Peoria settlement sacked, burned during War of 1812

SHARE Peoria settlement sacked, burned during War of 1812
dueling_peoria_tricentennial_1.jpg

This illustration, created for Peoria’s tricentennial in 1991, showcases the beginning of the peaceful coexistence between settlers and American Indians in the Peoria area of the Illinois River valley. That continued coexistence caused puzzlement and concern among territorial authorities at the start of the War of 1812 and resulted in a military expedition to the village on the site of modern-day Peoria. Source: Journal Star Archives

If schoolchildren learn one thing about the War of 1812, it’s that the British marched on and burned Washington, D.C.

But Illinois schoolchildren studying the war could also learn about the burning of a settlement in their own territory, one set ablaze by their own countrymen: the village located wherePeoriastands today, in a location that had been settled since the late 1600s.

The conflagration there, almost certainly unplanned, gave rise to a half-century-long legal fight and slowed the city’s development.

In the early months of that conflict between the British and Americans, tensions grew in the western territories of the United States, including the Illinois Territory, because of fears that local American Indian tribes were either loyal to the British or being induced to attack American settlers, particularly after an attack at Fort Dearborn.

Hence the decision by the state’s territorial governor, Ninian Edwards, to send a group of militiamen — some from Missouri — up the Illinois River in November 1812 to check into conditions in the village of fewer than 100 people.

“The Missourians were deeply suspicious of this thriving and peaceful village, unmolested within 10 miles of the main council site for Indian tribes that swarmed Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa,” a Journal Star archival piece from 1962 reads.

Capt. Thomas Craig’s men began to sack the town while residents were atSundayMass.

Its buildings were burned, cattle killed, the wine vaults raided and villagers were taken prisoner and shipped down river. Belated orders from the governor to belay and free the prisoners finally reached the group, with men, women and children being turned loose with few provisions in freezing weather near modern-day Alton.

The burning of the village and the stranding of its members in fact helped turn some local Indians against the American settlers.

The destruction cleared the way for the construction of Fort Clark in 1813 as a bulwark against now-hostile Indian tribes. It remained on the site for only a few years until rebuilding of residential properties resumed nearby.

One problem: The displaced residents from 1812 had deeds to the property, dating back to the original French settlements there and began to petition Congress in 1813 to be reimbursed for their lost land. That process continued as Illinois entered its early days of statehood.

“By 1837, when surveys were made, American settlers were occupying these lots — but the sales to these inhabitants were made subject to the French claims,” Ernest E. East writes in an unpublished “History ofPeoria” volume, as later recounted by local historian Bill Adams.

Some 32 former residents or their heirs subsequently filed claims on 70 lots — some of which devolved into lawsuits in county court or federal court. A piece by thePeoriaHistorical Society explains:

“But the legal process moved very slowly, which in turn slowed the development of downtownPeoria. As a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln worked on some of these cases in the 1850s. Eventually, the displaced settlers were paid thousands of dollars in reparations for the loss of their homes.”

A handful of those cases first had to go to the state Supreme Court, and one to the U.S. Supreme Court, the latter with Lincoln as one of the attorneys involved.

The litigation ended when real estate baron Charles Balance finally bought out the remaining claims on eight lots for $31,000 in 1867 — about $500,000 in today’s funds.

Chris Kaergard covers politics and government for the Journal Star inPeoria. He can be reached atckaergard@pjstar.com.

Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial onDec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at200illinois.com.

The Latest
The Bulls and coach Billy Donovan consider Terry another great piece to a growing competitive group, but with free agency set to begin on Thursday, Zach LaVine remained the main part of the core. A core the Bulls will try and keep intact.
Cecilia Thomas was inside a car when another car approached and someone inside the second car opened fire, striking her in the head, police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.
“I have to give a shout-out to the police. They did an amazing job. There were plenty of police resources,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said. “Given the volume of people that were here, they did a great job…I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
The court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki extended Griner’s detention for another six months after she appeared for a preliminary hearing held behind closed doors.
The court ruled 6-3 along ideological lines for the coach. The justices said the coach’s prayer was protected by the First Amendment.