Fort Kaskaskia is situated on a bluff
overlooking the Mississippi River and offers scenic views of the American
Bottoms, the confluence of the Mississippi and Kaskaskia rivers, and the
site of the original town of Kaskaskia, which was once the first state capitol
After the expedition by Louis Joliet
and Jacques Marquette in 1673 the Mississippi River valley was claimed by
the French and in 1703 the village of Kaskaskia, the second European
settlement in the state of Illinois, was established. The first
inhabitants were a few French traders and their Indian wives but by 1718
the boundaries had been set up for the village and its adjoining Commons
and Common Fields. A thriving community emerged around the fertile soil of
the American Bottoms. Flour mills were set up and grain was shipped up and
down the Mississippi River.
Garrison Hill, on the bluffs overlooking
Kaskaskia, became the location of Fort Kaskaskia with construction
beginning in 1759 and never being completed. This fort never played a part
in the French and Indian War that began in 1754 and ended in 1763 when the
Treaty of Paris ceded all French possessions east of the Mississippi River,
including Kaskaskia, to Great Britain. Before the British arrived the people of Kaskaskia
destroyed the fort. When the British arrived in 1766 all they found was an
earthwork ruins and chose to build a new fort, Fort Gage, in the town
The British controlled what is now the
state of Illinois until the American Revolution. In 1778 George Rogers
Clark led an expedition across southern Illinois with his "Long
Knives." On July 4, 1778, Clark surprised the British and captured
the town and Fort Gage, liberating the town without firing a shot. In
celebration, the Kaskaskians rang the parish bell, which became known as
the "Liberty Bell of the West." Official control of the area
passed to the United States at the end of the Revolutionary War. In 1784
John Dodge, a Connecticut adventurer, and a group of bandits occupied Fort
Kaskaskia and made it their headquarters for terrorizing the region until
being driven out in 1790. The U.S. Army later renovated the fort and 11 of its
men were enlisted in the Corps of Discovery when Lewis and Clark passed
through here in 1803. The fort was last used during the War of 1812 as
shelter from raids by Native Americans allied with Great Britain. Today
the parapets and dry moat of Fort Kaskaskia are still visible.
Just north of the remnants of the fort is Garrison Hill
Cemetery (photo left.) In the late 1800's the Mississippi River began to
change course, which along with two devastating floods began to destroy
the town of Kaskaskia. Concerned citizens acted to transfer the remains of over 3,000 grave sites from three cemeteries in
Kaskaskia to Garrison Hill, a site high on the bluffs overlooking the
river. By 1909 the original town of Kaskaskia had disappeared, having
finally succumbed to the Mississippi. The graves of many of
Illinois’ earliest pioneers are located on Garrison Hill including
Pierre Menard, the 1st Lt. Governor of Illinois, his two wives and other
family members. Also buried here is William Morrison, an important fur
trader operating from St. Louis, who helped to establish the Santa Fe
Trail by sending Baptiste LaLande to open trade with the Spanish. It
should be noted that when looking across the Mississippi you are not
seeing the state of Missouri. Because of the meanderings of the river
over time parts of Illinois wound up on the west bank of the Mississippi
including what you see from the bluffs of Fort Kaskaskia.
Lewis and Clark Connection
William Clark visited Kaskaskia in 1797 while looking into a
lawsuit brought by Spanish citizens who claimed that his brother,
George Rogers Clark, confiscated their possessions for use by his soldiers
Revolutionary War. At Kaskaskia, Clark met some of the most influential
and powerful men of the region. When the Corps of Discovery arrived in
Kaskaskia on November 29, 1803, Clark’s previous contacts were useful in the gathering
information from the local merchants and traders
about their knowledge of the Illinois Country as well and what they knew
concerning the Missouri River. The Corps also spent time taking scientific
readings and replenishing supplies.
The most important reason for
stopping off at Kaskaskia was to add more men to the expedition. Secretary of War Henry Dearborn
had sent advance orders to the commanders of the fort to
"furnish one Sergeant & Eight good Men who understand rowing a
boat to go with Capt. Lewis as far up the River as they can go &
return with certainty before the Ice will obstruct the passage of the
river." Eleven men have been identified as being recruited from Fort
Kaskaskia, six from the infantry company commanded by Captain Russell
Bissell and five from the artillery company commanded by Captain Amos
Stoddard. Also recruited at Fort Kaskaskia were the "engages", skilled French boatmen who would escort the Corps to
Fort Mandan in present day North Dakota. Clark left Fort Kaskaskia on December 3,
1803 with a total party
of about 25 men and the boats. Lewis stayed on for several additional days
leaving by horseback for Cahokia and St. Louis on December 5, 1803.
|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.
Kaskaskia features a campground, three pavilions furnished
with picnic tables, grills, water, and electricity as well as numerous
picnic tables and grills that can be found throughout the site.
Visiting Fort Kaskaskia State
Wednesday - Sunday: 9 am to 5 pm
Closed on Major
There is no charge to visit Fort Kaskaskia
State Historic Site.
Directions: Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site is
located near the town of Ellis Grove, IL, about an hour and 15 minute drive
south of St. Louis. Take IL-3 approximately 5 miles south of Ellis Grove to
Park Road. Go west on Park Road to Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site.
Coordinates for the Lewis & Clark Exhibit
N 37° 57.865'
W 89° 54.376'
Coordinates for the Fort Kaskaskia Overlook
N 37° 57.115'
W 89° 54.609'
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