In the year 1678, Louis Joliet, a French trader, and James Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, who had possible received a call, started out from Green Bay on a voyage of successful discovery of the great Father of Waters, which the Indians informed them flowed southward through the great west country. Going up the Fox River and crossing over the narrow portage into the Wisconsin, they in due time came to the Mississippi, on the ample bosom of which they floated down to the mouth of the Arkansas. At this point, they became satisfied that the great river emptied itself into the Gulf of Mexico, and, as they were satisfied with the situation and did not propose to make any changes in the course of the river, or put any jetties in its mouth, they retraced their voyage up to the mouth of the Illinois River, and up that stream to Chicago, via the Des Plaines, passing by Havana, and perhaps Bath, on their way.|
Tradition says that these men of God and Mammon stopped upon the bluff where Havana now stands, and had a grand fish-fry, but it does not inform us that they had the incomparable culinary services of Judge Mallory on that occasion! In their piscatorial exploits, it is said they lost a "spoon hook," and from this little incident, the river coming in on the opposite side was called Spoon River!
As the writer has not had the pleasure of interviewing these distinguished stranger, or of examining their notes of travel, he cannot vouch for the truth of the incident; but it is highly probable that these were the first white men that trod upon the soil of Mason County, while passing up the river on an excursion, some two hundred and six years ago!
A few years after this, two other French explorers-La Salle, a trader and explorer, and Father Hennepin, another Jesuit missionary-passed from the St. Joseph River into the Kankakee, and down that river into the Illinois.
After the visits of these four French gentlemen, there is no record of this portion of the country being visited by a white man for nearly one hundred and fifty years! It was, no doubt, a favorite hunting and fishing ground for the Indians, as there is evidence of its abounding in buffalo, elk, deer, and other choice game, as well as fish in abundance, making it the land of "the happy hunting-grounds."
In the year 1763, the French nation, after a long and exhaustive war, surrendered the Northwest Territory (including Mason County and the State of Illinois) to England, the transfer having been arranged at the treaty of Paris.
One of the most celebrated Indians of history was Pontiac, the chief of the Ottawas, of Michigan. After the surrender of the Northwest, by the French, Pontiac for awhile contested the claims of the English, and was known as their most bitter and formidable foe.
When he could no longer maintain the contest, he left the vicinity of Detroit, where he was born and had always lived, and with the remnant of his once powerful tribe (about two hundred warriors and their families), found refuge on the banks of the Kankakee, near Wilmington, Will County, where he merged the remnant of his tribe with the Pottawatomies.
This region of country was claimed by the Illinois tribe of Indians, and a conflict arose between the tribes as to the right to hunt the buffalo on the west of the Illinois River. After fighting for a time over the question, a council was agreed upon to settle the question.
This Council met at Mount Joliet (near the city of Joliet), in 1769. Whilst Pontiac was making a speech on his side of the question, he was treacherously assassinated by "Kineboo," the head chief of the Illinois tribe.
This treacherous act let to the bloody war which resulted in the destruction of the great Indian city "La Vantam," which stood upon the site where the little town of Utica, in La Salle County, is now built, and also to the tragedy of Starved Rock, not far distant, and to the final extinction of the once great nation of Indians from whom the State took its name.
The treaty of Paris, in 1763, terminated the rule of France over the Northwest, and it passed into the British possession, which circumstance somewhat changed the type of religion and civilization of this country. Many of the early explorers, missionaries and traders, remained, and of these and their descendants it is estimated that two thousand were still within the boundaries of the State at the time of its admission in the Union, in 1818. Now there are but a few local names to remind us that the French nation once exercised the right of eminent domain the State of Illinois.
The termination of the Revolutionary war-begun in 1776, and ending in the treaty with England, in 1783-brought the Territory of the Northwest under the dominion of the United States, and by the treaty of 1833, at Chicago, with the Pottawatomies, the red man surrendered his right of domain also. In 1835, these Indians, numbering five thousand, assembled at Chicago, received their annuity, danced their last war dance in Illinois, and took up their line of march toward the setting sun, on the far-off Missouri River.
During the progress of the Revolutionary war, Lieut. Col. George Rogers Clark, of Virginia, organized a military expedition to subdue and capture the Northwest Territory, then inhabited by a vast horde of savage Indians, belonging to many tribes, and some French settlements along the river borders. On the 4th day of July, 1778, with his little army of grim-visaged warriors, consisting of 300 men, all jaded and worn down with the fatigues and hardships of forced marches across the country from the Ohio River, wading through marshes, swamps and streams, without roads or supplies in the country, he arrived at the French town of Kaskaskia, surprised and captured the town and military fort, without firing a gun. The capture of Cahokia and Fort Vincent (now the city of Vincennes), soon followed, and thus, without the shedding of blood, but with immense suffering and hardships, was secured the whole Northwest Territory as the property of the State of Virginia, by right of Conquest, and so remaining until, by the Ordinance of 1787, passed on the 13th of July, it was transferred to the United States, under certain conditions as to the formation of States and other matters.
In October, 1778, the Virginia Assembly erected the conquered territory of the Northwest into the county of Illinois; a pretty extensive county, which has since been carved into five States-Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin-with a population of over eight millions of people!
On the 5th of October, 1787, Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair was by Congress elected Governor of the Northwest Territory. In February, 1788, Gov. St. Clair, with his Secretary arrived at Kaskaskia and proceeded to organize all of the State lying north of the mouth of the Little Mackinaw, in Tazewell County, into the county of St. Clair, thus making her the mother of all the 102 counties of the State! The county was divided into three Judicial Districts, a Court of Common Pleas established, with three Judges appointed, viz.: John Edgar, and Englishman, of Kaskaskia, John Babtiste Barbeau, a Frenchman, of Prairie du Rocher, and John D. Moulin, a native of Switzerland, of Cahokia, each to hold court in the district of his residence every three months, making what was called the "Court of Quarterly Sessions," the first court established in Illinois.
By act of Congress, May 7, 1800, the territory constituting the States of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, then containing a white population of 4,875; negro slaves, 135, and an estimated population of 100,000 Indians, was organized into the Territory of Indiana, with the seat of government established at Vincennes, and, on the 13th of May, William Henry Harrison, afterward President of the United States, was appointed Governor of the Territory, thus dispensing with Gov. St. Clair, who had become very unpopular.