Reminiscences of Early Peoria
by Odillon B. Slane
STORY OF FORT CLARK
IT is, at the
earnest request of an old friend and neighbor, William R. Sandham of Wyoming,
Illinois, that I attempt to write the story of Fort Clark, Peoria.
About the year 1778 Hypolite Maillett moved to the north side of Peoria Lake and commenced the building of this ville which took the name of Fort Clark. This fort took its name from Colonel George Rogers Clark, veteran of 1778, and hero of Vincennes.
Charles Balance's history of Peoria gives the description, location and the story of the destruction of old Fort Clark, the ruins of which were seen by the Slane and Nixon families in 1831. One writer says that John B. Maillett built the first house at Fort Clark in 1761. May I say that the name Fort Clark was given to this spot some years before the Fort was built. Report of Governor Edward Cole says the house was built in what was called La Ville de Maillett.
Fort Clark was located at the intersection of Water and Liberty streets. Timbers and other materials were obtained from the East side of the Illinois river, and rafted down on the west side.
The fort was a simple stockade constructed by planting two rows of logs firmly in the ground and filling the space between with earth. It was not intended as a defense against artillery as the Indians did not use artillery. The fort was about 100 feet square with a ditch on each side. The fort did not stand with a side to the Lake, but with a corner to it. The corner farthest from the lake was on the upper side of Water street near the intersection of Water and Liberty streets. There were a few houses built within the enclosures.
General Benjamin Howard arrived at Fort Clark, Peoria, September, 1813, with about 1400 men. After a fight they took possession of, and built the fort. The fort was garrisoned by both rangers and U.S. troops. It successfully sustained one Indian attack.
It is said that Peoria was never wholly deserted by the Americans after the erection of Fort Clark in 1813. One historian tells us that this fort was burned in 1814 by the Indians. In 1832, it was ordered re-built when the Black Hawk War broke out. This second Fort Clark was located at the intersection of Water and Second streets.
G. S. Hubbard, in a letter to Charles Balance, dated Dec. 30, 1867, says: ---that he found the fort on fire in 1818, but Josiah Fulton and William Blanchard who first came here in 1819, are positive they found it on fire and put out the flames. Both may be right. It is the opinion of the writer that only a part of the west side burned in 1818. Earth having been filled in between the pickets, the fire would burn slowly and would be easily extinguished.
It is stated that Abner Eads arrived at Peoria April 17, 1819, and pitched tents against the remaining timbers of Fort Clark. When Charles Balance came to this place in 1831, he found the west side completely destroyed by fire. There were some burnt posts standing on the west side, a square of about 10 or 12 feet at the south corner.
Enough of one of the posts was left for a hitching post, and a blacksmith, Isaac Evans, put some hooks in it for that purpose. This hitching post remained here till May 1884, when Mr. S. Dewitt Drown took it down and sawed it up into walking canes which sold for 50 cents each. It is said that there were six (6) forts built in the vicinity of Peoria.
American state papers of Public Lands, Vol. III page 422, gives as a reason why the village of Fort Clark was located one and one-half miles below the old village, was on account of the water being better at the lowest outlet of the lake. In consequence, it was healthier.
We have already mentioned the re-building of Fort Clark in 1832, at the intersection of Water and Second streets. During the Black Hawk War (1832) many of the early settlers from northern and western sections, came to Fort Clark for protection. A company of 25 persons was organized and called the Peoria guards. It is uncertain whether or not this fort was occupied during the Black Hawk War. Students of history will note that there were two Fort Clarks; one built in 1813, the other in 1832.
The story is told that in the Fall of 1816 a party of hunters from St. Clair County came to Fort Clark and found 20 deer in the fort, the gate having been left open. Floors of the block houses were covered with manure. The hunters cleaned out the buildings and occupied them 10 days or so while hunting deer in this vicinity. The Central Illinois Light Company has a building now located on a part of the land that was once the site of Fort Clark.
An early historian says that the founding and settlement of Peoria dates from the 19th day of April in the 19th year of the 19th century.
The 19th of April is a prominent date in American history.
In 1826 when the County Commissioners had the town site surveyed they called it Peoria. However, it was spoken of as Fort Clark and sometimes Peoria, but the name Peoria became legally established in 1835 when the town, Peoria, was incorporated. Peoria is an Indian word meaning "fat lands."
Many scattered events relating to Fort Clark or Peoria might be related. N. Matson says that General Benjamin Howard with 900 men encamped near La Ville De Mailette, (1812). He marched to Gomo village at the head of Lake Peoria, found the village deserted, and after burning it, returned to Peoria.
It was after this that he decided to build Fort Clark.
In 1820 Hypolite Mailett in a sworn statement before Edward Cole, registrar at land office, said he was 45 years old and that he was born in a stockade fort near Peoria Lake. Another event worth remembering is this: In 1778 when Colonel George Rogers Clark took possession of the Illinois country, he sent three soldiers and two Frenchmen to Peoria to notify the people that they were no longer under British rule, but were citizens of the United States.
I am indebted to the following for help, suggestions and kindly criticisms: ---
Anna L. Archer, Reference Librarian, Dallas R. Sweney, Assistant Librarian of the Peoria Public Library. George E. Johnson, editor, Peoria Daily Record, Percival G. Rennick, writer and lecturer, and to my father and other early pioneers who have actually seen Fort Clark.
I call my home "The Lookout"--
And in my dreams I see
A mighty nation's commerce
On the river to the sea.
The Indian Mother's lullaby
Is hushed forevermore;
But the song of Marching Progress
Is swelling more and more.
Chapter 12 Chapter 14
Any contributions, corrections, or suggestions would be deeply appreciated!
Copyright © Janine Crandell
All rights reserved
Updated September 20, 2005