treaties observed on the part of the United States with the most right justice, by punishing the whites who should violate the same.”

This certainly seems a humane paltry, and it was attempted to be carried out to its full extent. Commissioners were sent to the Indian tribes, councils were held, the “poor Indians” were reasoned with, and advised and implored to be at peace with the United States, and with each other. Treaties were actually made, and wantonly violated on the part of the Indians before the ink was hardly dry. Presents were liberally made, and they were instructed how good and clever it was to live in peace with their neighbors, and the war continued; families were butchered, and thieving and marauding expeditions carried into long-established white settlements.

The policy in the end proved not less ruinous to the Indians than it did to the frontier white settlements. This policy impressed them with the notion that the United States government was a feeble, imbecile concern, and unable to restrain or punish them. The British traders along the lake country furnished supplies, and fostered the impression of the inability of the government to protect its frontier population. The character and policy of Indians were wholly misunderstood by the administration. War and plunder are the delight of savage ambition. The little marauding parties that did such repeated acts of mischief and cruelty to the settlements were exactly in accordance with the habits and taste of the Indian tribes.

But the surprise at this day, is that General Knox, a veteran Revolutionary officer, and a sterling patriot, should have been so misled. General George Rogers Clarke had taught the nation how to make Indians peaceable and bring them to terms in his Illinois enterprise. He never solicited peace from a single tribe, but made them think he was indifferent about it and rather preferred to exterminate them. He knew the Indians naturally are cowards, and by operating on their fears, brought them to beg peace of him. By this method, peace was made with the tribes of Illinois Indians in 1778, and they continued at peace during the eruption of the Kickapoos and Shawnees. The United States, during the first term of Washington’s administration, tried the experiment of “moral suasion,” and made an effectual failure, until repeated disasters compelled the government to a policy radically different from either measure recommended by General Knox. They organized an army under the command of General Wayde, who penetrated into the Indian country, burnt their villages, destroyed their cornfields, and compelled them to beg for peace, or to use the barbarous English employed more recently, the government “conquered a peace.” We are surprised that the sagacious Secretary of War did not foresee that permanent peace could not be obtained of Indians by appeals to their benevolence, philanthropy, or justice; and that the only method to prevent their extermination was to send a strong force at once into their country, make them feel the strong arm of government, and bring them at once to subjection. A vast amount of suffering would have been prevented, and preservation of life might have been gained by such a policy.

The President, in his official instructions to Governor St. Clair, dated October 6, 1789, said: “I would have it observed forcibly, that a war with the Wabash Indians ought to be avoided by all means consistently with the security of the troops and the national dignity. In the exercise of the present indiscriminate hostilities, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to say that a war without further measures would be just on the part of the United States. But, if after manifesting clearly to the Indians the disposition of the general government for the preservation of peace, and the extension of a just protection to the said Indians, should they continue their incursions, the United States will be constrained to punish them with severity.”

The peace begging policy of Washington was tried effectually, the experiment proved a failure. The Indians, after repeated periods of peace, continued their “incursions.” Many hundreds of families were murdered. Two half-formed, deficient, and ill-provided armies, under Generals Harmer and St. Clair, were defeated, and at a great loss of blood and treasure, the United States government had “to punish them with severity” by General Wayne. Half of the expense and a tithe of the loss of life would have “conquered a peace” at the commencement.


By an Old Resident
Source: Alton Telegraph, June 9, 1848
In a former communication, we have shown that the character, talents, habits, and qualifications for self-government of the pioneers of the West have been mistaken, and greatly underrated in the older communities of the Atlantic States. This is more particularly the case in New England. Amongst all the great and good things that have pertained to Yankeedom, the descendants of the Puritans have some great and glaring faults. One of these is a distinctive trait of character, and shows itself on all occasions. It is the firm and obstinate opinion that, to them, and their peculiarities of manners, religion, morals, intelligence, enterprise, and industry, exclusively belongs the credit of all that is good, noble, philanthropic, and virtuous in the United States. This habit of self-glorification may do well enough in him, but when it assumes the form of supervision over their neighbors in our new settlements, who with equal pertinacity think they know a few things, and are nearly as good Christians and citizens, it becomes a little annoying.

