Central Illinois history
Although Joliet, Marquette, LaSalle, and others received much
credit for the discovery and settlement of Illinois, Henri de
Tonti was not only a moving force under LaSalle, he was truly
the founding father of what was to become Peoria 300 years ago.
Born in 1650, the son of a Neapolitan banker, he joined the
French army at 18. During fierce fighting at Libisso, a grenade
blew away most of his right hand. With a knife, he amputated the
remainder of it, and a metal hand was later attached in its
place, which he usually covered with a glove. Because of this
the Indians gave him the name "Iron Hand."
In 1677, Robert de LaSalle returned to France to seek support to
further explore the unknown interior of this continent south of
the Great Lakes. Upon the recommendation of Prince Conti,
LaSalle engaged young de Tonti as his lieutenant. But before the
French missionaries and fur traders came to this area, it was
occupied by the Illinois (or Illini) confederacy of five tribes;
the Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Moingwena, Peoria, and Tamaroa.
But by the mid-1600s, these more peaceful people had been driven
west of the Mississippi by attacks from the Iroquois. By 1670,
the Illini had begun to return to the east side of the river.
But in 1673, on their trip down the Mississippi, Joliet and
Marquette visited the Peoria tribe in what is now Iowa.
On their return upstream, the two French explorers chose to come
up the Illinois River instead of the way they had come down, at
the suggestion of the Peoria Indians. Marquette mentioned
staying three days with the "Indians of Peoria" at Lake
Pimiteoui (Fat Lake) on this return trip to give the missionary
an opportunity to announce the faith. Then, in the winter of
1680, the French explorer, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle,
came to Lake Pimiteoui, where he found the Illinois tribes in
He and his contingent, including Father Hennepin and Tonti,
built a small compound which he named Fort Crevecoeur (French
for Broken Heart), in memory of the recent loss of his 45-ton
capacity boat, the "Griffon." Fort Crevecoeur was planned as a
base for an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico.
It was, unfortunately, abandoned in the spring of 1680,
following the mutiny of its workmen. One of several forts named
St. Louis, in honor of France's King Louis XIV, had its
beginning at Starved Rock, on the Illinois River. In 1682, after
LaSalle's return to Illinois from his historic journey down the
Mississippi, he decided to build a new outpost at Starved Rock,
near the great Kaskaskia Indian village. Around it he collected
several Indian tribes for the united defense against the warlike
But the restless LaSalle left his lieutenant, Tonti, in charge
while he hurried off to establish a settlement at the mouth of
the Mississippi, a venture that cost him his life in 1687. When
Tonti heard of LaSalle's death, he and his business associate,
Francois Daupin de la Forest, requested King Louis for the
concession at Fort St. Louis as payment for expenses they had
incurred to maintain the post. In 1690 their request was
granted, giving them the same rights and privileges LaSalle had
A condition of the grant was that they would develop the post
and influence the Illinois against the Iroquois. Tonti was at
Michillimackinac in the autumn of 1691. He had left a relative
named De Liette (probably his cousin) in charge of Ft. St.
Louis. With him were three men and the Jesuit Father, Jacques
Gravier. Tonti sent a communication to De Liette, informing him
of the grant to transfer the concession of the fort.
He also told him he planned to return as soon as possible, and
instructed him to sound out the Illinois about a new location
for the post. The Indians had previously complained about the
lack of wood near the fort, and the difficulty of getting water
up to the rock. De Liette presented the request to the chiefs,
who immediately chose the lower end of Lake Pimiteoui for the
new location. Tonti arrived here in the winter of 1691-92 and
began constructing his fort. It was designed so the friendly
Indians could come into it for protection against the Iroquois.
The new Fort St. Louis was surrounded by a wall of 1,800
pickets. Inside were four buildings, two large and two smaller
One large log house was for lodgings, the other was a warehouse,
and the two smaller houses were for the soldiers. La Forest
arrived in the spring of 1692 with a large number of engagees
and soldiers. A United States survey team from the general land
office in Washington, D.C., later listed the approximate site of
this earliest French village to be at the vicinity of Cornhill
and Adams Streets. It later expanded northwest from the river to
Perry Street, and southwest from Hayward to Caroline Street.
Father Gravier probably began his mission among the Illinois
tribes around 1689 or '90. He may have begun his mission at
Starved Rock and moved it with the fort to Pimiteoui.
On Jan. 13, 1825, the Illinois General Assembly approved
an act creating Peoria County "out of the country in the
vicinity of Fort Clark." It authorized the county to purchase
the county seat site from the federal government and, finally,
provided "That all of the tract of country North of said Peoria
County, and of the Illinois and Kankakee Rivers and the same is
hereby attached to said county, for all county purposes."
Putnam, Knox and Henry counties were also erected by law in
1825, but none of them organized immediately, so the attached
territory of Peoria County originally had the Mississippi River
as its western boundary, and it included Galena and Chicago.
Also attached to it on the east side of the Illinois River were
the present Tazewell County and parts of Mason, Logan, McLean,
Woodford, Marshall and Putnam counties.
The very first officer of Peoria County was Norman Hyde, a
native of New York state. On Jan. 18, 1825, the General Assembly
elected Hyde judge of the probate court. By appointment, he also
served three months as clerk of the commissioners court and
later as county recorder, treasurer, surveyor and U.S.
The second Peoria County officer was another New Yorker, John
Dixon. He was appointed clerk of the circuit court on Feb. 4,
1825, by Judge John York Sawyer, who was then sitting in
Springfield. Dixon moved to the Rock River crossing of the
Peoria- Galena trail in 1830, where he purchased Joseph Ogee's
ferry and established a tavern, which became famous as a
rendezvous during the Black Hawk War. Known as Dixon's Ferry, it
later became the town of Dixon. Indians called Dixon "Nadah-chura-sca,"
meaning "gray head." In accordance with the act that created
Peoria County, an election for county officers was held on March
7, 1825, at the house of William Eads. Only 66 votes were cast.
William Holland, Nathan Dillon and Joseph "Dad Joe" Smith were
elected the first county commissioners.
Samuel Fulton, brother of Josiah and Seth Fulton, was elected
sheriff, and William Phillips, coroner. All but Fulton lived on
the east side of the river. This was not unusual because, at the
time, there were more people living on the east side than on the
west. The following day, the commissioners met in the cabin of
Joseph Ogee and formally organized the commissioners court.
