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FRENCH MISSISSIPPI UNDER BRITISH RÉGIME 1765-1777: THE IMPACT OF FOREIGN MILITARY RULE ON A CIVILIAN SOCIETY

by Charles J. Balesi

The purpose of this paper is to look at the ever-present question of rela- tions between a military invested with plenary power and an alien population using as an example a North American case.

On the eastern side of the Mississippi river, the land of Illinois remained a part of the British colonial domain for twelve years, and for twelve years re- mained under military rule. British troops were not per se an army of occupation here; they were to assume governing responsibilities until some day, some form of civilian government be established. The French people of Illinois were sub- jects of the king - new subjects, to be sure, but subjects nevertheless. The lives of these few thousand people along the eastern bank of the Mississippi, and the lives of a few hundred British soldiers, intertwined in hostility and forced coop- eration - the kind that is brought about by isolation - provides us here with a near-perfect case study. The numbers involved are few, geographic limits pre- cise, differences between garrison and settlements sharp, and the documents which survive sufficient to draw a relatively clear picture, if not of daily interac- tion, then at least of a decade of coexistence.

All the archival materials used here have, in some cases, been known for more than a century. Devotees of regional history, including quite a few authen- tic scholars, have used many of these documents. In addition, numbers of these primary sources have been published in the priceless series of volumes put out by the Illinois Historical Society at the turn of the century. Therefore, it could be said that this period of history is being re-examined rather than rediscovered.

On June 25 1673, two canoes carrying seven Frenchmen, among them a Jesuit priest, Jacquest Marquette, and an ambitious entrepreneur, Louis Joliet, had landed on the western bank of the Mississippi River, a few miles away from the confluent of the Iowa. On that day, the explorers made an auspicious contact with a rather large group of Peoria Indians, belonging to the Illinois confederacy, who were seeking temporary relief from continuous warfare on the other side of the "big water." From then on, it was only a matter of time that the French voya- geurs, coureurs des bois, missionaries, and later, habitants and even a few sei- gneurs, wow bring a Gallic flavor to the land of the Illinois.

For French ambitions in North America„ the seventeenth century was pro- pitious. The impetus for the aggrandizement of French holdings in North Amer- ica given by Louis XIV and his minister, Colbert, began to determine the formu-

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