French in Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois is bordered
on three sides by the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash rivers. Several
other rivers traverse its countryside, including the Big and Little
Muddy, Little Wabash, Saline, and Cache rivers.
The earliest inhabitants of
Illinois were thought to have arrived about 12,000 B.C. They were
hunters and gatherers but developed a primitive system of
agriculture and eventually built rather complex urban areas that
included earthen mounds. Their culture seemed to die out around
The Illini Indian tribes,
after whom the state is named, and other Indian tribes arrived in
Illinois around 1500 A.D. Archeologists are not certain if these
Indians are related to the previous inhabitants. They left behind
all manner of artifact including burial sites, burned-out campfires
along the bases of bluffs, pottery, flints, implements, and weapons.
Interesting structures which were built by Indian tribes are known
as stone forts or pounds.
The French were the first
Europeans to reach Illinois in about 1673. When they arrived, the
Indians welcomed them. It was French explorers who gave Illinois its
name by referring to the land where the Illini Indians lived as the
The French explored the
Mississippi River, establishing outposts and seeking a route to the
Pacific Ocean and the Orient. Because of increasing Indian unrest
and warfare in northern Illinois, the French concentrated on
building outposts in the southern part. The earliest European
settlers in Southern Illinois concentrated along the Mississippi,
Ohio, and Wabash rivers at the southern end of the state. Their
settlements became important way stations and supply depots between
Canada and ports on the lower Mississippi River.
Important early outposts in
Southern Illinois were located at Shawneetown and Fort Massac on the
The English ruled the Lower
Great Lakes region after defeating the French in the French and
Indian War and with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
Their rule of this area was short lived.
During the American Revolution
in 1778, the state of Virginia backed a military expedition led by
23 year old George Rogers Clark. Landing at Fort Massac in Illinois
(which was abandoned a decade earlier), his force of 175 soldiers
marched through southern Illinois and defeated the English at forts
in Kaskaskia, Illinois and Vincennes in western Indiana. This laid
the claim by the Americans to this territory. When news of the
conquest by Clark reached Virginia, it claimed Illinois as one of
its counties. Virginia ceded the county of Illinois to the federal
government in 1784 when it realized that it could not govern so
sparsely populated and distant land.
Non-French speaking settlers
were slow to arrive in Illinois probably less than 2,000 non-Indians
lived in Illinois in 1800. But soon thereafter many more settlers
came from the backwoods areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia,
Georgia, and the Carolinas. These early settlers were of English,
German, Scottish, and Irish families. They chose to settle in the
southern part of Illinois as its wooded hills reminded them of the
mountains they left behind.
The federal government
included Illinois in the Northwest Ordinance which with Ohio,
Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Illinois became a part of the
Indiana Territory in 1800. Illinois settlers wanted more control
over their own affairs and Illinois became a separate territory in
December 17, 1811 a great
earthquake awakened the settlers in Illinois with a violent
trembling. Fields rippled like waves on an ocean. Trees swayed,
became tangled together, and snapped off with sounds like gunshots.
In some places sand, coal, and smoke blew up into the air as high as
thirty yards. It was reported that the earthquake shook so violently
that tremors were felt as far away as Boston.
One report told that this
earthquake made the Mississippi River flow backward momentarily. The
river changed its course in several spots as a result of the
earthquake as new islands appeared and others disappeared in the
river. The earthquake is estimated to have been equivalent to an 8.0
on the Richter scale, which did not exist at that time. Fortunately,
only a few people lost their lives because the quake centered in a
sparsely populated area.
The U.S. Congress approved an
Act which enabled the Illinois territory to become the 21st state of
the Union. Immigration to Illinois increased after it became a state
as more settlers arrived from New England and foreign countries.
These settlers tended to migrate to central and northern Illinois,
causing a noticeable Yankee influence in northern Illinois as
opposed to the southern influence in the southern region due to a
majority of settlers coming from southern states.
Damn Yankees - you know