|This painting depicts the first contact between French
fur traders and Native Americans. It has served to convey the idea
of European contact with Native Americans for many years.
French Cahokia, founded in 1699, was not the first French outpost, but it was the earliest settlement that survived more than a few years. Kaskaskia was the next place French settlers built, and it was followed by a series of east bank towns at Prairie du Pont, Fort Vincennes and Fort Chartres on the Wabash River. Settlements by the French on the west bank of the Mississippi included New Madrid (then known as Ainse de la Graise or "Greasy Bend") and St. Genevieve. These were followed by St. Louis, St. Charles, Carondelet in 1767, St. Ferdinand (now Florissant) and Portage des Sioux. Settlement increased after the late eighteenth century and the end of the American Revolution.
|Pen and Ink drawing of Illinoistown circa 1800|
As settlers reached the American Bottom there were those who established homes within the Mississippi River's flood plain, on the eastern shore. At the time, the area was swampy and prone to flooding. Most settlers preferred the higher and better draining Missouri side of the river. We know the identity of only a few of the first Illinois settlers. The historical record begins in detail with the forceful presence of a single man, James Piggott, who, while instrumental to the region's development, certainly benefited from the help of his family and the other settlers of the area.
James Piggott took the long view regarding the development of Illinois territory. Born in Connecticut, his fortunes took him further west throughout his life. He served in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment. After his military service he joined George Rogers Clark recruiting families to live in the proposed town of Clarksville, close to present day Wickliffe, Kentucky. Chickasaw Native Americans forced the abandonment of this endeavor in 1782 and Piggott moved with seventeen families to Illinois territory.
In 1790 Illinois territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair made Piggott a territorial judge. He settled in Cahokia and soon began the business of providing ferry service crossing the Mississippi to the more developed St. Louis side. The ferry operation continued long after Piggott's death in 1799, later being operated by his sons and eventually absorbed into the Wiggins Ferry monopoly.