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History as They Lived It

A Social History of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois

Margaret Kimball Brown, Foreword by Carl J. Ekberg

Publication Year: 2013

“His­tory as They Lived It deserves to be placed within the rich context of Illinois Country historiography going back more than a century. . . . It brings together the fully ripened thoughts of a mature scholar at the very moment that students of the Illinois Country need such a book.”—from the foreword by Carl J. Ekberg

Settled in 1722, Prairie du Rocher was at the geographic center of a French colony in the Mississippi Valley, which also included other villages in what is now Illinois and Missouri: Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Fort de Chartres, St. Philippe, Ste. Genevieve, and St. Louis.  Located in an alluvial valley near towering limestone bluffs, which inspired the village’s name—French for “prairie of the rock”— Prairie du Rocher is the only one of the seven French colonial villages that still exists today as a small compact community.

The village of Prairie du Rocher endured governance by France, Great Britain, Virginia, and the Illinois territory before Illinois became a state in 1818. Despite these changes, the villagers persisted in maintaining the community and its values. Margaret Kimball Brown looks at one of the oldest towns in the region through the lenses of history and anthropology, utilizing extensive research in archives and public records to give historians, anthropologists, and general readers a lively depiction of this small community and its people.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Series: Shawnee Books

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables, Figures and Maps

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pp. ix-x

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Carl J. Ekberg

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pp. xi-xvi

The history of history writing about the Illinois Country is becoming almost as rich a subject as the Illinois Country itself. History As They Lived It deserves to be placed within the rich context of Illinois Country historiography going back more than a century.
During the colonial era, and this volume is largely devoted to...

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pp. xvii-xviii

My thanks to Fieldstead & Co. for the grant that enabled me to complete the research necessary for this book. Lawrie Dean provided so much information through her work of calendering and translation of the Kaskaskia manuscripts. My gratitude to Pierre Le Beau without whose assistance in editing this never could have been...

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pp. xix-xxviii

Prairie du Rocher on New Year's Eve. A chilly winter night. Christmas lights reflect on a thin covering of snow outside houses in the village. A bus pulls up to one decorated house and a crowd of costumed people emerges from it—men in cloth knee britches, wool coats, vests with many buttons, and wool toques. Women with...

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1. The French Regime: The Beginnings

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pp. 1-33

The formation of the small village of Prairie du Rocher resulted from events that happened far from southwestern Illinois. Around 1500 French ships began to exploit the rich fishing banks along the northeastern coast of North America. Small temporary camps sprang up where the fishermen dried the codfish to be shipped back home. While...

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2. Governance in the Illinois

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pp. 34-64

The people who came to the Illinois were from diverse backgrounds, different socio-economic groups, and many geographical regions, but in general they shared a culture. They brought with them from France customs, values, and manners. Although there were adaptations to the new environment, these often were adaptations that attempted...

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3. Land, Life, and Labor

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pp. 65-113

The bottomlands of Illinois held vast fertile acres, or arpents as the French inhabitants visualized them. These alluvial lands of the Middle Mississippi River Valley in Illinois, in later years called the American Bottom, extend between the present cities of Cahokia in the north and Chester in the south. The width of the valley varies, but...

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4. Prairie du Rocher Under the French Regime

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pp. 114-150

The 1730s and early 1740s were the time when life seemed most promising for the colonists in the Illinois. It was a time of relative peace and stability; the Fox wars had ended and the European powers were not engaged in any major conflict affecting the colony. Nevertheless, the Illinois villages and their attached farmlands were small, civilized...

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5. Under Three Flags

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pp. 151-195

By June 1763 the provisions of the Treaty of Paris became known. The details arrived by ship at New Orleans and as quickly as messages could be sent, the Illinois was informed. Communication being what it was, it was not until October that the commandant of Fort de Chartres, Neyon de Villiers, sent messages to the other northern...

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6. Old and New

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pp. 196-232

For nearly a generation the small population in the Illinois wilderness had been stranded without a stable civil government, in fact being virtually abandoned by all governments. That loss had a psychological impact on the inhabitants. The insufficiency of legal protection for their goods and property, the shifting power structures, the...

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7. Becoming American

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pp. 233-260

Travelers' accounts about the quaint French ceased to appear by the 1840s. Immigrants from all over Europe were moving into Illinois; many small ethnic communities were forming, both in rural areas and in urban settings. Foreign customs, language, and mannerisms were no longer unusual features confined to southwestern...

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8. On Into a New Century

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pp. 261-298

The period from the 1880s to the 1920s, the heyday of rural villages, was a prosperous time for Prairie du Rocher also. Like others of the time, Prairie du Rocher had diverse businesses supporting the farm economy: general merchandise stores, farm equipment suppliers, blacksmiths, livery stables, lumberyards, drugstore, bakery, millinery...

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9. Present and Future

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pp. 299-314

The village of Prairie du Rocher still exists in the bottomlands, having survived for nearly 300 years. It is the only one of the former French villages that remains as a small rural village. In the eyes of the local inhabitants, the present and future are naturally more important than the past. However, as for every community, the...


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pp. 315-319


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pp. 320-321


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pp. 322-340


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pp. 341-348

Other Works in the Series, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809333417
E-ISBN-10: 0809333414
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809333400
Print-ISBN-10: 0809333406

Page Count: 378
Illustrations: 38
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Southern Illinois University Press edition.
Series Title: Shawnee Books