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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Early History of Illinois

by
Sidney Breese

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

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Chapter 18
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p177  Chapter XVII

The Royal India Company surrenders their privileges to the Crown, April, 1732, all real control with the Jesuits; a new company organized, and Illinois made a French dependency

In the following year, on the 14th of June, 1723, they granted to the celebrated Philip Renaut, who was the director-general of the mining explorations of the company — a man of talents, enterprise and fortune — a league square of land in the south-west part of what is now the county of Monroe, and a large tract of more than fourteen thousand acres at Pimitoui or Peoria. He was a great favorite of the company, and had expended a fortune in the vain pursuit of silver and gold for their coffers, but was content at last with these barren acres and dull lead in lieu of the glittering ores.

On the first-named grant, Renaut established a little village, and as is the fashion in more modern times, honored it by his own baptismal  p178 name — St. Philip. It was on the rich alluvion and had its "common field" there, the allotments made by himself and within five miles of Fort Chartre, then just erected on a small scale, and with no view to durability or strength; within its shade grew up "Chartre Village," as it was called, with its "common field" also, and "commons" embracing a large scope of the unappropriated domain, and with a chapel served by a Franciscan friar and dedicated to St. Anne.

Not a vestige of these two villages now remain, save some asparagus yearly putting forth its slender stem upon the open prairie.

Some once cultivated shrubs and trees now mingling their foliage with the wild.

"Amidst their bowers destruction's hand is seen,

And desolation saddens all their green;

No busy steps their grass grown foot-ways tread,

But all the bloomy flush of life is fled."

To Boisbriant himself, "the company," shortly before the surrender of their privileges, granted what would have been in Europe a handsome principality, embracing a large tract of rich alluvion, extending from the bluffs to the Mississippi, and containing several thousand acres.

 p179  He transferred it in 1733 to his nephew, Jean St. Therese Langlois, an officer of the French troops then quartered in this colony. Pursuing Renaut's plan, Langlois, an officer of the French troops then quartered in this colony. Pursuing Renaut's plan, Langlois established the little village of Prairie du Rocher upon it, so named from the massy wall of rock which bounds it on the east, and reserving to himself certain seignorial rights recognized by the feudal system, and by the customs of Paris; he divided it into small narrow allotments, as in the other "common fields," to actual cultivators whose descendants still labor in it, and the village continues to exist, with no brilliant prospect of great advancement.

But few grants of any magnitude, besides these, were made by the "Royal India Company." The land mania is a disease of modern origin; if it had prevailed then those exposed to its influence might have possessed dukedoms.

Mons. Deliette succeeded Boisbriant as commandant,a having been appointed as early as 1727, and the latter became lieutenant-governor of Louisiana.

The government of the India Company continued until the 10th of April, 1732, at which  p180 time they surrendered their vast privileges to the crown, its members being content to seek in the other hemisphere more profitable fields for enterprise than this wilderness presented.

Their sway here was more in name than in fact, for setting aside their power to grant lands, all real control over the minds and wills of the people was with the Jesuits. Their business pursuits were but little interfered with, and no arbitrary or forced examinations of their little abundance were made. They did not find, as is too often the case in others, in this overshadowing monopoly, whose sole principle of aggregation was wealth, a cruel and a heartless tyrant, ready and willing, in the various modes such a corporation can devise, to plunder them of their small revenues, or oppress them in any form. In their relation to it, it was as the benefactor and the benefited, and though the fortunes of its proprietors were wrecked by it, the colony itself received a new and an immense impulse from its varied operations.

A new government was organized by the crown for Louisiana, which severed it from New France, and Illinois was made a dependency  p181 of it. The officers were a governor, an intendant and a royal council, all appointed by the king, and to the governor was intrusted the power of appointing the commandant over this dependency.

The first one under the new regime was Major D'Artaguette, who then but a young man, had distinguished himself in 1729, five years before his appointment, by his gallantry in the war of extermination with the Natchez Nation. He was made "commandant general" for the king in the province of the Illinois in 1734, and had not, as his predecessors had, a flowery path to tread, or to waste his life in profitless inaction.

The Chicasas upon the lower Mississippi had preferred an alliance with the English, and by artful emissaries of that nation had been stirred up to deeds of rapine and blood against the French colonists. They were intermediate the gulf and the posts here, also, and the crown desired to remove this obstacle to a free and a safe intercourse, for whilst ever they remained, just so long would the communication be attended with great peril, and numbers fall victims to their tomahawks and scalping-knives.

 p182  Their successes had made them bold, insolent and confident in their strength, and presented an insuperable bar to the complete dominion of the French over this valley.

By the order of the king an invasion of their country was projected with a determination to reduce them to submission, and to make them friends, or else to exterminate them altogether.

Great preparations were made by Bienville, governor of Louisiana, who seems to have been a timid and an irresolute man, to render the invasion successful, for in addition to the forces raised in that province, D'Artaguette was summoned with his chosen troops from the Illinois. He obeyed the call with his usual alacrity, taking with him that flower of Canadian chivalry, the gallant Vinsenne, then the commandant at the isolated post which, now a flourishing town, still bears his honored name.

In May, 1736, D'Artaguette, with Vinsenne, Senat, a Jesuit priest, and fifty French soldiers, and a thousand Indian allies reached, unperceived by the enemy, into the heart of their country, and impatiently waited for ten days the arrival of Bienville, but he did not make his appearance.

 p183  His Indian allies threatening to leave him unless he made an attack, D'Artaguette consented that one should be made. The Indian intrenchments and fastnesses were carried, one after another, when in the moment of victory he received a wound which disabled him, upon which his allies fled.

