The Francophone Community, Slavery and American Westward Expansion in the Illinois Country : 1778-1804
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American expansion into the Upper Mississippi Valley in the late eighteenth century did not occur in a vacuum, but was effected by this multicultural frontier that had previously existed for a century in the Illinois country. The new American Republic ventured into this middle ground and (up to a certain extent) was forced to compromise and give concessions to the demands of the French and Metis population in the Illinois country. However, the beneficiaries of this agency were primarily white French men who were able to cultivate a prominent role for themselves on the northwestern frontier as cultural and economic mediators. At the same time many other groups in the region suffered as a result. Native American women saw their influence decline as Indigenous peoples were unable to remain an equal or superior power to the European settlers. African and Indigenous slaves, who were officially supposed to be free within the boundaries of the new territory, were forced to runaway to obtain their freedom rather than having it be granted to them. The French influence over the territory began to decline as well with the increasing influx of American settlers. Land sales by French to American buyers, as reflected by the records of the Kaskaskia Land Office, increased in the few years following the Louisiana purchase, driven in particularly by the sale of inherited land by French women, presumably widows, and the French community in Illinois consolidated into just one town, St. Genevieve. Nevertheless, the endurance of the old French social structures in Illinois shows that the old northwestern frontier was not exclusively the domain of pioneering, individualistic European frontiersmen, but was inhabited by a diverse set of actors engaged in cross cultural exchange.