The pioneers of Illinois originated, in most instances, from the Southern and Middle States, through the medium of Kentucky and Tennessee, and brought with them the habits and modes of thinking common to those districts. In their manners and customs, there were some strongly marked circumstances:

1. They were rough and unrefined in their persons, manners, dress, and mode of living, yet king, generous, warm-hearted, sociable, and given to hospitality.

2. They were hunters, and stock-growers, and much of their subsistence was derived from the range.

3. They were brave, prompt, and energetic in war, yet liberal and magnanimous to a subdued foe.

4. They exhibited great energy and a just spirit of enterprise in removing to a wilderness country and preparing the way for the future prosperity of their descendants, and the immigrants who have poured into the country.

5. They were hospitable and generous to each other and to strangers, ready to share with the destitute their last resources.

6. They had a species of faith in Divine Providence – a presentiment that their labors, toils, and sacrifices were preparing the way for future prosperity even to other generations. They were guided by Providence, preserved amidst dangers, perils, sickness, and savage assaults, and thus became the pioneers of civilization and the founders of free government, and the establishment in the hearts of the people of a pure and enlightened Christianity. They turned the wilderness into a fruitful field, and opened the country to a more dense population.

7. Their habits and manners were plain, simple, and unostentatious. In utensils, furniture, and dress, the most simple and economical possible were all they could obtain. Not a single thing was used for ornament, display, or show. No one paid taxes for the benefit of his neighbor’s eyes.

It is no disparagement or reproach to the pioneers of Illinois, or any other country, to say they were inured to labor, to danger, and to rough living. Few others could have encountered the dangers and difficulties of planting the standard of religion and civilization on the wild prairies of the West.

The dunes of the household were discharged by the female sex, who attended the dairy, performed the culinary operations, spun, wove, and made up the garments for the whole family, carried the water from the springs, and performed much other laborious service from which females, and especially mothers, in a more advanced state of society are exempted. Add to all this, each wife usually bred and raised from ten to fifteen children, of which, in proof of the healthfulness of the country, about nine-tenths of the children born grew up to adult age. The statistics of hundreds of families in the frontier settlements of the West furnish proofs of this statement.

The building of forts, or “stations,” and cabins, clearing and fencing land, hunting game in the woods, defending the stations from Indian assaults, and planting, cultivating and gathering the crops, of which the Indian corn was the chief, were the appropriate business of the men; though the other sex not unfrequently aided their fathers, brothers, and husbands in field labor. In war, when the stations were attacked, it was not unusual for females to mould bullets and load the rifles at the stations.

And let not the impression be made that females who are reared under such circumstances are necessarily low-minded, vulgar, uncouth, and ignorant. Far from it. We can point to some who were the mothers of our most eminent statesmen, who in after life graced the drawing-room, whose intellectual qualities were of a high order, and who in point of elevation of character, vigor of intellect, enabling feelings and uncommon sense, were immeasurably in advance of the pale, sickly, effeminate, silly, sentimental, boarding school triflers of fashionable life. As an illustration, we will give an anecdote of Esther Fuller, who was the wife of William Whitley – one of the pioneers of Kentucky, and well known in the history of that State:

William Whitley was a native of Rockbridge County, Virginia, born in 1749, and brought up to hard labor on a farm. He had very little education from books, but his corporeal and mental faculties were fully developed and of a high order. He married Esther Fuller in January 1775, who had been brought up in the manner we have described. They immediately commenced housekeeping in a backwoods cabin, with a skillet, a few pewter dishes, a straw bed, with scanty covering, with two or three stools for chairs, and a rough slab on round legs for a table. But they were in high health, and dependent wholly on labor for their future subsistence. One day Whitley told his wife that he had heard a fine report about a new country called “Kaintuck,” several hundred miles to the West, where people were going, and he thought they could get a living there with less hard work than in Virginia, and perhaps get land of their own. “Then, Billy, if I were you, I would go and see,” was the encouraging reply of the young bride. In two days, she had his clothes in order, and he was on his way to Kentucky with George Rogers and Clark. Such were the men and women who were the planners of that great and flourishing State, and such are the men and women now building their cabins along the vales of Oregon and California.