At its first session the court ordered that the county seat be
called Peoria. Before that time, the little settlement had more
frequently been called Fort Clark. The court granted ferry and
tavern licenses and fixed their rates. They appointed
constables, road viewers and election officials, selected jurors
and recommended people for appointment by the governor as
justices of the peace. They also levied taxes, controlled
expenditures and generally took jurisdiction in all county
affairs, except criminal and civil actions, which were brought
to the circuit court. William Stephen Hamilton, the son of
Alexander Hamilton of New York, who was then attached to the
surveyor general's office in Springfield, was engaged to survey
He laid out the town on the fractional quarter section, which
contained 147 1/2 acres. Certain streets were named Hamilton
(for the surveyor), Fayette (evidently for Marquis de la
Fayette), and others for the presidents, Washington through
Monroe. One block was reserved for a public square, which has
since been the site of various Peoria County courthouses.
Hamilton was allowed $58.75 for his services, but he took two
lots instead. Later, in 1834, Charles Ballance, a lawyer,
surveyor, real estate divider and historian, made a survey of
He made provisions for alleys in certain blocks, where
Hamilton's survey had provided for none. County commissioners
advertised a sale of town lots at a public auction to be held in
July 1826. Numerous lots were bid on at prices ranging from $25
to $96.25. When the county attempted to pass title to the buyers
it discovered that it had no title to the land and it took
another nine years for the county to gain clear title to the
town site. Most of the first settlers were natives of Virginia
and Kentucky and brought their county-commissioner system of
government with them. But by 1848 the northern Illinois counties
had a majority of residents from New England, New York and
Pennsylvania, and they favored the town-meeting system.
The new 1848 state Constitution gave counties the option of
adopting township government. Surveys of the United States had
set up "congressional townships," which were six miles square,
and these formed convenient political divisions. Township
government was adopted in 1849 by a vote of 2,147 to 19, and
several supervisors were elected in April 1850.
Samuel Dimon of Orange (afterward Kickapoo Township) was elected
chairman and names were adopted for 19 townships. (Source:
Ernest E. East's unpublished "History of Peoria")
In 1819 -- six years after Fort Clark was built at what
is now seven men were looking for a place to settle. After
hearing of the great beauty around Lake Peoria, they came here
and formed the first American settlement on the site that was to
become the city of Peoria.
They had been living at Shoal Creek in Clinton County, but left
that place to found a settlement at Manvaise Terre Prairie, near
the present site of Naples on the Illinois River. But that
locality was not satisfactory. The group ferried their two
horses over to the west side of the river, where Abner Eads, a
native of Virginia, and Joseph Hershey, who was called "the New
York Dutchman," rode northward to Fort Clark.
The two arrived here April 15, 1819, and decided this was the
place. The remaining party of five proceeded upriver by keel
boat, bringing with them all their effects. Eads and Hershey
waited at Fort Clark for two days, when a deserter from Fort
Dearborn came floating downstream in his canoe. Eads joined him
as a passenger to see what had become of the rest of the party,
while Hershey remained here with the horses.
They were met by the others near La Marsh Creek and Eads
returned with them to Fort Clark, where they were welcomed by
Hershey on April 17. These final five members of the group were
Josiah and Seth Fulton, Virginians by birth and brothers of
Eads' wife, Rebecca; and Kentuckians Samuel Dougherty, Thomas
Russell and John Davis. About June 1, Eads, with one of the
Fultons and Dougherty, returned to Shoal Creek with their two
horses to move Rebecca and her three children to their new home.
The family and their household effects were loaded on a
two-horse wagon and headed toward Peoria Lake. They crossed the
river at Wesley City (now Creve Coeur), where they found Indian
canoes to carry them across. The wagon was torn down and
transported over the same way, while the horses and cattle swam
across. Rebecca Eads became the first American woman to see the
site of Peoria. Abner Eads bought 160 acres here. Part of it
became City Cemetery, which has since been abandoned. It is now
Lincoln Park, the location of the Lincoln branch of the Peoria
Eads was elected sheriff of Fulton County (which then included
Peoria), when it was organized in 1823. He also engaged in trade
with the Indians of the Peoria Lake area. A daughter, Rebecca,
was born in Peoria on April 19, 1834.
Abner moved his family to Galena around 1834. He died March 18,
1853, while returning from a business trip to California, and is
buried in St. Louis. Abner's wife, Rebecca, died Feb. 22, 1855,
in Alameda, Calif., where she was living at the home of her
daughter, Margaret, the wife of Orin Hamlin, also a former
Peorian. Josiah Fulton was born in Ohio County, Va., on Feb. 19,
1800. He married Auguste P. Hughes, and the couple had 10
Josiah farmed in Richwoods Township until his retirement, and
died here March 4, 1894, at age 94. Seth Fulton later settled in
Princeville, and died there in 1889, at the age of 88.
Dougherty, Hershey, Russell and Davis soon moved elsewhere.
Other early Peoria settlers were: James Latham, a probate judge
of Sangamon County, who was appointed Indian sub- agent at
Peoria in 1821. It appears he maintained residence here until he
died in 1826.
Philip Craymer was employed in 1822 as blacksmith to the Indians
here, in line with the policy of the U.S. Indian department. He
appears to have been discharged by Latham in 1824. William
Holland, later the founder of Washington, succeeded Craymer.
John Hamlin, also of Sangamon County, settled here in 1822.
He traded with the Indians, built the first frame house here in
1825, built a flour mill on Kickapoo Creek, and became county
commissioner, a member of the House and Senate of the Illinois
General Assembly, a justice of the peace, a banker, and a
businessman. Hamlin first lived on the riverfront in a two-room
He had a foot lathe and turned out chairs and other pieces of
furniture. The Indians called Hamlin "Put-i-quis-tia," meaning
"wooden blacksmith.' He was also the first president of the Old
Settler's Society in 1867. John Hamlin died March 29, 1876.
Other Fort Clark pioneers included William Eads, brother of
Abner; Samuel Fulton, brother of Josiah and Seth; John L.
