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The Making of the 50 States: Illinois


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• Part 2: The Rest of the Story

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The Making of the 50 States
The 13 American Colonies
Clickable map of the 13 Colonies with descriptions of each colony
American History Glossary
The First European Settlements in America
Map of the Northwest Territory
Colonial Times

Part 1: In the Beginning

Illinois was early inhabited by Native Americans, among them the powerful Illini. This word was actually a French mangling of "Hileni" or "Illiniwek" as Illinois. This "name" notwithstanding, the Illini built one of the most powerful confederations the continent ever saw.

The five most populous tribes were the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Tamaroa, Cahokia, and Michigamea. They grew pumpkins, squash, and maize. They got fish from the Illinois River and participated in annual buffalo hunts.

Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet explored much of the area in 1673. Also entering the picture in the late 17th Century was René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. These explorers built forts and missions throughout what is now Illinois and claimed most of it for France.

In 1712, the Illinois River became the boundary of France's Louisiana Territory.

For many years, the Illini Confederation fought the French. These struggles weakened both sides, making the British victory in the French and Indian War even easier.

After the British victory, the Illinois territory changed hands, from France to Great Britain. In 1771, the people of Illinois met at Kaskaskia and demanded a form of self-government; Great Britain refused, continuing to insist that all officials must be appointed by the British king.

The territory was soon part of battle again, during the Revolutionary War. George Rogers Clark captured Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes, all strategic locations. After the American victory in 1783, Virginia claimed Illinois; one year later, the state turned it over to the federal government.

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