When We Were French . . .


The French colonial legacy of Illinois is a rich and often overlooked chapter in Illinois history. The “Illinois Country” of the 1600s and 1700s was the scene of a remarkable interaction between Native Americans, French explorers, priests, fur traders, merchants, and agricultural families. This resulted in a number of well-established fur trading and farming communities that spanned most of the 18th and 19th centuries. Towns and cities such as Cahokia, Prairie du Rocher and Peoria in Illinois, and Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis in Missouri, trace their origins to the plans of French traders and farmers of the 18th century.

Such communities still preserve important

archaeological legacies as well. While many of these

remains have succumbed to urban development

and the movements of the Mississippi River, there

survives an archaeological record that offers a

direct link to the lives of those who were a part

of French Illinois.

The French Colonial Heritage Project was established

in 2006 by Dr. Thomas Emerson of the Illinois State

Archaeological Survey (ISAS) and Robert Mazrim of

the Sangamo Archaeological Center (SAC). The principal goals of the FCHP are to record, interpret, and preserve archaeological sites affiliated with the French Colonial Era. This involves archaeological survey and testing, the revisiting of old collections, the timely publication of findings, and the organizing of public outreach projects.

In 2010, ISAS published At Home in the Illinois Country: French Domestic Archaeology in the Midcontinent 1730-1800, Robert Mazrim’s summary volume that features results from all of the FCHP studies conducted through 2010.