The Sangamo Frontier: History and Archaeology in the Shadow of Lincoln

By Robert Mazrim | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
The Americans

In the fall of 1778, after their mission to capture Illinois was complete, Clark's men returned home to Virginia. They told their neighbors and their in-laws of what they had seen, and over the winter some decided to pack up their families and return west. These families would become the first Americans to settle Illinois. There was by no means a tidal wave of immigration—that would come later. Between 1779 and 1786, fewer than seventy American families actually settled in the region.1 But this was the beginning.

In 1787 the lands bordered on the west by the Mississippi River, on the east by Pennsylvania, on the north by the lower Great Lakes, and on the south by the Ohio River were recognized as the Northwest Territory of the United States. Three years later, the county of St. Clair was created within the territory, encompassing the old French and new American settlements along the east bank of the Mississippi. In 1800, the Indiana Territory was established, and then in 1809, the Illinois Territory was created from its western half. The French village of Kaskaskia, over a century old at that time, became the new territorial seat of government.

The first American settlers of Illinois set up housekeeping in what still looked and felt like a French place. The antiquity of the region was immediately obvious to most. John Reynolds (who arrived as a child and would later become governor of Illinois) compared the strangeness of

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