By an Old Resident
Source: Alton Telegraph, June 16, 1848
The pioneers of Illinois brought little other property than such as they could pack on horses or carry on watercraft. A few implements of husbandry in the most simple form, and such culinary utensils as were indispensable, and confined to a very few articles; the rifle, the axe, auger, saw, and very few other tools used by the mechanic [laborer] were all that was deemed necessary. The primitive Western log cabin, with its clapboard roof held on by poles, its stick and clay chimney, its floor of split slabs called puncheons, and its door, made of boards split from a log, smoothed with a drawing-knife, united together with wooden hinges and fastened with a wooden latch, was the uniform style of architecture. Not a nail or any other piece of metal was used; not a pane of glass kept out the air and storm from the aperture left for a window; all was wood, and all constructed by the backwoodsmen.

With the first immigration, there were no regular mechanics, and for some years after, but few are found in new settlements. The pioneer learns to make everything he wants. Besides clearing the land, making fence, building his cabin, corn-crib and stable, he must stack his plough, repair his cart or wagon, make his ox yokes and harness for his horses, tan his own leather, dress his deer skins, cobble his shoes and those of his family, construct his own band or horse mill, and not unfrequently becomes a rude blacksmith and gunsmith for his neighbors. He learns to supply all his wants from the forest. The tables, bedsteads, and substitutes for chairs are of his rude manufacture. The stranger and traveler, accustomed to an entirely different mode of life as he passes through the thinly populated settlement, is struck and vexed with the peculiarly uncomfortable situation and appearance of everything about this people – their cabins are rude, and as he imagines, distressingly uncomfortable. Their agriculture is quite primitive, their implements and furniture coarse and unsightly, and everything in his prejudiced imagination looks wrong and wretched. The roads are mere “bridle paths,” the strams are unbridged, he sees “no tall spire pointing to the skies,” and hears not “the sound of the church going bell.” All in his estimation is a “moral waste.” The people, he fancies, are ignorant, indolent, and vicious, and should he be the correspondent of some religious paper away East, a long and doleful jeremiad is contained in his next epistle.

But he is wholly mistaken in imagining the people to be ignorant, indolent, and improvident. The backwoodsman has many substantial comforts. In a few years, he is surrounded with plenty – his cattle, swine, and poultry multiply around him. The fertile soil yields prolific crops. His table is profusely supplied. He lives in a brick house, his furniture is comfortable, and even elegant, and hospitality and kindness are predominant virtues.

In this picture, we have described from personal observation the pioneers into the counties of Morgan and Sangamon, and there are many now living who can attest the correctness of our portraiture. Twenty-five years ago, every house in Springfield was a primitive log cabin, except occasionally a small glass window in the aperture. The first courthouse was a rude cabin of round logs, the roof made of split clapboards, and the floor of earth. In the “olden times,” in Southern Illinois, as in all other primitive settlements of the West, deer skins were used for clothing, made into hunting shirts, pantaloons, leggings, and moccasins. The skin of the wolf and fox was a substitute for the hat and cap. Strips of buffalo hide were used for rope and traces, and the dressed skins of the buffalo, bear and elk furnished the principal part of the bed at night. Wooden vessels, either dug out or coopered, were the common substitute for bowls for table use, from which the family ate their mush and milk. The small-sized gourd constituted the drinking cup. Every hunter carried his knife, while not unfrequently, the rest of the family had one or two old case knives between them. If a family chanced to have a few pewter dishes and spoons, knives and forks, cups, and platters, they were quite in advance of their neighbors. Corn, for bread and mush, was beaten in the mortar or ground in a hand mill.

Hospitality and kindness were prominent among the virtues of the pioneers of the West. Deliver us, above all things, from the neighborhood of that class of people who are moody, unsocial, and so selfish and inhospitable as never to invite a neighbor or even a stranger who may happen to be present, to share in the hospitality of the family meals. Such people ought to live in a clan by themselves, where they can indulge in the unmixed passion of selfishness and quarrel, and threaten “to take the law” of each other to their heart’s content.

