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Illinois History

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Early Illinois History

Map of early villages in Illinois Before Illinois became a State, it was known as the Illinois Territory. In early 1818, the General Assembly of the Illinois Territory sent a petition to the United States Congress asking to be admitted into the Union. Part of the process for being admitted as a State was for Illinois to adopt its own constitution.

The word Illinois comes from the French word meaning Illini or Land of Illini. It is an Algonquin word meaning Men or Warriors.   Illinois was discovered in 1673, settled in 1720 and entered the Union on December 3, 1818.  Illinois is surrounded by bodies of water on nearly every border:  the Mississippi  River on the west; the Ohio and Wabash Rivers in the south, and Lake Michigan in the North. The States that border Illinois are: Kentucky, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Indiana.  The first Railroad train crossed the Mississippi River on the river's first bridge in Rock Island, Illinois on April 21, 1856.  The highest point in Illinois is Charles Mound in JoDaviess County, elevation, 1,235 feet, and the lowest point is in Cairo, Alexander county at the Mississippi River, elevation 279 feet.

Thousands of years before the French reached Illinois, Paleo-Indians, a nomadic people, and their descendants, archaic Indians, had explored Illinois. The culture of these hunters, dated before 5000 BC, can be studied at the Modoc Rock Shelter in Randolph County. Woodland Indians were their descendants. By 900 AD, Middle Mississippi Indians, who succeeded the Woodland Indians, built large earthen mounds and developed complex urban areas. These cities disappeared possibly because of overpopulation, disease, and exhaustion of resources. The descendants of the Mississippians were the Illiniwek tribes of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. After years of losing land and wars to other Indian groups and European colonists, the Illiniweks were moved to a Kansas reservation.

The French controlled areas along the Mississippi River valley in the American Bottoms between Cahokia and Kaskaskia. Their occupation, from about 1675 to 1763, left few lasting marks, as did the ineffective British rule. European control was ended by the U.S. militia of George Rogers Clark in 1778, whereupon Virginia claimed Illinois as within its territory.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 charted this region and organized counties, and in 1809 the Territory of Illinois was created. During the early years of settlement by fur trappers, southern Illinois was the focus of migration to the area, especially along the Mississippi River valley and the Wabash and Ohio rivers. Granting of statehood in 1818 was controversial. The population numbered less than the required 60,000. Moreover, in order to include the Chicago port area, territorial representatives induced the U.S. Congress to draw the Illinois border 51 miles to the north of the original boundary as delimited by the Northwest Ordinance. The first capital was Kaskaskia, followed by Vandalia, along the Kaskaskia River, which held the position for 20 years. After strong pressure from Abraham Lincoln, the capital was moved to Springfield by an 1837 legislative vote.

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