Making the Heartland Quilt: A Geographical History of Settlement and Migration in Early-Nineteenth-Century Illinois

By Mitchell, Barbara J. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Making the Heartland Quilt: A Geographical History of Settlement and Migration in Early-Nineteenth-Century Illinois


Mitchell, Barbara J., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Making the Heartland Quilt: A Geographical History of Settlement and Migration in Early-Nineteenth-Century Illinois. By Douglas K. Meyer. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000. Pp. Xvii, 332. Charts, maps, index, bibliography. Cloth, $49.95)

Making the Heartland Quilt is destined to be a book that Illinois historians consult so often that the pages grow ragged from use. Douglas K. Meyer, a professor of geography at Southern Illinois University, has given us a prodigious amount of information about the evolution of the population of Illinois.

Anyone who has lived in Illinois is aware of what Meyer calls the "midwestern dichotomies: northern versus southern; native-born versus foreign-born; rural versus urban; agriculture versus manufacturing." Many of us thought we had that all figured out. We thought southerners migrated to southern Illinois, people from Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc. populated the middle part of the state, and the northern counties, particularly Cook, were settled mostly by foreign immigrants. The real story is a lot more complicated.

It's as complicated as the fact that despite those dichotomies Illinois was a true melting pot, the result of which was a distinctive midwestern character. In looking at the maps in this book the reason becomes clear. Although some people settled in clusters, very few (most notably religious communities) were actually isolated from other populations.

For example, southerners, the first native-born immigrants to populate Illinois, did come to the southern part of the state and a large number of them stayed there, but not all. Many continued on in a northwest pattern in a sort of chain migration. And they didn't just come to Illinois in one jump from, say, North Carolina. They came in short steps to Tennessee, then on to Kentucky, and finally across the river and into Illinois. Some of them left North Carolina because they didn't agree with slave labor in the cotton industry or they thought distilling grain to make liquor was immoral. And some of them had come to North Carolina from Pennsylvania. They moved in small groups, then wrote home or visited and raved about the fertile soil and good prices for land in Illinois, so others followed.

In the early 1800s many Europeans decided to emigrate to Illinois because of travel books, some of which pictured it as a sort of paradise. Fellow Europeans followed later, having been influenced by letters from America or to escape political upheavals or famine. That is one of the major values of this book. Meyer not only documents who came to Illinois, but why they left their previous homes and why they settled in one particular area. …

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