Bogardus, Peoria's first lawyer; Dr. Augustus Langworthy,
Peoria's first physician; William Blanchard, earliest Woodford
County pioneer; Joseph Moffatt, his wife, sons Alva, Aquilla and
Franklin, and daughters Mary and Olive, the first family to
settle Peoria's South Side; and Joseph Ogee, a French and Indian
interpreter. Sources: "Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and
History of Peoria County, Vol. II" and Ernest East's unpublished
"History of Peoria."
We have covered the earliest French involvement in
Illinois from Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock to the move to Lake
Pimiteoui (Peoria) in 1691 and the establishment of Fort St.
Louis here. This fort later became known as Fort Pimiteoui. We
left off with the Rev. Gravier returning here in 1700 to again
serve the Peoria Indians, as he had promised, and with Tonti and
his partner, La Forest, continuing their trading operations here
until at least 1703.
But the Peoria region never regained its early prominence even
though a French settlement remained nearly continuously until
1812, when it was attacked by American militia troops under the
command of Captain Thomas E. Craig. Shortly after 1700, French
influence in Illinois shifted to the Mississippi Valley region,
not far from what is now the city of St. Louis. With it, river
traffic shifted from the Illinois to the Ohio and Wabash rivers,
and Lake Peoria lost its strategic importance to the French.
Gravier remained here with the Peoria tribe, but little is known
about this period of his work. We do know that his life in the
wilderness was very lonely, because he later wrote that he was
alone most of the time, "without a colleague, without a
companion, often without a servant." Then, he was personally
attacked in 1706, which brought an end to his mission work here.
This personal attack was precipitated by a prominent man among
the Peoria tribe who was hostile to the French and who stirred
up his people against the "black gown" and other Frenchmen in
During the assault Gravier was struck by five arrows, one of
which became stuck in the sinews near his elbow, severely
wounding him in the arm. The priest suffered terribly from the
festering wound for three months and was not permitted to leave
or send out word of his condition. But, somehow, the Rev. Mermet
heard of his plight and sent several converts to rescue him. He
was taken to the Kaskaskia village and then on to Mobile for
further treatment. From there, he went overseas to his homeland
But he returned to America and died shortly after, from
complications of his injury. Little is known about De Liette
after Tonti and La Forest left, probably because he was engaged
in illegal trade.
The Rev. Marest, in his account of the attack on Gravier, named
only one man, St. Michel, a blacksmith. And the same discontent
that caused the attack on Gravier, forced De Liette and his men
to leave Fort Pimiteoui. La Forest told about the departure of
both De Liette and Gravier in a letter he wrote in 1706.
A few years later Marest learned that the Peorias had repented
and were eager to have the old mission reopened here, so he paid
a visit to the village in 1711. He spoke of French traders doing
secret trade with the Peorias, and he found a number of
Frenchmen apparently living with the Indians at Lake Peoria but,
by and large, the French had had little contact with the Peorias
after the death of Gravier.
The bad treatment had prompted the governors of Canada and
Louisiana to forbid all trade with them, but Marest decided to
reopen the mission. He sent the Rev. Jean Marie de Ville, a
newcomer to the Illinois country. No further information about
the Peorias is available but it's known that de Ville remained
in Illinois Country for some time, and it's suggested that he
remained at Pimiteoui until at least 1715. In 1713, the governor
of New France was instructed to abandon Fort Pimiteoui and was
asked to determine the facts regarding the Illinois property
alleged to have been granted to Tonti and La Forest.
After the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the restrictions on French
trade with the Indians were abandoned, and in 1716 the French
government authorized 25 trading permits. Three years later,
however, the fur trade was made a monopoly of the new Company of
the West. The posts in the west were to be permitted to trade
with the Indians at Pimiteoui, Michillimackinac and Detroit, and
the reopening of trade on the Illinois nearly coincided with the
military occupation of the old fort.
The French and their Indian allies were in a long struggle with
the hostile Foxe tribe, who were attempting to oust the Illinois
from their homeland. The French government determined to destroy
the Foxes as early as 1713, but it took nearly two decades
before they were finally beaten. In 1715, the governor of New
France decided to re-establish Pimiteoui with a sergeant and a
band of eight soldiers but, again, little is known about their
activities during this brief time, although French documents
mention repairs being made to the fort.
The permit system at the fort was abolished in 1719, and all
trading was absorbed by the Company of the West. The garrison at
Fort Pimiteoui was ordered back to Montreal. The fort was
finally abandoned in 1720 during a short period of truce on the
Meanwhile, La Forest and the Tonti heirs were pressing claims
for damages alleged to have been sustained by the fort's
abandonment. Following his death, La Forest's widow pushed her
case before the Paris authorities.
Finally in 1722 the French council agreed to pay her 1,500
livres, which was half the sum granted to Tonti's heirs.
The settlement of these claims left Pimiteoui a no- man's land
for anyone to occupy, and brought to an end one phase of French
Peoria history. (Sources: Floyd Mulkey's "Fort St. Louis at
Peoria" from the Journal of the Illinois State Historical
Society; Sister Mary Borgias Palm's "The Jesuit Missions of the
Father Gravier's favorite convert, while he was a French
missionary of the Immaculate Conception Mission here at Fort
Pimiteoui, was a 17-year-old Indian maid named Marie Rouensa,
the daughter of Chief Rouensa of the Kaskaskia Indian tribe.
After much soul-searching, she married a French "voyageur" named
Michel Accault, who was born in Poitiers, France, about 1646,
and by 1666, was a resident of Canada. Being a fur trader,
Accault had long frequented the Illinois country. As a matter of
fact, he had been with LaSalle and de Tonti when they built the
short-lived Fort Crevecoeur in 1680. Later that same year, he
accompanied Louis Hennepin on his exploratory journey to the
upper Mississippi Valley, and by the 1690s, Accault had become
well known in the Illinois country.
Across the Illinois River from Starved Rock, where Fort St.
Louis was originally located before moving to Lake Pimiteoui
(Peoria), was the Kaskaskia village where Marie Rouensa was
born, probably in 1677. Those were violent times, and in 1680,
an Iroquois tribe attacked and destroyed her village.
It was because of the warlike Fox and Iroquois tribes (in
addition to the lack of firewood, game, and adequate water) that
the French and their allied Indian tribes were forced to move
southward to Lake Pimiteoui in 1691.
