Did You Know That Southern Illinois Originally Belonged To Virginia?

Illinois was one of the great American frontiers for a long time after the land was first discovered by new settlers. And it was a strange place with useful resources. There were many natural locations suited to settlement, such as those bordering the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash Rivers. The state is relatively flat (in comparison to the eastern and western states) with low marshes, plenty of forests, and easy access to coal. 

Other resources were abundant. Saline County is notable because it was named after the copious amounts of salt in the Saline River. Avid hikers will know to bring their sweat-soaked clothes inside their tents because animals will find the clothes and lick them for the salt. It was for this same reason that the Saline River attracted animals like deer and buffalo. They could approach the banks and simply lick the mud.

The French first arrived in 1673 — and were welcomed by the Native American tribes who already inhabited the area (they had lived there since most likely 12,000 B.C.). They explored the region, established a military foothood, and continued to look for a way to the Pacific Ocean, which was their primary goal. These outposts were useful for those travelling out west or north to Canada.

The French and Indian War changed everything. The French lost the territory — along with the war — when the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763. Afterward, the English ruled for a short period. HIstory buffs will understand why they couldn’t hold the large region right away: The American Revolution terminated their hold in the area. In 1778, a Virginian military expedition landed at Fort Massac in Illinois. He moved on and defeated the English who were garrisoned in the area. The state government of Virginia claimed Illinois as one of its own territories.

Even that was short-lived, because Virginian authorities realized that trying to control such a large, distant land was strategically untenable — and probably not worth the trouble since it was populated by so few people. And Virginia itself didn’t hold the political or military importance it eventually would. Bigger cities like Fairfax, Virginia didn’t even exist yet.

That wasn’t the end of determining who would eventually control the territory. Illinois was added to the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 alongside Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In 1800, Illinois was part of Indiana. 

Illinois itself attained statehood on December 3, 1818. 

The state has had a checkered history. Because many original settlers were from the south, its political affiliations are split relatively evenly down the middle. During the Civil War, political strife became readily apparent even in the same families. 

It’s worth noting that slavery existed in Illinois, starting with Native Americans before settlers ever arrived, and only ending with the Civil War in all forms. When Illinois became a state, slavery was technically outlawed. But indentured servitude was still allowed, which allowed essentially the same thing.

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