British Rule

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A Brief History of St. Clair County


Chapter II

Under British Rule


by Prof. W. C. Walton
Excerpted from the Centennial History of McKendree College (1928)

From October, 1765, Fort Chartres was an English stronghold instead of a French one. The English did not acquire it by conquest on the premises, but by conquests elsewhere. The victories that gave them Fort Chartres were won, some of them, on the other side of the ocean. The colonies of France and England in the new world had merely taken up a quarrel that started in the old, and fought for their respective mother countries. The French had always succeeded better in getting along with the Indians, so they utilized them as allies to a considerable extent. The British called it the French and Indian War because it was waged against the French and Indians. In the period of colonization of the new world, England had acquired control, by right of discovery and settlement, purchase, or other means, of the colonies along the middle and southern Atlantic coast, leaving to the French only those on the far north. But while England was becoming established east of the Alleghenies, the French slipped around behind them, so to speak, coming down from Canada, and took possession of that great fertile region, the Mississippi Valley. This the English never really conquered, but by the treaty of Fontainebleau the French possessions in America, at least all east of the Mississippi River, were ceded to England. Illinois was so remote and insignificant in the eyes of the English that they were slow to take actual possession. The treaty ceding New France to England was signed Feb. 10, 1763, but it was not till October, 1765, that Captain Stirling, with a small force of Royal Highlanders, came to take actual possession of Fort Chartres, which represented the seat of government so far as there was one in the Illinois country.

The French commander, M. St. Ange, promptly surrendered the fort to its new master and retired to St. Louis. It is stated that all the population of Illinois before the cession did not exceed three thousand and it is estimated that at least one third of these left the country on account of the change in government. The mission of St. Sulspice had a plantation at Prairie Dupont, near Cahokia, together with a saw mill and grist mill for grinding corn. They sold out to a Frenchman, M. Gerardine, who remained under the British government, while the people of the mission returned to France. Capt. Stirlling brought with him the proclamation of Gen. Gage, who was Commander-in-chief of all the British forces in North America. It was dated at New York, Dec. 30, 1764, and was a kind of constitution for the government of Illinois. It granted the right of worship to catholics and many other salutary regulations. Capt. Stirling died a short time after he came to Illinois and was succeeded by Major Frazier, and he by Colonel Reed, who was notorious for his military oppressions. In September, 1768, Colonel Reed arrived at Kaskaskia with authority from General Gage and took charge of the government. He established a Court of Justice and appointed seven judges, and arranged that courts should be held once a month. This was the first court of common law established in the Mississippi Valley. In 1765 the Indian Chief Pontiac was assassinated at Cahokia by an Illinois Indian who was supposed to have been hired by the English, who saw that the powerful influence of the great Indian leader was in the way of British progress. Pontiac was a chief of the Ottawas and probably the greatest Indian leader and organizer who ever lived in North America. It is not strange that a modern motor car company should name their car the Pontiac if they believed in its superiority. Pontiac was born and reared near Detroit. It is said that he had some French blood in his veins and was imbued with deadly hostility to the English. He declared before the Great Spirit, the Master of Life, eternal enmity against the English, as Hannibal of old did against the Romans. Both he and Hannibal were fighting in a most holy cause, the defense of their country; but in each case it proved to be a lost cause and the country was wrested from a helpless people by a merciless enemy. After the French had ceded the country to the English and they were making preparations to occupy it with military force from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi, Pontiac saw at once that the Indians must either defend their country or lose it entirely. He saw that the methods of the English in colonizing the country was different from those of the French. The British drove the Indians out of their homes and hunting grounds, while the French merely shared them with the natives and lived in peace with them. His soul, like that of Patrick Henry, was fired with true patriotism and he conceived the idea of uniting all the Indian tribes in the whole country, at least east of the Mississippi, into one great league, an Indian "League of Nations" for the defense of their common country against the encroachments of the English. It was not an idle dream but the most effective combination of the Indian people ever made upon the continent. It seems wonderful how it could have been carried out to the extent that it was, without the means of rapid communication which the organizers of today have at their command. Pontiac was a master spirit among the Indians. He had military experience at Fort Duquense, in Braddock's defeat, and other occasions during the French and Indian War. He visited all the different tribes in the vast territory concerned, reconciled all the old feuds that existed between the tribes, for the sake of their common interest, and told them what he believed was his message of inspiration from the Great Spirit, who had appeared in a dream and said, "Why do you allow these dogs in red coats to enter your country and take the lands I have given to you? Drive them out, and when you are in trouble I will help you." This Indian Bonaparte was well-acquainted with the country and with the Indian character. He had acquired and well deserved the name of "Emperor" among the Indian nations. He knew the leading warriors of the various tribes, and by the sheer force of his genius and personality without educational training, and without even writing, had organized these widely scattered savages into a wonderfully effective machine of destruction to the English. He knew the situation at each of the English forts and devised the plan of attack accordingly, and in some cases he even appointed the individuals who were to lead in carrying out the plan. The general plan was for the Indians to rise and take all the English forts on the same day, some by open attack and others by stratagem. And this was kept a profound secret except in one instance where a squaw divulged it. . . . There were sixteen forts in the whole British territory, all of which were slated for destruction except Niagara, which the Indians considered too strong for their means of attack. All these forts fell according to the plan of Pontiac except three. It is likely that many of the tribes did not learn of Pontiac's death until after the day appointed for the attack. The degree of success attained by this enterprise under the difficult circumstances involved, would seem to entitle Pontiac to a high place in the temple of fame. If he had a Homer to sing his praises for his war-like achievements, his name would be transmitted to posterity with as much honor and glory as any of the heroes of the Trojan War. The Greeks fought to conquer, but Pontiac fought to defend his country. The English feared Napoleon, so they sent him to St. Helena. They feared Pontiac, and they had him shot, by bribing a savage to murder him in the streets of Cahokia.