So it was here, then, in 1694 that Accault and Rouensa were
married, surely by Father Gravier, but because surviving church
registers began later, there is no official record of the
marriage. Gravier himself, however, described the circumstances
of the wedding and also the legitimate birth of their first son,
Pierre Accault, on March 20, 1695, at Pimiteoui. But the warring
tribes didn't allow the Kaskaskias much peace here, either, so
they continued their southward flight, and in 1700, they settled
on the west bank of the Mississippi at the mouth of the Des
Peres River, near the present site of St. Louis.
Michel and Marie Accault moved with them, and seven years after
their first son was born, their names again appeared in written
records. On February 22, 1702, Father Pierre Gabriel Marest
baptized their second son, Michel Accault.
The Kaskaskia tribe didn't stay long on the west bank of the
Mississippi, again, probably because of hostile tribes,
especially the Sioux. So, early in the winter of 1703, Marie and
her two sons, one an infant, and the other 8 years old, joined
what remained of the Kaskaskia tribe and a handful of Jesuit
missionaries and fur traders.
The final destination of their long southern migration was on
the east bank of the Mississippi, at its junction of what was
named the Kaskaskia River. This land between the two rivers was
as rich as any in the world, and the Kaskaskia outpost
established a new economic basis, the production of wheat and
maize (Indian corn), for the French in the middle Mississippi
It's not clear if Michel Accault settled at this new town. It's
believed he must have died shortly after the birth of his second
son, although there's no record of his burial. But the daughter
of the Kaskaskia chief wasn't likely to remain a widow long, and
less than two years after the birth of Michel Accault, Marie
bore a daughter, Agnes, by her second husband, Michel Philippe.
They would eventually have two more girls and three boys.
In the autumn of 1718, a convoy of administrators and French
marines left New Orleans, the newly founded capital of
Louisiana, for the Illinois country. It was about to be brought
into the official structure of French colonial North America,
and would have a great effect on the lives of the Philippe
Michel Philippe's life became more settled. He had been a fur
trader, but now he devoted himself more and more to agriculture
and the acquisition of property. He became part of the local
power elite and served as a lieutenant in the newly formed
Kaskaskia militia company.
Originally, Kaskaskia Indians, French Canadians and people of
mixed blood all lived in the same community. But in 1719, an
Indian village was established several miles north, up the
Kaskaskia River. Indian wives of the French, of course, remained
in the French village, but Marie worried about her second son,
Michel Accault, who preferred Indian ways.
On June 13, 1725, Jesuit priest Jean Baptiste Le Boullenger,
with a notary, an interpreter and a witness, assembled at the
Philippe home to draft a last will and testament for Marie, who
was ill in bed and near death. It was decided that the total
Philippe estate be divided between her husband and her children,
including those by her first husband. Philippe would receive
half and the children would share equally in the other half. But
an unusual feature of her will was that her second son, Michel,
be "disinherited because of his disobedience, as well as the bad
conduct he has exhibited towards me and the entire family."
A week later, a group of men again assembled at her sickbed so a
codicil to her will could be recorded. In effect it stated that
she felt pity for her wayward son, and if he would repent, he
would have a right to his share.
On June 25, 1725, Marie Rouensa Accault Philippe, the only woman
so highly honored, was buried under the floor of the Immaculate
Conception parish church in Kaskaskia, as requested in her will.
Marie's story is an excellent example of how European culture
absorbed and changed the American Indian culture in one short
Two months after her death, it took two days to appraise her
large estate of 45,000 livres, including five slaves. Marie's
apparent indifference about owning slaves (including Indian
slaves) suggests the extent that slavery was accepted as normal
in French colonial society. But, happily, Marie's family ended
as she would have wanted. Not only did many of her descendants
marry well, but her wayward son, Michel Accault, eventually
repented and returned to Kaskaskia. In 1728, three years after
Marie's death, he reconciled with his stepfather and received
his share of Marie's estate, 2,861 livres.
Marie could finally rest in peace.
(Source: "Marie Rouensa and the Foundations of French
Illinois," by Carl J. Ekberg in the Illinois Historical
In 1702, two years after Marie Rouensa Accault and
her family moved from Peoria, Fort St. Louis (or Fort Pimiteoui)
was more or less abandoned by the French traders because of
French trade restrictions. But other unlicensed trading
The fort became the southern- most point of Canadian and
northern-most point of Louisianan jurisdiction. There were about
3,000 Indians still living there at the lake, and De Liette
(Tonti's nephew) continued trading in the area until 1711.
The dark years
In 1717, the Peoria area became a part of Louisiana, but the
time between 1712 and 1750 is considered Peoria's dark years,
since very little documentation exists. We do know that the
Peoria mission was re-established here between 1711 and 1714 by
Father DeVille, and Father De Kereben was at the mission from
1718 to 1720. And when Father Charlevoix passed through in 1721,
he reported finding several hundred Indians and four Frenchmen
at the site.
But, on a trip upriver the following year, De Lisle found no one
at Peoria. The Illinois Indians had moved north to join those at
Starved Rock. Then in 1723, Renault was given a grant at Peoria
under the Company of the West. In 1733, the village of Peoria
was reoccupied by Peoria Indians, but no French soldiers or
priests were present. In 1750, the Peoria village had 1,200
Indians and a small Jesuit mission under Father Meurin. From
then until 1773, there apparently was a small garrison here as
well as occasional traders.
In 1752 the garrison was under the command of a man named
Adamville, and in 1757 an author and soldier, Louis Antoine
Bougainville, reported finding a commandant residing in a fort
named Pimiteoui among the Peorias on the Illinois River.
English take over
There was little or no impact on the settlement when the English
defeated France and the Illinois Country was surrendered to
England in 1763. The French commandant, De Villiers, recalled
Sieur Toulon and his garrison, which was, presumably, stationed
in the Peoria Lake fort.
The fort had probably been rebuilt several times and was still
in existence when the British actually took over the area in
1765. It was described as "stockades of green timber, enclosing
a square with log structures within."
The French were farming around old Fort Pimiteoui at this time.
