Cahokia, the first permanent European settlement in Illinois, was established in 1699 by priests of the French Seminary of Foreign Missions in Quebec. The site of the Mission of the Holy Family was chosen the previous year by a mission party guided here by the famous explorer Tonti and was adjacent to a village of Tamaroa and Cahokia Indians. A typical French village gradually grew up around the mission. Its population, always small, was affected by the establishment of Kaskaskia and Fort de Chartres and by the cession of the land to the British in 1765 following the French and Indian War. However, as county seat of St. Clair County, Cahokia at one time was the seat of government for a huge territory which included the 80 northern Illinois counties of today. Cahokia was not destined to continue in her important position. The recurrent floods of the Mississippi and the growing importance of St. Louis and East St. Louis limited Cahokia. The county seat was removed to Belleville in 1814 and Cahokia became a small agricultural center on the outskirts of East St. Louis. Yet Cahokia retained her rich heritage. Cahokia Mounds in this vicinity are important remnants of prehistoric Illinois. The famous chief Pontiac was assassinated here in 1769. George Rogers Clark negotiated here for Indian neutrality during the American Revolution. Landmarks such as the Old Church of the Holy Family, the old Cahokia Cemetery, the Cahokia Courthouse, and the Jarrot Mansion are representative of Cahokia's proud past.
Fort de Chartres is an eighteenth-century fort erected near the Mississippi River by France's colonial government. From 1720 to 1763 French administration of the Illinois Country was centered at the fort, built successively over a 40-year period. The stone fort, built in the 1750s and abandoned in 1771, has been partially reconstructed to provide a glimpse of life in Illinois under the French regime. Fort de Chartres State Historic Site, which also preserves the archaeological remains of the earlier wooden forts, is managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
For more than a century beginning in 1673, France claimed the Illinois Country, an undefined area that extended from lakes Michigan and Superior to the Ohio and Missouri rivers. French leaders hoped that the Illinois Country, which was governed from distant Canada, would be a rich source of furs and precious metals. To better exploit those riches, the French in 1718 reorganized the administration of their American possessions. The Illinois Country was removed from Canadian jurisdiction and made a part of Louisiana. Government of the vast territory was turned over to the Company of the Indies, a commercial enterprise chartered by King Louis XV. The company's power was considerable; it was granted a trade monopoly, given jurisdiction over all forts, posts, and garrisons and empowered to appoint all officials. In December 1718 the newly organized government at New Orleans sent a contingent of army officers, government officials, company employees, mining engineers, workmen, and soldiers to establish civil government in the Illinois Country. French leaders also hoped that a military presence would pacify the Fox Indians, whose frequent attacks put great pressure on French villages. Workmen soon began constructing a wooden fort on the Mississippi River eighteen miles north of Kaskaskia.
French officials named their stockade Fort de Chartres in honor of Louis duc de Chartres, son of the regent of France. The fort was completed in 1720. Located "about a musket shot" from the Mississippi River, the fort consisted of a palisade of squared logs surrounded by a dry moat. Bastions built at diagonally opposite corners provided cover fire for each of the walls. Several buildings occupied the fort's interior, including a storehouse and countinghouse used by the Indies Company. Another building probably served the Provincial Council, which conducted the affairs of the king and the company. The fort, subject to frequent flooding, deteriorated rapidly. Work on a new fort began about 1725. Built inland from the Mississippi, the new log stockade was about 160 feet square and had bastions at each corner. Four buildings were located inside the fort, at least one of which was used by the Indies Company. The bastions contained other structures, among them a powder magazine, a prison, and a stable. Outside the fort stood a small chapel and a few private residences.The Company of the Indies was gone by 1731, a victim of bad management, poor relations with Indian tribes, and its failure to discover the expected gold and other precious metals. In January of that year, the company turned Louisiana and its government back to the king. The fort's condition was precarious. In bad repair as early as 1742, its garrison was moved to Kaskaskia five years later.
