Peoria County, Illinois  Genealogy Trails



Fort Clark Story


Transcribed by: Candi Horton,© 2006, IL Trails History and Genealogy. Both of these books are located at the Peoria Public Library.
Odillion B. Slane, Reminiscences of Early Peoria, Including Indian Stories, Peoria, Illinois, 1933, Privately Printed: Chapter XIII -Story of Fort Clark
[2 ] From Charles Balance, History of Peoria, 1870


It is, at the earnest request of an old friend and neighbor, William R. Sandham of Wyoming, Illinois that I attempt to write the story of Fort Clark, Peoria. 

About the year 1778 Hypolite Maillett moved to the north side of Peoria Lake and commenced the building of this Ville which took the name of Fort Clark. This fort took its name from Colonel George Rogers Clark, veteran of 1778, and hero of Vincennes.

Charles Balance's history of Peoria gives the description, location and the story of the destruction of the old Fort Clark, the ruins of which were seen by the Slain and Nixon families in 1831. One writer says that John B. Mailett built the first house at Fort Clark in 1761. May I say the name Fort Clark was given to this spot some years before the Fort was built. Report of Governor Edward Coles says the house was built in what was called LaVille de Maillett. 

Fort Clark was located at the intersection of Water and Liberty streets. Timbers and other materials were obtained from the East side of the Illinois River, and rafted down on the west side. The fort was a simple stockade constructed by planting two rows of logs firmly in the ground and filling the space between with earth. It was not intended as a defense against artillery as the Indians did not use artillery. The fort was about 100 feet square with a ditch on each side. The fort did not stand with a side a side to the Lake, but with a corner to it. The corner farthest from the lake was on the upper side of Water Street near the intersection of Water and Liberty streets. There were a few houses built within the enclosures.

[ The corner farthest from the lake was on the upper line of Water Street near the intersection of the upper line of Water and Liberty streets. From there the west line ran diagonally across the intersection of Water and Liberty streets, nearly to the corner of the transportation warehouse, at the lower corner of Liberty and Water Streets. All this corner what I suppose military men would call a bastion; that is there was a projecting corner made in the same manner as the side walls, and so constructed, as to accommodate a small cannon to command the ditches. And the same had no doubt been at the opposite corner; but when I came to the country, in November 1831, there was no vestige of it remaining. In fact, at that time there was but little to show that there had ever been a fortification there, except some burnt posts along the west side, and a square of some ten or twelve feet at the south corner and a ditch nearly filled up on two sides of this square and on the west side of the fort. The fort had been burnt down to the embankment of this square and of the west side. After which the embankments had been mostly worn away by the rains and other means, until that part of the logs that was under ground become charred posts. Some of them however, had become entirely decayed and were gone. On the other side there was but little to be seen of logs or embankment. I lived where the transportation warehouse is for more than 10 years and when I leveled down the southerly angle, for my own convenience…] (2)

General Benjamin Howard arrived at Fort Clark, Peoria, September, 1813, with about 1400 men. [They marched from Portage des Sioux. (2)] After a fight they took possession of, and built the fort. The fort was garrisoned by both rangers and U.S. troops. It successfully sustained one Indian attack. 

It is said that Peoria was never wholly deserted by the Americans after the erection of Fort Clark in 1813. One historian tells us that this fort was burned in 1814 by the Indians. In 1832, it was ordered re-built when the Black Hawk War broke out. This second Fort Clark was located at the intersection of Water and Second Streets. 

G.S. Hubbard, in a letter to Charles balance, dated Dec.30, 1864 says: - that he found the fort on fire in 1818, but Josiah Fulton and William Blanchard who first came here in 1819, are positive they found it on fire and put out the flames.

