The French in Illinois: Fort Kaskaskia

This is the fort that never was. The French Fort Chartres and the corresponding town of Prairie du Rocher are a few miles away down on the flood plain, these days protected by a series of levies.

Drive a few miles east along the river and you come to the Pierre Menard home, where the Lieutenant Governor lived.  Climb up the steep hill behind the Menard home and you come to the site of Fort Kaskaskia.  Today there isn’t much more than a hint of the former earthworks:



A sign tells the history of how the “fort” changed hands between the various nations:

The sign says:

French Occupation (1703-1763). These timeworn earthworks are the remains of temporary fortifications designed to protect the town of Kaskaskia (founded in 1703), the southern anchor of France’s colony in the Illinois country. the first plans for this site, made in the 1730s, called for a substantial stone fort. They were soon abandoned as too expensive. French officials seeking to prevent British encroachment into Illinois determined again in 1751 to build a permanent stone fort at Kaskaskia. It was soon decided to instead build at the nearby site of the decayed second Fort de Chartres, located north of here. construction of a fort of earth and wood on this site began about 1759, but was probably never completed.
British Occupation (1763-1776). The fort of earth and wood played no role in the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), which ended with the transfer of Illinois from France to Great Britain. British officers visiting here in 1766 found an earth work ruin containing two dilapidated buildings, collapsed gun platforms, and rotten timbers on the parapet. British authorities ignored this site and built a fortification known as Fort Gage in the town.
American Occupation (1778). The town of Kaskaskia was captured by American fores in 1778 and passed formally to American control as a result of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. The old fort served during the 1780s as headquarters of local freebooter John Dodge. The U.S. Army renovated the fort about 1803 and stationed troops here until 1807. The old post was last used during the War of 1812 as shelter by local residents fearing attack by Indian allies of the British.

It does have a commanding view of the river.


When Lewis and Clark traveled through this area, they recruited several of the fort’s soldiers for their expedition:

The sign says:

Looking For A Few Good Men. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead a “Corps of Discovery” up the Missouri river in search of a water route to the pacific. They arrived at Kaskaskia on November 29, looking for new recruits. Lewis and Clark sought strong young men, familiar with the woods, good at hunting and able to endure a long, difficult journey. they found twelve candidates from the troops stationed here–more than any other place along their route. “On my arrival at Kaskaskia, I made a selection of a sufficient number of men from the troops…to complete my party.” (Meriwether Lewis to President Thomas Jefferson 19 December 1803)

I’d go too.

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