War Defines our Region

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Lori Osborne is the Archivist at the Evanston History Center. This is the third in a series of articles on very early Evanston history, from millions of years ago to Evanston’s earliest settlers.

For more than 100 years our region was contested ground, due to the wars between the French and British empires over control of land and resources. When the eastern British colonies began to challenge French dominance in our region, local tribes were forced to choose their allegiances. Most tribes in the Great Lakes region allied with the French because of trade and family connections. The French and Indian War (between the French and the British) changed the landscape entirely. Ending in 1763, the lands in our area officially moved from French to British control. For several years, the tribes in our region dealt with the British, until the Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Paris in 1783 once again altered the balance of power, shifting control of the land to American hands.

In 1787 the new American government passed the Northwest Ordinance outlining the specific ways the Northwest Territory could be added to the new union. Though much of the land was inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Indians, the ordinance did not extend rights to them. In 1803, the American presence in our area grew dramatically with the building of Fort Dearborn at the mouth of the Chicago River. Fort Dearborn was part of a large network of forts built to protect Americans moving into the new territory. The glacial Indian trail on the ridge in Evanston became a military road, linking Fort Dearborn to military outposts as far north as Fort Howard near Green Bay.

The need for an American military presence in the area had risen with continued conflict between the Americans and the remaining British troops and allied Indians in the area. By 1812 a full scale war had broken out between the Americans and the British and this war proved pivotal. Though most well-known for conflicts in the eastern U.S., the War of 1812 had a dramatic effect on our area, resulting in the land shifting to American control. Once the war was over, the American presence in the Great Lakes region grew substantially. First established in 1809, Illinois Territory then included all of what is now Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. With its rapidly growing population, Illinois became a state in 1818.

In these years, Potawatomi Indians living in the Chicago area negotiated a series of treaties with the Americans that bit-by-bit removed tribal lands from their control. Often these treaties were negotiated under questionable circumstances making the outcomes unfairly biased toward the Americans. Most important to Evanston was the 1829 Treaty of Prairie Du Chien that ceded all land now within Evanston’s borders to the U.S. government, with one important exception, the land north of Central Street and from the lake west to almost Ewing Avenue that was granted as a reservation to Archange Ouilmette, a Potawatomi woman. The 1833 Treaty of Chicago, which concluded the Blackhawk War, forced the Potawatomi to sell all remaining tribal lands (outside those given in land grants) and outlined the forced the removal of all Indians from Illinois. Chicago was incorporated as a town soon after in 1833.

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