Kaskaskia, Illinois

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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, due to the need 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 periodically is full of water.

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History

The town was named after the Native American name for the Kaskaskia River. At first favorably situated 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.[citation needed] In 1703 French Jesuit missionaries established a mission with the goal of converting 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.[2] 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 being developed in Missouri.[3]

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