1918 Annals - Illinois

By W. F. Boyes

Such gratitude as is due the pioneers of Knox County is likewise due those who had made Illinois a commonwealth of the Union before this county was settled. One of the bitterest and most significant political contests ever waged made Illinois a free state in 1824, and before our county history begins the boundaries had been established and forces set at work that were to make this state a most important factor in the preservation of the Union.

The territory, now Illinois, was claimed by the French from the days of Marquette to the Treaty of Paris in 1763. From 1763 to the conquest of George Rogers Clark it was British territory. The Treaty of 1783 confirmed Clark's conquest and gave Illinois to the United States. But one of the great difficulties of the early government of the nation was the territorial claims of the different states. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia all claimed territory lying within the present State of Illinois. The cession of Virginia was made in 1783.

Kaskaskia, just below the mouth of the Kaskaskia river, and Cahokia, a few miles below East St. Louis, were the earliest permanent settlements. This state was settled by people from the north, east and south. Each of these directions brought its own peculiar characteristics and customs. Two groups of families directly from England settled in Edwards county in 1816 and 1817. It is said that no other district created such wide-spread interest in Europe as the Illinois country.

Upon the British occupation of the territory, many of the French emigrated. Development in Illinois was at a stand for years. The white population within the present state was probably not more than 1,000 in 1800. The most marked development of the country began upon the organization of Illinois as a separate territory. In 1818 the population was about 40,000.

Slavery was introduced into the territory by the French in 1721. Nothing was said in the treaty of cession to Great Britain about slavery but such chattels were held in Illinois as British territory, just as when it was French. The United States in turn agreed to guarantee to the people security in person and effects. So, notwithstanding the ordinance of 1787, slavery was for years a fact. Under the early state government, what was called the Black code recognized the institution and then came the great campaign of 1824, under Governor Coles which made it clear that Illinois was to be a free state.

The Indians within the state caused much trouble at different times. The Ft. Dearborn and Wood River massacres were the most serious. But many lives were taken by Indians during the War of 1812 and later.

At first there were two counties in the present Illinois territory — St. Clair on the west, where most of the inhabitants were, and Knox on the east. Later Randolph was organized from the south part of St. Clair. Then came Clark, Edwards, White, Monroe, Crawford and Jackson. There were fifteen counties when the state was admitted in 1818.

The population of the new state was exceedingly mixed, there were few towns of any importance, the roads were paths through the woods, there were practically no schools and almost nothing in the way of public worship. But the climate, the soil, the natural resources, the great waterways, were here. The progress of the people has been commensurate with the development of the state, and it is to commemorate Knox County's part in this wonderful progress of a hundred years that this book is published. The committee of Knox County Board of Supervisors in charge of the publication is: C. H. Pulver, chairman; Milton Deatherage, and Clarence R. Lacy.

Extracted 15 Dec 2017 by Norma Hass from Annals of Knox County: Commemorating Centennial of Admission of Illinois as a State of the Union in 1818, published in 1921 by the Centennial Historical Association, Knox County, Illinois, The Board of Supervisors, pages 227-228.

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