Antoine Saint Francois sowed corn here in 1765, but the
population seems to have been a floating one. Patrick Kennedy, a
man who visited the region in 1773, found the stockade of the
fort destroyed by fire, but the houses in the village were still
`Old Peoria Village'
But the small settlement continued intermittently for more than
30 years, ranging from six to 15 residents until 1796, when the
names of 63 individuals who lived at this "Old Peoria Village"
The town had a horsemill, and a blacksmith was living behind the
fort. Among these old village residents were Pierre de Beuro
(for whom Bureau County was named), Pointe du Sable (the founder
of Chicago), Jean Baptiste Maillet (the founder of the new
Peoria village) and Louis Buisson (who later established a
trading house at Wesley City).
The old village was abandoned because of Indian attacks during
the American Revolution, and by 1796 the residents had all moved
away. But the blockhouses of old Fort Pimiteoui were still
visible. In 1826, property owner John Birket reportedly saw
fragments of burned pickets and heaped earth (presumably the
remains of the fort) at the foot of Mary Street. This was about
150 feet above the Peoria Pottery. By 1933, the site was an
abandoned stone and gravel pit.
New founding father
The French of Peoria were mostly illiterate, but they were a
care-free people. Able to adjust quickly to changes of political
fortune, many of their lives were filled with adventure and
Maillet, who was born at St. Denis in Richelieu County, Quebec,
Canada, on July 3, 1753, founded the new village of Peoria. He
was the son of Augustin and Marie Madeleine Ebert Maillet, and
his grandfather, Pierre, came from Paris, France, in 1685.
Maillet had one known son, Hypolite, who was born in Peoria.
Maillet, a French trader, settled at "Old Peoria's Fort"
probably before 1773, because on March 13, 1773, he sold land to
Pointe du Sable. He moved 1 1/2 miles south in or before 1778,
and founded the new Peoria village known by the French as Au
Pied du Lac (translation: at the foot of the lake). It was later
referred to as La Ville de Maillet (although probably not in
Maillet built a stockaded house here near the foot of the
present Harrison Street. He was an influential member of French
Peoria, and, gradually, the inhabitants of the old village
New Peoria Village
A U.S. survey in 1840 showed the New Peoria Village beginning at
a point 125 feet above the river at Liberty Street, up to
Washington Street, southwest on Washington to Oak Street, then
back down Oak to the river. This new site featured a fort and
about 50 buildings along the river. It was described as having
"narrow streets, log houses surrounded by fences and gardens and
larger tilled fields behind and around the village. The
inhabitants raised cattle, pigs and chickens.
There were stockyards and barns, a wine-press and underground
vault for wine, a windmill for grinding grain, about six stores
or places of trade with Indians and a church with a large wooden
cross on the roof and gilt lettering over the door.
There were blacksmiths, wagon makers, carpenters and
shoemakers." Out of this new village, on the riverfront at the
south end of Lake Peoria, sprang Peoria's still ever-changing
downtown area. (Sources: Matson's "Pioneers of Illinois," Judith
A. Franke's "Peoria Chronology," Ernest E. East's "History of
Peoria" and Sister Mary Borgias Palm's "The Jesuit Missions of
the Illinois Country.")
On March 13, 1773, five years before he founded the new village
of Peoria, Jean Baptiste Maillet sold a house and 3-acre farm at
"Old Peoria Fort" to Jean Baptiste DuSable, the French black man
who was later credited with founding Chicago. DuSable is also
believed to be the first black resident of Peoria.
It is generally believed that DuSable was born around 1750 of an
African mother and French father in either Santo Domingo or
Canada. This future wealthy proprietor of trading posts at both
Peoria and Chicago was a free man in a rampant age of slavery.
Here in Peoria, this young man in his 20s was already showing
extraordinary trading skills. It's also thought to be here that
he met and married Kittihawa (Catherine), a Potawatomi Indian.
They had two children, Jean Baptiste Jr. and Suzanne.
The large, handsome, intelligent and well-liked senior DuSable
sold his Peoria property in 1783 and located his base of
operations at Eschikagou (Chicago). DuSable had been on the site
of Chicago in 1779, but he was driven out by the British, who
suspected him of giving aid to the Americans. But he later moved
to Chicago, and it appears he lived there until 1800, when he
sold his property, consisting of a house and seven other
buildings, to Jean Lalime. DuSable was known to be back in
Peoria in 1802 or 1803, because he signed his initials, J.B.P.S.,
as a witness to two real estate transfers. He died Aug. 28,
1818, at St. Charles, Missouri Territory, and was buried in the
cemetery of St. Borromeo Catholic Church.
After selling his property to DuSable, Maillet was appointed
commandant at Peoria by George Rogers Clark. He continued in
that capacity under Gen. Arthur St. Clair, the governor of the
The stockaded house Maillet built in 1778, near the foot of the
present day Harrison Street, was part of what became a fort and
two block houses. It was surrounded by earthworks and palisades,
with an open gateway to the south, next to the town. This
stockade was only intended as a place of retreat in case of
trouble with the Indians. The fort was never occupied, except
for a short time by Maillet.
One of these two block houses was his dwelling, and the other
was a store. Some years later, it is said, he moved to a more
desirable place to live and trade. The fort then remained vacant
for many years, the enclosure being used by the citizens as a
common for their cow-yard.
In 1820, Maillet's son, Hypolite, in sworn testimony relating to
French claims at Peoria, stated that he was (then) 45 years old
and was born in a stockade fort that stood near the southern
extremity of Peoria Lake. This must have been the first Maillet
house. Hypolite also testified that his father was killed in
Along came the soldiers
In the summer of 1780, Virginia soldiers visited French Peoria,
when Col. John Montgomery, with 225 men in nine companies, led a
punitive expedition against Indians in the Rock River Valley.
His forces included a fifer and a drummer, and a flag
(description unknown) was carried by the troops.
A wealthy trader in Cahokia, Daniel Maurice Godfrey Linctot,
offered his services to Col. Clark and came to Peoria during the
Revolutionary War period with 30 mounted militia. He came to
encourage a large number of Indians here to join them and offset
the savage allies of England in the north. When Col. Clark took
possession of Illinois in 1778, he sent three soldiers,
accompanied by two Frenchmen, in a canoe to Peoria to notify the
people there that they were no longer under British rule but
were now citizens of the United States. Among these soldiers was
a man named Nicholas Smith of Bourbon County, Ky.
(Smith's son, Joseph "Dod Joe," was later among the first
American settlers of Peoria).
