BRITISH AND SPANISH

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BRITISH AND SPANISH CONTROL OF THE MISSISSIPPI VALLEY

 

In 1763, the same year of the Treaty of Paris, Pierre LaClede founded the city of St. Louis on the west bank of the Mississippi opposite Cahokia. Though he had been awarded monopoly privileges to trade with the Missouri Indians, the eight year grant was revoked by the Treaty of Paris. However, LaClede and the trading post prospered all the same. With the fall of Fort de Chartres to the British, St. Louis was made the seat of Spanish government and the military headquarters of upper Louisiana. The population was quickly augmented by an exodus of French from the east bank towns who preferred Spanish rule to British, and by those who feared losing their slaves to new government reform (Howard 1972:44).

Despite the paranoia of the French in St. Louis, many of the Illinois French remained on the east bank of the river and the still profitable fur trade was impetus enough for renewed settlement in the Illinois region. In 1765, Richard McCarty obtained a tract of land consisting of 400 acres for a mill and trading post on Cahokia Creek near present day Illinois and St. Clair Avenues. The settlement was named Post St. Ursule, in honor of his French-Canadian wife (Bond 1969:7). There is very little information on the inhabitants of this early settlement, though elsewhere in the American Bottoms the population was dominated by French, Indians, and Blacks. For instance, in 1771 Kaskaskia was reported to have 500 while and between 400 and 500 black inhabitants; Prairie du Rocher had 100 whites and 80 blacks; Fort de Chartres had "very few" inhabitants; St. Phillippe only consisted of 2 or 3 families; and at Cahokia there were 300 whites and 80 blacks. Located near these settlements were large numbers of Indians, mainly of the Kaskaskia, Peoria, and Mitchigamia tribes that reportedly had "degenerated into a drunken and debauched tribe, and so indolent, as scarcely to procure a sufficiency of skins and furs to barter for clothing" (Boggess 1908:12).

For the most part these French settlements were little affected by the change to British government in 1763. The British were too involved with Indian problems in the Ohio River valley to be concerned with the Mississippi Valley settlements. The Indian uprising known as Pontiac's Conspiracy was in response to tight British restrictions on trade and an influx of English settlers via Tennessee and Kentucky to the Ohio Valley despite an official ban on settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains (Howard 1972:43-46). After a succession of brilliant victories in capturing 10 British forts, Pontiac's army bogged down, and in 1769 Pontiac was assassinated by a Peoria Indian in Cahokia (Howard 1972:44).

The new lands between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River were an enticement for land speculation and commercial ventures by wealthy influential men who saw Pontiac's defeat as preliminary to removal of the ban on settlement in the Ohio River valley. A quick review of the get-rich-quick land speculation companies during this period reads like a "who's who" list of famous American leaders. Howard (1972) reports that "George Washington and his brother and the Lee Family of Virginia were partners in a company aspiring to take title to two and a half million acres ... of southern Illinois, western Kentucky, and Tennessee. Benjamin Franklin and his son William invested in a Pennsylvania company that sought possession of 1.2 million acres in the west" (Howard 1972:46). Daniel Boone working as a land agent for Judge Richard Henderson schemed to buy from the Cherokee Indians much of present-day Kentucky and Tennessee (Collins 1975:150). These land speculations were premature and most of them never proceeded further than organization on paper (Howard 1972: 46).

In addition to land speculation, the exploitation of the interior revealed a new level of merchandising. As licensed commercial firms pushed into the region from the east, the French monopoly on trade, hitherto unchallenged in the Mississippi Valley, became weakened. In the American Bottoms, the Philadelphia house of Baynton, Wharton, and Morgan established a store at Kaskaskia with branches at Vincennes and Cahokia run by George Morgan (Howard 1972:46-47).

 

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