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The transition in Illinois from British to American government online

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tucky," R. H. Collins' ed., I, 15.

"Mich. P. Colls., X, 266. For an account of the agricul-
tural possibilities of Illinois, as well as of the unenterprising
character of the people, see a pamphlet written by a Kaskaskian,
published in Philadelphia, in 1772. It is reprinted in Alvord and
Carter, Invitation Serieuse aux Habitants des Illinois, by [sic] Un
Habitant des Kaskaskias.

"Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xvii, note 2.

19 Alvord and Carter, op. cit., 15.



ILLINOIS UNDER GREAT BRITAIN. 21

as a "foreign yoke." 20 They hoped that they would some
day be restored to France, but their habits of obedience
were such that they never organized a revolt.

The uprising of Pontiac, following the war with France,
postponed the occupation of the country by British forces
till 1765. It was believed by some that the Indian parties
which ravaged the colonial frontiers during Pontiac's War
were supplied with ammunition by the French at Fort
Chartres. 21 The French in Illinois were supposed to be
reaping great profit from their trade with the Indians, 22 and
it was expected that they would not give up the country
without a struggle. 23 It was regarded as very important
that the influence exerted by them over the Indians should
be brought to an end, 24 and it was hoped that the British
occupation of the country would accomplish this result. 25
Sir William Johnson considered Fort Chartres an important
settlement for purposes of trade, 26 and Golden thought it
necessary that a British post should be maintained there. 27

In 1765 the last French commandant at Fort Chartres
formally surrendered the post to his British successor. 28
Thereafter, until the whole Northwest had been joined by
the Quebec Act to the province of Quebec, the troops at
Fort Chartres, and later at Kaskaskia, represented the
British government in Illinois. The local commandant,
subject to the commander-in-chief of the British forces in
North America, ruled the country as despotically as his
French predecessor had done. 29

*"An Address to Congress from the French Inhabitants of Post
Vincennes, Kaskaskia," etc., 1788; Papers of the Continental
Congress, Library of Congress.

21 Colls. N. Y. Hist. Soc., Pub. Fund Series, IX, 336.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.
"Ibid., 443-

25 O'Callaghan, op. cit., II, 476.
"Ibid., 478.

27 Colls. N. Y. Hist. Soc., Pub. Fund Series, IX, 380.

28 Trans. III. St. Hist. Soc., for 1907, 211; Mason, Chapters from
III. Hist., 235.

28 Pittman, op. cit., 88.



22 TRANSITION IN ILLINOIS.

As soon as Illinois passed under British control, eastern
colonists were attracted thither by the alluring prospects of
fur trade and land speculation. A new element was added
to the population. Communication was established between
the eastern colonies and Illinois. 30 The easiest and most
customary route was from Fort Pitt down the Ohio, 31 and
boats were kept on that river to maintain communication. 32
Another possible route was by Lake Erie, up the Maumee,
and down the Wabash to the Ohio. 33 The all-water route
by New Orleans was too long and expensive to be followed.
Eastern firms, anxious to participate in the profits of the
fur trade, established branches in the French villages and
sent out agents. Speculation in Illinois land proved equally
congenial to their commercial instincts. Land companies
were formed and several tracts were bought from the north-
western tribes. In 1773, apparently with the consent of
Captain Lord, then British commandant at Kaskaskia, the
Illinois Land Company purchased a large tract from the
Indians. Another extensive purchase was made in 1775
by the Wabash Land Company, in which Lord Dunmore,
then governor of Virginia, was interested. 34 These pur-
chases, in violation of the proclamation of 1763, were, of
course, illegal. Consequently some of them were annulled
by General Gage. 35 The military authorities, indeed, made
a genuine effort to force the traders to deal fairly with the
Indians ; 36 and their attitude discouraged similar enter-
prises. The incorporation of the Northwest into the
province of Quebec tended to lessen communication
between Illinois and the eastern colonies. But, although the
number of eastern traders declined after the Quebec Act
went into operation in 1775, some remained. They played

80 Alvord and Carter, op. cit., 7-8.

81 Colls. N. Y. Hist. Soc., Pub. Fund Series, IX, 381.

82 Colls. Mass. Hist. Soc., 4th series, X, 724.

38 Colls. N. Y. Hist. Soc., Pub. Fund Series, IX, 381.

84 American State Papers, "Public Lands," I, 27.

85 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xxx ; Report on Canadian Archives,
1885, 201.

M Ibid., 213 ; ibid., 1886, 512.



