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Kaskaskia is a village in Randolph County, Illinois, United States. In the 2000 census the population was 9, making it the smallest incorporated community in the State of Illinois in terms of population. A major French colonial town of the Illinois Country, its peak population was about 7,000.

When it was a regional center, Kaskaskia was the capital of the Illinois Territory, created on February 3, 1809, and in 1818, when Illinois became the 21st U.S. state, it briefly served as the state's first capital until 1819, when Vandalia became state capital of Illinois for the following twenty years, 1819 to 1839.

Most of the town was destroyed in April 1881 by flooding, as the Mississippi River shifted eastward to a new channel, taking over the lower 10 miles of the Kaskaskia River. These were the results of deforestation of the river banks during the 19th century, for wood fuel to feed the steamboat traffic.

The river now passes east rather than west of the town. The state boundary line, however, remained in its original location. Kaskaskia, essentially an island, is one of the few portions of Illinois west of the Mississippi and can only be reached from Missouri. A bridge crosses the old riverbed, a creek or bayou that is periodically flooded.


Kaskaskia state house

The town was named after the Native American name for the Kaskaskia River. At first founded on a peninsula, the town was cut off and mostly destroyed by repeated flooding and a channel change by the Mississippi River. The site of Kaskaskia near the river was first a Native American village, inhabited by varying indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

Over three centuries ago, (1686), the first family of the name DeRousse came from France to settle in Kaskaskia. Their descendants have accomplished much in behalf of the old town.

In 1703 French Jesuit missionaries established a mission to convert the Illini Native Americans to Catholicism. The congregation built its first stone church in 1714. The French also had a trading post in the fur trade at the village.

French settlers moved in to farm and to exploit the lead mines on the Missouri side of the river. Kaskaskia became the capital of Upper Louisiana and the French built Fort de Chartres in 1718.

In the same year they imported the first enslaved Africans, shipped from Santo Domingo, to work as laborers in the lead mines.

From its beginning, Kaskaskia was a French/Indian settlement, consisting of a few French men and numerous Illinois and other American Indians.

In 1707, the population of the community was estimated at 2,200, the majority Illinois who lived somewhat apart from the Europeans. Writing of Kaskaskia about 1715, a visitor said that the village consisted of 400 Illinois men, "very good people," two Jesuit missionaries, and "about twenty French voyageurs who have settled there and married Indian women."

Of twenty-one children whose birth and baptism was recorded in Kaskaskia before 1714, eighteen mothers were Indian and twenty fathers were French. The offspring of these mixed marriages could become either French or Indian. One devout Catholic full-blooded Indian woman disowned her half-breed son for living "among the savage nations."

From the French, the Indians, and the mixed-race descendants at Kaskaskia came the voyageurs and coureurs des bois, who would explore and exploit the Missouri River country. The French had the goal of trading with all the Prairie tribes, and beyond with the Spanish colony in New Mexico -- a prospect which horrified the Spanish. French goals stimulated the expedition of Claude Charles Du Tisne to establish trade relations with the Plains Indians in 1719.

King Louis XV sent a bell to Kaskaskia in 1741 for its church, one of several constructed there. During the years of French rule, Kaskaskia and the other agricultural settlements in the Illinois Country were important for supplying Lower Louisiana, especially New Orleans, with wheat and corn.

Farmers shipped tons of flour south over the years, as those staple crops could not be grown in Louisiana's climate.

In 1733 the French built Fort Kaskaskia near this site. It was destroyed by the British in 1763 during the French and Indian War (Seven Years War), which they won.

Rather than live under British rule after France ceded the territory east of the river, many French-speaking people from Kaskaskia and other colonial towns moved west of the Mississippi to Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis, and other areas.

The city fell to George Rogers Clark in 1778 during the American Revolution. The parish rang the church bell in celebration, which has since been called the "liberty bell". It is housed in a brick building shrine near the Church of the Immaculate Conception. The brick church was built in 1843 in the squared-off French style.

As a center of the regional economy, Kaskaskia served as the capital of Illinois Territory from 1809 until statehood was gained in 1818, and then as state capital until 1819.

Its peak population was about 7,000 before the capital moved in 1819 to Vandalia. Although introduction of steamboats on the Mississippi River stimulated the economies of river towns in the 19th century, their use also had devastating environmental effects. Deforestation of the banks followed steamboat crews' regular cutting of trees to feed the engine fires. River banks became unstable and collapsed into the water.

From St. Louis to the confluence of the Ohio River, the Mississippi became wider and more shallow, with more severe flooding. Much of Kaskaskia and other French colonial towns have been lost. Following the Great Flood of 1844, Kaskaskia relocated to the south. The original location of Kaskaskia became an island, surrounded by the Mississippi River.

The flood of 1881 destroyed all remnants of the original town and the Mississippi shifted into the channel of the Kaskaskia River, passing east instead of west of the town. Parts of the town were rebuilt in the new area.

As the Mississippi continued to flow through its new bed, earth was deposited so that the village became physically attached to the west bank of the river, which primarily lies within the boundaries of the state of Missouri.

Now a bayou, the old channel is regularly flooded and has a bridge to carry traffic over it. In 1893 the people of the town moved and rebuilt the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Kaskaskia Island.

Kaskaskia was almost a ghost town and the least populous incorporated community in the State of Illinois.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the village comprises only a small part of Randolph County's land west of the Mississippi, known by the United States Census Bureau as Kaskaskia precinct, which includes the village. Kaskaskia precinct has a land area of 24 sq mi and the 2000 census found a population of 36 persons.

In 1993 the Mississippi River almost completely flooded the island 9 foot deep.

Notable People from Kaskaskia:
Thomas Duncan, a general during the American Civil War
John Willis Menard, the first African American elected to the United States Congress
David J. Baker, a United States Senator from Illinois
David J. Baker, Jr., chief justice of the Illinois supreme court

County seat: Chester
Cities Chester | Red Bud | Sparta
Villages Baldwin | Coulterville | Ellis Grove | Evansville | Kaskaskia | Percy | Prairie du Rocher | Rockwood | Ruma | Steeleville | Tilden
Precincts Baldwin | Blair | Bremen | Brewerville | Central | Chester | Coulterville | Ellis Grove | Evansville | Kaskaskia | Palestine | Percy | Prairie du Rocher | Red Bud | Rockwood | Ruma | Sparta | Steeleville | Tilden | Walsh | Wine Hill
communities Blair | Bremen | Collins | Danley | Dozaville | Eden | Fort Gage | Glenn | Grigg | Houston | Kellogg | Leanderville | Marigold | Menard | Modoc | New Palestine | Prairie | Preston | Reily Lake | Roots | Schuline | Shiloh Hill | Walsh | Welge | Wine Hill

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