Tuesday Trivia: Before There Was Illinois

Q: Can you name all the entities that have claimed jurisdiction over what we now know as Chicagoland?


  • Illinois Country (borders undefined)
  • Upper Louisiana (part of New France)
  • New York (until 1782)
  • Connecticut (until 1786)
  • Northwest Territory (until 1800)
  • Indiana Territory (until 1809)
  • Illinois Territory (until 1818)
  • State of Illinois (present)
There may be others, but these are the ones we found.  History buffs, feel free to post corrections below.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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  1. Do you have links to any of the source documents for these transitions in sovereignty & jurisdiction? I assume the switch from Upper Louisiana to New York would be the Louisiana Purchase, plus an Act of Congress, though i don't really know that. Also curious about the legal status of "Illinois Country." Never heard of that before, maybe just an informal designation from early scouts? I guess you must have gotten these from somewhere, but where?

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  2. I wrote this trivia entry a few months ago, so my memory's a little fuzzy. However, I believe most of it came from Wikipedia.

    Since you inquired specifically about "Illinois Country" here's the wiki entry for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illinois_Country

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  3. Fascinating map. The largest text seems aspirational at best, delusional or desperate at worst, with the idea that those lands "belonged" to anyone other than the Indians in any meaningful sense at that time, although I guess the mass slaughter had already begun. I wish I could interview the cartographer on what is meant by "nation" in French at that time. Today some modern speakers refer to the Mohawk Nation (or the Nation of Islam). The US Constitution refers to "foreign nations" and "Indian tribes," so it appears in English at the time, the term "nation" referred to something other than Indian tribes. Whether the authors of the Constitution agreed with the usage of this cartographer is pretty hard for me to divine. Interesting puzzle!

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  4. The map is written in French, not English, and the French language isn't fluid the way English is, so "nation" probably meant "people" back then as it does now.

    As for whether the lands belonged to the Indians, that can be debated. The American Indians didn't have land ownership as a concept. That's why they thought they were getting a good deal when Manhattan was sold so cheap. To them, no one could "own" the land, but as history shows — they were proven wrong.

    Considering that the people who wrote the constitution were a hundred years, a language, and a culture removed from the cartographer in question it does indeed present a puzzle.

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  5. I did look into this a bit. The French claimed the entire area, though of course it was so large, and their presence here so small, that it can't have significantly interfered with the daily lives of the Indians, for the most part. Sovereignty was transferred to King George under the first Treaty of Paris (1763), which ended the Seven Years War aka French and Indian War. King George then issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, creating an Indian Reserve of all the territory from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, to the fury of the colonists.

    In the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark took the southern areas of the Indian Reserve, including Kaskaskia, from the British in 1778. Clark was part of the army of Virginia, which declared the territory Illinois County, Virginia, until ceding it to the federal government in 1784. The Northwest Territory was legislated in 1787.

    As far as I can tell, Virginia's claim through Clark included Chicagoland, although I haven't (yet) tracked down the original statute to see. Another thing I haven't yet found are the westward claims by states in defiance of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This could explain the appearance of New York and Connecticut in the list, although with Virginia in apparent control of European settlements in the area, it seems like a pretty empty claim. Then again, maybe they were more proactive.

    Where did you find the New York and Connecticut claims?

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  6. Wikipedia. There's maps, too.

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