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THE SUBJECT CONTINUED. COLES'S REPORT
But a word more about the French population. The first Frenchmen who ever saw Peoria, or rather the ground on which it stands, were Father Marquette and his party, in the summer of 1673, but they formed no colony, nor did they leave any one to hold possession of the place. The next party that visited the place was that under La Salle, in January 1,1680. They attempted to establish a trading post, and actually built a fort; but the men behaved badly, and the Indians became hostile, and, during La Salle's absence to Canada to obtain supplies and men, they all abandoned the place. Upward of forty years afterward, when Charlevoix visited this place, he found no Frenchmen here, nor have I been able, from any source, to learn when the French first commenced their village at Peoria. According to Coles's report, they were here before the oldest inhabitant could remember.
Edward Coles, who was then register of the land-office at Edwardsville but who was afterward governor of Illinois, a man of an inquiring mind, and fond of antique matters, and who took nearly all the proofs on which Peoria French claims are based, reported as follows to the Secretary of the Treasury:
"The old village of Peoria was situated on the northwest shore of Lake Peoria,
about one mile and a half above the lower extremity or outlet of the lake. This
village had been inhabited by the French previous to the recollection of any of
the present generation. About the year 1778 or I779, the first house was built
in what was then called La Ville de Maillet, afterward the New Village of
Peoria, and of late the place has been known by the name of Fort Clark, situated
about one mile and a half below the old village, immediately at the lower point
on the outlet of Lake Peoria. The situation being preferred on account of the
water being better, and its being thought more healthy, the inhabitants
gradually deserted the old village, and by the year 1796 or 1797 had entirely
abandoned it, and removed to the new village.
"The inhabitants of Peoria consisted generally of Indian traders, hunters, and voyageurs, and had formed a link of connection between the French residing on the waters of the great lakes and the Mississippi river. From that happy faculty of adapting themselves to their situation and associates, for which the French are so remarkable, the inhabitants of Peoria lived generally in harmony with their savage neighbors. It would seem, however, that about the year 1781 they were induced to abandon the village, from an apprehension of Indian hostilities; but soon after the peace of 1783 they again returned, and continued to reside there until the autumn of the year 1812, when they were forcibly removed from it, and the place destroyed by Capt. Craig, of the Illinois militia, on the ground, as it was said, that he and his company of militia were fired on in the night, while at anchor, in their boats, before the village, by Indians, with whom the inhabitants were suspected by Craig to be too intimate and friendly.
"The inhabitants of Peoria, it would appear from all I can learn, settled there without any grant or permission from the authority of any government; that the only title they had to their lands was derived from possession, and the only value attached to it grew out of the improvements placed on it. That each person took to himself such portion of unoccupied land as he wished to occupy and cultivate, and made it his own by incorporating his labor with it; but as soon as he abandoned it, his title was understood to cease, with his possession and improvements, and it reverted to its natural state, and was liable again to be improved and possessed by any one; who should think proper. This, together with the itinerate character of the inhabitants, will account for the number of persons who will frequently be found from the testimony, contained in the report, to have occupied the same lot, many of whom, it will be seen, present conflicting claims.
"As is usual in French villages, the possession in Peoria consisted generally of village lots, on which they erected their buildings and made their gardens, and of outlots or fields, in which they cultivated grain, etc. The village lots contained, in general, about one half of an arpent of land; the outlots or fields were of various sizes, depending on the industry or means of the owner to cultivate more or less land.
"As neither the old nor new village of Peoria was ever formally laid out or had defined limits assigned them, it is impossible to have of them an accurate map. . . . I have not been able to ascertain, with precision, on what particular quarter-sections of the military survey these claims are situated."— Coles's Report to the Secretary of the Treasury, dated Nov. 10, 1820. 3d vol. Amer. State Papers, 421.
Mr. Coles was a gentleman who would aim to speak the truth, but he was surrounded by those claimants, and no one else. He had no means of knowing any thing about them and their claims but from themselves; and yet, observe his statements: "The inhabitants of Peoria, it would appear from all I can learn, settled there without any grant or permission from the authority of any government; that the only title they had to their lands was derived from possession, and the only value attached to it grew out of the improvements placed on it," etc.; and the village had been inhabited only previous to the recollection of any of the present generation. And this statement was made in the fall of 1820. How long any of these had been there it is no where further shown than that it was beyond their recollection. For the space of about eighty-years after La Salle's men left, I have consulted no book that shows that any white man was living at Peoria.
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