Cultural Illinois

The Illinois Country was part of the Northwest Territory, which stretched for the Ohio River Valley north to the Canadian border, and west from Ohio to the Mississippi River. British and American settlers began arriving there in the early 1700s. In 1800, the western part of the territory was reorganized into the Indiana Territory, of which Illinois was a part. The Territory of Illinois was formed in 1809.

Last Years of French Rule
The cultural, political, and legal landscape of Illinois was in transition in 1803. French occupation of Illinois had been waning in the 1790s. French citizens were leaving for St. Louis and other towns west of the Mississippi River. New Euro-American and European immigrants from the east and south slowly replaced them. In a 1795 report, Andre Michaux stated that there were only three American families in St. Phillipe, 45 families in Kaskaskia, about 22 families in Prairie du Rocher, and that Fort de Chartres was in ruins.


1778 - 1779

George Rogers Clark’s former soldiers settled in the once-French villages and at Bellefontaine in Monroe County.

- 1787

About 150 backwoodsmen settled in Illinois.


James Lemen founded New Design, also in Monroe county, in a Virginian-style settlement that attracted newcomers (154 in 1797).


Slow immigration of friends and relatives of settlers occurred. Native Americans were often hostile to immigrants. The land was unsurveyed and not for sale. County borders were set:


The population tripled along the American Bottom to 12,000. Most newcomers settled along the edge of the forests. The Illinois Territory (which also included Wisconsin and northeast Minnesota), was established. A Land office was established in Kaskaskia.

Northwest Territories

In 1795 Governor St. Clair developed the territorial legal code based on English Common Law. It included laws intended to:

· promote better transport systems such as ferries and roads.
· prevent sales to Native Americans.
· provide bounties on wolves and other livestock predators.
· regulate and promote new and better grain mills.
· prohibit the setting of prairie fires in the name of protecting humans and structures.

From 1795 to 1809, Native Americans signed treaties that ceded 40 million acres of land in the Illinois Country to the federal government. Several tribes united with the Kaskaskia Indians ceded most of their land in the Illinois Country to the United States. In exchange, they were to receive a yearly annuity, a priest and church, and the protection of the United States government.

Illinois Country of the Indiana Territory

In 1800, the U. S. Congress created the Indiana Territory that included the Illinois Country. At that time, Native Americans tribes inhabited the Illinois country. The tribes included the Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, and Potawatomi tribes in the northern part of what is now the state of Illinois, the Kickapoo tribe in the central part, the Piankashaws in the southeast, and in the southwest, some Peoria, Piankashaws, and the Kaskaskias.

The non-Indian population of Illinois was about 1,000 English-speakers, scattered in small settlements in Massac, Eagle, Belle Fontaine, and what would become Monroe County. The remaining French were clustered in Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, and Peoria.

Land Ownership in Illinois in 1800
Prior to 1804, Euro-American settlers usually squatted on land and attempted to "improve" it. Many planned to register their land when the state was surveyed. Initially, public lands were not sold because of disputed claims of Native Americans, requirements of the Ordinance of 1785 that granted lands to heads of families and Revolutionary War veterans, and disputes caused by previous land grants by the Spanish, the French, and Virginia. Some settlers bought title to improved land from previous residents, such as the French. In 1804, federal law initiated public domain land sales. A land office opened in Kaskaskia.

Euro-American settlers moved into the forested edges along the prairie. They needed to have timber to build houses and outbuildings. They plowed the soil around the forests (which they thought were more fertile than the prairie), cut the timber, fished the waterways, and harvested sap, fruit, and nuts from trees. There were wild grapes, mushrooms, and berries to harvest and fowl and mammals to hunt. Settlers raised crops of corn, wheat, and oats for their own use and to sell at market. Some raised hogs and chickens.