Words To Remember

"The truth is this--genealogy is our living, and we are busy every minute, [and we] could use more hours." --Jane Wethy Foley, 1942

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Enumeration of the Male Inhabitants, French and Americans, of Forte Vincennes & the Illinois (8 Oct. 1787): Part 1

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  1. Forte Vincennes and the Illinois Territory still belonged to France in the year 1787, part of the French colony of Louisiana.

    Originally established in 1702 for trading buffalo hides with the local native American tribes, the fort itself was constructed in 1731-1732 by Fran├žois-Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes.

    The outpost was designed to secure the lower Wabash Valley for France, mostly by strengthening ties with the Miami, Wea, and Piankashaw nations. It was named Fort Vincennes in honor of Vincennes, who was captured and burned at the stake during a war with the Chickasaw nation in 1735.

    British Lt. John Ramsey came to Vincennes in 1766. He took a census of the settlement, built up the fort, and renamed it Fort Sackville in honor of Lord George Sackville, who had led British forces to victory over the French in the Battle of Minden. The population grew quickly in the years that followed, creating a unique culture of interdependent Native Americans with French and British farmers, craftsmen, and traders.

    Following the French and Indian War, the British and colonial governments could not afford the cost of maintaining frontier posts. They did not station troops in the Wabash Valley at all for a decade following the conflict.

    Thus Fort Vincennes fell into disrepair and Vincennes was ordered evacuated due to ongoing lawlessness. The residents united and were able to prove to the British authorities that they were permanent residents, not illegal squatters.

    British neglect came to an end on June 2, 1774, the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, assimilating the settlements along the Wabash and Missouri Rivers into the British Province of Quebec. Lieutenant Governor Edward Abbott was sent to Vincennes without troops. Making the best of it, he rebuilt Fort Sackville. Abbott soon resigned, citing lack of support from the crown.

    In July 1778, news arrived of the alliance between France and the new United States. The French residents took control of the unoccupied Fort Sackville and Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark sent Capt. Leonard Helm to command the post. In December, a British force consisting of The King's 8th Regiment and Detroit Volunteers under Lt.-Gov. Henry Hamilton retook Fort Sackville, along with Capt. Helm.

    Lt. Col. Clark marched 130 men through 180 miles of wilderness to Vincennes in February 1779. As he entered town, the French settlers and native peoples joined his force to re-capture Ft. Sackville. Clark had Hamilton's native allies tomahawked to death as an example and sent Hamilton and his men to the Williamburg jail as prisoners. He renamed the post Fort Patrick Henry.

    Clark's aim in his wilderness campaigns was to remove the British as a threat to Virginia's settlements in Kentucky, which was then part of Virginia. After accomplishing that objective, he returned to Kentucky. In spring 1780, the Virginia troops left the Vincennes fort in the hands of local militia.

    After the Revolution, several dozen Kentucky families settled in Vincennes. Friction between these Americans, the French local government and the native peoples moved Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry to dispatch Clark and troops to the region again. Clark arrived at Vincennes in 1786. His attempts to negotiate with neighboring native peoples were unsuccessful. Instead, he created an incident by seizing the goods of Spanish traders, enraging the local population and risking war with Spain. Under orders from the new United States government, Clark and his men left Vincennes in the spring of 1787.

    In the fall of 1787, the French took a census of Forte Vincennes and the surrounding territory.