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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 22

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.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 24
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p223  Chapter XXIII

Peace of Aix la Chapelle broken — War between France and England fatal to the prosperity of the French in America

The peace of Aix la Chapelle was not of long duration, it was succeeded by "the seven years' war," commencing in 1756, and in its consequences proving fatal to the prosperity of those secluded subjects of the French king.

As his distant colonies would be the easiest points of attack and conquest, it was no less his duty than his interest to put them in as good a state of defense as his resources permitted, and accordingly the suggestions before made by the commandant were acceded to, and "New Chartre" arose upon the ruins of the little fort of that name, an object at once of wonder and of curiosity to all who beheld it; and even in its present desolation exciting the same sentiments in the breast of every traveler who seeks it out.​a

 p224  As I stood, more than a quarter of a century ago, upon the ruins of its ponderous masonry, and looked upon its mouldering heaps; the tall cotton-wood growing upon the smooth parade; the chiseled stones fallen from their ancient places; the cannon from their carriages deposited in the wells; the cellar-vaults, once redolent of the wine-cask, then filled with briars and reptiles, and the accumulated rubbish of years — I could not but reflect upon those great events which had but recently transpired in such rapid succession, with which the scene was intimately connected.

Here, a little more than fifty years before, a successor of Charlemaigne, a noble heir of the house of Bourbon, exercised dominion, his sceptre reaching from the frozen sea to the tepid waters of the gulf, and from the western base of the Alleghanies to the shores of the great river flowing in my view; here, his officers and soldiers, and subjects, and numerous dependents lived and flourished under the gaudy folds of their national Fleur de lis.

The scene changes, and the heir of the house of Hanover claims the whole people and all these broad and rich domains, expanding their beauties and their vastness in my  p225 sight; his martial array upholds England's blazonry, and the cross of St. George floats from yonder battlement.

Another change, and there are the broad stripes and bright stars; my country's banner floating high in air from the same walls in glorious triumph, and these echoes which so often replied to the cry of "Vive le roi" and "God save the king," are now startled by the cheering shouts of "liberty and independence — long live the republic!"

This stupendous fabric​1 now a heap of ruins, the best at that day in America, erected at an expense of more than a million of dollars, became the seat of empire, and the archives of the government removed to it in 1756.

As a means of defense, except as a citadel to flee to on any sudden attack of the savages, the erection was wholly unnecessary. Official emolument must have prompted it, and some of the many millions of livres it is said to have cost must have gone into the commandant's pockets, or in those of his favorites, and they enriched by this mode of peculation.

 p226  The dread of English conquest during this long and bloody war, of which Canada was an important theater, operated to dispel some of those bright visions which were wont to cheer these secluded colonists. Yet, in spite of it, they lived on in comparative happiness and tranquillity, laughed and danced, loved and married, and died, and these make up their "short and simple annals."

Here they continued to nestle in their white-washed cottages, in sheltering nooks and upon the verdant plains, half hid by the foliage of the cotton wood, and the pecan, in peaceful, calm security, and free from most of the ills and vexations attendant on man's earthly pilgrimage.

No scenes of blood, or rapine, or outrage occurred; their herds and flocks roamed unmolested over the shady hills and in the rich woodland pastures, and the calm light of peace and immunity beamed from their lowly casements.

If they had no ambitious desires, they were free from their disquietudes; if they had not much enterprise, intelligence or high refinement, they had at least all the great essentials to  p227 human happiness; if they were far from the busy world, its varied excitements, its pleasures and its pomp, they had here a dear world of their own, and they sighed not for a better or a happier home.

If others could boast of those refined enjoyments which wealth and power may give, they envied them not; they longed for no other joys than those which clustered in full ripeness and abundance beneath their own humble roofs, and brightened up the circle of their own happy firesides.

England's king triumphed in the conflict, and another brilliant trophy thus acquired by his arms, Quebec, Montreal, all Canada, and this portion of the great valley added new and rich jewels to his crown, and placed a longer sceptre in his grasp.

