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|Wikimedia Commons: 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. 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 Revolution, 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 then became 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 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 reachable only from Missouri. A bridge crosses the old riverbed, 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 (see photo below of church steeple amid rooftops). In 2010, a program titled "How the States Got Their Shapes" on the History Channel aired and featured Kaskaskia with an interview of the former Randolph County Sheriff discussing different sites on Kaskaskia Island.
The town was named after the Illini word for the Kaskaskia River. At first favorably situated on a peninsula, 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.
The site of Kaskaskia near the river was first a Native American village, inhabited by varying indigenous peoples for thousands of years.
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 trading post in the fur trade at the village. French settlers moved in to farm and to exploit the lead mines on the Missouri side of the river. Kaskaskia became the capital of Upper Louisiana and the French built Fort de Chartres 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.
From the 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 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." Of 21 children whose birth and baptism was recorded in Kaskaskia before 1714, 18 mothers were Indian and twenty fathers were French. One devout Catholic full-blooded Indian woman disowned her half-breed son for living "among the savage nations," as she referred to the French.
Many of the French and their mixed-race (Métis) descendants at Kaskaskia became voyageurs and coureurs des bois, who would explore and exploit the Missouri River country for fur trading. The French 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 French goals stimulated the expedition of Claude Charles Du Tisne to establish trade relations with the Plains Indians in 1719. The historic settlement of Kaskaskia is now included in the Homeland of the Metis Nation, suggesting that its early population (and their descendants) were part of a distinct People and syncretistic culture that could be distinguished from both their French and Indian ancestors.
King Louis XV sent a bell to Kaskaskia in 1741 for its church, one of several constructed there. 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 the crops could not be grown in the Gulf climate. Farmers shipped tons of flour south over the years, which helped New Orleans survive.
In 1733, the French built Fort Kaskaskia near this site. It was destroyed by the British in 1763 during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War), which they won. 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 and St. Louis, and other areas.
The city fell on July 4, 1778 to George Rogers Clark and his force of 200 men, including Captain Leonard Helm, during one of the western-most battles of the American Revolution. The parish rang the church bell in celebration, which has since been called the "liberty bell". It is housed in a brick building shrine near the Church of the Immaculate Conception. The brick church was built in 1843 in the squared-off French style.
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. Its peak population was about 7,000 before the capital moved in 1819 to Vandalia. Although 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 banks followed steamboat crews' regular cutting of trees to feed the engine fires. River banks became unstable and collapsed into the water.
From St. Louis to the confluence of the Ohio River, the Mississippi became wider and more shallow, with more severe flooding. Much of Kaskaskia and other French colonial towns has been lost. 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 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 and has a bridge to carry traffic over it. In 1893 the people of the town moved and rebuilt the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Kaskaskia.
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 is located at  According to the 2010 census, the village has a total area of 0.11 square miles (0.28 km2), all land. 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..
As of the census 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 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 2 people were under the age of 18, both girls. There was 1 person from 18 to 24, 1 from 25 to 44, 2 from 45 to 64, and 3 who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 48 years. There were 7 females and two males.
- David J. Baker, United States senator
- David J. Baker, Jr., Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court
- John Duff, outlaw and Revolutionary War soldier; scout and sergeant under George Rogers Clark
- Thomas Duncan, general during the American Civil War
- George Fisher, pioneer, physician, and legislator
- John Rice Jones, jurist and politician
- Samuel Judy, pioneer and legislator
- Lucien Maxwell, rancher
- John Willis Menard, the first African American elected to the United States Congress
- Thomas Jefferson Vance Owen, "The True Founder of Chicago" and Chicago's first village president
- "American FactFinder". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
- Mather, Irwin F. (1900). The Making of Illinois. Chicago: A. Flanagan Co. p. 196. Photographer unknown. This copy retrieved from archives housed at the Skinner House in Griggsville, Illinois.
- http://www.nps.gov/archTheBicentennial/Symposium2001/Papers/Faherty_FrWilliam. Htm, accessed, April 14, 2010
- "Charles Claude Du Tisne". ------======. Retrieved 2012-11-25.
- Norall, Frank. Bourgmont, Explorer of the Missouri, 1698-1725. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988. p. 107
- Ekberg, Carl J. French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000. pp. 153-154
- The Metis Homeland: Its Settlements and Communities Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell, Leah Dorion and Darren Préfontaine Sixth edition, 2012. http://www.metismuseum.ca/media/db/11956
- "Visitors' Guide: Immaculate Conception Church", Great River Road, accessed November 9, 2009
- 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
- "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
- "2010 Census U.S. Gazetteer Files for Places - Illinois". United States Census. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
- "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- Kaskaskia village and Kaskaskia precinct, Randolph County, Illinois United States Census Bureau
- "Images -Kaskaskia, IL", Computer Chair Traveler
- "Immaculate Conception Church on Kaskaskia Island", GuidepostUSA
- "Kaskaskia Bell State Historic Site", GuidepostUSA
- Stead v. Commons of Kaskaskia, 1 Scam. 239 (1909)
- "Curse of Kaskaskia". Prairie Ghosts