Did You Know? Illinois Is Going to Be 201 Years Old on December 3

On December 3, 2019, the state of Illinois will celebrate its 201st birthday as a state. There are some interesting facts prior to its having achieved that status that many may not know. For starters, before Illinois became a state, it was known as the Illinois Territory. In early 1818, the General Assembly sent a petition to Congress asking that the territory be admitted to the Union, a prerequisite of which was that it had to adopt its own Constitution. More interesting data follows.

Our state name is derived from the Illinois River. The river was named in 1679 by the French explorer, René Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle after the Native Indians who lived in the area. The word “Illinois” is translated from the Indian word “illiniwok,” which means “warriors.”

When Illinois first became a state in December 3, 1818, its capital was located in Kaskaskia—a city that eventually and essentially vanished around 1881 when the Mississippi River, on a mission, changed its course, swallowing much of Kaskaskia and flooding the rest, thus creating a kind of island. In 1820 the capital was relocated to Vandalia though many people were unhappy with that choice and lobbied for a more central site. After the General Assembly’s approval of a referendum on where the State capital should be located and a vote in favor of Alton, the GA chose to ignore that outcome due to the very slim margin by which Alton won. Thus, Vandalia remained the capital but only for a short time.

Although Vandalia residents paid for construction of a new capitol in 1836, that investment was not a wise choice (yet it is a landmark structure now). In 1837, the Assembly voted to move the capital and around 1839 Abraham Lincoln himself advocated for Springfield where our present capitol building has stood since 1868, although with updates such as a Centennial Building in 1918 and several separate buildings. The entirety is called the Capitol Complex and all of the buildings, save the Supreme Court building, are connected by a network of tunnels.

Now going back to our very early history: In the 1600s Illinois was first explored by the French. In 1673, the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet reached Illinois. In 1680, explorer René Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle and Henry de Tonty built Fort Crévecoeur on the east bank of the Illinois River, which is now situated near the present site of Creve Coeur, a suburb near Peoria. And in 1696, a Jesuit priest named Pierre François Pinet established the Guardian Angel mission in what is now the City of Chicago.

In 1717, Illinois became a part of Louisiana, and in 1718, John Law was granted a charter for colonizing the Mississippi Valley. Between 1756 and 1763 the Seven Years War was fought over land disputes. During that war, France gave England all of the French territory east of the Mississippi River except for New Orleans (which may be why that City retains its French ‘flavor’), and the Spanish ceded east and west Florida to the English in exchange for Cuba. After the American Revolution, Illinois became a territory of the United States.

During the 1800s, conflicts erupted between the settlors and the Native Indians. The Native Indians of Illinois were the: Illini, Iroquois, Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, Miami, Shawnee, Sauk, and Fox tribes. In 1803 the Kaskaskia Indians ceded nearly all of their lands; in 1819 the Kickapoo Indians ceded their lands; and in 1829 the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians ceded their lands. Whether those land transfers were fully voluntary would require some further research—which may appear in a future issue.

Some interesting facts about Illinois as of late 2019, starting with it being the sixth most populous state:

We have 102 counties;

As of this point in 2019, the estimates of our ten largest cities are, beginning with the most populous and ending with the least populous: Chicago, 2.74936 million (which is an increase over the last 3 years); Aurora, 202,709; Joliet, 149,645; Naperville 147,905; Rockford, 145,338; Springfield, 113,471; Elgin, 112,843; Peoria, 111,706; Cicero, 89,622; and Waukegan, 87,678. 1

In 2015 our total resident count was 12,859,995, and in 2018, our total resident count was 12.74 million, which reflects a loss of population in the state over the past three years.  

Our state symbols are:     Flower: violet
                                                Tree: white oak
                                                Bird: cardinal
                                                Animal: white-tailed deer
                                                Fish: bluegill
                                                Insect: monarch butterfly
                                                Mineral: fluorite

Our state’s nickname is: Prairie State

State motto: state sovereignty, national union

Although Illinois is well known for being a large producer of corn and soybeans, few people are aware that Illinois is also the largest producer of pumpkins! Now YOU are ‘in the know.’

We’ve come to the end of our journey through Illinois’ history. And so, from the LRE Committee members and our ISBA Staff: happy holidays to all--and enjoy your pumpkin pie because it probably came from Illinois. And most of all:

Happy birthday, Illinois!


Statistical facts obtained from www2.Illinois.gov, Illinois Genealogy Trails, and other sources.

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October 2019Volume 6Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)