From early times, the site of Kaskaskia was a meeting place for Indian tribes. It received it’s name from the Kaskaskia Indian tribe with it’s site being where the Kaskaskia River ran into the Mississippi River.
In 1690 a Catholic Mission was established and a chapel was built by the French.
Eventually more French settlers came, many of them coming down from Quebec and gradually the area was covered by farms. In those days Kaskaskia was to Illinois what Paris today is to France. It was the great emporium of fashion and gaiety.
In the year 1721 the Jesuits erected a monastery and a college in Kaskaskia. For many years afterwards Kaskaskia was the largest town west of the Alleghany Mountains. The area exhibited a scene of flourishing prosperity. The Kaskaskia area was agricultural and sent its commerce down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
Kaskaskia was controlled by France until it was ceded to Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. At that time about one-third of the French residents crossed the Mississippi River to St. Genevieve, Missouri, which was controlled by Spain at that time, preferring to live under Spanish rule rather than that of Great Britain.
The rich alluvial plain of the American Bottom about Kaskaskia became in a great way the main source of food supply for New Orleans and to military posts along the lower Mississippi River. Wheat and corn were luxuries south of Kaskaskia. Thousands of pounds of flour ground by the water mills along the Kaskaskia River and neighboring streams, together with quantities of bacon, venison, buffalo meat, and other local products annually floated down the Mississippi River in large home made rafts and boats to New Orleans.
In 1774 the Kaskaskia area was made part of Quebec by the British government where it remained until it was conquered and won for the United States by George Rogers Clark and his Long Knives on July 4, 1778 and annexed by Virginia. The French residents quickly accepted American rule. Illinois was officially ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris September 3, 1783. Illinois was afterwards made part of the Northwest Territory on July 13, 1787. Illinois became part of Indiana Territory with its capital at Vincennes. Indiana Territory was organized July 4, 1800. Illinois Territory was organized March 1, 1809. Kaskaskia was made the capital of Illinois Territory. When Illinois became a state on December 3, 1818 Kaskaskia then became the capital of the State of Illinois.
At this point in time, Southern Illinois was Illinois. Most people living in the south along rivers and forested area. Prairies further north were largely unsettled. The northern part of Illinois was largely occupied by Indian tribes. The northern area did not start receiving large number of settlers until after the Black Hawn War of 1831 and 1832.
Kaskaskia had a lot of firsts. The first newspaper in Illinois, The Illinois Herald, was first published by Matthew Duncan in 1814. The first Masonic Lodge in Illinois was Western Star Lodge No. 107 chartered by The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on June 2, 1806. The Legislature of Illinois Territory met on the first floor of the capital building and the Masonic Lodge met on the second floor.
When Illinois became a state Shadrach Bond became the first governor and he also was the first Grand Master of the first Grand Lodge of Masons of Illinois.
A big event in the history of Kaskaskia was the visit of General Lafayette and his son, George Washington Lafayette, on April 30, 1825.
Kaskaskia remained the Capital of Illinois until the Illinois General Assembly voted on March 30, 1819 to make Vandalia the new State Capital. Vandalia was founded specifically to replace flood-prone Kaskaskia.
On February 7, 1829, the Mississippi River and the Kaskaskia River flooded. In 1844 the water was seven feet deep in Kaskaskia. Floods in 1851 and 1857 further damaged Kaskaskia. In 1882 the Mississippi River broke though into the Kaskaskia River and took tracts of land as large as a quarter of an acre at a time with the houses and washed them completely away. Three weeks after this breakthrough of the Mississippi River to the channel of the Kaskaskia River washing the town of Kaskaskia completely away steamboats used the new channel. By 1906 only one building, a house, still stood at the site of Kaskaskia, the first capital of Illinois.
Now what is left of the Kaskaskia area forms an island with the old channel of the Mississippi River forming a boundary around it cutting it off from the rest of Illinois. A bridge over the old Mississippi River bed connects Kaskaskia Island to Missouri. Mail is delivered to Kaskaskia Island by a rural mail carrier from St. Mary’s, Missouri.
The last major flood in the area occurred in 1993. I was working in that area when the levee on Kaskaskia Island broke. Using my zoom binoculars, all I could see sticking out of the water completely covering Kaskaskia Island, was the tip of the roof and the steeple of the Catholic Church. Homes I had visited on the Island were knocked off of their foundations and destroyed.
Little is left today to show the glory of what was once Kaskaskia other than the Catholic Church and the displayed Liberty Bell of the West, which had been presented to Kaskaskia by the King of France.
If anyone has any pictures or information to share with the readers of these articles, please contact me at Edward Oliver, P. O. Box 456, Norris City, IL 62869 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.