Thus fell one of nature's noblemen. His bones now rest near the old deserted village. The Northern Indians held him in the highest estimation. They knew their loss was irreparable. His murder so enraged them that they almost exterminated the whole tribe of Illinois Indians, because it was one of their number who did the deed, and thus robbed them of their friend and protector, the Great Pontiac.

An English trader named Hervey was at Mackinaw when that fort was taken and tells how they did it. It was a strong garrison and provided with cannon. The Indians assembled in large numbers and staged a big ball game, of course according to their own ways of playing. It was a game in which many could take part. They said it was to celebrate the birthday of the English king. They played hilariously for a while and the soldiers of the garrison looked on as interested spectators, unsuspicious of anything unusual about to happen. After a while the ball was thrown over the walls of the fort as if by accident. Immediately a large number of the Indians rushed into the fort to recover the ball. After they were once inside they drew forth their concealed weapons and began a fearful massacre in which all the whites in the fort were slain and scalped except a few French. At Detroit, a friendly squaw revealed the plan of Pontiac to the commander, Major Gladwin, so he was on his guard and the stratagem failed. These narratives indicate that the few English settlers in Illinois during the years immediately following the occupation of the country by the British government had to endure conditions which almost amounted to a state of war with the Indians. The pioneer population did not increase much in the fifteen years of English rule. In the Illinois territory it was considerably decreased by reason of so many French leaving to get away from British rule, and at the same time many of the early settlers retreated to the safer regions in the east on account of the hostility of the Indians against the British.

At the time the English troops came to take possession of Fort Chartres, two young officers, one French and the other English, had a misunderstanding, which led to a bitter quarrel. The trouble arose as in the case of the Trojan War, on account of a lady. In this case they did not have ten years of war first and then let Hector and Achilles fight it out individually, but they had the duel first. It occurred early one Sunday morning just outside the fort. They fought with swords and one of them was killed. The other took a hasty departure down the river and was heard from no more. This was probably the first duel fought on Illinois soil. Unfortunately this method of settling differences was resorted to at intervals in subsequent times until the constitution of 1848 went into effect and this prohibited duelling absolutely.

In the spring of 1772 the Mississippi River, as if to avenge the defeat of the French, overflowed its banks and swept in a mighty flood across the bottom lands. The fort had been built a mile from the shore, but the raging river came after it and the western wall crumbled into the swirling water. The place was now abandoned and the British moved their military stores to the fort opposite Kaskaskia, which was named in honor of the British commander in America, Fort Gage. Kaskaskia continued to be the center of British power and influence until the entire territory passed to the Americans thru the successful expedition of conquest by Col. George Rogers Clarke in 1778. Thus Illinois and St. Clair County were under British rule for a period of fifteen years, from 1763 to 1778. The policy of the English government was to prevent colonists from settling in the newly acquired territory. They desired to turn the vast region into a hunting ground where only British agents could purchase the large quantitites of furs that were annually sold by the Indians. In a proclamation dated Oct. 7, 1763, King George forbade "making any purchases or settlements whatever, or taking possession of any lands beyond the sources of any rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the north or northwest." This policy would have made a perpetual wilderness of a vast region unsurpassed for fertility. However, in violation of the King's proclamation, the British governors permitted companies to purchase lands from the Indians. The Illinois Land Company, composed of English traders and merchants, obtained two vast tracts of land from an Indian council, representing the Kaskaskias, Peorias, and Cahokias, held at Kaskaskia on July 5, 1773. The deed, signed by ten chiefs, each making his mark, gave the white men an immense tract of land embracing many counties of Illinois according to their present boundaries. The consideration paid for this princely domain was, "Two hundred fifty blankets, two hundred sixty stroudes, three hundred fifty shirts, one hundred fifty pairs of stroud and half-thick stockings, one hundred fifty breech cloths, five hundred pounds of gun powder, one thousand pounds of lead, one gross knives, thirty pounds vermillion, two thousand gunflints, two hundred pounds brass kettles, two thousand pounds tobacco, three dozen gilt looking glasses, one gross gunworms, two gross awls, one gross fire steels, sixteen dozen of gartering, ten thousand pounds of flour, five hundred bushels of indian corn, twelve horses, twelve horned cattle, twenty bushels salt, twenty guns, and five shillings in money."

This deed was recorded in the office of a notary public at Kaskaskia, September 2, 1773. This is merely a sample of many such deeds made in this period, and but for the establishing of an independent government by the colonists, the titles might have been sustained by the British government. Colonel Wilkins, a British commander at Kaskaskia, made many grants of Indian lands to his friends. One of these grants, consisting of thirty thousand acres, came into the possession of John Edgar, a British officer who had come to Kaskaskia to engage in mercantile business. This grant was afterward confirmed by Congress and made Mr. Edgar the richest land owner in Illinois and the possessor or a large part of what was afterward Edgar County.

CHAPTER I - Under French Rule

CHAPTER III - The Transition to American Rule

CHAPTER IV - Settlers of the Early Period

CHAPTER V - Early American Settlers of St. Clair County

 

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