[Dated Chicago Dec. 30, 1864, Col. Hubbard " I was in Peoria the last days of 1818, for the first time, on my way to St.Louis passing there, returning about the 20th of November, and wintering about one mile above Hennepin. It was my first year as an Indian trader. As we rounded the point of the lake, above Peoria, on our down trip, we noticed that old Fort Clark was on fire, just blazing up. Reaching it, we found about 200 Indians congregated, enjoying a war-dance, painted hideously, with scalps on their spears and in their sashes, which they had taken from the heads of Americans, in the war with Great Britain, from 1812 to 1815. They were dancing, rehearsing their deeds of bravery, etc. These were the only people then there or in the vicinity." Mr. Hubbard was 16 years old at his first arrival in Peoria. He was traveling with Mr. Des Champs who was the chief of this trade expedition.] (2)

Both may be right. It is the opinion of the writer that only a part of the west side burned in 1818. Earth having been filled in between the pickets, the fire would burn slowly and would be easily extinguished. 

It is stated that Abner Eads arrived in Peoria April 17, 1819, and pitched tents against the remaining timbers of Fort Clark. When Charles Balance came to this place in 1831, he found the west side completely destroyed by fire. There were some burnt posts standing on the west side, a square of about 10 or 12 feet at the south corner. 

Enough of one of the posts was left for a hitching post, and a blacksmith, Isaac Evans, put some hooks in it for that purpose. This hitching post remained here till May 1884, when Mr. S. Dewitt Drown took it down and sawed it up into walking canes and sold for 50 cents each. […one of those posts became high enough and was strong enough for a hitching- post and I employed a blacksmith (Isaac Evans) to put hooks in it for that purpose. That post was used for that purpose until I removed from there in May, 1844. It was then taken up by Mr. Drown and sawed up into walking canes and sold on speculation at 50cents each.] (2)

It is said that there were 6 forts built in the vicinity of Peoria. American state papers of Public Lands, Vol III page 422, gives as a reason why the village of Fort Clark was located one and half-miles below the old village, was on the account of the water being better (healthier) at the lowest outlet of the lake. 

We have already mentioned the rebuilding of Fort Clark in 1832, at the intersection of Water and Second streets. During the Black hawk War, 1832; many of the early settlers from northern and western sections came to Fort Clark for protection. A company of 25 persons was organized and called the Peoria guards. It is uncertain whether or not this fort was occupied during the Black Hawk War. Students of History will note that there were two Fort Clarks; one built in 1813, the other in 1832.

The story id told that in the fall of 1816 a party of hunters from St. Clair County came to Fort Clark and found 20 deer in the fort, the gate having been left opened. Floors of the block houses were covered in manure. The hunters cleaned out the buildings and occupied them 10 days or so while hunting deer in this vicinity. The Central Illinois Light Company has building now located on a part of the land that was once the site of Fort Clark.

An early historian says that the founding and settlement of Peoria dates from the 19th day of April in the 19th year of the 19th century. The 19th of April is a prominent date in American history. 

In 1826 when the County Commissioners had the town site surveyed they called it Peoria. However, it was spoken of Fort Clark and sometimes Peoria, but the name Peoria became legally established in 1835 when the town, Peoria, was incorporated. Peoria is an Indian word meaning "fat land." 

Many scattered events relating to Fort Clark or Peoria might be related. N. Matson says that General Benjamin Howard with 900 men encamped near la Ville De Mailette, 1812. He marched to Gomo village at the head of Lake Peoria, found the village deserted, and after burning it, returned to Peoria. It was after this that he decided to build Fort Clark. 

In 1820 Hypolite Mailett in a swore statement before Edward Cole, registrar at land office, said he was 45 years old and that he born in a stockade fort near Peoria Lake. Another event worth remembering is this: In 1778 when Colonel George Rogers Clark took possession of the Illinois country, he sent three soldiers and two Frenchmen to Peoria to notify the people that they were no longer under British rule, but were citizens of the United States.

I am indebted to the following for help, suggestions and kindly criticisms:- Anna L. Archer, Refernce Library, Dallas R. Sweney, Assistant Librarian of the Peoria Public Library. George E. Johnson, editor, Peoria Daily Herald, Percival G. Rennick, writer and lecturer, and to my father and other early pioneers who have actually seen Fort Clark.

I call my home "The Lookout" -
And in my dreams I see
A mighty nation's commerce
On the river to the sea. 
The Indian mother's lullaby
Is hushed forevermore;
But the song of Marching Progress
Is swelling more and more.




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