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The Lost Capital of Illinois

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David MacDonald and Raine Waters


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
226 pages, 6 x 9, 99 illustrations

Shawnee Books


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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the Book

This first comprehensive account of the Illinois village of Kaskaskia covers more than two hundred years in the vast and compelling history of the state. David MacDonald and Raine Waters explore Illinois’s first capital in great detail, from its foundation in 1703 to its destruction by the Mississippi River in the latter part of the nineteenth century, as well as everything in between: successes, setbacks, and the lives of the people who inhabited the space.
At the outset the Kaskaskia tribe, along with Jesuit missionaries and French traders, settled near the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi rivers, about sixty miles south of modern-day St. Louis. The town quickly became the largest French town and most prosperous settlement in the Illinois Country. After French control ended, Kaskaskia suffered under corrupt British and then inept American rule. In the 1790s the town revived and became the territorial capital, and in 1818 it became the first state capital. Along the way Kaskaskia was beset by disasters: crop failures, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, epidemics, and the loss of the capital-city title to Vandalia. Likewise, human activity and industry eroded the river’s banks, causing the river to change course and eventually wash away the settlement. All that remains of the state’s first capital today is a village several miles from the original site.
MacDonald and Waters focus on the town’s growth, struggles, prosperity, decline, and obliteration, providing an overview of its domestic architecture to reveal how its residents lived. Debunking the notion of a folklore tradition about a curse on the town, the authors instead trace those stories to late nineteenth-century journalistic inventions. The result is a vibrant, heavily illustrated, and highly readable history of Kaskaskia that sheds light on the entire early history of Illinois.


David MacDonald is an emeritus professor of history at Illinois State University and the author of Lives of Fort de Chartres: Commandants, Soldiers, and Civilians in French Illinois, 1720–1770.
Raine Waters is an instructor of history at Heartland Community College and Illinois Valley Community College.


“This book skillfully limns an engaging account of Kaskaskia’s colonial beginnings, its multitudinous tribulations, and its ultimate surrender to the waters of the Mississippi. Highly reliable and readable, and furnished with numerous illustrations, the work will appeal to the specialist and general reader alike.”—Morris S. Arnold, author of Colonial Arkansas, 1686–1804: A Social and Cultural History

“If you asked the average Midwesterner to point out Kaskaskia on a map, he or she would most likely struggle to find it. Yet this innocuous little village has big history hiding behind it, tying it not only to Illinois’s past but to a larger, international world when the makeup of North America looked quite different from today. This book is a must-read for anyone who enjoys colonial history or strange Americana: the authors take the reader on a journey into the intriguing story of this Midwestern community with an amazing French past that had everything going for it, even becoming a state capital, before fate decided otherwise.”—Joseph Gagné, creator of Electronic New France and author of Inconquis: Deux retraites françaises vers la Louisiane après 1760

“This book draws together a visual and descriptive history of Kaskaskia, its homes, and the lives of its people—from mansions to cabins, from prominent statesmen to former slaves. Lost Kaskaskia lives again in photographs and text in this thoroughly researched study.”—Margaret Kimball Brown, author of History as They Lived It: A Social History of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois