Kaskaskia, Illinois

Kaskaskia is a historically important village in Randolph County, Illinois, United States. In the 2010 census the population was 14, making it the second-smallest incorporated community in the State of Illinois in terms of population, behind Valley City (pop. 13).[3] As a major French colonial town of the Illinois Country, in the 18th century its peak population was about 7,000, when it was a regional center. During the American Revolutionary War, the town, which by then had become an administrative center for the British Province of Quebec, was taken by the Virginia militia during the Illinois campaign. It was designated as the county seat of Illinois County, Virginia, after which it became part of the Northwest Territory in 1787. Kaskaskia was later named as the capital of the United States' Illinois Territory, created on February 3, 1809. In 1818, when Illinois became the 21st U.S. state, the town briefly served as the state's first capital until 1819, when the capital was moved to more centrally located Vandalia.

Most of the town was destroyed in April 1881 by flooding, as the Mississippi River shifted eastward to a new channel, taking over the lower 10 mi (16 km) of the Kaskaskia River. This resulted from deforestation of the river banks during the 19th century, due to crews taking wood for fuel to feed the steamboat and railroad traffic. The river now passes east rather than west of the town. The state boundary line, however, remained in its original location. Accordingly, if the Mississippi River is considered to be a break in physical continuity, Kaskaskia is an exclave of Illinois, lying west of the Mississippi and accessible only from Missouri. A small bridge crosses the old riverbed, now a creek that is sometimes filled with water during flood season. Kaskaskia has an Illinois telephone area code (618) and a Missouri ZIP Code (63673). Its roads are maintained by Illinois Dept. of Transportation, and its few residents vote in the Illinois elections. The town was evacuated in the Great Flood of 1993, which covered it with water more than nine feet deep.

Kaskaskia Church
Kaskaskia Church
Location of Kaskaskia in Randolph County, Illinois.
Location of Kaskaskia in Randolph County, Illinois.
Kaskaskia is located in Illinois
Location of Kaskaskia in Randolph County, Illinois.
Kaskaskia is located in the United States
Kaskaskia (the United States)
Coordinates: 37°55′17″N 89°54′59″W / 37.92139°N 89.91639°WCoordinates: 37°55′17″N 89°54′59″W / 37.92139°N 89.91639°W
CountryUnited States
 • Total0.11 sq mi (0.28 km2)
 • Land0.11 sq mi (0.28 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
 • Total14
 • Estimate 
 • Density120.37/sq mi (46.28/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP Code(s)
Area code(s)618/366
FIPS code17-39129
Wikimedia CommonsKaskaskia, Illinois


The site of Kaskaskia near the river was long inhabited by varying Native American indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The historic Illini peoples lived in this area at the time of European encounter and traded with the early French colonists.

French colonists named the town after the Illini word for the Kaskaskia River. Historically it was referred to with many spelling variations, as Kasklas, Kaskasky, Cas-caskias, Kasquskias, and Kaskaskias. In 1703, French Jesuit missionaries established a mission with the goal of converting the Illini Native Americans to Catholicism. The congregation built its first stone church in 1714. The French also had a fur trading post in the village.[4] Canadien settlers moved in to farm and to exploit the lead mines on the Missouri side of the river.

Favorably situated on a peninsula on the east side of the Mississippi River, Kaskaskia became the capital of Upper Louisiana and the French built Fort de Chartres nearby in 1718. In the same year they imported the first enslaved Africans, shipped from Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, to work as laborers in the lead mines being developed in Missouri.[5][6]

From the years of early French settlement, Kaskaskia was a multicultural village, consisting of a few French men and numerous Illinois and other American Indians. In 1707, the population of the community was estimated at 2,200, the majority of them Illinois who lived somewhat apart from the Europeans. Writing of Kaskaskia about 1715, a visitor said that the village consisted of 400 Illinois men, "good people;" two Jesuit missionaries, and "about twenty French voyageurs who have settled there and married Indian women."[7] Of 21 children whose birth and baptism was recorded in Kaskaskia before 1714, 18 had mothers who were Indian and 20 had fathers who were French. One devout Catholic full-blooded Indian woman disowned her mixed-race son for living "among the savage nations," as she referred to the French.[8]

Many of the Canadiens and their descendants at Kaskaskia became voyageurs and coureurs des bois, who would explore and exploit the Missouri River country for fur trading. The Canadiens had the goal of trading with all the Prairie tribes, and beyond them, with the Spanish colony in New Mexico. The Spanish intended to keep control of the latter trade. The Canadien goals stimulated the expedition of Claude Charles Du Tisne to establish trade relations with the Plains Indians in 1719.