ILLINOIS UNDER GREAT BRITAIN. 23

a part in Illinois history before the Revolution similar to
that played in Canada by the "old subjects," as the English
inhabitants of the province were called, in distinction to
the French, the "new subjects." In Illinois, as in Canada,
this class was in the main in sympathy with the spirit which,
in the eastern colonies, was soon to break out in open revolt.
Their opposition to the military government can be
explained partly by the fact that it stood for the principles
of the proclamation of 1763, which conflicted with their
trading and speculating enterprises. In Canada, the "old
subjects" clamored for an assembly. 37 In Illinois, the
easterners protested against the evils of military and urged
the establishment of civil government. 38 A memorial was
submitted in 1770 by Daniel Blouin, a French Creole, setting
forth the disadvantages of the military regime, and request-
ing the establishment of a civil government like that enjoyed
by Connecticut. It was probably inspired, however, by
English colonial merchants and traders in the country.
Gage regarded Blouin not as a representative of the people
of Illinois, but as a mouthpiece of the "republican" faction
there. 39 The majority of the French inhabitants of Canada
certainly did not desire the establishment of an assembly,
and it. could hardly be supposed that the Illinois French
would demand one. The attempt to secure civil government
at this time failed. 40 The easterners, however, exercised an
importance out of proportion to their numbers, for they
were more intelligent, shrewd and enterprising than most
of their Creole neighbors. Their presence in Illinois dur-
ing the decade 1765-1775 made possible correspondence
between that country and the Atlantic colonies, and prepared
some, at least, of the inhabitants for the reception of
American ideas, and, if they should come, of American
troops. 41

87 Coffin, op. cit., 319.

88 Alvord and Carter, op. cit., xviii.

39 Kept, on Can. Archives, 1884, 61.

40 Alvord and Carter, op. cit., xxiii.

41 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xxxi.



24 TRANSITION IN ILLINOIS.

Most of the opposition to the government of Illinois dur-
ing the decade of military rule emanated from the English-
speaking element. In 1765 Captain Stirling, the first British
commandant, brought a proclamation from General Gage
which served as a sort of constitution for ten years. 42 By
the terms of this the liberty of the Catholic religion was
granted to the inhabitants of Illinois, as it had been granted
to those of Canada; all who chose were allowed to leave
the country, and those who remained and became British
subjects were to enjoy all the rights and liberties of the
king's "old subjects." They were required to take an oath
of fidelity and obedience, and to assist the British troops
to take peaceable possession of the country.

The task of the military commandant during the British
period was evidently difficult. He was called upon to pre-
side over the old French and the new English inhabitants
of Illinois, two classes as inharmonious as could be
imagined. The French had knowledge only of their own
law, the "coutume de Paris." The easterners desired the
establishment of English judicial institutions. In Novem-
ber, 1768, a court on the English model was set up at Fort
Chartres, consisting of seven judges, with civil jurisdiction.
Juries were not employed. 43 At first, the majority of the
judges were eastern colonists who had recently come into
the country. Soon, however, the majority were French,
but the court continued to be presided over by one of the
most influential of the eastern traders, and it became the
mouthpiece of the faction which was opposed to the military
regime. In 1770, it ventured to protest against the arbitrary
actions of the commandant, Colonel Wilkins, who responded
by dissolving it. 44 The origin of an anti-governmental
party in Illinois during the period of British rule, therefore,

42 Am. St. Papers, "Public Lands," II, 209; or Brown, History of
Illinois, 212-213.

^Alvord, Illinois in the Eighteenth Century, 21. The colonial
French seem always to have been opposed to juries; see Force, Am.
Archives, 4th series, I, 189.

44 Alvord and Carter, op. cit., xix.



ILLINOIS UNDER GREAT BRITAIN. 25

is traceable to the presence of this eastern element. Most
of the influential French inhabitants, though not all, were
passively on the side of the government. Gabriel Cerre.
for example, who was decidedly the leading merchant of
Illinois, supported it. 46 According to the testimony of
Captain Lord, the people in general were opposed to the
establishment of civil government. 46

Throughout the period, conditions on the Wabash were
little short of anarchical. It was felt necessary that some
government should be established there, 47 but no official
came to exercise authority till I///. 48

The failure of British administration in the West has
already been discussed, and its causes shown. The govern-
ment hoped that the former commercial intercourse between
Illinois and New Orleans would be terminated, and that
the Illinois trade would be turned up the Ohio, by which
channel it would reach the eastern colonial ports. But the
English traders in Illinois followed lines of least resistance
and greatest profit. They sent their furs to New Orleans,
because it was far easier than to ship them to New York
or Philadelphia, and because prices were higher than in
English colonial markets. Gage was aware of this contra-
band trade as early as I766. 49 It was his opinion that
practically no peltries from Illinois reached eastern ports,
that none ever would which passed through New Orleans,
and that nothing but force or greater profits could change
the natural course of trade. 50 It was estimated by a con-
temporary that between 500 and 1,000 packs of peltries were
shipped annually from Illinois to New Orleans. 51 The Mis-
souri river trade, moreover, which, during the French
period, had centered at Cahokia, was now diverted to the
Spanish posts across the Mississippi.

45 Trans. III. St. Hist. Soc., 1903, 275 et seq.

48 Rept. on Can. Archives, 1886, 519.

47 Fernow, op, cit., 181.

* Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., I, 313.

48 Carter, op. cit.

"Ibid.

51 Ibid.



26 TRANSITION IN ILLINOIS.

In 1768 Captain Forbes, then commandant at Fort
Chartres, made an effort to prohibit the New Orleans trade
by forcing traders to give a bond of 200 to ship their
furs to a British port, 32 but he was unable to stop the
illicit traffic. Sir William Johnson, in 1767, complained of
the expense involved in the administration of Illinois, which,
he said, was vastly more than he had expected. 53

The British government came to feel that the Northwest
must be annexed to some province. 5 * Some provision had
to be made for the French villages. 55 To leave them with-
out any government, or to establish separate colonies for
them, was felt to be unwise. 56 Political considerations made
it inadvisable to join that area to any of the eastern colonies,
for this was the era of the Boston Tea Party and the
Committees of Correspondence. It seemed most expedient,
therefore, to annex it to the province of Quebec. This,
according to Lord North, was the motive of the Lords in
passing the Quebec Bill. 57

The province of Quebec, including the whole Northwest,
as established by the act of 1774, was a crown colony, with
a governor and legislative council appointed by the king. 58
On account of the small number of English inhabitants
no provision was made for an assembly. 59 General Guy
Carleton, who had been serving as governor of Quebec,
was retained in office. The chief post in the "upper
country," as the Northwest was called by the authorities
at Quebec, was Detroit. Subordinate to Carleton, Lieu-
tenant-Governor Henry Hamilton was sent to take com-
mand of that post, where he arrived in November, I775. 60
The Quebec Act, however, made little change in the govern-

52 Carter, op. cit.

53 O'Callaghan, op. cit., II, 499.

84 Kept, on Can. Archives, 1884, 59, 61 ; ibid., 1885. 232.

w Annual Register, for 1774, 76.

68 Force, Am. Archives, 4th series, I, 181.

"Ibid.

88 Coffin, op. cit., 278.

59 Parliamentary History of England, XVII, 1358.

"Mich. P. Colls., X, 265.



ILLINOIS UNDER GREAT BRITAIN. 27

ment of Illinois, and the troops were retained there until
1776.

The American invasion of Canada in 1775, and the sub-
sequent course of the Revolution, made it impossible for the
Quebec authorities adequately to provide for the govern-
ment and defense of the whole province. Though Carleton
always sought to keep himself informed of general, and
particularly of military conditions in the Northwest, the
posts in that territory were left largely to their own
resources and self-defense. 61

When the Quebec Act went into operation, Captain Lord
was acting as commandant of the British troops at
Kaskaskia. The next year they were withdrawn to Detroit,
as a result of the American invasion of Canada, and also
to save expense. 62 This event may be regarded as the
termination of military government in Illinois. Upon leav-
ing the country Captain Lord suggested Rocheblave as a
suitable person to represent British interests. Rocheblave
was a Frenchman who had come to Canada about 1748,
taken up his abode in Illinois between 1770 and 1776, and
become a British subject. 63 He tells us that Lord appointed
him "judge and commander," with orders to keep the
Indians faithful to Great Britain. 64 Carleton, however,
stated that he employed Rocheblave "to have an eye on the
proceedings of the Spaniards and the management of the
Indians . . . ," 65 As military government had ceased, and
as Rocheblave had no troops to command, we are to regard
him not as Lord's successor, but merely as a British agent.
The establishment under the Quebec Act of formal civil
government for Illinois was prevented by the outbreak of
the Revolution. 66 Rocheblave was allowed to draw a small

"Ibid., IX, 343-344.

62 Mason, Early Chicago and Illinois, 407 ; Mich. P. Colls., IX, 350.

68 For a sketch of Rocheblave see Mason, Early Chic, and III.,
360-381.

"Ibid., 396.

"Ibid., 395.

68 Captain Mathew Johnson was appointed lieutenant-governor of
Illinois, and nominally held that position from 1775 to 1781. A



28 TRANSITION IN ILLINOIS.

sum on the treasurer at Quebec for necessary expenses, 67
but he was inadequately provided for. Left in charge of
a country without troops or money, it is small wonder that
he did not succeed.

The brief period of Rocheblave's residence as British
agent in Illinois (1776-1778) was that in which the way
was prepared for the overthrow of British rule in the
country. He had a high opinion of the possibilities and
strategic importance of Illinois, and thought that, if better
known, it could be made a rich and prosperous colony. But
he feared that it would become the center of communication,
by way of the Ohio and Mississippi, between the eastern
rebels and the Spaniards on the Gulf of Mexico and in
Upper Louisiana. 68 Though affecting a position of neutral-
ity in the early Revolution, Spain was secretly helping the
colonists, 69 and Spanish officials in Louisiana were lending
aid to them. 70 Rocheblave kept setting forth the danger
of this communication, and it was understood by the
authorities at Quebec. 71 But they could not furnish the aid
which he asked for. His requests for troops were unheeded,
and many of his drafts were protested. 72

The disposition of the Indians, upon which the fate of
Illinois to a large extent depended, was a matter of great
concern to the British agent. He was expected to keep
them friendly, and to prevent them from being seduced
by rebel and Spanish agents. The only means of accom-
plishing this, as he well knew, was a liberal and continuous
bestowal of presents. Without adequate supplies, and with
no troops, he found great difficulty in dealing with them. 73

warrant for his salary for these six years was issued by the
authorities at Quebec, but he never exercised the functions of the
office. Rept. on Can. Archives, 1885, 337-338.

87 Mason, Early Chic, and III, 382.

^ Ibid., 407.

69 Floridablanca to Marquis D'Ossun, 17 Oct., 1777 ; Stevens,
Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to
America, 1773-1783, XIX.

70 Houck, op. cit., I, 303.

71 Mich. P. Colls., IX, 344.

72 Mason, Early Chic, and III., 371, 407.

73 Ibid., 417.



ILLINOIS UNDER GREAT BRITAIN. 29

In attempting- to check the evils produced by the sale of
liquor to the Indians, Rocheblave seems to have aroused
ill-feeling among the English-speaking- party. The danger
caused by the presence in the villages of disorderly and
intoxicated savages is obvious. The only power, however,
which he could invoke was public opinion. He accordingly
called an assembly of the people in April, 1776, to discuss
Indian relations. It was decided to place them under col-
lective control, and the inhabitants agreed not to sell intoxi-
cants to the savages. The agreement was signed by most
of the influential among the French, but by only one of
the English-speaking party. 74

Further friction developed between the agent . and this
element of the population. They accused him of having
taken oaths of allegiance successively to France, Spain and
Great Britain, 75 and doubtless hated him as a renegade
Frenchman, who was representing a government from
which their friends and relatives in the east were revolting.
They were eager to thwart him whenever possible. They
constantly complained of his tyranny. They accused him
of siding with the French against them in disputes, and of
even acting as their counsel. They said that he paid no
attention to protests and appeals, and was not an English-
man's friend. They even addressed a petition to the
governor of the province concerning his iniquities. 76
According to the terms of the Quebec Act the French
inhabitants of the province were to have their old law in civil
cases, but in criminal cases the English law was to prevail. 77
Political and judicial conditions during Rocheblave's
agency, however, were almost chaotic. He acted as judge,
and tells us that demands were constantly made that the
English law should be followed, if it happened to favor
the litigant, who might the very next day demand the

74 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xxxii.
n Mich. P. Colls., XIX, 324.

76 Mason, Early Chic, and III., 385-388.

77 Coffin, op. tit., 278.



30 TRANSITION IN ILLINOIS.

French law, if advantageous to him. 78 He complained bit-
terly of the "reckless spirits," who thought that the govern-
ment owed them everything while they owed the govern-
ment nothing. 79

In the legitimate performance of his duties the agent
came into further conflict with the disaffected party over
the question of aid given to the eastern rebels by the
Spaniards at New Orleans and St. Louis. Boats laden with
supplies came up the Mississippi and Ohio to Fort Pitt, then
held by Virginia, and Governor Galvez at New Orleans was
on very friendly terms with Oliver Pollock, an agent of
Virginia and the United States in that city. The anti-
British party in Illinois knew of this communication and
beheld it with joy; 80 and they themselves traded and cor-
responded with the rebels. 81

