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Illinois State History

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1673—Louis Jolliet and Father Marquette arrive in Illinois

1699—Cahokia, the oldest town in Illinois, is founded

1717—Illinois becomes part of French Louisiana

1763—England receives Illinois at the end of the French and Indian War

1778—George Rogers Clark captures Kaskaskia from the British

1787—Illinois becomes part of the Indiana Territory

1809—The Illinois Territory is created

1818—Illinois becomes the 21st state

1832—Indians leave Illinois after settlers win the Black Hawk War

1863—Emancipation Proclamation

1871—Fire consumes much of Chicago

1886—The Haymarket Riot in Chicago

1900—Completion of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal

1959—The St. Lawrence Seaway opens

1992—Carol Moseley Braun becomes the first black woman in the Senate

1998—The Chicago bulls win their sixth NBA championship

In 1673, French explorers canoed down the Mississippi River, the western boundary of what is now Illinois and eventually northward on the Illinois River.  Other expeditions followed and in 1675, Father Jacques Marquette founded a mission at the Kaskaskia Indian Village near present-day Ottawa. 

Cahokia, the first permanent settlement in Illinois, was a fur-trading post established in 1699.  A few years later, the town of Kaskaskia was founded.  In 1717, France placed Illinois into the Louisiana Colony. 

The end of the French and Indian War gave all land east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain in 1763.  Many of the French settlers in Illinois moved across the river into Iowa.  Only missionaries, fur traders, a few settlers, and English soldiers remained in the Illinois region. 

During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), George Rogers Clark of Virginia and a group called the “Big Knives” raided English forts in Illinois.  They captured Kaskaskia and Cahokia and made Illinois part of the county of Virginia.  The land was given to the U.S. government and later named part of the Northwest Territory in 1787. 

In 1809, the Illinois Territory was created.  Hundreds of settlers began moving to Illinois from Virginia, Kentucky, and Maryland.  Indians, angry with the settlers for taking their lands, sided with Britain in the War of 1812.  Many settlers were massacred as they attempted to leave Fort Dearborn near the mouth of the Chicago River. 

Illinois became the 21st state on December 3, 1818.  Construction of the Erie Canal in 1825 provided easy transportation to the Midwest.  Hundreds of people from the eastern states and Europe rushed to settle the new state.  The federal government forced Indians living in the state to cross the Mississippi River into Iowa.  In 1832, the Sauk and Fox Indians fought state militias for their land.  The Black Hawk War ended that same year, and all Indians were forced out of Illinois. 

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for the U.S. Senate.  Lincoln’s stand against slavery during several debates in Illinois, gave him national attention.  He lost the election, but became president of the United States two years later.  Six southern states seceded from the Union and the Civil War (1861-1865) began after Lincoln’s inauguration.

Ulysses S. Grant, general of the Union Army, and 250,000 soldiers fought from Illinois during the war. 

After the war, industry boomed in Illinois.  Railroads were expanding, bringing immigrants to work factories in Chicago, Joliet, and Rockford.  Chicago led the nation in grain and meatpacking production.  On Oct. 8, 1871 the city of Chicago was destroyed; the Great Chicago Fire burned for almost two days killing over 300 people. 

During the late 1800s, unrest swept throughout the nation’s farmers and factory workers.  Farmers were paying high prices for land and farm equipment while receiving low prices for crops.  Factory workers were paid low salaries in unsafe working conditions.  In 1886, a riot occurred in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, killing eight policemen and several bystanders.   

The early 1900s brought great reform in Illinois.  Laws were passed to help workers, especially women, and a state board established to help settle strikes.  Laws were also passed banning the manufacturing and selling of alcohol.  During the years of Prohibition (1920-1933), Al Capone’s mob and other mafia gangs selling illegal liquor caused much violence and killings while in gang warfare. 

Industrial expansion greatly increased in Illinois until the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929.  Manufacturing slowed and thousands lost their jobs.  The federal government began construction of roads and waterways.  This and the discovery of oil in southern Illinois provided many with jobs and helped the economy begin to recover in the late 1930s. 

Illinois produced hundreds of aircraft and ammunition during World War II (1939-1945).  The first controlled nuclear chain reaction, a major step in the development of the atomic bomb, also took place at the University of Chicago.  Since the war, many new laboratory and research centers developed nuclear technology in Illinois.  Other industries, such as chemical, steel, and auto production, have also expanded. 

Recently, Illinois is striving to decrease the air and water pollution problems in the state.  Taxes were raised to create needed public services and a state lottery was adopted in 1973, to help raise money for education.  Industries are continuing to grow and expand.