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The First European Settlement in Illinois

The French


Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored the shores of Peoria.


Robert Cavalier Sieur de LaSalle and Henri de Tonti constructed Fort Crevecoeur on the east bank of the Illinois River.


Old Peoria's Fort and Village


Tonti and Francois Daupin de LaForest built Fort St. Louis II (frequently called Fort Pimiteoui) believed to have been located at the foot of Mary and Adams Streets.  The Immaculate Conception Mission was established here by Jesuit missionaries.  A village grew up around the fort.  This first European settlement in Illinois had trading posts, a blacksmith shop, a chapel, a winepress, and a windmill.

During the 1760's Jean Baptiste Maillet, a French-Canadian, assumed a leadership role in the village.  In 1773 Maillet sold his property to Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, Peoria's most notable black settler, who later founded Chicago.

With British victory in the French & Indian War in 1763, France relinquished the Illinois Territory to Great Britain.  However, the British did not effectively take immediate control and the French villagers remained.  In 1778 George Rogers Clark captured the Illinois Country for Virginia, and in 1784 Virginia ceded the Territory to the United States.


The New Village


General Clark appointed Maillet military commander in 1778.  Maillet moved 1.5 miles south of the old village and built a fortified house.  This settlement later became known as "LaVille de Maillet."  It is now the site of downtown Peoria.  The New Village had log houses and barns surrounded by gardens, orchards, and roaming farm animals.  Carpenter, blacksmith, cobbler, carriage, and trading shops lined the narrow streets.  The French villagers had also constructed a large windmill, winepress, an underground wine vault, and a gilt-lettered wilderness chapel.


The War of 1812


American forces thought the French villagers were supporting Indian skirmishes with the westward-bound pioneers.  In October 1812, they massacred the inhabitants of Chief Black Partridge's village.  A few weeks later, the Americans burned French Peoria to the ground, took the inhabitants captive, and transported them down river to Alton.  These acts were later condemned and the French villagers were compensated for their losses by an act of the United States Congress.  The Native Americans, who for centuries had enjoyed the bounty of the Pimiteoui valley, were forced to abandon it and migrate west.

Next:  American Arrival

Text provided by Dr. Peter J. Couri, Jr. for the Peoria brochure commemorating the Peoria Area Tricentennial Celebration, September 1991-September 1992.

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