A large town
Smith described Peoria at the time of his visit as a large town
(for those frontier days), built along the beach of the lake,
with narrow, unpaved streets and houses constructed of wood. In
back of the town were gardens, stock yards, barns, etc., and
among these was a wine press, with a large cellar or underground
vault for storing wine. There was also a church with a large
wooden cross raised above the roof, and gilt lettering over the
door. There was an unoccupied fort on the bank of the lake, and
close by there was a windmill for grinding grain. The town
contained six stores or places of trade, all of which were
filled with goods for the Indian market.
The inhabitants included French settlers, Indians and people of
mixed heritage, and not one of them could understand or speak
The royal banner of Spain was carried by militiamen who spent
one day in Peoria in January 1781. Commanded by Don Eugenio
Pouree, the Spanish, supported by a company of Indians, came by
river from Pancour (St. Louis) and marched over land to the
British post of St. Joseph, which was captured. Jean Baptiste
Maillet guided this expedition.
Spain claimed the Illinois River and all its tributaries by
right of conquest, but its claims were rejected when England
made peace with the American colonies, and with France and
Spain, in 1783.
In the winter of 1788, a party of Indians came to Peoria to
trade. They made their quarters in the abandoned fort, and then
went on a drunken spree, burning the fort down. Hugh Heward, a
clerk for Detroit traders, visited Peoria in May 1790. He found
Louis Chatelreaux here, and recorded in his journal: "At the
village of the Pioras at the South Side of this small lake are
Seven French settled among the Indians." He identified Maillet
(whom he called "Capt. Mye") as one of those settlers.
(Sources: Matson's "Pioneers of Illinois," and Earnest E. East's
unpublished "History of Peoria.")
Back in 1778, Col. George Rogers Clark, who had captured the
British outpost at Kaskaskia on the Mississippi with fewer than
200 men, sent word up to Peoria that they were no longer under
British rule and were now citizens of the United States. In
1795, the Treaty of Greenville was negotiated by the former
revolutionary general, "Mad" Anthony Wayne. Under this treaty,
the Indians ceded a 6-mile-square piece of land at the old fort
and village, near the south end of Peoria Lake. But by around
1796, the old French village had been completely abandoned for
the new village.
In 1807, 24 men asked that Peoria be placed within the
jurisdiction of the Kaskaskia Land Commission for consideration
of claims at Peoria Lake. Congress granted petition, and a
number of claims at Peoria were subsequently confirmed.
Thomas Forsyth, who was born at the British post of Detroit, was
an important figure in the last years of New Peoria. Not only
was he Chicagoan John Kinzie's half-brother and partner in the
Indian trade, he was appointed U.S. Indian secret agent at
Peoria in 1812, reporting on the movements of unruly Indians.
Other inhabitants of New Peoria who left their imprint on the
pages of history were: Antoine "Delard" Deschamps, Illinois
brigade manager of the American Fur Co.; Antoine Le Claire, who
later was a founder of Davenport, Iowa; and Michael La Croix's
common-law wife, Catherine, who became the wife of John
Reynolds, governor of Illinois from 1830 to 1834.
In October 1812, mounted militia under the command of Col.
William Russell, came up from Fort Russell near Edwardsville and
attacked a Potawatomi village at the head of Peoria Lake. It was
the village of Chief Black Partridge, the hero of the Fort
Dearborn Massacre. Gov. Ninian Edwards accompanied the
expedition. Without waiting to see if the Indians were friendly,
the troops stormed the Indian camp at night, killing 25 to 30
people. Expected reinforcements failed to arrive and, fearing
for its safety, the governor's army hurried away and set up camp
However, at the time of the attack, Black Partridge was with
Forsyth on a mission of mercy to rescue a Lt. Helm from Indians
on the Au Sable River. Helm was married to Forsyth's niece,
Kinzie's daughter. When Black Partridge returned, he found his
village destroyed and his favorite daughter and her infant child
End of New Peoria
Capt. Thomas E. Craig of Shawneetown and his militia company had
been sent to cooperate with the mounted militia. But reaching
Peoria Lake several days after the land forces had departed,
Craig found New Peoria half empty. Craig's men then proceeded to
loot vacant houses, including the Kinzie & Forsyth warehouse.
Forsyth returned to New Peoria and demanded restoration of the
plunder. Only a portion of the stolen goods was surrendered,
however. During the night, shots were fired at Craig's boats.
The angered commander accused the French of perpetrating the
attack, but the French denied it. Craig then took the
inhabitants under his "protection." He forced 41 men, women and
children into two open boats and transported them to Savage's
Ferry near Alton.
There, the prisoners were held for four days before Gov. Edwards
ordered their release. Forsyth charged that before departing
Peoria, Craig had set fire to four houses and four barns, two of
which were full of wheat. Two weeks later, Craig reported to the
governor: "I burnt down about half of the town ... The damned
rascals may think themselves well off that they were not
scalped." Actually, he had destroyed most of the village.
New Peoria never rose from the ashes. A few of the kidnapped
inhabitants returned to an Indian village on the east side of
the Illinois River, three miles below the outlet of Peoria Lake.
In 1818, the American Fur Co. established a trading post here,
called Opa Post. Early Peoria and Tazewell county records refer
to it as the French Trading House. This village was incorporated
in 1836 as Wesley City, and in 1921, the name was changed to
Peoria French claims
The famous Peoria French claims, which were before Congress and
in the courts for more than a half-century, arose as a
consequence of Craig's lawless act.
The evicted inhabitants petitioned in 1813 for redress, and
Congress passed acts in 1820 and 1823 that provided grants to
the French lots they had occupied. By 1837, when surveys were
made, American settlers were occupying these lots -- but the
sales to these inhabitants were made subject to the French
Approximately 32 French inhabitants (or their heirs) filed
claims to 70 lots in both the Old and New Peoria villages. A
series of suits also arose for claims that were in Peoria's
business section. Thirty-six suits were filed in Peoria County
Circuit Court, while others were brought in to the U.S. Court at
Chicago, the Illinois Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Abraham Lincoln was engaged in four U.S. Circuit Court cases and
one U.S. Supreme Court case. The French won nearly all of these
Finally, in 1867, Charles Ballance, a landholder, paid Robert
Forsyth, the son of Thomas, $31,000 to release the claimant's
interest in eight lots. This ended 20 years of litigation over
Peoria's French claims. (Source: The unpublished "History of
Peoria" by Ernest E. East.)
