FORTS OF THE AMERICAN BOTTOM
by ELBERT WALLER
REPRESENTATIVE IN THE LEGISULATURE
In order that we may get a proper anhorage and not wander far afield, I propose to limit myself geographically to that portion of the Mississippi Valley known as the "AMERICAN BOTTOM."
It seems that in the early part of the eighteenth century the dream of the French monarachs of a New France in the heart of America would come true, and that the villages of Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, Cahokia, Bellefountain and neighboring French Settlements would rival in splendor the leading cities of Europe. In fact, the heart of the French people had been planted in the heart of America. This was in the time of Louis XIV, and they had great visions of the gold and glory their American possessions would bring to the Grand Monarch.
This was the period of the inter-colonial wars and these wars of the mother countries involved all the colonies of America. For this reason and for the further reason that they were not always at peace with the Indians, it became necessary that they build fortifications. Historians often speak of Old Fort Chartres and of Fort Gage, and there they stop. Can it be that they have forgotten that there were no fewer than six substantial forts in this region, as well as a number of minor fortifications about the homes of the settlers?
THE CROZAT FORTLET
Joseph Wallace tells of what he calls a fortlet, built by the adventurers of Crozart, and says that it was built in the bottom near the Mississippi River about fifteen miles above Kaskaskia. It, of course, was not a very pretentious one, but it seems to me to be worthy of note because the mere fact of its location there seems to suggest the necessity of a better fortification in that region. The plan to build a line of fortifications, however seems to have originated with that great explorer, Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle.
FORT AT CAHOKIA
A Settlement was made by the French and Indians here in 1700, but we have no record of a fortification's being built for a generation, but when the Indians saw their lands being taken by the French they forgot many of the kindnesses shown them and became threatening. In fact, murders and scalping became common and things were drifting from bad to worse. To protect themselves against the Cahokias and The Tamaroas (or Tamarawas) they build a fort in 1733 and garrisoned it by twenty men under the command of Ensign Montchervaux. I find no further reference to this fort until 1752, when a band of the Fox tribe came near here on a hunting expedition and captured by the Cahokias, who burned five of the victims at the stake. One only of the party escaped to tell the story. Revenge was determined upon and in a few days 180 bark canoes filled with Foxes, Kickapoos and Sioux passed the fort at Cahokia, where Chevalier de Volsi was in command of the garrison. They were seeking the scalps of the Cahokias, who had suddenly moved their village some ten or twelve miles down the Mississippi. The day of the arrival of these unwelcome visitors at the Cahokia village was a Fast Day among the French, and many of the Cahokias had gone to Fort Chartres to witness the ceremonies. They were all that escaped the penalty for their former crime, for the invaders slew every man, woman and child, and went back up the river firing their guns in triumph as they passed the fort.
We find no further history of this fort until 1778 when Colonel George Rogers Clark assigned Captain McCarthy (or McCarty) to take command of Fort Bowman at Cahokia. Bowman's Journal says it was a stone building fortified and called "Fort Bowman." Davidson and Stuve, Butterfield an Pittman all say practically the same. Whether it was the old fort or not, I do not know, but I assume that the first one was of wood and had long since fallen to decay.
Scheme after scheme for the settlement of this region was undertaken, but they all changed like a kaleidoscope. The Grand Monarch died in 1715. The Crozat scheme had failed. In 1717 the Mississippi Company, under the leadership of the notorious John Law, was organized. That same year Pierre Duque sieur de Boisbriant was chosen Governor. He was a French Canadian and had been in the Illinois country most of the time since the settlement of Cahokia and Kaskaskia. He understood the Indians and their language better than perhaps any other man and was the wisest choice they could make for that position. He resolved to build a fort near the center of this group of settlements.
FORT CHARTRES NO. 1
Near the Crozat fortlet Boisbriant selected a site for a large stockade and fort. Dr. Snyder, in Pub. No. 26 of the Illinois State Historical Society, describes the surroundings as follows: "Near the east bank of the Mississippi, on the flat alluvial bottom land, sixteen miles above Kaskaskia; having a long slough, or lake, the remains of an ancient channel of the river, on the east midway between it and the bluffs four miles away. This slough he supposed would add materially to the strategic strength of the position. The fort he erected there was a wooden stockade, reinforced on the interior with earh taken from the excavations of the exterior moats." This was the first Fort Chartres, begun in 1718 and completed in 1720. It was so named in honor of the son of Philip, Duke of Orleans, Regent for Louis XV, the infant King of France. Near here sprang up Prairie de Rocher (the Prairie of the Rocks) and several other small villages. Within its inclosures were barracks for soldiers, the commandant's home, a large store house and we are told that it contained magazines for powder. It was garrisoned by a company of militia from Kaskaskia.
