Permanent Pioneer Settlements Of Illinois

The death of La Salle in 1688 and of Tonti in 1704, concluded the most romantic chapter of the early French explorations which pre-pared the way for permanent settlement and the solid satisfaction of home-building. Without going into the rather intricate claims as to the priority of the pioneer settlements of Illinois which assumed permanence, it will be conceded that Kaskaskia was for several generations the most notable. The mission of the Immaculate Conception founded there by Father Marquette, with the fertile lands in that region, eventuated in drawing thither not only the soldiers of the cross, but French traders and agriculturists. The Indians and Frenchmen who came to Kaskaskia in the eighteenth century built their huts by weaving grasses and reeds into frameworks of upright poles set in rectangular form. The roofs were thatched. The ground was very rich and a sort of rude agriculture was begun. In those days the French were just taking possession of the mouth of the Mississippi, and Kaskaskia became quite an important intermediate port of call for fresh supplies. The trading with the Indians was also a large factor in the building up of the place, which was located on the west bank of the Kaskaskia, six miles from the Mississippi. Cahokia, its rival, situated a short distance below the present city of East St. Louis, was also a mission and a trading post, but it met with a setback quite early in its history. The village was first built on the east bank of the Mississippi on a little creek which flowed across the rich alluvial bottoms, but by 1721 the river had carved a new channel westward leaving the village half a league from free water communication. The little creek also took another course, and Cahokia was left decidedly inland. The Mississippi River has swept away even the site of Kaskaskia, and Cahokia is little more than a name.

Fort Chartres

Fort Chartres, which was situated sixteen miles northwest of Kaskaskia, was founded in 1718 and became the military and the civil center of the Illinois district of Louisiana, and so continued for nearly half a century. As completed, its outer structure consisted of two rows of parallel logs filled between with earth and limestone, the latter quarried from an adjacent cliff. It was surrounded on three sides by this two-foot wall, and on the fourth by a ravine, which during the springtime was full of water. The fort was barely completed when there arrived one Renault, a representative of the Company of the West (a creation of the famous John Law), the director general of the mining operations of that concern which were designed to re-enforce the uncertain finances of France. He had left France in the spring of 1719 with two hundred miners, laborers and a full complement of mining utensils. Among his force were also several hundred St. Domingo negroes, whom he had bought on his way to Louisiana to work the mines and plantations of the province. Those whom he brought to the Illinois district were the original slaves of the State of Illinois. Renault made Fort Chartres his headquarters for a short time, and from here he sent his expert miners and skilled workmen in every direction hunting for the precious metals. The bluffs skirting the American Bottoms on the east were diligently searched for minerals, but nothing encouraging was found. In what is now Jackson, Randolph, and St. Clair counties the ancient traces of furnaces were visible as late as 1850. Silver Creek, which runs south and through Madison and St. Clair counties, was so named on the supposition that silver metal was plentiful along that stream. Failing to discover any metals or precious stones, Benault turned his attention to the cultivation of the land in order to support his miners.



Illinois Genealogy

Source: A Standard History of Champaign County, Illinois, by J. R. Stewart, published by The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago And New York, 1918.

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