*Originally posted on August 26, 2017*
The wait is over! This week we’re traveling to Kaskaskia (pop. 14) in southwestern Illinois.
The modern day town of Kaskaskia is actually the sixth settlement named Kaskaskia in Illinois. The first Kaskaskia was located near present-day Utica, Illinois, across the Illinois River from Starved Rock. The village, named after the Kaskaskia tribe inhabiting the area, moved south along the Illinois River until it reached its present location in 1703. It was there that French traders settled down with the Kaskaskia and the Jesuit missionaries who had accompanied the tribe on their migration. Situated between the Kaskaskia River and the Mississippi, the town soon became a thriving community and center of trade.
Throughout the 18th century, Kaskaskia served as a center of government for Illinois Country. When the state of Illinois was created in 1818, Kaskaskia was chosen as the first capital of the Prairie State. Its life as the state capital was short-lived, however, and the government moved the capital from Kaskaskia to Vandalia two years later in 1820.
Due to frequent flooding of the Mississippi River, the population of Kaskaskia dwindled over the next 20 years. A devastating flood in 1844 wiped out much of the town, forcing many of Kaskaskia’s occupants to leave. Around 1863, the Mississippi River began to move eastward with each successive flood, taking much of the town with it. Another major flood in 1881 carved a new path for the river, which moved from the west of Kaskaskia to the east, turning the peninsula into an island.
Today, most of Kaskaskia’s older buildings have been swallowed up by the river. The population has dwindled to 14 people, making it the second smallest incorporated town in Illinois.
You can learn more about Kaskaskia and the role it has played in Illinois history here at the IHLC. The map featured below appears in Natalia M. Belting’s Pierre of Kaskaskia, which is available here at the IHLC or online at http://tinyurl.com/ydc8moma.