The pioneers of whom we are writing were exposed to common dangers, and became united by the closest ties of social intercourse. Accustomed to arm in each other’s defense, to aid in each other’s labor, to assist in the affectionate duty of nursing the sick, and the mournful office of burying the dead, the best affections of the heart were brought into habitual exercise.

There are peculiarities of habits and character between the North and the South – the puritans of New England and the chivalry of Virginia, but the origin and cause of this diversity are wholly overlooked by the great multitude. Many superficial observers take it for granted that the peculiar features of Southern character have been formed by slavery. The descendants of the puritans conscientiously believe in the superiority of their forefathers, and thank God that they are not as other men, and especially those born South of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. One class attributes the diversities of character to the influences of cotton and tobacco, and the other to accidental circumstances.

Now the facts are these: The peculiarities of New England character of both good and evil qualities can be traced back to the peculiar habits and feelings from the rise of puritanism in Scotland and England. It attained its zenith in Cromwell’s day, but continued to send out a stream of influence during the seventeenth century. Virginia, as a type of the South, received the peculiar traits of character from the cavalier class, from which the chief portion of the early settlers came. Whoever will carefully study the peculiar shades of character that mark distinctly each of these classes, as they were manifested in England and Scotland, from one hundred and fifty to three hundred years since, will find the elements that make up the light and shade of character peculiar to the North and South. The prevailing elements of character in Illinois will be the strongly marked lineaments of each, modified by other influences and the commingling of other streams.


Source: Alton Telegraph, September 26, 1873
The generally received opinion is that Kaskaskia and Cahokia, founded by the French, were the first white settlements in Illinois. Such is the information given in many histories and geographies, and such the tradition held by the present inhabitants of those localities. But from a late, somewhat painstaking examination of the early history of Illinois, we are inclined to the belief that another section of the State is entitled to the honor. We refer to the country in the immediate vicinity of the present beautiful and prosperous city of Peoria. Of course, the history of the early period when Illinois first became known is confused and contradictory. It is difficult to separate history from tradition, but from the best authorities we can obtain, it seems positive that the vicinity of Peoria was settled by the French under LaSalle in 1680, and Kaskaskia and Cahokia in 1682 or 1683, by other parties of French, also under LaSalle, returning from explorations of the lower Mississippi. Our authority for this belief is from Governor John Reynolds, who wrote, “My Own Times.”

“Peoria is the most ancient settlement west of the Alleghanies. On the lake east of the present city of Peoria, LaSalle, with his party, made a small fort in 1680, and from his hardships called it and the lake Creve Coeur – in English, “Broken Heart.” Indian traders and others engaged mostly in that commerce resided on the “Old Fort,” as it was called, from the time LaSalle erected the fort in 1680, down to the year 1781, when John Baptist Maillet made a new location and village, about one mile and a half west of the old village, at the outlet of the lake. This was called La Ville de Maillet, that is, Maillet City. In 1781, the Indians under British influence drove off the inhabitants from Peoria, but at the peace of 1783, they returned again. In 1812, Captain Craig (of the Illinois militia) wantonly destroyed the village, but the city of Peoria at present occupies the site of the village of Maillet, and bids fair to become one of the largest cities in Illinois.”

In regard to destruction of Peoria by Captain Craig, Reynolds, elsewhere in his history, says:

“While the army were in the neighborhood of Peoria, Captain Craig had his boat lying in the lake adjacent to Peoria. He was attacked several times by the Indians, but received no injury. The Captain, supposing the few inhabitants of Peoria favored the Indians, burnt the village. This was considered by everyone a useless act. He placed the inhabitants of Peoria, all he could capture, onboard his boat and landed them on the bank of the river below the present site of Alton.”

