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Illinois History
A Historical Overview of Illinois from Native American Inhabitants
through World War II

© 2005 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 2

Historical Review 1.2   
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Settlement Through 1830

     In 1800, when Indiana Territory was created (including Illinois), many French had left, and European settlers began taking their place. Veterans, who served with George Rogers Clark, and their families established themselves at Bellefontaine, near the present town of Waterloo. By 1800, Bellefontaine housed 286 of Illinois' 2,458 inhabitants. Most of this population came from the south; with only thirteen percent coming from New England. At this point, the government was not well established and the threat of Indian attacks persisted, as well as a clutter of claims and counterclaims to the land. Severe crimes often went unpunished, thereby giving Illinois an uninviting reputation by the close of the 18th century.

     After statehood, Illinois continued to grow, with the northern part of the state developing at a slower pace than the rest of the state. This dynamic changed dramatically, however, with the creation of the Erie Canal in 1825. Chicago and Galena, the two most important towns in the north, were very small prior to 1825, but grew rapidly afterwards. In 1826, Galena had four log houses, but only one year later that number grew to 115 homes and stores. Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833 with a population of 350. When it obtained a city charter four years later, the population had grown to 4,000.

     So who were the pioneers that ventured into Illinois? We already know that the French inhabited the area first, followed by some British soldiers and fur traders, but the settlers who came next were somewhat different. The great majority of the pioneers in Illinois were southerners of English and Scotch-Irish decent who previously lived in Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Virginia. These settlers characterically were young adults, newlyweds, or couples in their late twenties and early thirties. Most were poor and agrarian. They depended on subsistence agriculture and lived without technology, cities, or money.

     Although slaves were not uncommon to Illinois' population, and had been present in Illinois since 1720, they never amounted to large numbers here. The Ordinance of 1787 seemed to curb slavery in Illinois by discontinuing the introduction of new slaves, however, blacks who had been slaves before 1787 would remain slaves. When Illinois became a state in 1818, the adopted constitution prohibited slavery, but the issue remained hotly debated until a convention to legalize slavery was voted down in 1824.


     Only a small portion of Illinois pioneers were noted as religious people, but those who were, were very devoted. Baptists were most numerous, followed by Methodists, Presbyterians, and the Disciples of Christ. The Baptists were highly undisclosed, only men and women chosen by God for eternal salvation and engrossed in a formal baptismal ceremony could belong. The Methodists were more centralized; building a network of churches and employing circuit riders who appealed to farmers and businessmen. The Methodists and Baptists, along with the Presbyterians and Disciples, all maintained similarities. All of these groups held annual revivals to help recruit new members, and created fellowships within the members of the church. Weekly meetings, separate from church, were held to bolster camaraderie. Another characteristic common of these pioneer religions was the extent to which they valued and monitored Christian morality of the people. Offenses were taken very seriously, and members were sometimes expelled from the church for misconducts such as swearing, fighting, and drunkenness. Even though the majority of pioneers were not church members, the ethics of the church set the moral tone of the frontier.

     The Mormons, spending a period of time there in the 1840s, added a unique religious element to Illinois. Persecution had driven them from New York to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois before embarking on their journey to Utah. In Illinois, the Mormons occupied the town of Nauvoo. Receiving a charter from the General Assembly, the Mormons were nearly independent and allowed to maintained their own army. Soon Nauvoo would become the largest city in Illinois and Joseph Smith, the Mormon founder and leader, would amass significant political power. Smith's use of power and his practice of polygamy garnered fear and disgust from many Illinoisans. In 1844, Smith and his brother were arrested and killed by a mob and the exodus to Salt Lake City, led by Brigham Young, followed in 1846.

     The Mormons were not the only religious group to occupy the town of Nauvoo. After the Mormons abandoned the town, a utopian society inhabited Nauvoo from 1849 to 1858. The Icarians were a group of French people dedicated to the ideas of Entienne Cabet. Cabet, a French lawyer and journalist, was born in 1788. He was the publisher of a newspaper where he presented radical political views that led to his exile. While in exile, Cabet developed ideas about a utopia and published his ideas into a book in 1839. In Voyage to Icaria, he described a fictional utopia named Icaria where everything was perfect. In Icaria there is no ownership of land, money, or material goods because the society provided everything one needed. The book detailed how to run schools, farms, and factories. The book also claimed that the Icarians enjoyed theatre and the arts, producing a rewarding, well rounded life. The book became a huge success in France and Icarian societies began to appear. The Icarians didn't achieve much success because of the political enemies Cabet made before his exile, so Cabet decided to give it a try in the United States. He bought land in Texas, but found that the hot days and mosquitoes were not like anything they had in mind. They moved onto New Orleans and learned of the newly deserted town of Nauvoo, so Cabet purchased the site in 1849 and 240 Icarians moved in. At first the colony ran smoothly, until matters, such as long working hours and favoritism, split the colony in two. In 1855 Cabet and his supporters moved to a site near St. Louis, where Cabet suffered a stroke and died within the first week. The Icarians remaining in Nauvoo carried on until 1858 when they moved to Corning, Iowa. In Iowa the society existed for twenty more years before splitting again. In 1898 the movement dissolved altogether.

The Story of John Deere, a bit of Americana from Illinois

     The story of the creation of John Deere and Company is both interesting and fun, and is a piece of history both Illinoisans and the rest of the country can enjoy!

     Illinois enjoyed extremely rich soil, but was very hard to scour (meaning it won't slide cleanly off of a plow's mold board). To cultivate the Illinois prairie, the pioneer farmers needed a plow that would dig the furrow and turn the soil over (this being the purpose of the mold board). Unfortunately, plows in this day were made of cast-iron, which the soil clung to intensely, causing the farmer to stop and scrape the moldboard frequently. In the town of Grand Detour, on the banks of the Rock River, local blacksmith John Deere, heard the complaints of the farmers, and came up with a solution. While making a repair at a saw mill one day, Deere noticed a broken saw blade, which had been made of steel, and asked to take it home. At his shop Deere converted the saw blade into a moldboard and used it to make a plow. There are two versions of what happened next, one version slightly more exciting of the other, so I invite you to believe whichever you like. In the first version, according to Deere himself, the plow sat around his shop for a few days until a farmer noticed it and asked to give it a try. The farmer found that the plow scoured beautifully, and ordered two more. The second version of the story has John Deere testing his plow in the stickiest soil of the Rock River in front of a large crowd of farmers. As the plow scoured without being cleaned, the crowed hollered and cheered triumphantly.

     Regardless of which story is true, John Deere began his plow business in 1837. Steel was hard to come by at that time so he used any scrap steel he could get his hands on. In 1848, Deere moved to Moline, Illinois and started another factory, utilizing the Mississippi River. By 1870, John Deere and Company was selling 40,000 plows, harvesters, and cultivators annually.
By Rickie Lazzerini
Staff Historian
Kindred Trails Worldwide Genealogy Resources

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2005 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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