Fort de Chartres, Illinois

Next weekend is a big weekend in the Illinois County. Every year for the past 44 years, on the first weekend in June, the Commandant of Fort de Chartres in the Illinois County calls re-enactors from all across the county to a Rendezvous. Far off the beaten path, about 60 miles south of St. Louis, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, rests the remains of an Eighteenth Century French Colony. The population of the colony never reached more than 2000 inhabitant, but it played a significant part in the colonial expansion of the French Empire. For French outposts in the Mississippi River Valley and the Caribbean the Illinois Colony was the breadbasket. Fort de Chartres was the center of commerce and government of this colony.

There were three Forts de Chartres. The first was built in 1719 by Pierre Duque, Sieur de Boisbrant the newly appointed commander of the Illinois Country. But conditions in the Illinois Country were severe. By 1726, the flood waters of the Mississippi had destroyed much of this two bastioned wooden palisade fort. A second fort also made of wooden palisades met the same end by the end of the 1730s.

By this time the Illinois Country was becoming important to the Compagnie des Indes for its production of wheat and salt. The economy of the French in Illinois did include some fur trading and mining, but for the vast majority of the inhabitants farming was the chief occupation during most of the year.

The convoys from the Illinois country carried to the Gulf settlements, in 1748, 800,000 pounds of flour alone. Besides the flour the cargoes were made up of corn, bacon, hams from the bear as well as the hog, salt pork, buffalo meat, tallow, hides, tobacco, lead, copper, small quantities of buffalo wool, venison, bear’s oil, tongues, poultry and peltry, chiefly, however, the loads were made up of pork and flour.

In 1752 the shipment from Illinois to New Orleans was reported as “unusually large”. By the middle of the 1750s and well into the French and Indian War, Illinois supplied grain not only to Louisiana and the Caribbean but also to the outposts in the Ohio River Valley. This included Fort Ouiatenon, Massac, and Fort Duquesne.

Construction on the third Fort de Chartres began in the early 1750. Unlike its predecessors this fort was a four bastioned stone fortification. By the end of 1753 this new fort was pretty much complete. A visitor to the Fort today will see a reconstruction of this 1753 fort built atop the ruins of the original stone fort.

Location and Directions

Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site, Canada

The French began fortifying the western approaches to Québec in the seventeenth century. By the time of the last French and Indian War in the middle of the eighteenth century, they had completed the western wall, leaving natural barriers (escarpments and the St. Charles and St. Lawrence Rivers) to protect the rest of the town’s perimeter. The wall was, however, considered inadequate by most French officers, and Montcalm’s strategy during the siege of the town in 1759 was to keep tQuebeche British army well away from approaching the town by land. British General James Wolfe’s surprise landing at the Anse au Foulon and his appearance on the Plains of Abraham just outside the wall disrupted this strategy, and after Montcalm’s death in the ensuing battle, the town quickly surrendered rather than attempting to withstand a siege behind the walls. During the next few deacdes, the British improved the French walls and expanded the fortifications around the rest of the Upper Town on top of Québec’ famous escarpment. Québec is now the only remaining fortified city in North America, and the walls around its old city certainly contribute to the charm which has led to its designation as a World Heritage City. The Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site preserves the city’s fortifications. For those who are interested in the history and the engineering of fortifications in the early modern era, a walk around the wall at Québec is one of the great treats in North America. Even those who do not share such arcance interests will appreciate wall’s aesthetic contribution to one of the finest city’s in the world.

Location and Directions

Links: Fortifications of Quebec National Historic Site Parks Canada

History of Canada: Fortifications of Quebec

 

Mackinac State Historic Parks

A fine state park links a number of important sites around the Straits of Mackinac at the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The feature sites are Colonial Michilimackinac, with a fine reconstruction of an eighteenth century French (later British) fort. The fort encloses 18 authentically reconstructed buildings on their original sites, and professional archaeologists are often at work on the site. (In my experience, the archaeologists and their student assistants are quite friendly and eager to answer questions and discuss their work.) Historic Mill Creek recreates one of the first industrial sites on the Great Lakes, a water-powered sawmill for mechanized timber cutting, dating to the early nineteenth century. Fort Mackinac, on nearby Mackinac Island, was an important post during the War of 1812. All this is set in a spectacular setting which includes the Mackinac Bridge, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and last but not least, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Cross the Mackinac Bridge to explore the sites of historic Ignace, the oldest settlement in Michigan.