Early Statehood (1818-1848)

On December 3, 1818, Illinois became the twenty-first state of the Union. Ostensibly a free state, slavery was “grandfathered” in to the constitution for existing colonial slaveholders, and all citizens were permitted to keep indentured servants. Over the next thirty years, the state experienced a transition from an American frontier to a settled and rapidly developing agricultural state. Technology changed agriculture and expanded markets. It also fostered changes in government, legal, and educational institutions.

In 1832, Black Sparrow Hawk, a Sauk warrior, and more than 1,000 Sauk and Fox, attempted to return to their principal community of Saukenuk, present-day Rock Island. Conflict soon followed, and warriors fought a series of battles with Federal troops and Illinois militia in Illinois and Wisconsin. Decimated in a final fight at Bad Axe in Wisconsin, the Sauk and Fox, along with other tribes once resident in Illinois, signed a treaty reaffirming their land cessions and moved to reservations west of the Mississippi River.

Death Portrait of Charlotta Richardson

Image of Death Portrait of Charlotta Richardson
Today in the United States, many people feel very uncomfortable looking at a death portrait. However, in earlier times, it was an accepted means of remembering and memorializing someone who had died. In the 19th century, many families lost children to accident and disease.

The Study of Oology

Image of Bird Egg Collection
 
Field guide to common birds: Top row l to r: American goldfinch, brown thrasher, downy woodpecker, gray catbird. Center row: blue jay, Carolina wren, house wren, baltimore oriole. Bottom row: Great crested flyatcher, northern cardinal, American robin, song sparrow.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, before federal protections for all birds were established, egg collecting thrived as a hobby. Collectors bought, sold, and traded eggs with one another. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was established to stop the commercialization of birds, primarily because market hunting for restaurants and to provide feathers for the hat trade was decimating populations. As egg collecting slowly disappeared in the years following, many collectors gave their collections to museums.

Prairie Cicada

Image of Prairie Cicada
The Prairie Cicada’s (Megatibicen dorsatus) sound is unique to the tallgrass prairie. Because much of the prairie was converted to farming and other uses before it could be thoroughly studied, we may never know what the cacophony of insect songs sounded like in this distinctive habitat. Many of those insects are now as rare as original prairie remnants. The Prairie Cicada persists in some of those remnants as well as in small railroad prairies.

White Snakeroot

Image of White Snakeroot
Two years after Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, moved his family to the Little Pigeon Creek settlement in Southern Indiana, the family faced tragedy. Abraham was just nine years old when his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, became gravely ill. Just two weeks later, on October 5, 1818, he lost his mother to “Milk Sickness.”

Big Bluestem

Image of Big Bluestem
The land that was to become the State of Illinois was once two-thirds covered by prairie. Big Bluestem (Adropogon gerardii) may have been the most widespread and abundant grass on the prairie. Big Bluestem grows in such tall and dense stands that it often outcompetes other grasses.

The Greater Prairie Chicken

Image of The Greater Prairie Chicken
The Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) once numbered in the millions in Illinois. At first, as the Illinois prairie was converted to farmland, prairie chickens grew in numbers. But as the ratio of farmland to prairie grew more lopsided, prairie chickens declined in number, leaving a small, remnant population on two preserves in southern Illinois.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Image of Ivory-billed Woodpecker compared with the common Pileated Woodpecker on the left
This specimen of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) (here compared with the common Pileated Woodpecker on the left) is not from Illinois. The only Illinois records we have are observations from naturalists, mostly in the 1800s. John James Audubon, the famous bird artist, encountered calling Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the 1820s on both sides of the Ohio River where it meets the Mississippi River at Cairo. Southern Illinois was the far northern extent of the species at that time.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Image of Alligator Snapping Turtle skull
The unmistakable ridges of the carapace (or shell) tell us right away that this prehistoric-looking creature is the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). It is our largest freshwater turtle, weighing up to 200 pounds. They lie in wait for prey submerged underwater and try to lure a meal into range by means of a wormlike appendage on the floor of their mouths. When a fish or other aquatic animal moves in to investigate, the turtle snaps its jaws shut.

Pearlware Fragments

Image of Hand Painted Dish Fragments
These fragments were discovered during an investigation of a well that had been filled in at the Williams Fort site in southeastern Illinois. The site was the location of a farmstead occupied by the family of Aaron and Tabitha Williams from about 1811-1838. To defend against the possibility of attack by Native Americans during the War of 1812, a stockade was constructed. A tavern was operated at the site in the years following the war.

Competition Across the Continents

Image of Staffordshire Plates
Although the “Baker’s Falls” plate was made by James and Ralph Clews, and the “Water Works” and “Race Works” plates were made by Job and John Jackson, all three plates are identical in diameter and apparently were made from the same mold. Note that they all share the same scalloped rim edged with raised dots. We don’t know if the Jacksons obtained the molds from the Clews pottery through gift, purchase, or outright theft. The Jacksons were nephews of James and Ralph Clews and trained at the Clews pottery in Cobridge, Staffordshire, England before setting out on their own.

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