The History Of Jersey County, Illinois

The Illinois county of Jersey is located within the southern half of our fine state and holds a smallish population of around 23,000 according to the 2010 census. It was a popular point of colonization in the early days of the New World due to its location near the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, which meet near a single point to the southwest. It was also a home to several Native American tribes, including the Illiniwek, Kickapoo, Menomini, and Potawatomi. 

The first Europeans to set foot in what would eventually become Jersey County — according to the records, if they can ever be trusted one hundred percent — were Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet. They arrived in the year 1673.

The county itself was not conceived for nearly 200 years. It was founded on February 28, 1839, with part of its lands assimilated from the neighboring Greene County. Jersey County has about 377 square miles of lands. Nearly 8 square miles of that land is under water. Not surprisingly, its founders named it for the American state of New Jersey. Several farms were built within the county’s boundaries. Soon enough, a local court was established in Jerseyville. 

Today, Jersey County is home to a thriving tourism-based economy alongside agribusiness. 

Before European settlers began to inhabit the area, Native Americans lived with one another in a shared respect for the natural world. This was in stark contrast to the Europeans who arrived there in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Europeans were interested in one thing: new resources. To them, the land was something to be exploited for profit. Conflict was inevitable. 

The Native Americans were startled by these newcomers, but the tribes were composed of generous people who shared what they had with the settlers. This was likely due to the relative lack of preparation of the settlers. Trade was quickly established between the various peoples. Unfortunately, the royal push for additional conquest and prize became too great — and the Europeans continued to push inland. 

This push came at great cost to the indigeonous peoples. They were rapidly pushed from their homes. Many Native Americans opted to leave peacefully through arrangements brokered by local colonial governments. Sometimes, these deals involved cash or trade. Other times, treaties (which were almost all eventually broken) helped establish entire tribes elsewhere on reservations. Disease took care of the rest. 

Because the push westward never stopped — and actually grew in proportion to the California gold rush — these tribes were exposed to western greed time and time again. Almost all Native Americans from Jersey County were living elsewhere by the time it was founded. Skirmishes and bloody war eventually broke out as settlers continued to demand more and more, and the Native Americans were forced to respond in kind.

Ultimately, the settlers won through contemporary technology and superior numbers after the Native American numbers had been whittled down by deadly diseases.

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