Measures were taken by the crown of Great Britain to receive the transfer of possession which was stipulated for by the treaty of Paris, on the 10th of February, 1763, and Major Loftus, of the twenty-second regiment, then doing duty in Florida, was ordered to proceed here with his command for that purpose. Proceeding to execute the order, he had reached Roche de  p228 Davion, the Rock of Davion, where Fort Adams was afterward built, and near the Tunica Bend when, on the 22d of March, 1764, he was attacked by the Indians of that name, who had ambushed both sides of the river.

They killed and wounded several of his men, and prevented the further advance of the troops.

The suspicion was strong that the French of Pointe Coupée, with their slaves, not only aided the Tunicas in their plan of attack, but in the attack itself.

In July thereafter, Major Farmer, with the thirty-fourth regiment, was dispatched on the same service, but it was not until the following year, 1765, whilst De Noyon de Villiers was commandant, that the country was formally delivered over to his Britannic majesty by unfurling high above the ramparts of Fort Chartre that banner under which the stripling Washington, the widow's son, had done great deeds of arms, but which, when he arrived at his manhood, after floating in triumph everywhere else throughout the world, was laid at last in harmless folds at his feet.

The keys of the magazine of the barracks,  p229 and of the fort itself, were surrendered by Saint Ange de Bellerive, then in command there, and British power and British right quietly succeeded.

Such, however, was the dread of British dominion that a large proportion of the population departed with their sovereign's power, the old roof trees which had so long sheltered them, the gardens they had planted, the grass plats they had embellished, the trees and shrubbery they had nurtured, the fields they had cultivated, the old church in which they and their sires before them had been baptized and married, the ashes of their nearest and dearest kindred lying near it, every hallowed spot, every object around which their warm affections had entwined their strongest tendrils, all were abandoned, rather than by remaining they should acknowledge fealty to a monarch they did not love, respect for laws they did not understand, and reverence for a church whose creed and forms and ministers had not their confidence and attachment.

Numbers went to Natchez, to Baton Rouge and with De Noyon, to New Orleans — others to Misere and with Saint Ange to Pain-court,  p230 or "Short-bread," though now distinguished as St. Louis, and rivaling some of the oldest cities of the seaboard, in the extent and value of her commerce, in the number and enterprise of her citizens, in her wealth and resources, and whose tall spires are seen afar, then a sorry hamlet only, a mere trading post, yet all the places to which they fled were under the dominion of a Catholic king, controlled by laws and usages to which they were accustomed, and promising to them the free and uncontrolled exercise of their religion, and a continuance of its cherished fetes and festivals.

A few, however, remained, trusting to time to bring back to them their wonted enjoyments, and to their own peculiar power to accommodate themselves to their new circumstances, and to the new condition in which the fortune of war had involved them. Their religious privileges were continued to them, but those to whose spiritual care they had been so long confided, like the natives, whom they had been instrumental in dislodging from their seats of power, to roam the wilderness for other homes, were now as fugitives on the earth. The ban of their sovereign was upon them, and their  p231 forests and fisheries, their pastures and corn-fields, their flocks and herds, their granaries of wheat, their mills and breweries and cellars of wine, all their fertile glebes and rich possessions, were seized and sold by his command, and passed into other hands. One old priest of the Franciscan order alone remained to trim the lamp, which they, nearly a century before, through so much peril and suffering, had borne triumphantly to this wilderness.

He watched its feeble twinkling with unwearied vigilance, and a few worshipers gathered around the altar, but the spell was broken, the spirit that had so long presided over it was not there, and the little flame flickered for awhile and died.

The Editor's Note:

1 See Appendix H.

Thayer's Note:

a Parts of the fort have been restored, and the site is a beautiful one: details, a map, and excellent photographs are given on the page at Fort Wiki.

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Page updated: 11 Sep 16