Kaskaskia Bell 3321
The bell donated by Louis XV, later called the "Liberty Bell of the West"

King Louis XV sent a bell to Kaskaskia in 1741 for its church, one of several constructed there.[9] During the years of French rule, Kaskaskia and the other agricultural settlements in the Illinois Country were critical for supplying Lower Louisiana, especially New Orleans, with wheat and corn, as these staple crops could not be grown in the Gulf climate. Farmers shipped tons of flour south over the years, which helped New Orleans survive.

The French settlers raised Fort Kaskaskia around 1759; the fort stood atop the bluff that looked down upon the frontier village.[1] "Fort Kaskaskia" is not technically a "fort", but an earthen redoubt. Frontier settlers throughout Woodland North America often built such redoubts as defensive moves during times of threat from Native Americans.

In 1763, the French ceded the Illinois country, including Kaskaskia and the redoubt, to Great Britain. The British did not use the redoubt and left Kaskaskia almost defenseless. Kaskaskia continued to exist as a French-speaking village on the Mississippi River frontier.Rather than live under British rule after France ceded the territory east of the river, many French-speaking people from Kaskaskia and other colonial towns moved west of the Mississippi to Ste. Genevieve, St. Louis, and other areas.

During one of the westernmost military campaigns of the American Revolution, the city fell on July 4, 1778 to George Rogers Clark and his force of 200 men, including Captains Joseph Bowman and Leonard Helm. The parish rang the church bell in celebration, and it has since been called the "liberty bell". The brick church was built in 1843 in the squared-off French style and later moved to the restored village of Kaskaskia.[9]

Kaskaskia state house Making of Illinois Skinner House
Kaskaskia state house as it stood in late 1880 or early 1881

As a center of the regional economy, Kaskaskia served as the capital of Illinois Territory from 1809 until statehood was gained in 1818, and then as the state capital until 1819. The first Illinois newspaper, the Illinois Herald, was published here on June 24, 1814.[10]

The city's peak population was about 7,000, before the capital was moved in 1819 to Vandalia. Although the introduction of steamboats on the Mississippi River stimulated the economies of river towns, in the 19th century, their use also had devastating environmental effects. Deforestation of the river banks followed steamboat crews' regular cutting of trees, which were used to feed the engine boiler fires as fuel to power the steamboats. River banks, through rapid, man-made erosion, became unstable, causing massive amounts of soil to collapse into the flowing water.[11]

From St. Louis to the confluence of the Ohio River, the Mississippi became wider and more shallow, resulting in more severe seasonal flooding. In the late 19th century, the town was cut off from the Illinois mainland and mostly destroyed by repeated flooding and a channel change by the Mississippi River. Much of the former property of Kaskaskia and other French colonial towns on the river has been lost.[11] Following the Great Flood of 1844, residents of Kaskaskia relocated the town to the south. The original location of Kaskaskia became an island, surrounded by the Mississippi River. The flood of 1881 destroyed all remnants of the original town and the Mississippi shifted into the channel of the Kaskaskia River, passing east instead of west of the town.

Parts of the town were rebuilt in the new area. As the Mississippi continued to flow through its new bed, earth was deposited so that the village land became physically attached to the west bank of the river, which primarily lies within the boundaries of the state of Missouri. Now a bayou, the old channel is regularly flooded by the river. A small bridge carries traffic from the mainland over the bayou to Kaskaskia and its surrounding farmlands in the floodplain. A levee lines the river to the east. In 1893 the people of the town moved and rebuilt the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Kaskaskia. They also built a shrine in a similar style nearby to house the "liberty bell."[9]

By 1950, only 112 people lived in Kaskaskia. By 1970, the population had fallen to 79, and it continued its precipitous decline to 33 in 1980. The town was submerged under nine feet of water by the Great Flood of 1993, which reached the roofs of the buildings. By 2000, with nine residents, Kaskaskia was almost a ghost town, the least populous incorporated community in the State of Illinois.