There was a common hallucination that precious metals could be found in abundance in the hills. Philip Francois Renault was appointed as general director of mines and he came over from France with 500 slaves from San Domingo. He planned to build another fort at the mines, but the mining proposition was a disappointment and we hear no more of the propsed fort there.
It will be remembered that Spain claimed all of this territory as a pat of Florida. The Spanish began an expedition to the Illinois County but their army was put to route by the Shawnees. It was as a protection against the Spanish as well as the Indians that this Forrt was built but there never was a hostile shot fired from its inclosures. It was destroyed by an overflow of the Mississippi in 1727. The people wanted to build another, "at the Prairie nearer Kaskaskia" and offered to furnish stone from the bluffs provided they would be permitted to trade flour for two slaves for each French planter. The Governor wanted to rebuild but the Company had lost so much money that he was ordered to transfer all property and the garrison except six men and two officers to New Orleans. (See Archive Nationales Colonies, dated 10 Oct. 1727.) The order was not carried out for the troops were mainly people from Kaskaskia and many were better satisfied with prospects there than in France. The Company failed and Louisiana and the Illinois Country as a part of it became a Royal Province in 1731.
There had been serious trouble among the Indians and the French had become more or less involved to the extent that they hd the ill will of the Foxes. The old adage that blook is thicker than water held good among the Indians and a coaalition was formed among the Indians against the French. It was imperative they they build a new fort.
FORT CHARTRES. NO.2
St. Ange de Belle Rive, who was now in command, selected a new site aout a half mile further from the River and constructed another fort about like the first one. It was garrisoned in 1732. It was from this fort that Major Alphonse de la Buissoniere led a successful expedition against the Chicasaws, who had been threatening them for several years. King George's War was at hand and the danger from the Indians became greater every day on account of encouragement that was given them by emissaries of the British Government. Marquis de la Galissoniere, Governor General of Canada, sent a plea to the King of France to help. In part he said,"The little colony of Illinois ought not to be left to perish; The king must sacrifice for its support. The principal advantage of the country is its extreme productiveness and its connection with Canada and Louisiana must be maintained." Nothing, however, was done. The fort rotted away and was abandoned in 1747. The garrison was moved to Ft. Kaskaskia, on the hill overlooking Kaskaskia. We shall hear of that fort later but will now tell about the last Fort Chartres.
King George's War was ended in 1847 by the Treaty of Aix la Chapelle which apparently settled the Old World issues but it was clear that it did not settle the question of dominion in America. The French were determined to fortify themselves better. Accordingly they began the erection of a new fort about a mile further up the River in 1753 and it was completed three years later.
The first two were of wood, but this was of stone and cost over 200,000 livres or about $1,000,000. Lieutenant Jean B. Saussier, one of the best engineers of France was the architect. The stones were quarried and numbered in the quarries in the Bluffs about three miles to the east and were conveyed across the lake to the fort in boats. The massive stone walls inclosed about four acres. They were eighteen feet high and over two fee thick. The gateway was arched and was fifteen feet high. A cut stone platform was above the gate with a stairway of nineteen steps and balustrade leading to it. There were four bastions each with forty-eight loop holes, eight embrasures and a sentry box. Within the walls stood the store house thriry feet wide and ninety feet long and it was two stories high, the guaard house with two rooms above for chapel and missionary quarters, the government house thirty-two feet wide and eight-four feet long with a stone porch and iron gate, a coach house, a pigeon house, two large wells walled up with the finest dressed stone, the intendant's house, two rows of barracks a hundred twenty eight feet long, the powder magazine thirty-five by thirty-eight feet which is still standing, bake ovens, four prison cells with dungeons. This was the pride of Louisiana, of New France and of the French Kingdom as well. Many have wondered why it was built in such a place and the only answer that I can make is that they wanted it on the road between Kaskaskia and Cahokia and that the road at that time ran just west of where the fort was located. This road now goes along the bluff.
Near this sprang up the village of New Chartres in the Parish of St. Anne but not a vestige of this little town remains today.
Even before this fort was completed, the French and Indian War was on and Fort Chartres was made the military headquarters of all the West. The people of its environs furnished supplies to feed the soldiers of the Mississippi Valley and some besides and they were not lacking when the call came to enter the fight. These people were there when Washington surrendered at Great Meadows and they were there when the haughty Braddock was killed, but when the God of War accepted the sacrifice of the brave General Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, the end of French dominion in America was made sure. Even so, English troops made several attempts to take possession but it was not until October 10th, 1765, when Captain Sterling with the 42nd Regiment of Scotch Highlanders whom he had led triumphhant over the bloodiest fields of America, hauled down the Lilies of France and put up the Union Jack in its stead. It was rechristened Fort Cavendish ostensibly for William Cavendish, First Duke of Devonshire but really for William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, a friend of Charles I. The name does not seem to have lasted long and we go back to the classic name, "Fort Chartres" the only name by which it is ever known.
