Charleston, Illinois

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Charleston is a city in and the county seat of Coles County, Illinois, United States.[1] The population was 21,039 as of the 2000 census. The city is home to Eastern Illinois University and has close ties with its neighbor Mattoon, Illinois. Both are principal cities of the Charleston–Mattoon Micropolitan Statistical Area.



Native Americans lived in the Charleston area for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. With the great tallgrass prairie to the west, beech-maple forests to the east, and the Embarras and Wabash Rivers between, the Charleston area provided semi-nomadic Native Americans access to a variety of resources. Indians may have deliberately set the "wildfires" which maintained the local mosaic of prairie and oak–hickory forest. Streams with names like Indian Creek and Kickapoo Creek mark the sites of former Native settlements. One village is said to have been located south of Fox Ridge State Park near a deposit of flint.[citation needed]

The early history of European settlement in the area was marked by uneasy co-existence between Native Americans and European settlers. Some settlers lived peacefully with the natives. But in the 1810s and 1820s, after Native Americans allegedly harassed surveying crews, an escalating series of poorly documented skirmishes occurred between Native Americans, settlers, and militias known as the Illinois Rangers. Two pitched battles (complete with cannon on one side) occurred just south of Charleston along "the hills of the Embarrass," near the entrance to modern Lake Charleston park. These conflicts did not slow European settlement. Native American history in Coles County effectively ended when all natives were expelled by law from Illinois after the 1832 Black Hawk War. With the grudging exception of Indian wives, the last natives were driven out by the 1840s.[citation needed]

First settled by Benjamin Parker in 1826, it was named for Charles Morton, its first postmaster[2]. The city was established in 1831, but not incorporated until 1865. When Abraham Lincoln's father moved to a farm on Goosenest Prairie south of Charleston in 1831, Abe helped him move, then left to start his own homestead at New Salem in Sangamon County. Abe was a frequent visitor to the Charleston area, though he likely spent more time at the Coles County courthouse than at the home of his father and stepmother. One of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates was held in Charleston and is now the site of the Coles County fairgrounds and a small museum. Lincoln's last visit was in 1859, when the President-elect visited his stepmother and his father's grave before setting out for Washington D.C.

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