Kaskaskia IL and vicinity USGS topo map
USGS topographic map of Kaskaskia

Kaskaskia is located at 37°55′17″N 89°54′59″W / 37.921395°N 89.916467°W.[12] According to the 2010 census, Kaskaskia has a total area of 0.11 square miles (0.28 km2), all land.[13] However, the village comprises only a small part of Kaskaskia Precinct, which includes all of Randolph County's land west of the Mississippi. The precinct forms an exclave of Illinois within Missouri. Kaskaskia Precinct has a land area of 24.037 sq mi (62.256 km2) and a 2000 census population of 36 people. In 1993 the Mississippi River almost completely flooded the island.


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[14]
Source: [15]
Kaskaskia Island 1993 flooding
1993 flooding of Kaskaskia, looking south downriver

As of the census[16] of 2000, there were 9 people, 4 households, and 3 families residing in the village. The population density was 83.0/sq mi (32.0/km2). There were 5 housing units at an average density of 46.1/sq mi (17.8/km2). The racial makeup of the village was 7 White, 1 Pacific Islander, 1 from other races. There were 2 Hispanics or Latinos of any race.

There were four households, none of which had children under the age of 18 living with them. Two were married couples living together, one had a female householder with no husband present, and one was a non-family. One household was made up of individuals, and one had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.25 and the average family size was 2.67.

In the village two people were under the age of 18, both girls. There was one person from 18 to 24, one from 25 to 44, two from 45 to 64, and three who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 48 years. There were seven females and two males.

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ "2016 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jun 29, 2017.
  2. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  3. ^ "American FactFinder". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  4. ^ "Father William Faherty Papers", Symposium 2001, National Park Service, accessed 14 April 2010
  5. ^ Wedel, Mildred Mott (Fall 1972). "Claude-Charles Dutisne: A Review of His 1719 Journeys". Great Plains Journal. 12 (1): 4–25.
  6. ^ Wedel, Mildred Mott (Winter 1973). "Claude-Charles Dutisne: A Review of His 1719 Journeys". Great Plains Journal. 12 (2): 147–173.
  7. ^ Norall, Frank. Bourgmont, Explorer of the Missouri, 1698-1725. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988. p. 107
  8. ^ Ekberg, Carl J. French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000. pp. 153-154
  9. ^ a b c "Visitors' Guide: Immaculate Conception Church", Great River Road, accessed November 9, 2009
  10. ^ "Anniversaries in 1949 of Events Recorded in The Missourian Files". Southeast Missouri. Cape Girardeau, Missouri. January 29, 1949.
  11. ^ a b F. Terry Norris, "Where Did the Villages Go? Steamboats, Deforestation, and Archaeological Loss in the Mississippi Valley", in Common Fields: An Environmental History of St. Louis, Andrew Hurley, ed., St. Louis, MO: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1997, pp. 73-89
  12. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  13. ^ "G001 - Geographic Identifiers - 2010 Census Summary File 1". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2015-08-04.
  14. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  15. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Archived from the original on May 23, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  16. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  17. ^ 'Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois,' vol. 1, Newton Bates-editor, Munsell Printing Company, pg. 166
  18. ^ 'Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois,' vol. 1 Newton Bateman-editor, Munsell Printing Company, pg. 312

External links

Conrad Will (politician)

Conrad Will (June 3, 1779 – June 12, 1835) was an American physician, politician, and pioneer who is the namesake of Will County, Illinois. Born in Pennsylvania, Will studied medicine in a town in the western portion of the state before moving to Illinois. His farm in Jackson County, Illinois became the first county seat there. Will co-authored the Constitution of Illinois in 1818 and then served in the Illinois Senate for the 1st Illinois General Assembly. Will remained in one of the two houses of the general assembly until his death. The following year, Will County was named in his honor.

Daniel Pope Cook

Daniel Pope Cook (1794 – October 16, 1827) was a politician, lawyer and newspaper publisher from the U.S. state of Illinois. An anti-slavery advocate, he was the state's first attorney general, and then congressman. Cook County, Illinois, is named after him.

