Stories from Illinois History
UNDER THREE FLAGS: Illinois Before Statehood
By PHYLLIS CONNOLLY
"Papa, Mama, it's coming! The convoy is
coming! Hurry! Hurry!"
"In a minute, Armand, in a minute,"
laughed his father. "We've waited a whole
year for the convoy to come, and we can wait
five minutes more."
"But Papa, even the commandant, Major
de Makarty, is down at the dock. Oh, hurry,
please!" And ten-year-old Armand Pineau
jumped up and down with excitement.
Indeed all the inhabitants of the usually
sleepy village of Kaskaskia seemed to be
scurrying to the dock at the edge of the river.
In the Illinois country during the 1700's the
arrival of the annual convoy from New Or-
leans was almost as festive an event as
Christmas. In the late fall or early winter the
boats reached Kaskaskia with a year's supply
of goods for the French settlers (or habitants
as they were called) : fine carved furniture,
soft satins and rustling silk to be trimmed
with delicate lace and made into party clothes,
bolt after bolt of bright red and blue cloth
for everyday clothes, and crude wooden farm
tools. Then each spring the bateaux (flat-
boats) and pirogues (boats made of hollowed-
out logs) were loaded with bulging sacks of
flour and gleaming beaver, otter, and muskrat
skins for sale in New Orleans. Soldiers ac-
companied the convoy to protect goods and
ti*avelers from Indian attacks.
This year, 1753, the boats also carried
many workmen who had been sent from
France to rebuild Fort de Chartres, some
sixteen miles up the Mississippi from Kas-
kaskia. The new fort would be grand—built
of stone to withstand the flood waters which
had washed away the old wooden fort and
made so strong that the English could never
Kaskaskia was the best known of the
French villages in Illinois, because it was the
largest and was the center of trade. To the
north were settlements at Prairie du Rocher,
Fort de Chartres, St. Phillippe, and Cahokia.
Across the Mississippi was Ste. Genevieve,
and far, far to the east, on the Wabash River,
was Vincennes. At Ste. Genevieve and St.
Phillippe, many habitants worked in the local
salt and lead mines; Fort de Chartres was the
home of merchants who traded at the fort.
But most of the French habitants made their
living by trapping in the winter and farming
in the summer.
The land they worked was laid out in long
narrow strips near the villages. Most farmers
had several strips, all located in different
places. Wheat was the major crop, and it
grew well in the rich land along the Missis-
sippi. The French also raised corn—a crop
they had borrowed from the Indians along
with beans, squash, pumpkins, watermelons,
Important decisions, such as when to build
roads or make repairs on the village church,
were made by town councils called syndics.
These were elected each year by those habi-
tants who were allowed to vote—men old
enough to bear arms (probably over age
fourteen) and widows. Thus the habitants
enjoyed a certain amount of self-government;
even though the French king did not really
believe in democracy, he was too far away
to curb the spirit of his Illinois subjects.
They were jolly folk, these habitants, al-
ways ready for a party, especially on holi-
days. But their easy-going way of life was
soon destined to end. Traders from the
English colonies along the Atlantic Coast had
crossed the Appalachian Mountains and
reached the Ohio Valley as early as the 1680's
and begun to compete with the French for
... . ¦¦.....¦.?: ~~^^S
Restored gateway to Fort de Chartres