French leaders had discussed building a stone fort to protect their interests on the Mississippi River since the 1730s. Though the region failed to yield precious metals, holding the Illinois Country was deemed essential for trade and defense. Profitable deposits of lead had been discovered on the west bank of the Mississippi. More importantly, rich bottom land produced bountiful crops that made the region Louisiana's breadbasket. Construction of the new fort was delayed, however, while the government debated its location. Officials in New Orleans desired a site near Kaskaskia (founded in 1703), the area's most prominent community. The local commandant disagreed, arguing for a location on the Mississippi near the earlier wooden forts. Extended correspondence resulted in a final decision to build the new stone structure a short distance from its predecessor. A lack of skilled workmen caused further delay. Fort engineer Francois Saucier complained in late 1752 that two stonemasons and a carpenter had deserted and that officials in New Orleans had not yet sent competent replacements. Construction, once it began, proceeded slowly. Limestone was quarried from the bluffs north of Prairie du Rocher and conveyed across a small lake by raft before it was hauled to the site by oxen. Although Governor Kerlerec reported to superiors in 1754 that construction was substantially completed, major work continued for several years. In June 1760 Louisiana's chief fiscal officer reported that the fort would be completed by year's end.
The stone Fort de Chartres served as France's Illinois Country headquarters for only ten years. France surrendered Illinois, along with most of its North American possessions, to Great Britain in the 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven Years' War. British troops of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment took possession of Fort de Chartres on October 10, 1765 in a carefully choreographed transfer ceremony. The British made little use of their new possession, which they renamed Fort Cavendish. Military engineers attempted to control erosion caused by the Mississippi, which already threatened to swallow the south wall. But British military leaders in North America soon deemed the fort of little practical value and ordered it abandoned in 1771, ending its use as a military post.
The rich history of this site begins before recorded history, when Native Americans undoubtedly took advantage of its strategic location overlooking the Ohio River. Legend has it that Europeans took this same advantage as early as 1540, when the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto and his soldiers constructed a primitive fortification here to defend themselves from hostile native attack.The site's history prior to the 1750s is vague and ill-documented, but some historians believe that in 1702 a trading post was established here by a Frenchman named Juchereaux de St. Denis, in conjunction with the extensive buffalo-hunting and hide-tanning activities going on in the region. The French built Fort De L'Ascension on the site in 1757, during the French and Indian War, when France and Great Britain were fighting for ultimate control of central North America. Rebuilt in 1759-60, the structure was renamed Massiac in honor of the then French Minister of the Marine, and came under fire only once, when unsuccessfully attacked by a group of Cherokee. Following the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the French abandoned the fort and a marauding band of Chickasaws burned it to the ground. When Captain Thomas Stirling, commander of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, arrived to take possession, all he found was a charred ruin. The British anglicized the name to "Massac" but, despite the counsel of their military advisers, they neither rebuilt nor regarrisoned the fort. This oversight left them vulnerable and in 1778, during the Revolutionary War, Colonel George Rogers Clark led his "Long Knives" regiment into Illinois at Massac Creek and was able to capture Kaskaskia, 100 miles to the north, without firing a shot -- thus taking the entire Illinois Territory for the State of Virginia and the fledgling United States.
In 1794, President George Washington ordered the fort rebuilt, and for the next 20 years it protected U.S. military and commercial interests in the Ohio Valley. U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr and General James Wilkinson, who allegedly drew up plans to personally conquer Mexico and the American southwest, met at Fort Massac during the summer of 1805. Edward Everett Hale later used the setting of Fort Massac and the Burr-Wilkinson plot as basis for his classic historical novel, "The Man Without a Country."
Although ravaged by the New Madrid Earthquake in 1811-12, the fort was again rebuilt in time to play a minor role in the War of 1812 , only to be abandoned again in 1814. Local citizens dismantled the fort for timber, and by 1828 little remained of the original construction. In 1839 the city of Metropolis was platted about a mile west of the fort. The site served briefly as a training camp during the early years of the Civil War, marking the last time U.S. troops were stationed at the site. The fort was abandoned after a measles epidemic in 1861-62 claimed the lives of a substantial number of soldiers of the Third Illinois Cavalry and 131st Illinois Infantry, who were using the fort as an encampment.
Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, a French Jesuit, reported as early as 1721 that the land at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers would be a strategic location for settlement and fortification. Nearly a century later, in 1818, the Illinois Territorial legislature incorporated the City and Bank of Cairo. But Cairo was then only a paper city, and plans for its development came to a standstill with the death of John Gleaves Comegys, the leading promoter of the Corporation. In the 1830's, the area's commercial potential again captured the imagination of Illinois leaders and eastern investors. New City promoters incorporated the Cairo City and Canal Company and made elaborate plans for levees, canals, factories, and warehouses. The first levees failed to hold back the rampaging rivers and financial difficulties slowed the boom. Company policy to lease, not sell, city lots also retarded expansion. With the first sale of lots in 1853 and the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad from Chicago to Cairo late in 1854, the city began to prosper. When the Civil War began, both Northern and Southern strategists recognized the military importance of Cairo. On April 22, 1861, ten days after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, troops arrived to hold Cairo for the Union. They established camps on the land south of Cairo, and the city flourished as a troop and supply center for the Army of General Ulysses S. Grant. Although the city bustled with wartime activity, non-military commerce was reoriented along East-West lines.
Located on the north bank of the Ohio River in southeastern Illinois, there is much history associated with the village, mainly revolving around the "cave" from which the town was named. The first documented mention of the cave is in Charlevioux's History of New France in 1744. A map was drawn from data obtained by a Frenchman, Martin Chartier who visited the area in 1729. He called it "le caverne dans le roc".
The first permanent settler in Cave-in-Rock was Solomon Perkins, who was living there prior to March 3, 1807. He was granted permission to remain on 320 acres at the site of the town. Around 1807 another settler, Phillip Conn, and his family settled on the edge of Cave-in-Rock where the "Hessville community" was located. During the 1813 May Term of the Gallatin Co. Court of Common Pleas, Lewis Barker was given permission to have a road surveyed from his ferry to the U.S. Saline works. In 1814, Lewis Barker bought the section of land where Cave-in-Rock is located. As the result of a petition signed by inhabitants of Rock and Cave Township, Lewis Barker and Phillip Coon were appointed as viewers for planning a new road that would connect Barker's Ferry at the Rock Cave with the Kaskaskia Road, and a second road to the U.S. Saline Works. Near Cave-in-Rock is a crossing of the Ohio River, known as Ford's Ferry, and the road that ran through Crittenden County, Kentucky, and Hardin County, Illinois. Many of the pioneers who settled in the area came over this road from Kentucky and regions to the east.
A plat map of Cave-in-Rock was recorded in 1839, but the village was not incorporated until 1901. Early records often refer to the town as Rock-in-Cave. Sometime in the 1830's the name started appearing as Cave-in-Rock. The village was originally in Pope County until Hardin County was formed in 1839 from the counties of Pope and Gallatin. Records before 1839 can still be found in the county court houses of Pope and Gallatin.
Ancient mounds rise above the low ground of Gallatin County in several places to testify to prehistoric life here. The northern section of Shawneetown rests on ancient burial mounds. For a short time in the mid-eighteenth century the Shawnee Indians had a village here. The first settler arrived about 1800 and others soon followed. The federal Government laid out Shawneetown in 1810, before the surrounding area was surveyed. The town grew as the trading post and the shipping point for salt from the United States Salines near Equality and as a major point of entry for emigrants from the east. In 1814 the United States Land Office for Southeastern Illinois opened at Shawneetown. Two state memorials in Shawneetown, the first bank in the territory (1816) and the imposing state bank building (1839), mark the community's early prominence as the financial center of Illinois. According to legend several Chicagoans applied for a loan in 1830 to improve their village but were turned away because Chicago was too far from Shawneetown to ever amount to anything. The Ohio River which contributed to the early importance of the town was always a threat to its existence. In 1937 the angry yellow waters rushed over the levees and rose in the town until they lapped the second floor of the State Bank building. It was then that most of the residents moved northwest to the hills and rebuilt Shawneetown, although some still clung to the original site.
