So, I’ve blogged at bit about the DC-40 prayer warfare initiative that seeks to destroy every diverse opinion that makes our country truly great…and while there are several responses to this initiative, a few of which I am involved with, one of them is to promote the what is absolutely fantastic about these 50 states that we are a part of, as they are (without the interference of Dc-40 and others of their ilk).  I’ve volunteered to be one of the representatives for Illinois, my home state, and for Virginia, my (current) home.

Tomorrow will be the day that DC-40 prays against the state of Illinois, to deny its heritage and its diversity.  So today will be a day to reflect and learn about Illinois, as it is–The Prairie State, Land of Lincoln and microcosm of the nation.

Symbols of Illinois

If you didn’t know, popcorn is the official snack food of Illinois.  It makes sense, since corn and soy are its largest crops.  But before Illinois was a giant cornfield, it was mile upon mile of prairie (northern IL) and forest (southern IL).  Its official grass is Big Bluestem, or Andropogon gerardii, a late-succession prairie grass that is a sign of mature prairie.  Its state tree is the White Oak (Quercus alba), which is found through out the state.  Both Big Bluestem and the White Oak are native to their respective ecosystem types which make up Illinois–the Prairie Peninsula and Eastern Broadleaf Forest.  For more info on other IL symbols, check out the whole list!

A Brief History of Illinois

Birdman Tablet from Cahokia Mounds

Glaciation is responsible for the shaping of the Illinois landscape.  It is thought that Native Americans first came to Illinois some 12,000 years ago during this period, hunting the megafauna (like the mastadon and giant ground sloths) of the area, as evidenced by archaeological sites like this.  After the end of the last Ice Age, it appears that the people of Illinois moved from a hunter-gatherer to a more agrarian form of subsistence. The last prehistoric period of settlement in Illinois was known as the Mississippian period, which has left us settlement remains such as Millstone Bluff (which is an amazingly beautiful spot) and the largest settlement north of Mexico of this period, Cahokia (with the largest man-made earthen mound in North America and a “woodhenge” solar calender to mark the ceremonial year). The settlement at Cahokia and the Mississippian culture peaked around the 1000 CE and was replaced by the tribes making up the Illinois Confederation prior to the arrival of French settlers in the area.

The first Europeans to set foot in Illinois were the French explorers Marquette and Joliet, in 1673.  Several years later it would be opened for trade and settlement, a period that would last for nearly two decades before Louis XIV abolished the fur trade and settlement, effectively stranding the coureurs de boismany of whom would stay put to establish the first settlements in Illinois –including Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, and Cahokia. The French would also build a number of forts in the area, which would play a role in the French and Indian War (including Chartres, which holds a yearly Rendezvous and reenactment of this time).  Illinois would transfer to British control after the French lost the Seven Years War (the world-wide war that the French and Indian War was part of).

looking out the firing port @ Ft de Chartres

The British controlled as part of the Virginia Colony (which I’ll also be blogging about) for 13 years until the advent of the Revolutionary War. Not surprisingly, (British and French relations having a long history of contention) the French of Illinois largely sided with the Americans.  In 1784 Virginia handed over the territory to Congress and 3 years later it would be established as part of the Northwest Territory, of which Arthur St. Clair was appointed Governor.  In 1809, the Illinois Territory (including Wisconsin) was established, and in 1818, the Enabling Act (which allowed IL, with lower population than needed) allowed Illinois to enter the Union as the 21st state, and Shadrach Bond is appointed the first Governor.

Though technically a “free state”, slavery was present in Illinois from the very beginning–witnessed by Joliet and Marquette among native tribes and later established by the French at the community of St Philippe with African slaves brought from the West Indies.  The 1818 Constitution of Illinois failed to ban slavery outright, and there was a struggle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups to establish the future of the state.  The 1820 census would record 1000 slaves in the state, and two decades later, there were still 337 recorded slaves listed in the census.  Though Illinois legislatively kept additional slavery from being established, it by no means welcomed a free black population in the state.  In 1848, Illinois would finally pass a Constitution that said “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state, except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” but followed it up with 1853 legislation to make free black settlement illegal.   In many ways, the struggle of Illinois was a microcosmic reflection of the struggle of the nation as a whole.

Jennie Hodgers served in the Civil War as Albert Cashiers

Despite Illinois’ division over slavery, by and large Illinoisans were still supporters of the Union. there would be some support for the Confederacy during the time of the Civil War, including a group of 34 men that joined the Tennessee Infantry, the state sent a quarter of a million of its men (and women) to fight for the Union.  Following the Civil War, in 1871, a fire in Chicago  destroyed most of the city, allowing it to be rebuilt to become one of the most populous and important cities in America.  Legend places the origin of the fire on the cow of Mr. and Mrs. O’Leary, though it was an admitted fabrication and the actual origin was unknown. Towards the end of the 1800’s, in 1893, Chicago would host the World’s Fair, which boasted the original Ferris Wheel and introduced America to belly dancing.  Over the past century, the population of IL exploded as it became more industrialized.

The Prairie State’s People

Illinois is the most populous midwestern state, with over 12.8 million residents.  Nearly 2/3 of its residents reside in the greater Chicago area, with the rest of its residents living in smaller cities, towns and rural communities.  Three residents of Illinois have been elected to the postition of President of the United States of America–Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Barack Obama, but only one President was born and raised there–Ronald Reagan, of Dixon, IL.  Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun would become the first black woman elected to the Senate.

My Favorite Places: 
River to River Trail
Shedd Aquarium
Field Museum of Natural History
Bell Smith Springs
Ferne Clyffe State Park
Great River Road