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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Early History of Illinois

Sidney Breese

published by E. B. Myers & Company,
Chicago, 1884

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 12
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p133  Chapter XI

La Salle obtains the patronage of Louis XIV to colonize the Mississippi

These discoveries, opening to the view of a restless world such a country as this, watered by the Mississippi and its many large tributaries, naturally excited a desire to know more of it, and either to share with its lawful proprietors its vast and manifold advantages, or make an exclusive appropriation of them.

The enlightened, christianized and intelligent white man could never acquiesce in the belief that such a fair creation as this was intended to be the red man's heritage, to be roamed over and hunted upon "by him and his heirs forever," or that such could be the habendum et tenendum of his patent, consequently when the discovery was made known in Canada by La Salle on his return in 1683, and in France in the same year, the views, not only of those who are generally and most easily  p134 influenced by such representations as he must have made, but those of royalty also, were excited to its importance and directed thitherward.

That portion of the valley, however, which most attracted the royal regard, and that of his ministers, was the southern, possessing the advantages of an extensive border on the gulf, adjacent also to his West India possessions, and the country itself inviting enterprise by its apparent fertility and mild climate and by the rich internal treasures supposed to be concealed within it.

Accordingly it was not difficult for La Salle to procure the royal assent and patronage to an effort to colonize, that such an undertaking, if successful, would, in conformity with a well-known principle, then constantly acted upon, give the French king lawful possession of all the country watered by the river whose mouth he occupied and controlled, and for this purpose only, no other effort at colonization was necessary, and, therefore, no post was established in the upper part of the valley by royal authority, nor any measures taken by government, for many years after its discovery,  p135 to appropriate it or to exercise any dominion whatever over it.

The contrary of this is, I know, the general opinion, it being often asserted that soon after his return Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria and other points were selected by the government of France as "a cordon of posts" to aid in the accomplishment of the design said to have been then entertained by it — on failing to plant the standard of Louis on the shores of the Pacific — to connect this valley and the Gulf of Mexico with his Canadian possessions — to people it and thus render it a strong counterpoise to the power of the English, then displaying itself on the eastern side of the Alleghanies.

But the very points named would seem to me to dissipate any such idea. They were situated at unequal and remote distances from each other, in the direction of Canada, and there were none intervening the gulf and Kaskaskia, a distance of more than one thousand miles, except one at the Arkansas, and therefore too scattered to be links in such a chain of connection, and not calculated to give efficiency and stability, either to a colonial or even to a military system.

 p136  They furnish no evidence of having been brought into life by the genius of a Colbert, and mark in no degree a vast and magnificent governmental conception. Their origin was far more humble — the cloister and the counting-room had more to do with it than the royal cabinet.

Some zealous, prying, adventurous Jesuit was the instrument — he smoothed the way for the trader and his "fire-water," and he in turn lured others here by the warm buffalo robes, rich beaver-skins, and huge packs of peltries he sent to Quebec and to France.

In this way a little nucleus was first formed at each missionary station — specks only in the vast ocean of verdure by which they were surrounded — the first shoots from the seed borne in Marquette's barque — the first dawning of civilization in the then untrodden western wilds.

Cartier, the discoverer of Canada, recommended to the few colonists he left there, to gain the good-will of the natives by all the means in their power, and to identify themselves with them by intermarriages, and his advice was followed. Here it was not forgotten, and matrimonial alliances gave strength to those founded on mere friendship or policy.

 p137  Others brought wives with them from Canada and by gradual action of this kind, in the progress of years, little communities grew up. Then came some few of the restless and dissatisfied of the old world, on whose surface floated many worthless particles, each heave of its billow casting some of them into this nidus where they rapidly germinated, growing by neglect, as ill weeds do, and waxing strong on the rich aliment around them.

The Jesuit missionary was led hither by the self-same fervid zeal and resolute daring that prompted the brethren of that order to visit China, Tartary, the lone islands of the ocean, and all other parts of the globe, and it was irrepressible; the trader from a burning desire of gain and that was insatiable; the others from those various motives which prompt and control some members of every social community to change their position, and that is organic.

The crucifix and the "fire-water" were unquestionably the first symbols of civilization in this valley, and no government designs are perceptible at this period, whilst those of a religious order are, Indian villages having been  p138 first selected, and the very places likely to attract the notice of the Jesuit missionaries.

Whatever may have been the errors or the crimes of the Jesuits, whilst playing their parts on the great theater of the old world, they seem, on the more restricted one of this continent, to have been prompted in their labors by a pure spirit of philanthropy, stimulated to a high tone by the truly miserable and degraded condition in which they found its native occupants. It would be but common charity to believe they were influenced alone by a sincere desire to raise them from this degradation, by the influence of that religion they professed, and whose wonder-working power they so well knew how to apply. That trait in the savage character — that organic infatuation he possessed, exhibiting itself in a foolish fondness for show, for pictures, for gaudy decorations, for ceremonies, songs, and such like appeals to his senses, had not been overlooked, at an early day, by the sagacious and crafty Jesuits, and they made it the portal by which to enter into their simple and childlike affections.

The captivating ceremonials of the Romish Church was an admirable instrument to accomplish  p139 this, more potent far than grave theological disquisitions with their "medicine‑men," or all the homilies they could preach from their sylvan pulpits, and more affecting than the most fervent prayer read from their little breviaries.

How could these simple forest children resist the influence which is shed over almost every one who witnesses the nuptial, the baptismal, or the funeral rites of that Church? or the imposing ceremonies of the sacrifice of the Mass, the illuminated altar with the officiating priest in full canonical vestments — the silver chalice, which, with so many genuflexions and solemn obeisances, he places to his lips — the solemn song going to the heart and ravishing one sense, whilst the incense widely diffused by its bearer regales another, all in combination with the carved crucifix, exhibiting our Savior in his suffering; how could these fail to soften their hearts and to prompt them, not only to forsake worship of their idols for this worship, but to cling with affection to those who practiced it?

Before the advent of the Jesuits, they had seen their God only in the clouds, and had heard him only in the winds, now he was revealed  p140 to them, and their fancied "Manitou" fell from their affections, and lost his power, and with it they soon became powerless also.

Like the wild fig‑tree of Florida, a creeper at first, entwining its tendrils around some monarch of the forest, smothering it in its meshes and feeding upon its decaying fibers, becomes itself a beautiful and a stately tree, so did these humble but persevering men, by their own peculiar process, become the undisputed lords of this vast and fertile region.

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Page updated: 11 Sep 16