After Col. Clark of Virginia captured Kaskaskia from the
British in 1778 (which is when he sent word to Peoria about U.S.
rule), he led about 170 men -- called "long knives" because of
the long, deadly knives they carried -- and recaptured Vincennes
(now Indiana) from the British on Feb. 25, 1779.
The previous Dec. 9 the Virginia Assembly had established
far-off Illinois as a county of Virginia. Then, in 1784,
Virginia gave up all claims in Illinois and ceded this area to
the central government. The Ordinance of 1787 established the
pattern for all future territories to proceed toward statehood.
It provided for the organization of a new unit of government to
be known as the Northwest Territory. It included what is now
Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of
Gen. Arthur St. Clair, an officer in the Revolution, was named
territorial governor, with headquarters at the newly formed town
of Cincinnati. He then came to Kaskaskia and organized the area
west of the Wabash River and gave it his own name, the County of
St. Clair. For political reasons, Cahokia, Kaskaskia, and
Prairie du Rocher were all made its county seats.
In 1800, the Northwest Territory was divided and a new territory
of Indiana was created, which included much of the present state
of Illinois, including Peoria. Then, in 1809, Illinois became a
territory in its own right, and Ninian Edwards was appointed
territorial governor, a post he held during all of Illinois'
territorial period. The present Wisconsin was included in this
The year 1811 brought the first steamboat to the Ohio River and
the first major earthquake to be recorded in the area. The quake
centered near New Madrid, Mo., but was felt over a vast area
that must have included Peoria. That year also saw an increase
in plundering and robbery by the Indians, and Gov. Edwards
dispatched Capt. Samuel Levering with a small escort to Peoria
to confer with the Indian chiefs here, headed by Chief Gomo.
They demanded the surrender of the slayers of some white
settlers and the return of stolen property. However, the net
outcome of the meeting was the return of two stolen horses and
promises. The following year brought another kind of violence to
the territory. It was the War of 1812, in which the United
States and Great Britain went to war for a second time.
This is how it was in the fledgling United States and its
Illinois Territory in October 1812, when Gov. Edwards joined
Col. William Russell and his militia on a raid of Black
Partridge's village and Capt. Thomas E. Craig's followup raid on
Peoria's New French village.
This last raid resulted in the destruction of most of the town
and the transporting of 41 of its inhabitants by boat to
Savage's Ferry near Alton. American military forces took
possession of the Peoria Lake area in 1813, when they erected
and garrisoned a stockade and named it in honor of George Rogers
Clark. Fort Clark stood at the foot of the present Liberty
Benjamin Howard, governor of the Missouri Territory, had
resigned to accept a commission as brigadier general in the U.S.
Army, and he commanded this expedition. A detachment of 150 men
of the 1st U.S. Infantry, headed by Lt. Col. Robert Carter
Nicholas, first arrived here on Aug. 29. They came from St.
Louis in reinforced keel boats and immediately began to build
While the first blockhouse was under construction, 150 Indians,
under the command of Black Partridge, made an attack on the
troops but were beaten off. This was obviously in retaliation
for the attack the previous year on Black Partridge's village,
in which his daughter and grandchild were killed.
A troop of 800 mounted rangers from Illinois and Missouri
reached Peoria Lake three days after the arrival of the
regulars. The rangers marched to the head of the lake and
destroyed two Indian villages from which the occupants had
already fled. Six years later, on April 15, 1819, after hearing
reports of Peoria's beauty and looking for a favorable place to
settle, two men arrived by horseback. Two days later, five of
their companions came by keel boat and joined them. This group
of seven formed the first permanent American settlement here.
The story of the city of Peoria begins with that of
Peoria County in 1825. It was in January 1825 that the county
commissioners court authorized William Holland to employ someone
to survey the county seat.
William Stephen Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, was then
attached to the surveyor general's office in Springfield, and
subsequently was engaged to survey the town. But it wasn't until
1835 that Peoria became the town of Peoria and, finally, in
1845, it became the city of Peoria. On March 1, 1835, the state
Legislature passed an act providing for the incorporation of
towns and cities. On the following July 18, the citizens of
Peoria met and voted to incorporate the town of Peoria.
The voters at this meeting elected five trustees: Rudolphus
Rouse, a physician; Chester Hamlin, a carpenter-contractor;
Rufus P. Burlingame, a merchant; Charles McClallen, a
contractor; and Isaac Evans, a blacksmith. Evans, however,
refused to serve as a trustee, and Cyrus Leland, a lawyer, was
appointed to fill the vacancy. Rouse was elected president of
Annual elections were held until the city of Peoria was
chartered 10 years later. At the initial meeting, the trustees
fixed the boundaries of the town to embrace an area of 1 square
mile, with its center at Main and Madison streets. Meetings were
held in the courthouse and the places of business of the
trustees. The first and only building owned by the town was a
"market house" constructed in 1838, at a cost of $500. It stood
in the middle of the 100 block of North Washington Street. The
roof covered open stalls, which were leased for one-year
periods. Rentals were $25 to $27 a year.
When the city was incorporated, it took over the market house
and operated it until 1856, when it became so dilapidated, the
council voted to abandon it. The structure was sold to Peter
Lamb for $25. Early facts about the town were included in the
first issue (April 1, 1837) of the Peoria Register and
North-Western Gazetteer newspaper. Its editor and publisher,
Samuel H. Davis, printed a history of the town, which included
information on industry, population and growth.
The newspaper listed 17 dry goods stores and nine other retail
outlets; two Presbyterian meeting houses; one Presbyterian, one
Methodist and one Unitarian clergyman; two schools, one for
girls and one for boys; 10 physicians; 12 lawyers; eight
carpenters and 41 other craftsmen in several trades; five saw
mills; three flour mills and one brewery.
In the winter of 1844-45, the Illinois Legislature passed a
measure entitled "An Act to Incorporate the City of Peoria,"
providing that the charter be submitted to a vote of the people.
An election was held at the courthouse on April 21, 1845, and a
large majority voted in favor of the incorporation. Of the 197
votes cast, only 35 were against the proposition.
A week later, an election for new city officials was held.