FORT CHARTRES DOOMED
On December 4th, 1771, the authorities in England ordered Fort Chartes to be destroyed for economic reasons. General Gage approved but for reasons far different. Kaskaskia had grown to overshadow all the other villages and he saw trouble ahead from that source. The order was given to Commandant, Major Isaac Hamilton (not Sir Henry Hamilton, the Hair-buyer). The order was obeyed and in a letter from General Gates to Lord Hillsboro, dated September 22nd, 1772, the statement is made, "He had destroyed Fort Chartres in such a manner that at present it can not afford the least shelter to an enemy and he has removed the stones which proteced the banks and opened drains to admit the waters so that the floods in the fall will entirely wash away the front of the fort." About fifty of the Troops went to Kaskaskia and were house in the old Jesuit Mission which they fortified and named "Fort Gage" in honor of General Gage. Captain Hugh Lord was put in command. The remainder of the troops were ordered to the Atlantic coast. This was in 1772.
There has been some discussion as to what became of the cannon. In 1817, Judge Breckenridge of the United States Districk Court of Louisiana visited the old fort and said, "Fort Chartres is a noble ruin. The outward wall, barracks and magazine are still standing. There are a number of cannon lying half buried with their trunions broken off." In one of his splendid sketches, the late Dr. Snyder said. "Five cannon were taken from the ruins of Fort Chartres in 1812, by Governor Ninian Edwards and mounted on Fort Russell, a mile and half from the present city of Edwardsville. One of them was bursted when fired in celebration of the victory of General Jackson at New Orleans, in January, 1815. Of the other four, no trace can be found." It is reasonable to believe that some were taken to Fort Gage.
When the land of the American Bottom was thrown open for settlement, the United States Government reserved a square mile containing the fort and it remained the property of the Government until 1849. No care was taken of it until most of the stones were hauled away bu settlers to be used in other buildings. For more than a century, students of history have been visiting the site of this wonderul fortress and have given us a few sketches of it as they saw it but the people generally, even those of its immediate environs seemed to have forgotten of the part the people of Fort Chartres had played in the settlement of the Mississippi Valley. The Mississippi has changed its channel and has left it about a mile inland. The State of Illinois has now taken it over as a State Park. The rubbish has been cleared away and from the original plans all the foundations have been restored. The old powder magazine stood in a fair state of preservatioin still practically as it was in those days with the exception of the heavy iron door. It has been repaired and in it are stored a fine collecion of relics that tell their story without words, of those tragic days of our early history.
There is now a bronze tablet at Fort Chartres which says that it was begun in 1719 but we shall have to challenge the statement. Let me recall that each of the Forts Chartres which I have for convenience designated as No. 1, No. 2, No.3 were distinctly different building and on different ground. I think I have preciously made that clear, but I want to add that there can be no doubt that the first one was washed into the river though the river has receded and restored the unknown spot. I want to say also the Dr. Douglas, an old resident of Prairie du Rocher and a life-long student of early Illinois History, tells me he can point out the spot where tradition says the one I have designated as No. 2 was located. There can be no question but No. 3 was not No. 2 repaired, for No. 2 was of logs and No. 3 was of stone. Captain M. Bossu visited this region in 1752 and said, "Le Sieur Saussier, an engineer, has made a plan for constructing a new fort here according to the insturction of the court.. It will bear the name of the old one, which is called Fort de Chartres." Quoting Dr. Snyder again, he says, "The stockades of the old fort were decayed beyond repair, though the buildings they inclose were yet tenable and in fair condition. The site chosen for the new structure was not half a league above the old fort and but a short distance from the river." Captain Bossu visited this region again in 1755 and in his "Travels en Louisiane" he says, " I came once more to the old Fort Chartres, where I lay in a hut, till I could get lodging in the new fort, which is about finished." I think it not necessary that I add further proofs.
