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13 WarandtheColonialFrontier Fort de Chartres in the Illinois Country David J. Keene Until excavations in the 1970s and 1980s began to recover artifacts and expose construction elements of the third Fort de Chartres, most literature and popular belief assumed that this fort was built as a fur trade outpost in a network of outposts on the margins of the French colonial empire in North America (Keene 2002:6). Analysis of the data generated by these excavations has changed the understanding of the region’s history. Early on, excavations at Fort de Chartres failed to yield archaeological materials similar to those found at fur trade outposts. Analysis of archaeological and architectural information from Fort de Chartres provided an opportunity to reexamine historic documents in order to assist in explaining the archaeological record and the role this site played in the eighteenthcentury colonial empire of France. Historical Background There were three Forts de Chartres. The first was built in 1719 by Pierre Duque, sieur de Boisbriant, the newly appointed commander of the Illinois Country. Upon his arrival at the village of Kaskaskia in 1718, he organized a land distribution system, separated the native inhabitants from the French, and erected a fort to serve as the seat of government (Palm 1931:50). The fort was 10 miles north of Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River, where the river was deeper and better able to facilitate the shipping of goods. Immediately , colonists began to settle around the fort in an area that became known as the village of Chartres. 230 · David J. Keene In 1723, Diron d’Artaquiette, the inspector general for the Company of the West, which held a royal charter to develop Louisiana, described the fort and village during an official inspection of the Illinois Country: Fort de Chartres is a fort of piles the size of one’s leg, square in shape, having two bastions, which command all of the curtains. There are two companies in garrison commanded by M. de Boisbriant, Knight of the Military order of St. Louis, first royal lieutenant of the province. There is a church outside the fort and some dwellings a half league lower down on the same side as well as half a league above as far as the little village of the Illinois where there are two Jesuit fathers, missionaries who have a dwelling and a church. This little village is called Mechiquamias [Michigamea] and numbers perhaps about 200 warriors. (Mereness 1916:69) This first Fort de Chartres, which was square with two bastions and a wooden palisade, suffered from the deleterious effects of natural forces. By 1726, the floodwaters of the Mississippi had destroyed much of this fort built by Boisbriant (Belting 1948:18). Documentary sources are unclear about what actually took place after the deterioration of the first fort, but there appears to have been a second Fort de Chartres constructed. In 1732, the Compagnie des Indes made an inventory of its property. This inventory described the fort as falling to pieces, was 160 feet square with four bastions in which there were five cannons. On each of the scaffolds was hung a bell. Inside the palisade was the house of the commandant and garde magazin, a frame building 50' by 30'. Another building of the same size housed the garrison and the armorer’s forge; there was a third house of posts in the ground, 30' by 20'. In one of the bastions was the prison, in one the hen house, and in another, a stable. (Belting 1948:18) Whereas the first fort had only two bastions, the second had four. It is unclear whether the first fort was repaired and two bastions were added or an entirely new fort was built immediately after the destruction by floodwaters . A land description dating to 1726 (Brown and Dean 1977:355) suggests that there already was an “old Fort” distinct from that occupied at the time of the land transaction (Price 1980:2–3). Nevertheless, as the description above attests, the second palisade fort was in terrible condition in 1732. By this time the Illinois Country was becoming important to the Compagnie des Indes for its production of wheat and salt (Surrey 1916:289). The War and the Colonial Frontier: Fort de Chartres in the Illinois Country · 231 economy of the French in Illinois did include some fur trading and mining, but for the vast majority of the inhabitants farming was the chief occupation during most of the year. The convoys from the...


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