Peoria Roots Run Deep

The Illinois State Archaeological Survey recently assembled information on French-Colonial Peoria for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, summarizing the “long and complex array of historical events [that] unfolded along the Peoria waterfront between 1691 and the 1820s.” During those 130 years prior to the arrival of the first American settlers, between four and seven forts and stockades were constructed along Peoria’s waterfront:

1691-1700: At the core of the original settlement was a French fort and mission, an adjacent Indian village of more than 300 longhouses, and The Mission of the Immaculate Conception, built by the Jesuits to serve the village. In addition, many Canadian traders married Illinois Indians, creating a multicultural community known as a Métis community.

1700-1750s: Two or three additional forts, supporting trade along the river, were likely constructed alongside a succession of Native villages principally occupied by the Peoria, as well as probable Métis families.

1760s-1800: The Old French Village consisting of French settlers was located near present-day Detweiller Marina. Portions of the old properties and lot lines were recorded by the U.S. government in the 1820s.

1770s-1812: The New French Village (La Ville de Maillet) was located along the river in what is now downtown Peoria—the site of Maillet’s fort and later, an American Fur Company post. It was burned out by American soldiers in 1812, and the Americans built their own fort, Fort Clark, the following year.

Where is the archaeology for all this history?

2001: At Peoria’s Old French Village, the footprint of an 18th-century post-in-earth dwelling was excavated by ISAS near the corner of Adams and Mary streets, preserved just one foot below the surface. The rest of the Old French Village has yet to be found.

2004: At Peoria’s New French Village, buried remnants of this late 18th-century town were discovered, and many more remains are probably present.

The precise locations of the Illinois/Peoria Indian villages, Jesuit mission and various French forts are still unknown—although remains can likely be found along the shoreline north and south of Detweiller Marina.

ISAS summarized its findings in a web booklet, which can be viewed or downloaded at peoriagov.org/happy-325th-birthday-peoria. Text and images were by Dr. Duane Esarey and Robert Mazrim, with special thanks to Dr. Thomas E. Emerson and Mike Farkas. To learn more about the Illinois State Archaeology Survey, visit isas.illinois.edu. iBi

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