Illinois State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Illinois State History

Indians hunted in Illinois as far back as 5000 B.C. and today you can still view the remains of their civilization at places such as Chahokia Mounds-North America's largest and most valuable prehistoric earthnwork relic. Dickson Mounds Indian Museum near Lewiston features special exhibits which chronicle the Indian's valuable place in Illinois history.

The first European explorers in Illinois were Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, Frenchmen who paddled by birchbark canoe along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. They traveled the length of the state-from what is now Chicago to the southernmost reaches of Illinois.

More French explorers followed, building military outposts and establishing a fur trading empire with local Indians. In 1673, at the close of the French and Indian War, the Treaty of Paris ceded to England all lands France had claimed east of the Mississippi River, except for New Orleans in Louisiana. The British continued to control what is now Illinois until 1778 when George Rogers Clark, a Revolutionary War hero, and his band of American colonists captured Fort Kaskaskia. The Illinois country became a possession of Virginia until 1787 when it joined the Northwest Territory under the government of the United States. Kaskaskia became Illinois' first capitol in 1818. Two years later the seat of Illinois government was moved to Vandalia. In 1839, largely through the efforts of a young legislator named Abraham Lincoln, the capitol was again moved-this time to Springfield, where it is now open to the public as an historic site. The Capitol in use today dates back to 1868, when ground was broken for its construction. Although the General Assembly moved in eight years later in 1876, it took 20 years to complete the building at a cost of $4.5 million. During 1988, Illinois celebrated the centennial of the completion of the Statehouse.

Illinois Historic Figures

Abraham Lincoln
1809-1865: 16th President of the United States (March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865). Lincoln came to Illinois from Indiana when he was 20 years old. He worked here as a riverboat captain, store clerk, postmaster, county circuit lawyer, land surveyor, state legislature and U.S. Congressman. The towns where he lived and worked-New Salem Village, Springfield and others-are visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year. Lincoln's home, in which he lived with his family for 17 years, is located in Springfield. Abraham Lincoln is buried in a tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery just north of Springfield.


Black Hawk (Makataimeshekiakiak)
1767-1838: Sauk and Fox war chief, born in present-day Illinois, USA. A fierce opponent of the spread of white settlers, he attempted to form a pan-Indian alliance to repossess ancestral lands but was defeated in what was called the "Black Hawk War' (1832). Released from prison in 1833, he toured several eastern cities and dictated his autobiography.


Louis Jolliet
1645-1700: Canadian explorator born in Quebec City, he studied with the "Jesuites" monks. He traveled mainly in the West for fur trade. He was chosen by Frontenac to accompany Father Marquette in his endeavour to find the Mississipi River which they found in 1673. He owned a relatively large land in Moisie (close to Sept-Iles) which was called "JOLLIET point". He bought the fur trade post of Sept-Iles in 1679. In 1680, he was granted the large Anticosti Island in return for his services to the King. The fort he built on the Island was destroyed by the British in 1690. Two British ships also destroyed his establishment in Sept-Iles. He explored the Labrador, Ashianipi Lake and continued fur trade in the area. In 1693 he was nominated the King's cartographer. Louis JOLLIET died as a poor man and it is believed that he was buried in the Mingan Islands North-East of Sept-Iles.


Daniel H. Burnham
1846-1912: He supervised the laying out and construction of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and, in 1909, Burnham and his assistant Edward H. Bennett (Michigan Avenue Bridge) prepared The Plan for Chicago, which is considered the nation's first example of a comprehensive planning document. Burnham also worked on other city plans, including ones for Cleveland, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Manila in the Phillipines.


George Rogers Clark
1752-1818: Surveyor, soldier; born near Charlottesville, Va. A surveyor by profession, he had explored the Ohio River region. At the outset of the American Revolution, he was commander of the Kentucky militia; taking the offensive with a small force, he conducted an epic campaign, which involved incredible overland marches and the capture of several British outposts, climaxing in the "Night of the Long Knives" at Fort Sackville, Vincennes, Ind. (1779). He continued to fight the British and their Indian allies, and by the end of the Revolution he had secured the old Northwest (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois) for the new United States--a military reality the politicians recognized in the Treaty of Paris (1783). After the war he participated in a military expedition against the Wabash Indians, and because he took some goods, he lost favor with the government in Virginia and with George Washington. After two failures with French military expeditions, from 1803 he was engaged mainly in supervising land allotments in the new territory he had secured.