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Bill Thayer

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Early History of Illinois
Sidney Breese

The Author and the Work

In this volume we have in fact three distinct works, connected in the person of Sidney Breese:

The core of the book, though taking up only a bit more than half of it, is his Early History of Illinois properly speaking, with its Appendices A‑H: an account of the ninety years of French presence in Illinois, from Joliet and Marquette's first exploration in 1673 to the loss of the territory to England in 1763. One of the earlier investigations of the subject, it's a readable account of those years, if nothing extraordinary — but then he himself presents his work as merely clearing brush and laying foundations for others; his editor obligingly corrects and expands on his text in a few notes. Yet though Breese may not have been as firm a scholar as would be wished, he also went beyond books: living most of his life in southern Illinois he had the initiative to take down oral history from older residents, and adds his own observation of places associated with French colonial history, with a certain freshness clearly due to his love for his home.

The book was posthumously published; thus the core is preceded by a Biographical Memoir of the author by Melville Fuller, from which I learned that Sidney Breese was not just the author of another book, but a figure of some historical importance in his own right, a leading jurist in early Illinois, and a one-term United States senator. An appendix also, somewhat opaquely titled "Proceedings before the Supreme Court", contains formal eulogies of him delivered in the Illinois Supreme Court of which he had briefly been Chief Justice. Together, biography and eulogies have the further interest of shedding light on life in pioneer Illinois.

The third part consists of a sixty-page appendix "On the Origin of the Pacific Railroad", which I can only characterize as peculiar, although it's of some interest to the student of American railroads: it's a Senate committee report (1846) on Asa Whitney's project of a Transcontinental Railroad. Senator Breese was the committee chairman, and wrote, or at the very least molded and approved, an enthusiastic plea for the road; clearly mesmerized by China and the Orient, he gives the reader an unexpected, fulsome dose of Chinese economic geography! as well as a map which the Senate balked at printing with the report: much is made of this by his biographer (p36), who affirms that it "delineated the line subsequently pursued", but it does not in the least; I wouldn't have printed it either, and I haven't reproduced it on this site. Yet despite the report's prolixity and stretches of irrelevance, Breese's interest in China mirrors well the impact of China's lure on the westward expansion of the United States; and the general economic, geopolitical, and military arguments presented in the report are solid and have been borne out by events: they apply equally well to the creation of the interstate highway system a century later.

Portrait of Sidney Breese


Preface by Thomas Hoyne


Biographical Memoir by Melville Fuller


The Jesuit Order in Illinois, 1536;º their history and organization


The Jesuit Order in America, their pilgrimages and discoveries.


Marquette as a discoverer of the Mississippi


The Mississippi River; the first voyage down that river.


Return up the Mississippi to the Illinois river


La Salle and Hennepin


Father Hennepin


Illinois Lake and Peoria


Hennepin returns to Quebec, Starved Rock — Tonty's return to Green Bay


La Salle at length reaches the mouth of the Mississippi and takes formal possession in the name of France


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


The Foundation of Kaskaskia on the Mississippi


The church, and not a fort, the beginning of the colony in Illinois


Louis XIV, in 1712, grants the country to Crozat and it is called Louisiana


Crozat surrenders his privileges to King Louis XV, 1717 — Law's Mississippi scheme


Rise of New Orleans and the Entrepôt of twenty thousand miles of inland navigation


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


Old Fort Chartre and the new site built in 1744; war with England


Peace of Aix la Chapelle, 1748 — Population of the Villages — Indians and French — Habits of the people


The Roman Catholic Church; the author's estimate of it


The Mode of Government — Officers and the Powers they Exercised; Judgment of Court, etc.


Civil jurisdiction and the courts — how justice was administered


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


The Proper Monuments of Marquette and La Salle — the Illinois and Mississippi


Voyage and discovery of Father Marquette and Sieur Joliet in North America, translated by Sidney Breese, from Mons. Thevenot's collection of voyages, published at Paris in 1682 — "Discovery of some Countries and Nations of North America."


Letters Patent Granted by the King of France to the Sieur de la Salle, on the 12th of May, 1678.


Petition of the Chevalier de Tonty to the Count de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine


The Letters-Patent Granted by the King of France to M. Crozat


The Inhabitants of Kaskaskia to the Provincial Commandant and Judge of the Country of Illinois


Confirmation of Commons under which the Inhabitants of Kaskaskia held their Claims


Form of Application for a Grant of Land


Description given of Fort Chartre by Captain Philip Pitman of H. M. Royal Engineers, as it was in 1765, when he saw it


Origin of the Pacific Railroad (with the map suppressed in Congress)


Sidney Breese, deceased: Eulogies of his Associates on the Bench and at the Bar

Resolutions 368
J. K. Edsall, Attorney-General 371
Thomas Hoyne 374
Isaac N. Arnold 389
Robert Hervey 395
John D. Caton 399
Scott, Justice 403
Walker, Justice 417
Adjournment of Court 422
Not listed in the printed table of contents:

Sketch map of the Mississippi River based on a map by LaSalle

fa­cing p78

Map of North America by Johann Baptist Homann showing Fr. Hennepin's explorations

fa­cing p98
[decorative delimiter]

Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here was what may well have been the only edition, E. B. Myers & Company, Chicago, 1884. It is now in the public domain: details here on the copyright law involved.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

My transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The printed book was well proofread, except for French words and proper nouns. I marked the typographical errors, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read what was actually printed. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

The French is usually set without its accents, and I've respected that; except where the book does have accents, but the wrong ones: which I've corrected. A number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

[image ALT: A small detail of J.‑B. Homann's map of North America, 1687, showing the name Ilinois (sic) twice. Superimposed on the map, a fleur de lis; the image serves as the icon on this site for the biography of her by Sidney Breese.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a graphic reworking of a small patch of the first of the two maps in the book: J.‑B. Homann's map of North America, 1687; showing that part of the map in which the name Ilinois appears — twice: once, placed near Peoria, as the name of a land area; a second time, as the name of the lake now called Lake Michigan.

Nowhere in the text is there any mention of this map, nor is there any particularly logical place to put it: it was clearly 1884 eye-candy. Here, therefore, is as good a place as any to reproduce the map, folds and all:

[image ALT: A 17c map of most of what became the United States. It is captioned in a mix of Latin and French, and shows 'la Louisiane' extending from upstate New York to Utah. It is adorned with vignettes of a naked woman, a Franciscan friar, Niagara Falls, a cow, a bison flanked by a crowned Indian and his squaw with her papoose on her back, and a pelican.]

[A larger, fully readable version opens here (4.5 MB).]

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Page updated: 11 Sep 16