John M. Peck, in his history of Illinois, after detailing the discovery of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673 by Pere Marquette and Joliet, speaks of the subsequent exploring expedition of LaSalle, who left France in 1678, reached the present site of Chicago in November 1679, and in the December following, or in January 1680 (same date as given by Reynolds) he reached the Illinois River and descended until his supplies gave out, when he was compelled to land and build a fort, which he called Creve Coeur. Peck locates this fort near what is now Spring Bay in Woodford County, several miles northeast of Peoria. But in this case, we prefer the authority of Reynolds, who was not only accurately versed in the early French history of the State, but had, as a Ranger, thoroughly explored that country, when with other soldiers from Madison and St. Clair Counties, he assisted, in 1812, in building Fort Clark, on the present site of Peoria, and named it after General George Rogers Clark, who conquered Illinois from the British in 1778. Peck also states that LaSalle, after building Creve Coeur, visited Canada, and again returned and descended the Illinois to the Mississippi, and the latter to its mouth. ‘On returning, he left some of his companions to occupy the country, which is supposed to have been the commencement of the villages of Kaskaskia and Cahokia.’ As LaSalle sailed for France in 1683, these villages must have been founded in 1682, two years later than Peoria.

Reynolds confirms Peck’s statement in regard to Kaskaskia as follows:

“The Rev. Father Alloues, about the year 1682, established the first white Christian congregation in the West, at the Indian village of Kaskaskia, the same site which Kaskaskia now occupies; about the same time Father Pinet founded a church at the present site of Cahokia.”

Another important authority, confirmatory of Reynolds’ statements, both as regards the date of founding and exact location of Creve Coeur, is J. W. Foster, LL.D., author of “the Mississippi Valley,” and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In regard to LaSalle’s explorations, he speaks as below:

“LaSalle and his party, on the 30th of January, 1680, reached Peoria Lake, then called Pimitoni. The next day they passed the expanded waters to where they again contract within the ordinary limits. Here they encountered an encampment of Indians. Alarmed at reports of the ferocity of the savages, and also by dissension among his followers, LaSalle at once set to work to entrench himself. For this purpose, he selected a site a mile and a half below his camp (which, it will be remembered, was at the lower extremity of the lake), on the southern bank of the stream, three hundred yards from the water’s edge. It was a knoll, intersected on each side by a ravine, while in front the low ground was subject to overflow. Here he built a fort, which he named Creve Coeur, as expressive of his misfortunes. Traces of the embankments thus thrown up are yet discernable. This was the first civilized occupation of Illinois.”

In relation to Kaskaskia, Foster says, “It was probably founded about 1683.” This is three years later than the founding of Creve Coeur, but we think other evidence indicates that 1682 is the date of Kaskaskia’s settlement.

This testimony of Foster is most important. It confirms Reynolds’ account both as to the time Creve Coeur was founded, and the particular site. It also confirms Peck’s date in regard to the founding, but corrects his conjecture that the site of the old fort was near Spring Bay. Reynolds, it will be noticed, asserts positively that Creve Coeur was occupied continuously by the French for over one hundred years, or until 1781, when they removed to the present site of Peoria, one and a half miles west, which settlement has continued to the present day. It seems conclusive, then, that the vicinity of Peoria is the oldest settlement in Illinois, at least two years the senior of Kaskaskia and Cahokia, which have hitherto claimed the honor of being the oldest settlements in the State.


Source: Alton Telegraph, November 14, 1873
In 1766, the first negro slaves, 500 in number, were brought to Illinois by Phillip Francis Renault, to work the mines. Their descendants can still be found in Randolph County.

On February 16, 1763, the Illinois Country, on the east side of the Mississippi, was ceded by the French to the English. In 1764, the English, by Captain Stirling, took possession of the country. The white population of the whole State at that time was less than 2,000.

In the year 1778, during the war of the Revolution, Illinois was conquered from the British by the distinguished American General, George Rogers Clark. His campaign was one of the most brilliant achievements of the Revolution. His army consisted of 153 men. With that small force, he captured the strong forts at Kaskaskia and Vincennes, and conquered the whole region. The fort at the former place was captured on July 4, 1778, and Cahokia was occupied immediately thereafter. A government was then organized under authority of the State of Virginia, which has remained with various amendments to the present time.


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