The Jesuits had been supressed and their property confiscated by the French fovernment. Among their properties was a large stone building in Kaskaskia used as a mission. This is the building previously referred to which Captain Lord fortified and names "Fort Gage." Alvord says, "there had been for years a palisaded fort but it was only a protection from the Indians." I think that is correct and it is doubtless the same building that was later known as Fort Gage,since the Jesuits had been suppressed and this property confiscated by the French and taken over by the English. (See also James'George Rogers Clark papers) Captain Lord and his men, in all probabiltiy, brought some cannon from Ft. Chartres. They probably did not take any from Fort Kaskaskia as that fort had been destroyed over five years before and the cannon would not have been left. Pittman's "A Plan of Cascaskias" drawn in 1770 located the Jesuit property in Kaskaskia.
On that memorable Fourth of July night, 1778,when Colonel George Rogers Clark took Kaskaskia, this fort fell into his hands and in Bowmans Journal, under date of March 15th, 1779, we are told it was given a new name:" Fort Clark." This name for this fort seems to have been forgotten though there was another Fort Clark. Captain John Williams was put in command (See Draper Mss. 23 J 127. See also Virginia State Papers, Vo. I)
On a bluff overlooking Kaskaskia, within easy shot of the city fort was built in 1733 and was known as the "Fort of the Kaskasquias."
We are told that the Chicasaws were very hostile and that it was as a protectioin against them that this fort was built. This was probably only a wooden stockade reinforced with earth for a report in the Nationale Archives in Paris tells us that in 1736 the French Government appropriated 30,000 livres ( about $150,000.) to build a fort at Kaskaskia. The shite chosen on the bluffs near Kaskaskia. An engineer came to build it and the work was pushed for a year when the work was ordered suspended but it ws practially finished. There is no other bluff overlooking Kaskaskia where a fort might have reasonably been located for the protecion of the town so we are firmly of the opinion that the Fort Kaskaskia built on the bluffs in 1736 was a rebuilding of Fort Kaskaskia on a more pretentious scale. We hae already noted that the second Fort Chartres was abandoned in 1747 on account of its insecure condition and poor location, the garrison moved to Fort Kaskaskia.
The Piankeshaws who occupied a portion of the Lower Ohio Valley had now begun to occupy the hunting grounds as far west at the Mississippi. They came in a suave way to the people of Kaskaskia and pretended that they were going aginst the Cherokees. The people of Kaskaskia furnished them supplies, but soon became suspicious and those suspicions were confirmed by the action of the Shawnees. They attacked some of the people of Kaskaskia who were out on a hunting expeditions and planned a general massacre as the people came from mass. The commandant was alert and ready and at the moment of the attack was attempted he fired a broadside from the fort. Several of the Piankeshaws were killed. The others fled in confusion and soon had to ask for peace. This was in 1751.
In 1755, the new Fort Chartres was nearing completion so practically all the garrison was moved there leaving only a small force to protect Kaskaskia aginst the Indians. A report says that in 1759, the people became alarmed over rumors of a threatened British attack and made some repairs on the fort. After the French and Indian War was over and afte Captain Sterling with his 42nd Highlanders had taken possession of Fort Chartres, the French destroyed the stockade and magazine of Fort Kaskaskia to keep the British from ever using it against them. There is a story that the cannon were thrown into the well, but the more probably story is that they were moved to St. Genevieve, Missouri, as that was still French territory.
We find no further reference to this fort until 1784. The government of the Illinois Country was in a chaotic condition during all the years known as the Critical Period in American History. In the year above mention, John Dodge, a daring Connecticut Yankee, took possession of Fort Kaskaskia, repaired it, and manned it with cannon take from the Jesuit building known as Fort Clark. He was joined by a few desperadoes and here they defied the government, not only of the Illinois Country, but of the United States for many years. One authority says, "He bullied the people. He struck them with his sword. He insulted and fought them and the pusilanimously submitted." The people claimed later that they wer unable to communicated with Congress even, because he had a band of highwaymen who killed the messengers enroute. Colonel George Rogers Clark, with Joseph Parker for the English and Reverend John Carroll for the French, managed to establish civil government. Dodge was shorn of his power and we hear no more of him.
