History & Architecture

Having read a number of encouraging comments from readers about the origins of Springfield in the last issue of Abe’s last issue, this bi-monthly issue goes back even further to outline the origins of Illinois itself. The entire history of the United States is relatively new in comparison to that of ancient countries in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East. In comparison, just think how recent the history of Illinois is. Europeans first inhabited America just 400 years ago, the territory that would become Illinois reached Statehood less than 200 years ago.

Pioneer Illinois

The first white settlers to visit the State of Illinois, when it was still a vast, unexplored region of North America, were French fur traders traveling south from Canada. Trappers and missionaries traveling the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers made it possible for France to be the first European nation to lay claim to the territory. During the French reign over the region, towns like St. Louis and Kaskaskia were settled by these explorers. The French ruled the region from the 1600’s until the mid-eighteenth century when the entire Old Northwest was ceded to the British following the French and Indian War.

That which would later be known as the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio became a United States territory following the American Revolution. Peace with England did not, however, bring America clear title to the trans-Appalachian west as a dozen native tribes also claimed the region. On August 3, 1795, the Treaty of Greenville supposedly settled the issue by creating boundaries west of a line drawn through the northwestern portion of the modern state of Ohio to be respected by both the natives and white settlers. The Native American tribes of the Old Northwest ceded their claim to land south of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. The United States, in turn, relinquished their claim to the land north of the Ohio’s River, south of the Great Lakes, east at the Mississippi River, and Concessions were made to allow natives to hunt on the land they ceded while whites were permitted to establish trading posts in the region they ceded. White settlers from the United States, however, continued to look further west with the hope of recreating the success of earlier settlers. In the years that followed the United States entered into numerous additional treaties with Native American tribes in an attempt to regain the rights to the land originally ceded in the Treaty of Greenville.

By the start of the nineteenth century, Illinois land was a portion of the Indiana Territory and remained so until 1809 when Congress created a separate Illinois Territory. During the territorial period, Illinois was being settled by additional frontiersmen. Their scattered settlements were generally located in the southern most portions of the region. The majority of Illinois settlers had come from the south, most through Kentucky and many originating in southern states like Virginia and North Carolina. Although many settlers had come overland from Kentucky, water was still the primary means of long distance transportation and communication. As a result the territorial capital of Illinois was located on the Mississippi River at Kaskaskia. Much like the great river, the people of Illinois were often better acquainted with the cities of St. Louis and New Orleans than the eastern metropolises of Boston or New York. It was not until the 1840s that Chicago would become a prominent location and northern settlers would make their way to Illinois in great numbers.

For any United States Territory to petition Congress for statehood, under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, a minimum population quota of 60,000 had to be reached. Territories were carved into smaller portions with the hope that the requisite number of inhabitants would quickly be garnered. According to some, Illinois territorial officials may have anxiously inflated their numbers, generally estimated at less than 40,000 around 1817, to allow Illinois to be admitted to the Union earlier than what was then allowed.

Early in 1818, Nathaniel Pope, the Illinois Territory’s delegate in Congress, presented a petition of Illinois residents praying for admission of Illinois into the Union. In April, 1818, people of Illinois learned that Congress had passed enabling legislation, with which the path to statehood started. Illinois voters then elected representatives to a convention, to be held at the territorial capital of Kaskaskia that August, for the purpose of drafting a state constitution. After twenty one days in session, those elected representatives drafted a constitution that would go on to govern Illinois for the next thirty years.

To mark the convention’s adjournment and the coming statehood, a celebration was held outside the capitol in Kaskaskia. In the presence of Illinois officials and convention delegates, a cannon was fired twenty times to represent each state in the Union. The salute was concluded with one final shot from the cannon to commemorate the admission of Illinois into the Union as the twenty-first state. Approval of the constitution by Congress and the election of state officials were all that remained before Illinois was admitted to full statehood on December 3, 1818.

For more information, see:

“Treaty of Greenville,” Ohio History Central Website.

An often overlooked piece of American history, the Treaty of Greenville is important to both the settlement of the Great Lakes states and the United States Government. According to many, the treaty was significant because it gave the U. S. unquestioned jurisdiction over much of the modern state of Ohio, thereby assuring the safety of settlers who had begun to arrive in the area. The Greenville Treaty also gave the federal government real authority in the region while acknowledging certain rights and privileges of Native Americans, among them the right to hunt on land ceded to whites and a share of $9,500 in goods, paid for by the federal government, every year. Although it is said General Anthony Wayne, the American who negotiated the treaty, claimed the treaty would stand, “as long as the woods grow and waters run,” American settlers were reluctant to honor the treaty to the full extent of the law. American’s settled on lands guaranteed by the treaty to native tribes and soon the U.S. government was negotiating additional treaties to gain title to those lands originally ceded in 1795.