Even among the French of Illinois sympathy for the
Americans existed. 82 A condition somewhat similar is to
be found in lower Canada, during the period of the early
Revolution. In spite of the anti-Catholifir sentiments of the
revolutionary party in the colonies, there was a decided
feeling of sympathy among the Canadians, especially the
lower class, for the "rebels," and some of the Jesuits, even,
sympathized. Of the inhabitants of Illinois who were
inclined to favor the Americans, the most important, on
account of his great influence, was Father Pierre Gibault,
the priest of Kaskaskia, who had instructed himself some-
what in the questions at issue in the Revolution. 83
Evidently the British hold on Illinois at the beginning of
the Revolution was not strong.

From about 1776 the pro- American party was expecting,
and Rocheblave was fearing, an American expedition into

78 Mason, Early Chic, and III., 391.

79 Ibid., 416.

80 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xxxiii.

81 Ibid., I, 299; Mich. P. Colls., XIX, 324; Kept, on Can. Archives,
1890 (State papers), 92.

82 Mich. P. Colls., XIX, 417.

83 For information concerning Gibault see English, Conquest of the
Country Northwest of the River Ohio and Life of Gen. George
Rogers Clark, I, 184 et seq.



ILLINOIS UNDER GREAT BRITAIN. 31

the country, 84 from the direction of Fort Pitt. This strate-
gic point, at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monon-
gahela rivers, "the gateway of the West," had been
evacuated by order of General Gage in October, 1772, but
had been re-garrisoned two years later by Major John
Connolly under instructions from Dunmore. 85 Connolly was
in command at Fort Pitt when the Revolution broke out.
He speculated on the possibility of a body of rebels going
down the Ohio and up the Mississippi to attack Kaskaskia,
and wrote a letter to Captain Lord, then in command at
that post, warning him of this danger. The letter, however,
fell into the hands of the Americans, and probably called
attention to the possibility of such an attack, 86 though this
could scarcely fail to suggest itself, since intercourse
between Fort Pitt and New Orleans had become frequent.
In July, 1775, the garrison at Fort Pitt was disbanded, and
Virginia militia took possession in September of the same
year. 87 Their position, and the American hold on the Fort
Pitt region, were greatly strengthened by a treaty of friend-
ship made in 1775 with the Indians of the upper Ohio by
commissioners of Congress and Virginia. 88

In April, 1776, Congress appointed George Morgan agent
for Indian affairs in the Middle Department, which
included the West, with headquarters at Fort Pitt. 89 He
was to cultivate the friendship of the Indians, and to do
everything in his power to attach them to Congress.
Morgan had been one of the first of the eastern traders and

84 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xxxv; see also An Address
to Congress from the French Inhabitants of Post Vincennes,
Kaskaskia, etc., 1788.

85 Thwaites and Kellogg, Documentary History of Dunmore 's War,
53, note; Thwaites and Kellogg, The Revolution on the Upper
Ohio, 17.

84 Butterfield, History of George Rogers Clark's Conquest of the
Illinois and the Wabash Towns, 1778 and 1779, 8.

87 Thwaites and Kellogg, Rev. on the U. Ohio, 20.

88 Ibid., 25 et seq.

89 Journals of the Continental Congress, Ford's ed., IV, 268;
Morgan's commission is in MSS. of the Library of Congress, Letters
to Morgan.



32 TRANSITION IN ILLINOIS.

speculators to go to Illinois, where he had lived for several
years. 90 He, of course, had friends and associates in Kas-
kaskia, with whom he maintained correspondence after his
appointment as Indian agent. 91 He was in communication,
also, with the American party in Detroit, and with Governor
Galvez of New Orleans. 92 He probably knew more about
the West than any other man in the service of the United
States. The American party in Illinois expected that
Morgan would lead an expedition into the country. 93 It
was this that Rocheblave feared. In a letter written in
July, 1776, to one of his friends in Kaskaskia, Morgan
desired "to know the exact situation of affairs at the Illinois,
and what quantity of flour and beef you could furnish a
company or two of men with at Kaskaskia the twenty-fifth
of next December." 94 Rocheblave was thinking of such
an attack when he wrote in July, 1777, to Stuart, British
agent among the southern Indians, that he had learned that
a number of boats were being prepared at Fort Pitt for the
purpose of embarking a force, which could be intended only


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Online LibraryRobert Livingston SchuylerThe transition in Illinois from British to American government → online text (page 3 of 13)