The priest, Senat, might have escaped also, and with him the chivalric Vinsenne, but the former, true to his profession, remained to console the wounded and dying, whilst the devotion of the latter to his valiant and unfortunate leader forbade him to leave him while in such imminent peril — he preferred rather to share his captivity, and, if necessary, die by his side.

They with others of that gallant band were taken prisoners and finally burnt at the stake. The Indians were not subdued, and for years afterward they continued to annoy these colonists and interrupt their trade between them and New Orleans.

Whilst Vinsenne was commandant at the post, called before his time, "Chippecoke," or Brushwood, a wilderness village was growing up on the verdant plain skirting the eastern bank of  p184 the river which flows by it. It was then a lovely, yet a secluded spot, far removed from the villages on the Mississippi, and for many years a mere stopping place for the voyageurs and traders and missionaries from Canada, who might come by the route of the Maumee. It being a central point to the Mascoutins — a branch of the Miami nation — caused its selection as early as 1710 or 1712, as a missionary post, at which Father Mermet labored.

There was a small stockade there also, called "a fort," but I presume it was nothing more than a secure place erected by some enterprising trader, for his own purposes; for a fort, in the military sense of that word, was as useless there then as it would be now.

Before the arrival of Vinsenne, as commandant, about the time of the surrender of the charter of the India Company to the crown in 1732 or 1733, but little was known of this post. The priests kept up their intercourse with it, and occasionally a villager of Cahokia or Kaskaskia might be heard to say, he was going "au post," that is, to the post, and some one at the post would go "au Kas," whence the word Okaw, but there was no regular or business  p185 communications with it and the other villages.

The route by the river was dangerous, the whole State of Kentucky being then the hunting ground of the Shawanoes and other fierce tribes, and the route by land was wholly unsettled, and "the trace" beset by thieving, marauding Kickapoes.

Under the auspices of this heroic man, whose sad fate I have related, it gradually assumed importance. He, as commandant, granted to settlers lands for cultivation, and from the Indians they received more than two thousand acres, which they appropriated as "commons."

I presume the land on which the town stands and the "common field," was originally granted to him by the India Company, or by the governor of Louisiana, after its dissolution, and he, as feudal lord, like Renaut at St. Philip, and Langlois at Prairie du Rocher, divided it out in small allotments to his feudataries.

It was embraced within the dependency of the Illinois, and differed but little, if at all, from the other villages within it.

Who succeeded the ill‑fated, the chivalric D'Artaguette, I have no means of ascertaining.  p186 In 1742, however, Mons. Delaroit de St. Clair was the commandant, and in 1743 De la Loire de Flancour, who was succeeded in 1745 by the chivalric De Bertel.

The first act of the newly-organized government of Louisiana, affecting the interests of any portion of the inhabitants of this dependency, was the confirmation by Pierre de Rigault de Vaudreuil, the governor thereof, to the inhabitants of Kaskaskia of their right of "commons," for which they had so earnestly petitioned the Indian Company through commandant Deliette in 1727, but which had been, up to 1743, wholly disregarded.

It will be seen by this act of the government, that these most loyal and devoted subjects of the French king, who were so solicitous to promote the interests of their master, continued sixteen years in a state of the most painful uncertainty in regard to their "commons," than which they hardly prized their wives or their religion more highly.

The India Company was dissolved, Boisbriant had omitted to put his grant in writing, the whole country had become united to the royal domain,  p187 and the poor villagers were in great distress and tribulation.

Addressing a respectful petition to the newly-appointed governor in June, 1743, they received in August a favorable answer, confirming to them as "commons," all the land on the west side of the Kaskaskia river, and east and south of the common field lands from the village line down to the mouth of that river, and then designated, and yet known as "La Point de Bois," or point of woods, but more familiarly "the point," requiring, however, the inhabitants to keep up and maintain a gate in the fence which crossed the road to Misère and to the upper posts, so that it should be practicable for the passage of "carts," at the joint expense of each proprietor whose lands bordered on the roads.1

This confirmation took from them the islands in the Mississippi and the land on the east side of the Kaskaskia river, which the benevolent Boisbriant had verbally granted to them, nevertheless, they were content, as it secured to them near seven thousand acres of rich pasture and woodland, for house-bote, plough-bote,  p188 fire-bote and, estovers, and yielding also, in great profusion, grapes, plums, persimmons, the luscious paw‑paw, the delicate pecan and other rich and delicious nuts, whilst the "common field" by this arrangement did not embrace less than eight thousand acres of the richest, deepest, blackest loam, capable of itself of sustaining a numerous people.

All grants to individuals from this time forth were made in fee‑simple absolute, subject only to some trifling public charges,2 and the people became secure in all their possessions, so that social establishments sprung up and flourished beneath a sun and sky, and under circumstances in every way most congenial to a rapid and a healthy growth.


The Author's Notes:

1 See Appendix F.

[decorative delimiter]

2 See Appendix G.


Thayer's Note:

a If this is Pierre de Liette (or Deliette), he seems not to have succeeded Boisbriant as commandant but to have preceded him; the Web is very confused on this point, reporting various birth and death dates, and maybe conflating several members of the same family: tread with caution. A Charles-Pierre de Liette may fit the bill; he was killed at the battle of Ackia in the Franco-Chickasaw War of 1736. The family was of Italian origin and related somehow to Tonti.


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