For almost a century, beginning in
1673 when Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette explored the Mississippi
River, France claimed the Illinois Country. In 1718 the French reorganized
the administration of their American possessions and removed the Illinois
Country from Canadian jurisdiction and made it part of Louisiana. The
Government of this vast territory was located in New Orleans and turned
over to the Company of the Indies, a commercial enterprise chartered by
King Louis XV. In December of 1718 a contingent of soldiers, officials and
workmen were sent north to establish a civil government in the region. A
wooden fort was soon constructed eighteen miles north of the village of
Kaskaskia from which the civil authority would operate and whose military
presence it was hoped would pacify the Fox Tribe.
This wooden stockade was surrounded
by a dry moat held several interior buildings including a storehouse and a
counting house used by the Indies Company. The stockade, named Fort de
Chartres in honor of Louis duc de Chartres, son of the regent of France,
quickly deteriorated due to frequent flooding. Work on a larger fort,
located farther inland, began around 1725. By 1731 the Company of the
Indies went out of business due to bad management, poor relations with the
local Native Americans, and the failure to discover any gold or other
precious metals. In January of 1731 the company returned control of
Louisiana back to the king. In 1747, with the second fort in considerable
disrepair, the garrison relocated to nearby Kaskaskia.
the 1730's the French leaders began discussing building a stone fort
(outline left) to protect their interests in the region. Though no
precious metals were found, profitable lead deposits had been found on the
west bank of the Mississippi near Ste. Genevieve and the rich bottom lands yielded substantial
crops which fed New Orleans, St. Louis, and the rest of the territory. Construction of the new fort was slow
due to dissension on where the fort was to be located. Construction
finally began in the 1750's and although the fort was operational by 1754,
additions and improvements continued until 1760.
In 1763 France surrendered the
Illinois Country along with most of its North American possessions to
Great Britain when it signed the Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven
Years War. British troops of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment took
possession of Fort de Chartres on October 10, 1765. The British did little
with the newly renamed Fort Cavendish although its engineers attempted in
control the erosion caused by the Mississippi. Eventually the British
concluded that the fort had little value and it was abandoned in 1771. A year later the south wall
and bastions collapsed into the Mississippi River. Continued flooding, erosion
and decay caused the fort to slowly disappear so that by 1900 the only
remnant of the fort that existed above ground was the powder magazine
(photo left,) considered by many to be the oldest building
Lewis and Clark Connection
Fort de Chartres was primarily ruins, having been
abandoned by the British for over 30 years, when Clark made this entry on
December 4, 1803: “… at 2 miles past the mouth of a Small Creek on
the Larbd. side, opposit the upper point of a small Island; and lower
point of a large Isld. situated opposite Old fort Charters
(4) came to on the lower point of a Small Isld. Lbd. side
imediately opposit the Old Fort …”
|Visit our special Lewis
and Clark Section to learn more about the Corps of Discovery’s
experience during their stay in the Middle Mississippi River Valley. greatriverroad.com’s
special coverage includes information on all of the region’s sites and
events as well as supplemental articles relating to the expedition’s
experience during the winter of 1803-04.
1913 the Illinois legislature authorized the purchase of the stone fort
site and the powder magazine was restored about 1917. In the 1920s portions of the
building and wall foundations were exposed, and in the 1930s the Works
Progress Administration reconstructed the gateway and two stone buildings.
Today visitors will find a partially rebuilt eighteenth-century fort. The
north wall contains bastions, a gatehouse, musket ports, embrasures for
cannon, and the restored powder magazine. The King's Storehouse is home to the
Piethman Museum (photo left,) which uses items discovered during
archaeological research near the fort, other artifacts, and exhibits to interpret
life in Illinois during the colonial period. The East Barracks and the
Government House have been outlined by wood frames, a technique called
ghosting, to provide a sense of their original size and form.
Fort de Chartres State Historic Site
popular annual events. An annual two day Rendezvous is held the first
weekend in June and features shooting competitions, military drills,
dancing, music, food, and traders of eighteenth-century style goods. The
first weekend in October marks the site's French and Indian War
Assemblage, a Living History event that portrays life during the
time period of 1754-1763. A listing of events at Fort de Chartres and
other area events can be found on the Randolph
County Calendar page.
Visiting Fort de
Chartres State Historic Site
Wednesday - Sunday: 9 am to 5 pm
Closed on Major
There is no charge to visit Fort de Chartres
State Historic Site, although donations are appreciated.
Directions: Fort de Chartres State Historic Site is
located 4 miles west of Prairie du Rocher, about an hours drive south of St.
Louis. Take IL-3 to Ruma and then turn west on
IL-155. Follow IL-155 through Prairie du Rocher to the site.
W 90° 09.514'
Learn more about the Prairie du Rocher area.