The First People
The Mound Builders
The Mound Builders were evidenced by the mounds they left all across Illinois, and into other surrounding states. Their populations were numerous, and from their astronomical devices, similar to Stonehenge and other astronomical sites in Europe, it would appear they had a fairly advanced culture. Their culture was so old that even the Native Americans, who populated North America when the Europeans arrived, had no knowledge of their culture. What we know about the Mound Builders is interpreted entirely from their mounds and the object found within them.
The Algonquin people were Americans who migrated north from Central and South America long before the Spanish conquered those lands. They were distinct from two other races of Native Americans who lived in what is now the Western United States, and also in the Northeastern Unitied States and Eastern Canada. These distinctions are broad and without specific boundaries; it is likely the early American peoples were of the same early genetic stock, but became genetically isolated over time.
"Algonquin" refers to a common language. Various tribes had their own languages, but certain elements of their languages were shared. The Algonquins inhabited what is today the Eastern and Midwest United States. These boundaries are also very general, and there were exceptions to the rules, as there was no organized government or boundaries of any kind in all of North America.
On this website, we are particularly concerned with a group of tribes who became known as the Illinis. The word, "Illini," means "real men," or "superior men." The Illinois confederacy consisted of five tribes, the Peorias, Cahokias, Tammarais, Mitchigamies, and the Kaskaskias. It was from the Illinis people that Illinois land was purchased by the British.
The French are Welcomed
Contrary to popular belief, the Europeans are not the people who decimated the Native American populations of North America. Long before the Europeans arrived, and even after their arrival, the Iroquois Indians regularly made raids on the Illinoisans and other Native American tribes in what is now the Eastern United States. The Iroquois were ruthless, and they slaughtered entire villages at a time, and either left the bodies and loot to rot, or they would sometimes takes slaves and haul the loot back to their own villages to trade the spoils with others.
Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to arrive in the Midwest in 1540, but it was the French who made the first European settlements along the Mississippi from 1686 to 1699. Gradually, the French expanded their settlements up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and built Fort Chartres sixteen miles north of Kaskaskia in 1718. The French military was then able to defend Kaskaskia, which was on a section of land that was surrounded on three sides by the wide Mississippi river, which made a natural moat around the settlement.
The peaceful Cahokia and Kasaskia Indians, having been ravaged by the Iroquois for so long, welcomed the French and made an alliance with them. The French brought with them their Catholic religion, and their Jesuit priests succeeded in making the Kaskaskians receptive to their faith, although the Native Americans did not directly embrace Christianity. For seventy years and multiple generations, the French and the Indians intermarried and shared their cultures. Although the merged culture followed the Catholic faith, there were some who lived at Kaskaskia according to Western culture, and there were those French and Indian descendants who lived across the Mississippi River in Ste Genevieve County, and in a community called Bois Brule, which followed the Native American culture. Bois Brule is a French phrase meaning, "mixed race," and specifically refers to the mixture of French and Indian races.
A pioneer is a person sent out by a military or government to establish a community so that others may follow. To be a pioneer, the military or government must have legal authority to authorize the improvement of that land. The purpose of the French colony was to expand the influence of France, and so the men and women of these French and Indian settlements were French pioneers, and not pioneers of what became the State of Illinois within the United States of America. However, many of the French and Indian descendants did become United States citizens as we shall see, and whether by intent or default, they became pioneers of the State of Illinois.
The French Cede to the British
On 10 Feb 1763, a treaty of cession of New France, except a small portion of Louisiana, was made between Great Britain and France, and thereby the Illinois country passed to the government of Great Britain. The British did not physically occupy Fort Chartres until, 1765, and when they did, they renamed it Fort Gage. The British did not have their full heart and soul invested in this territory, and apparently did not appreciate its strategic value.
Whereas the French made a strong effort to be friends with the Native Americans of Illinois, the British did not. Pontiac, the celebrated Indian chief of the Ottawa Nation, had French blood. He was an aspiring leader who could have united the Native Americans in defense of their homeland, but was assassinated by a Peoria Indian in 1765.
Other warring Indian tribes organized to selectively antagonize and slaughter the British settlers. However, the Indians could not tell the difference between the rising revolutionary Virginians and the British people, as all the whites came from the same place. Any white person who moved into the Illinois territory was likely to be killed by the Kickapoos and Mascouten tribes. It was estimated that during the 1700s, one in ten white settlers were killed by the Indians, and in the most brutal ways.
In an effort to deal with the Indians, who were fighting for their homeland, the British gradually purchased the Illinois land from the various native tribes.
After the Revolutionary War got underway in Massachusetts 19 Apr 1775 and developed into a full blown war between the British and the Colonial settlers, the British were losing ground in the East. The triumphant Virginians, who claimed ownership of a large swath of land from Virginia to the Mississippi River, considered Illinois to be one of its counties. The Virginia leaders sent George Rogers Clark with a small army of men to take Fort Gage (previously Fort Chartres) from the British, which they did on 4 Jul 1778, and without firing a single bullet.
And it was from the moment of George Rogers Clarks' victory in taking Fort Gage that the plan to colonize Illinois for the United States, began. Col. Clark was given authority to establish order as he saw fit, and allowed the French/Indian residents of Kaskaskia and Cahokia to keep their homes, and to practice their religions as long as they swore an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, which most residents did. It was from this moment, that the French and Indian descendants who stayed in Illinois contributed to the pioneering effort of preparing Illinois to become a new State in the Union.
Illinois officially became the 21st State in the Union on 3 Dec 1818. From this day forward, Illinois became an official government with no unincorporated territories left for pioneer development. The counties of Illinois had yet to be defined and refined, and the cities and villages had yet to be incorporated and built, but the legal structure under the Illinois State Constitution had been established, and Illinois was from then on governed by elected Governors who, through the electorate, had legal control over their new State.
After Illinois became a State, the newcomers would be called early citizens. The pioneers who still survived would be seen as the heroes who braved the wild country, and who paved the way for future generations of our advancing civilization. From then on, the use of the word "pioneer" for describing people who happened to be first in their field, would be used only as a metaphor, and to not literally be taken as the rugged individual whose extraordinary courage and strength was essential for taming the wild land of the territory.