The fertile prairies in Illinois attracted the attention of French trader Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette as they explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. France claimed this region until 1763 when she surrendered it to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris. During the American Revolution George Rogers Clark and his small army scored a bloodless victory when they captured Kaskaskia for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Illinois became a county of Virginia. This area ceded to the United States in 1784, and became in turn a part of the Northwest Territory and the Indiana and Illinois Territories. On December 3, 1818, Illinois entered the Union as the twenty-first state.
The earliest settlements of the country were so thoroughly French that up to the beginning of the nineteenth century only one American settlement was to be found within the limits of the present St. Clair County. This was the Turkey Hill colony, numbering about twenty people. A little later a number of American families settled in Ridge Prairie. Soon the log cabin of the pioneer made its appearance beyond Silver Creek and in a few years more every part of the county was brought under the domain of the adventurous frontiersman. It seems appropriate to mention some of these valiant leaders who did their share in taking the country for civilization.Turkey Hill is a beautiful eminence a few miles southeast of Belleville. Tradition says that the Tamaroa Indians once had a large town on this hill, and that the Great Spirit sent an old Indian, a wise and good man, with seeds of all good vegetables, such as corn, beans, peas, and potatoes, and that he taught the Indians how to plant them. He also advised them to be peaceful and never to go to war. As long as this counsel was followed, the Tamaroas did well and were a happy and prosperous people. But at last they disregarded the sage instruction and disaster followed.
William Scott, the first American settler in Turkey Hill, was born in Virginia of Irish parents, in the year 1745. He grew up and was married in his native state. All his children, six sons and one daughter, were born in Virginia. He then moved to Kentucky, and in 1797 he moved with his family to Illinois and became a permanent resident. They made the journey by wagon from Fort Massac on the Ohio River to the New Design settlement. About Christmas they located at Turkey Hill and made the beginning of what afterward became a prosperous community. Scott located several claims in the present counties of Monroe and St. Clair, one of which included Turkey Hill, where he established his home.
At the time the Scotts came to Turkey Hill the Indians were numerous in the vicinity. Some of them hunted and lived near him for most of the year, but exhibited only a friendly spirit. The Kickapoos were the nearest neighbors. Mr. Scott's large family of sons were of assistance in enabling him to sustain himself in a location so far in advance of other white settlers. Eventually they all married and settled in the neighborhood and the family resided together for many years in that part of the county. He was known far and near as "Turkey Hill Scott."
St. Clair County became a destination in the early 1800's for German immigrant farmers and craftsmen. Communities such as Belleville became prominent due to the influx of these inhabitants. St. Clair County earned its significance as the gateway to the West when construction began on the Eads Bridge, an engineering achievement of the nineteenth century, that spans the Mississippi River from Broadway (East St.Louis) to Washington Avenue (St. Louis). James B. Eads, Chief Engineer, supervised the construction between August,1867 and June, 1874. The public doubted the success of the venture until July 2, 1874, when fourteen locomotives crossed back and forth on the bridge in a conclusive test of its strength.
"A Brief History of St. Clair County," excerpted from the Early American Settlers of St. Clair County, by W.C. Walton. http://www.frontiernet.net/~jumbridg/chap5.htm
"Fort Massac State Park," http://dnr.state.il.us/parks/parkinfo/frtmass.htm
"Cave in Rock, Illinois Early History," http://www.fayette.k12.il.us/brownstown/html/c-i-r.htm
"Fort De Chartres," http://www.state.il.us/HPA/FORTC.HTM
"Illinois State Historical Markers," Illinois Historical Society, http://prairienet.org/ishs/