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Fort de Chartres State Historic Site near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois
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Fort De Chartres
The Aubries Company, portraying a unit of the French Marines from the period of 1756 to 1759, perform a drill for the French and Indian Assemblage, Oct 6 - 7, at the Fort De Chartres.
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Fort De Chartres
Jim DuVall, who's family came to America in the 1790s, delights in telling the history of the Fort De Chartres and its part in the settling of St. Louis.
by Betty Magrath
Photos by Bob Moore

© 2001, Southwest Illinois News

PRAIRIE DU ROCHER, IL (SWI-News.com) October 6, 2001 - French heritage is proudly celebrated in Southwestern Illinois through yearlong activities at many historic sites. Every fall, re-enactors, dressed in period costumes and French Marine attire, gather at Fort De Chartres to help the recreate the sights and sounds of a French and Indian Assemblage.

The eighteenth century historic fort, built along the banks of the Mississippi River, has been partially reconstructed. Today, visitors can tour the limestone gateway, the guards building which include a guards room, priest room, chapel and storage loft and the original powder magazine. Construction on the stone fort was begun in 1753, replacing two wooden forts.

Re-enactor Jim DuVall delights in telling how the fort played a unique part in the founding and settling of St. Louis, Missouri. "There were six French communities at that time up and down the Mississippi River Valley near Fort De Chartres. The communities were often raided by the Fox Indians from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin."

"The land around here is called the American Bottoms," he explained. "Some of the richest farmland of the United States is right here. This a flood plain and that is why the land is so rich." DuVall added that in 1734, the farmers shipped over 800,000 pounds of ground grain to New Orleans.

"When they built the first two forts, they were made out of wood. Because of the material, the forts deteriorated and eventually fell down," recounted DuVall. (The forts were named Fort de Chartres in honor of Louis due de Chartres, son of the regent of France.)

Fort De Chartres
(L. to R.) French Marine officers Bob Gill, from Boza, KY, and James K. Chestney, from Medora, IL, re-enact the orders to fire the canon. Watch a Quicktime Video of the reenactment.
DuVall stated that In 1753, when they built this limestone fort, there were three towns within four miles of the fort: Prairie du Rocher, Nouvelle Chartres (new Charles) and Ste Phillip.

"In November of 1763, a guy named (Pierre) Laclede came here," stated DuVall. "He had a teenage son and Mrs. Chouteau with him. He put his trade guns in the King's warehouse and went out in Nouvelle Chartres and bought a house and a barn, along with seventeen cows, twenty hogs and 150 fowl. We know this because we have a copy of the deed. So, we have Laclede and Chouteau here at Nouvelle Chartres in 1763," he emphasized.

DuVall stated that in the spring of 1757, Laclede left and traveled north to Cahokia, IL, where he crossed the river and started a trading post. "He left his thirteen-year-old son, Auguste Chouteau, to run the place for him. He returned and offer land to people in these towns to come to his new place," said DuVall.

He stated that over a period of years, every family left, except one in Ste. Phillip. All of Novelle Chartres and about twenty percent of Prairie Du Roche. Some went to Ste. Genevieve and some went to Old Mines in the Potosi area where they have the lead mines. Some went up on the Meramac River and some on the Missouri River. The majority went to Laclede's place which today is called St. Louis," said DuVall.

Fort De Chartres
Re-enactors, portraying French Marines, fires the cannon near the newly restored limestone powder magazine, believed to be the oldest building in Illinois.
In 1763, France surrendered Illinois to Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris that ended the French and Indian war (Seven Years' War). DuVall emphasized that even though some of the richest land in the United States was right here, they left because the French lost the French and Indian war. "Everything west of the Mississippi went to Spain, everything east went to England. No Frenchman is going to live outside of an English Fort. It just wasn't going to happen," he said.

"The English came here on October 10, 1765 and stayed until 1772 at which point the front wall fell into the river," continued DuVall.

"How did this happen?" he asked. Pointing to the levees on either side of the fort, he stated that "we are in a large bend in the river and you have a lot of erosion on the banks. Eventually the front wall fell into the river and the British abandoned the fort and went to Fort Kaskaskia."

Through a grant from the State of Illinois, the powder magazine, located along the north wall, has been fully restored and now features a new roof. On Sunday, October 7, a special celebration dedicated the magazine, believed to the oldest surviving building in Illinois.
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