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CHAPTER 1 Illinois before Statehood Slave Country of the Northwest Territory On July 4, 1778, the second anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, George Rogers Clark, in a surprise nighttime attack, secured the first American rule over the land that would become the State of Illinois. Not yet twenty-six years old at the time, Clark was a patrician Virginian and a neighbor and friend ofThomasJeffersonandotherVirginialeaders.Hewasalsoanexperiencedfrontiersman and wily pioneer.1 In 1776 Clark had led a company of settlers into Virginia’s far western Kentucky territory. Charged with protecting the new settlements against increasing Indian attacks stimulated by the British, he returned to Williamsburg in December 1777 to meet with Virginia officials. He secured the long-sought recognition of Kentucky as a county of Virginia and received authorization and money from Virginia governor Patrick Henry to take the offensive and stop the Indian raids by capturing the British headquarters at Detroit and clearing the British from the Old Northwest. Secretly, Governor Henry also authorized Clark to seek control first of Kaskaskia and the other old French-settled villages in the Illinois country along the east side of the Mississippi River, the western boundary of the British territory. Clark had received information from frontier friends that the villages were defenseless and that the French settlers would welcome the Americans.2 10 Chapter 1 The villages along the Mississippi River that came to be called the American Bottom were the first white settlements in the Illinois country. In March 1699 priests of the Seminary of Foreign Missions established a settlement east of the Mississippi River, some eight miles south of the present site of St. Louis, in an areapopulatedprimarilybyCahokiaIndians.Traderssoongatherednearby.The mission, which they named Cahokia, survives today as the oldest continuously occupied community in the American interior.3 In 1703 the Jesuits followed, establishing a settlement some sixty miles south of Cahokia. They named it Kaskaskia for the Indians who lived in nearby villages . Other settlements were established between the first two, as was Fort de Chartres,theseat ofcivilandmilitarypower,built in 1720 fifteen miles upstream from Kaskaskia. Kaskaskia flourished. It became the center of French colonial life in the Illinois country and for more than one hundred years remained the commercial, cultural, and governmental center of Illinois.4 These few settlements were the only population centers in Illinois. Most remained important in the Territory and State of Illinois well into the nineteenth century, long after French sovereignty ended. Although Clark was authorized to raise a force of three hundred men, he was able to recruit little more than half that number by May 1778. After training on Corn Island at the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville, his force set forth in late June1778,during aneclipseofthesun,rowing inkeelboats down theOhio River toFortMassac,whichwaseastacrosslowerIllinoisfromKaskaskia.Disembarking there, they marched 120 miles in six days over previously uncrossed Illinois wilderness and quickly captured Kaskaskia the evening of July 4 without firing a shot. Clark promptly sent a small body of his forces north along the Mississippi, accompanied by friendly Frenchmen, to occupy the other villages, which also surrendered without opposition.5 ClarkspentseveralmonthsorganizinghiscontrolovertheoldFrenchvillages and calming the alarmed inhabitants. Representing Virginians who believed in local self-government and who despised autocratic rule, Clark devised a form of government in which the people would participate. He distributed commissions to the necessary militia officers. He served as the first American judge in the region and inaugurated a system of courts to which the people would elect the judges.6 Clark then turned his attention east across Illinois to Vincennes, on the Wabash River. The notorious British governor Henry Hamilton had fortified the Map 1. Clark’s Routes to Conquest of the British 12 Chapter 1 sleepy town. Receiving word from informants that French settlers in Vincennes also would welcome the Americans, Clark did the unexpected in presumably impossible February conditions. With fewer than 170 men, he marched the 140 miles from Kaskaskia to Vincennes through swamps and flooded rivers. Aided by friendly settlers, Clark overwhelmed Hamilton and the British garrison in a surprise attack on February 25, 1779. Hamilton was sent to the Virginia capital at Williamsburg as a prisoner and remained in a dungeon there until March 1781.7 Clark had a clear and immediate opportunity to accomplish his original goal by capturing Detroit. His force dissipated, however, as Kentuckians departed to attempt an attack elsewhere and others were impatient to return to their homes. Clark and his remaining forces spent the rest of the war...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252050343
Related ISBN
9780252041679
MARC Record
OCLC
1028553078
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2018-03-18
Language
English
Open Access
No
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