TERRITORIAL PERIOD

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THE TERRITORIAL PERIOD

 

The governmental infrastructure provided for by the Northwest ordinance of 1787 was not actually implemented until the arrival of Governor St. Clair in 1790. Arthur St. Clair, former president of the Continental Congress, had been appointed governor as part of the agreement with the Ohio Land Company, the Scioto Land Company, and Congress. Why did the land companies have so much influence over the Congress? The Scioto Land Company and the Ohio Land Company, made up of many of the most influential officers in Washington's army, had agreed to buy one and a half million acres of the territory at eight or nine cents an acre. The Continental Congress saw this as an immediate solution to the public debt incurred during the war. In addition, the Ohio Land Company's lobbying force had made a secret deal with a congressional group that wanted five million acres of its own for speculation. That, however, eventually failed (Howard 1972:63).

One of the territorial judges appointed by St. Clair in 1790 was James Piggott. Piggott in many ways epitomized the kind of leader with grand visions shaping the future of the Illinois territory of that day. The biographical information available on this man who was to figure so prominently in East St. Louis history comes from an 1871 lecture by Isaac Piggott, descendant of James Piggott.

Piggott is traced to Connecticut, where he was born and later became a privateer, probably in the French and Indian War. Later, James Piggott moved to what is modern-day Hampshire County, West Virginia, in 1771, but by 1775 he had moved to Bedford County, Pennsylvania, as part of the Ohio Land -Company. He saw action in the Revolutionary War under General Washington as a member of the Pennsylvania Associators mustered in as the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment. After the battle of Germantown in 1777, he was granted a leave due to illness and returned to the frontier to protect his family. Two years later he joined with George Rogers Clark in recruiting settlers for the proposed town of Clarksville near modern-day Wickliffe, Kentucky. Piggott served as trustee for the settlement and captain of the military during the attacks by the Chickasaw Indians. Piggott abandoned the fort in 1782 and brought 17 families to the Illinois Country where they built a new fort near present-day Columbia (Reavis 1876:96-103).

In 1790, Piggott and 45 others petitioned for a "right of preemption," a guarantee that the investment in time and energy the settlers spent in improving the land and holding it despite Indian attacks would be honored when public lands were offered for sale. They wrote "that they had settled since 1783 and had suffered much from the Indians. They could not cultivate their land except under guard. Seventeen families had no more tillable land than four could tend. The land on which they lived was the property of two individuals" (Boggess 1908:71-72).

Many petitions by concerned settlers awaiting the opportunity to acquire official title to the land prompted Congress to pass an act on March 3, 1791. This act allotted four hundred acres "to each head of a family who, in 1783, was resident in the Illinois Country or at Vincennes, and who had since moved from one to the other" or from the territory to the Spanish side of the Mississippi (Boggess 1908:72).

This period of uncertainty in the territory was exploited by the Spanish on the west side of the Mississippi River, who took advantage of the fears of the squatters, immigrants, and French on the east side of the river. The French were told that the United States would free all slaves when Governor St. Clair arrived and offered the French free lands on the west side where slavery was legal. Equally enticing offers of free land, no taxation, and an open market to New Orleans were made to American immigrants in Illinois and Kentucky. The combination of inducements to those who would cross the river and swear Spanish allegiance, and the hardships imposed on those who would not, by closing free navigation of the river, succeeded in acquiring for St. Louis a large population at the expense of the Illinois territory (Boggess 1908: 63,71).

This Spanish aggression in the west was a ploy to maneuver the separation of Kentucky from the United States. Spain realized that such a method would win far more converts that would outright takeover. The extreme hardships on commercial ventures in the territories posed by the Spanish closure of the Mississippi River tended to win the allegiance of the ambitious entrepreneurs and wealthy slaveowners, as well as debtors fleeing the French settlements (Boggess 1908:50, 73). It was in this climate of American uncertainty and Spanish subterfuge that James Piggott maneuvered to accomplish a commercial coup on the muddy shore of the Mississippi River between two rival foreign countries.

 

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