David J. Baker

David Jewett Baker (September 7, 1792 – August 6, 1869) was an American politician in the U.S. state of Illinois. He briefly served as a U.S. Senator in 1830.

David J. Baker Jr.

David Jewett Baker Jr. (November 20, 1834 – March 13, 1899), the son of David J. Baker, was a justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Born in Kaskaskia, Illinois, Baker received his bachelor's degree from Shurtleff College in 1856. Baker was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1856 and moved to Cairo, Illinois to practice law. Baker served as city attorney and then as mayor of Cairo, Illinois in 1864 and 1865. From 1868 to 1878, Baker served as an Illinois state court judge. In 1878 and 1879 and from 1888 to 1893, Baker served on the Illinois Supreme Court and was chief justice. Baker died suddenly in his law office.In 1895 Justice Baker issued the decision in Zirngibl et al. v. Calumet & C. Canal & Dock Co. et al. that allowed the grave of Andreas von Zirngibl, located on the property of the dock company, to remain intact; the grave is now surrounded by an operating scrap yard.

Elias Kane

Elias Kent Kane (June 7, 1794 – December 12, 1835) was the first Illinois Secretary of State and one of the first U.S. Senators from Illinois.

Felix St. Vrain

Felix St. Vrain, born Felix August Antoine St. Vrain (March 23, 1799–May 24, 1832), was an American United States Indian agent who was killed by Native Americans during the Black Hawk War. St. Vrain died along with three companions while on a mission to deliver dispatches from Dixon's Ferry to Fort Armstrong, both in Illinois. The incident has become known as the St. Vrain massacre.

He was the brother of Ceran St. Vrain, a St. Louis fur trader who was the partner of the Bent Brothers. Together they established Bent's Fort, the only privately held fort in the west. It is located at what is now La Junta, Otero County, Colorado.

James L. D. Morrison

James Lowery Donaldson Morrison (April 12, 1816 – August 14, 1888) was a U.S. Representative from Illinois.

Born in Kaskaskia, Illinois, Morrison was appointed midshipman in the Navy in 1832 and served until December 31, 1839, when he resigned.

He studied law.

He was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Belleville, Illinois.

He served as member of the State house of representatives in 1844.

Raised a company and served in the Mexican War as lieutenant colonel of Bissell's regiment of Illinois Volunteers from July 1, 1846, to July 1, 1847.

He was presented a sword by the Illinois legislature for services at Buena Vista.

He served as member of the State senate in 1848.

He was an unsuccessful Whig candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 1852.

Morrison was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-fourth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Lyman Trumbull and served from November 4, 1856 to March 3, 1857.

At the same election he was not the nominee for the Thirty-fifth Congress. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Illinois in 1860. His wife, Mary, was the daughter of Thomas Carlin, who was governor from 1838-42.

Morrisonville, Illinois is named in his honor.

He died in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 14, 1888 and was interred in Calvary Cemetery.

James Shields (politician, born 1806)

James Shields (May 10, 1806 – June 1, 1879) was an Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, who is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states. Shields represented Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.

Born and initially educated in Ireland, Shields emigrated to the America in 1826. He was briefly a sailor, and spent time in Quebec, before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studied and practiced law. In 1836, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. His work as auditor was criticized by a young Abraham Lincoln, who (with his then fiancée, Mary Todd) published a series of inflammatory pseudonymous letters in a local paper. Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel, and the two nearly fought on September 22, 1842, before making peace, and eventually becoming friends.

In 1845, Shields was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court, from which he resigned to become Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, he left the Land Office to take an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. He served with distinction and was twice wounded. In 1848, Shields was appointed to and confirmed by the Senate as the first governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declined. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moved to Minnesota and there founded the town of Shieldsville. He was then elected as Senator from Minnesota. He served in the American Civil War, and at the Battle of Kernstown, his troops inflicted the only tactical defeat of Stonewall Jackson in the war. Shields resigned his commission shortly thereafter. After moving multiple times, Shields settled in Missouri, and served again for three months in the Senate. He died in 1879, and represents Illinois in the National Statuary Hall.