A few days ago it was my privilege to clim the hill and view the site of this fort nearly two centuries old. I wish I could tell you how I felt when I stood on that ground and let my mind wander back to those days so dark, so terrible and yet so splendid. The outline is still plainly visible. The earworks are several feet high and the moat is deep all the way around. Grass and lilies cover the ground. The latter must have been brought from France and planted there in those days of long ago. It overlook the little village of Fort Gage and the people erroneously call this Ft. Gage. It is not Fort Gage; it is Fort Kaskaskia. To prove my statement and to correct the wrong imression I want to offer a few of many bits of history. Captain Sterling wrote to General Gage, in 1767:"There will be a necessity of building a fort at Kaskaskia, the former one being ruinous, ill situated and no water. It is at Kaskaskia where they raise all the grain to supply the troops." As previously noted, Fort Kaskaskia hd been destroyed by the French themselves to keep the English from using it. He doubtless refers to this one as being "ruinous." Butterfield's Conuest of the Northwest sayd: " The site of the old fort (which fortification never had any specific name, it being designated, along with the town simply as "The Kaskasquias,) was 500 yards from the river, and after being burned down, as just mentioned, was not rebuilt, although a plan "which would cost a good deal of money" ws submitted to General Haldiman in 1767 for a new one." From his History of Colonel George Rogers Clark we quote again:" The importance attached to the exact location of Fort Gagge and the fact that it is a matter of controversy justify bringing forward proofs that are at command, all showing unmistakably that it was not on the east side of Kaskaskia, but on the west side and in the village. Until a late date, this fort ever since the Revolution has been by all writers of western history (as well as by tradition) confounded with the fort built by the French; the same which previous to its destuction in 1766 stood upon the east bank of the Kaskaskia River." John M. Hammond, in his Quaint and Historic Forts of North America says: " Fort Gage stood at the historic Village of Kaskaskia, on the Kaskaskia River near the confluence of that stream with the Mississippi." On June 26th 1777, Colonel Hamilton wrote to Colonel Carleton: " Fort Gage , the Jesuit house at Kskaskia, so named by Captain Lord of the Royal Irish, who in 1772 surrounded it with stockades 15 feet high. It is in the town of Kaskaskia." Cohman in Harper's Magazine, Vol. XXII, page 790, says: "About the middle of the eighteenth century the Jesuits built the stone building known as the Jesuit Seminary or College. But their order was suppressed in France and their colonies in 1763 and their property confiscated to the corwn. This was taken over by the English when they took possession two years later." The late H.W. Roberts of Chester, an authority on local history, refers to the construction of "Fort Kaskaskia on Garrison Hill." He also says: "The British occupied the old Jesuit College in Kaskaskia and named it Fort Gage." On Febrruary 17th, 1772, Rocheblave, the commandant at Kaskaskia, wrote to Colonel Guy Carleton, saying: " The roof of the mansion of the fort is of shingles and very leaky, notwithstanding my efforts to patch it, and unless a new roof be provided very soon the building which was constructed twenty-five years ago and cost the Jesuits forthy Thousand, will be ruined." Moses says: "The building referred to , situated in the southeastern portion of the town near the river, was the old "Jesuit House," as Pittman calls it, which had been substantially constructed of stone." In Volume IX of Michigaan Pioneer Collections there is a letter from A. S. DePayton to Governor Haldimand. It bears date of June 27th, 1779, and says " The Kaskaskia is in no way fortified, the fort being a sorry pinchoted (picketed) enclosure around the Jesuit College." Bowman says: About midnight we marched into the town without being discovered. Our object was the fort, which we soon got possession of."
I quote verbatim from Colonel George Roger Clark's Sketch of his Campaign in Illinois, as follows:
"On the evening of the 4th of July, 1778 we got within three miles of the Town of Kafkafkias, having a River of the fame name to cross to the Town; After making ourselves ready for anything that might happen, we marched after night to a Farm that was on the fame fide of the River about a mile above the Town, took the family Prifoners, & found plenty of boats to crofs in, and in two hours Tranfported ourfelves to the other fhore with the greatest filence. I learned that they had some fufpicion of being attached and had made some preparations, keeping out Spies, but they making no difcoveries, had got off their guard. I immediately divided my little Army into two Divifions, ordered on the furround the Town, with the other I broke into the Fort, fecured the Governor, Mr. Rocheblave in 15 minutes had every Street fecured, fent Rummers to their Houses."
I want you to note that he approached the river from the east, that he crossed the river and that he broke into the fort. Quoting from Clark still further after the capture and possession, he says: "I wanted to be prepared for the worst, and in case of an attack I resolved to burn the part of the town that was nearest the fort and to sell the fort as dear as possible."
Clark's memoirs and Bowman's Journal both state that when Colonel Clark started to Vincennes he took his forces across the Kaskaskia River. W.F. Poole in Windsor's America says: clark crossed the river to start to Vincennes." Had the fort where he was located been on the east side of the Kaskaskia he would not have needed to cross it. Bancroft says of Colonel Geo. Rogers Clark: "He captured Fort Gage in Kaskaskia." Mr. Thomas J. Conner of Prairie de Rocher is as good authority on the history of that region as I know and he says: There is no room for doubt that Fort Gage was in Kaskaskia in the Bottom and that the fort on the Bluff is Fort Kaskaskia."
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