William Hale was elected mayor, and Jesse L. Knowlton, Peter
Sweat, Charles Kettelle, Clark Cleveland, John Hamlin, Chester
Hamlin and Hervey Lightner were elected aldermen, with a tie
between Jacob Gale and Amos P. Bartlett for the last seat.
Knowlton also was elected city clerk.
Hale and the other aldermen were sworn in the next month, and
they immediately passed an ordinance allowing the mayor to
decide the tie vote. Hale voted in favor of Bartlett. At the
time Peoria became a city, its population numbered 1,619. By
1910, just 65 years later, the thriving city had 66,950
residents. On March 21, 1848, a committee was appointed to
purchase Lot No. 3 in Block 6 for $300, for a city hall and
engine house. (This is believed to have been in the middle of
the 100 block of SW Adams, between what is now a Caterpillar
parking lot and the Jefferson Bank.)
A two-story building was erected, with the first floor devoted
to the fire company. The cellar was used as a "calaboose," and
the second floor consisted of a council room and offices for the
police magistrate, city clerk and others. In 1858, lots were
purchased at Madison Avenue and Fulton Street and a new city
hall was built the next year, at a cost of $10,000. This
two-story brick and stone structure had a 60- foot bell tower.
The fire engine room and offices for the mayor and police were
on the ground floor, with the city prison in the rear. The
second floor consisted of rooms and offices for the council,
city clerk, city engineer and other officials.
Also in 1859, a market house was built adjoining City Hall
facing Madison Avenue, which also cost $10,000. Our present day
City Hall was completed on this same corner in 1898, at a cost
of $234,592. The four-story structure includes a tower extending
above the roof, where the alarm bell, formerly used in the old
city hall, was hung. The city prison was erected at the same
time, adjoining the new city hall, on Fulton Street. (Sources:
"History of Peoria City and County, Vol. I" and Ernest E. East's
unpublished "History of Peoria.")
This history was written from the beginning, when Fort
St. Louis moved here from Starved Rock in 1691, to the building
of our current Peoria City Hall in 1898. Now that the
Tricentennial year has drawn to a close, it only seems
appropriate to remember some of the early settler families that
have been a part of Peoria's growth since the first American
settlement in 1819. Here, then, are four of those pioneer
families and their descendants who still live in our town:
VIRGINIA BIRKET BOGGS and HELEN BIRKET live in East Peoria and
are direct descendants of the pioneer Birket family. In 1826,
one year after Peoria County was formed, John Birket drove his
horse and wagon into town, and on that same day he bought 154
acres of prime real estate. His claim stretched from 1 1/2 to
three miles north of Peoria's present downtown. It included
portions of today's Glen Oak Park, Woodruff High School,
Detweiller Marina and most of the North Side from Spring Street
to the Peoria Waterworks. It also included all of the site of
former Old Peoria's fort and village.
Birket was born in England in 1798 and came to the United States
when he was 21. Trained as a carpenter, he built his first home
at the foot of Caroline Street and in the spring of 1827,
planted Peoria's first apple orchard. He later built
old-fashioned plows, the first recorded farm implements made
here. Birket married Marjorie Thomas of Chillicothe, Ohio, and
they began their married life here in 1831. Their first child,
John C., was born in 1834. Five years later the family moved to
a location near Washington in Tazewell County, where their
second son, Arthur T., was born.
In the 1840s, the family moved back to Peoria, where Birket
built a home at 800 Hayward. There, a third son, William, was
born. Today's Virginia Birket Boggs and Helen Birket are
daughters of Arthur's son, Alonzo Lorenzo Sylvester Birket. DR.
HARRY C. STONE resides on Galena Road with offices at 5401 N.
Knoxville. He's a direct descendant of the Gistorf-Stone-Proctor
family that dates back to a German immigrant, Frederick Julius
Gustorf, who arrived here in 1836.
Gustorf married Harriet Benson in 1837 and they had three
children, one of whom was Gertrude, who later married William E.
Stone, the first cashier of the First National Bank. One of
their seven children, Harry Clayton Stone, married Edith
Proctor, the daughter of John Proctor II. One of their three
children was John Proctor Stone, who became president and
treasurer of H.C. Stone Lumber Co. Today's Dr. Harry C. Stone is
FLORENCE GILES is now a retired District 150 schoolteacher, and
lives at Proctor Home. She's a direct descendant of Thomas and
Ann Picken Giles, who also came to Peoria in 1836. Thomas Giles
was born in Gloucestershire, England, of Welsh parents. Upon
arriving here, he immediately purchased 80 acres of land from
William Hale, at $9 an acre, in the vicinity of Knoxville
Avenue, Mount Hawley Road, Kellar School and Giles Lane. He died
in 1838 when his son, William, was 20 years old. William and his
three brothers worked the farm until 1849, when William joined
the California gold rush, experiencing moderate success. He
later returned to, again, work the family farm, and married Ann
Uphoff. Their son, Albert E., was born here in 1862. In 1890,
son Albert opened a brick yard on Sheridan Road, across from
Buehler Home, and later married Jane Merritt of Champaign. Their
two children were Florence and Merritt Giles.
HELEN RADLEY MARQUESS of 725 W. Eleanor Place is descended from
the Schimpff-Triebel-Radley family that began when Carl Schimpff
brought his family here from Landau, Germany, in 1849, and Louis
Green brought his bride, Karolina Triebel, from Springfield in
1855. Schimpff's son, Albert, enlisted in the Civil War as a
bugle boy in Peorian Col. Greenhut's regiment. He later became a
merchant, school board member, founder of the German Merchant's
Bank and co-founder of the Commercial National (now First of
Albert married Frieda Green, the daughter of Karolina Green, who
was Fritz Triebel's aunt. (Fritz was the sculptor who, among
other things, sculpted the Civil War monument that still stands
in Courthouse Plaza.)
Albert and Frieda Green had a daughter, Lilly Caroline, who
married Henry Radley of Jubilee Township, and today's Helen
Radley Marquess is their daughter. There are more present-day
Peorians who have lineage dating back in our town's early
history, and we'll look at some of them in future columns.
The facts on these pioneer families came from Gloria Hetherlin
LaHood's "Tricentennial Homecoming" article, which appeared in
Peoria County Old Settler's Association's 125th Annual Reunion