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Lives of Fort de Chartres

Lives of Fort de Chartres

Commandants, Soldiers, and Civilians in French Illinois, 1720–1770

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David MacDonald


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
14 illustrations

Shawnee Books


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About the Book

Winner, ISHS Annual Award for a Scholarly Publication, 2017

Fort de Chartres, built in 1719-1720 in the heart of what would become the American Midwest, embodied French colonial power for half a century. Lives of Fort de Chartres, by David MacDonald, details the French colonial experience in Illinois from 1720 to 1770 through vivid depictions of the places, people, and events around the fort and its neighboring villages.
In the first section, MacDonald explores the fascinating history of French Illinois and the role of Fort de Chartres in this history, focusing on native peoples, settlers, slaves, soldiers, villages, trade routes, military administration, and the decline of French rule in Illinois. The second section profiles the fort’s twelve distinctive and often colorful commandants, who also served as administrative heads of French Illinois. These men’s strong personalities served them well when dealing simultaneously with troops, civilians, and Indians and their multifaceted cultures. In the third section, MacDonald presents ten thought-provoking biographies of people whose lives intersected with Fort de Chartres in various ways, from a Kaskaskia Indian woman known as “the Mother of French Illinois” to an ill-fated chicken thief and a European aristocrat. Subjects treated in the book include French–Native American relations, the fur trade, early Illinois agriculture, and tensions among different religious orders. Together, the biographies and historical narrative in the volume illuminate the challenges that shaped the French colonies in America.
The site of Fort de Chartres, recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1966, still exists today as a testament to the ways in which French, British, Spanish, and American histories have intertwined. Both informative and entertaining, Lives of Fort de Chartres contributes to a more complete understanding of the French colonial experience in the Midwest and portrays a vital and vigorous community well worth our appreciation.


David MacDonald is an emeritus professor of history at Illinois State University, where he taught for thirty-five years. He has published over fifty articles on Greek and Roman history and is the author of several books, the most recent of which is Overstruck Greek Coins: Studies in Greek Chronology and Monetary Theory. In retirement he has expanded his interests to include French colonial Illinois and Missouri and has published five articles on that subject. 


“Full of sweeping research injected with wit, MacDonald’s Lives of Fort de Chartres is a wonderful incursion into Illinois’ French roots. This concise, engaging work, with its innumerable comments, insights, and notes regarding sources and past research, will provide eager scholars and students with a rich and valuable starting point to research the state’s colonial past.”— Joseph Gagné, historian and creator of Electronic New France

"There is a lot to like in Lives of Fort de Chartres. The researchis detailed, and the author providesone of the few works to clearly spell out the evolutionof colonial politics in the Illinois Countryand Louisiana. Popular audiences will find thebiographies entertaining and engaging. Academic readers will appreciate the insights into the politicalrivalries and personalities."—Missouri Historical Review

“David MacDonald's book on Fort de Chartres is an excellent addition to the growing body of literature on the French Illinois Country specifically and French North America in general. The book consists primarily of short narratives of the lives and activities of the commandants of Fort de Chartres [including] detailed stories about various Indian wars, bureaucratic feuds, and the like. . . . The author does an excellent job of using, explaining, and evaluating both the primary and secondary sources available to construct these historical pieces and our understanding of French Illinois. . . . This [is] a wonderful introduction to the period and the place, which should be better known by all students of American history.”—Journal of Illinois History