Jesse B. Thomas

Jesse Burgess Thomas (1777 – May 2, 1853) was an American lawyer, judge and politician who served as a delegate from the Indiana Territory to the tenth Congress and later served as president of the Constitutional Convention which led to Illinois being admitted to the Union. He became one of Illinois' first two Senators, and is best known as the author of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, although after his retirement from the U.S. Senate in 1829 he lived the rest of his life in Ohio.

John Reynolds (U.S. politician)

John Reynolds (February 26, 1788 – May 8, 1865) was a United States politician from the state of Illinois. He was one of the original four justices of the Illinois Supreme Court, 1818–1825, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1826–1830, 1846–1848, and 1852–1854 (when he was Speaker of the House), and the 4th Illinois Governor from 1830–1834. He also represented Illinois in the United States House of Representatives, 1834–1837 and 1839–1843.

John Willis Menard

John Willis Menard (April 3, 1838 – October 8, 1893) was a federal government employee, poet, newspaper publisher and politician born in Illinois to parents who were Louisiana Creoles from New Orleans. After moving to New Orleans, on November 3, 1868, Menard was the first black man ever elected to the United States House of Representatives. His opponent contested his election, and opposition to his election prevented him from being seated in Congress.

Lucien Maxwell

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell (September 14, 1818 – July 25, 1875) was a mountain man, rancher, scout, and farmer who at one point owned more than 1,700,000 acres (6,900 km2). Along with Thomas Catron and Ted Turner, Maxwell was one of the largest private landowners in United States history.

Martin Stephan

Martin Stephan (1777–1846) was pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Dresden, Germany during the early 19th century. He organized the Saxon emigration to the United States in the early 19th century.

Pierre Antoine and Paul Mallet

Pierre Antoine and Paul Mallet, brothers and French Canadian voyageurs, were the first Europeans known to have crossed the Great Plains from east to west. They first journeyed to Santa Fe, New Mexico from Kaskaskia, Illinois in 1739.

Robert F. Morrison

Robert Francis Morrison (August 16, 1826 – March 2, 1887) was the 13th Chief Justice of California from November 1879 to March 2, 1889, when he died in office.

Samuel Judy

Samuel Judy (August 19, 1773 – January 12, 1838) was an American pioneer, military leader and legislator.

Born in the canton of Basel, Switzerland, Judy and his family moved to Maryland and then to Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory. Judy became a colonel in the Illinois Militia taking part in expeditions against the Native Americans; he was also one of the first settlers in Madison County, Illinois in the Goshen Settlement. In 1814-1815, Judy served in the Illinois Territorial Council of the Illinois Territorial Legislature. He also served as county commissioner for Madison County, Illinois. Judy died in Madison County, Illinois. His son Thomas Judy served in the Illinois General Assembly.Samuel Judy was also a slave holder. There are bills of sale in the Madison County Recorder's Office recording his purchase of slaves in 1816.

Shadrach Bond

Shadrach Bond (November 24, 1773 – April 12, 1832) was a representative from the Illinois Territory to the United States Congress. In 1818, he was elected Governor of Illinois, becoming the new state's first chief executive. In an example of American politics during the Era of Good Feelings, Bond was elected to both positions without opposition.

Thomas Duncan (general)

Thomas Duncan (April 14, 1819 – January 7, 1887) was a career officer in the U.S. Army, serving as a lieutenant colonel during the American Civil War. In 1867, he was nominated and confirmed for appointment as a brevet brigadier general in the regular army, to rank from March 13, 1865, for his service in the Civil War.

Étienne de Boré

Jean Étienne de Boré (27 December 1741 – 1 February 1820) was a Creole French planter, born in Kaskaskia, Illinois Country, who was known for producing the first granulated sugar in Louisiana. At the time, the area was under Spanish rule. His innovation made sugar cane profitable as a commodity crop and planters began to cultivate it in quantity. He owned a large plantation upriver from New Orleans.

Boré was a prominent planter in the area when the United States made the Louisiana Purchase and acquired the former French territories west of the Mississippi River. In 1803 the American governor of the territory appointed de Boré as the first mayor of New Orleans under the U.S. administration.

Municipalities and communities of Randolph County, Illinois, United States

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