Conventional wisdom tells us that the traditional site of the French Fort Crevecoeur was somewhere in the Peoria area.
Exactly where that is has long been a matter of debate, but the fort is believed to have been somewhere on the east bank of the Illinois River.
There is even a town and park in Tazewell County named after the 1680 fort which is said to be the first public building erected by Europeans in the state of Illinois.
A 19th century engraving depicting René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.
But a researcher’s new look at the letters of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, suggests that the fort lends credence to the theory that LaSalle actually built his fort much farther downriver.
The definition of the length of a French league may dictate where on the map La Salle’s Pimiteoui (“Fat Lake”) is placed, and by extension the famous Ft. Crevecoeur built alongside it.
Although it has been split into two words in modern usage, the French spelled it “Crevecoeur” (pronounced krev-CUR). It roughly translates to “heartbreak” in French.
Retired biology professor Richard Gross has been involved in La Salle’s travels for decades. He was one of the participants in the reenactment of the 1681-82 La Salle expedition from Montreal to the Gulf of Mexico in the 1970s.
While none of La Salle’s personal records of the expedition survive, his letters to Paris do. But Gross claims that most of the accounts of the expedition are not based on these documents, but on erroneous accounts prepared by Father Louis Hennepin, plagiarized from sales documents based on the letters.
“He took a lot of liberties with his performance and changed things. She embellished things. She added things to make herself that much more important,” Gross said. “One of the things he did, when he got to the Illinois River, he did a makeover that made it look like Lake Peoria was LaSalle’s Lake Pimiteoui.”
According to Gross, later accounts by historians such as Jared Sparks and Francis Parkman based their work on Hennepin’s version rather than La Salle’s original letters.
Illinois Historical Society/Illinois River Valley History
An artist’s rendering of Fort Crevecoeur from the 1932 book History of the Illinois River Valley by John Lee Conger.
Rich Gross met Marty Fischer, who had long believed that Fort Crevecoeur was actually near Beardstown. Gross believed that Fischer’s theory might have some value and began working with him.
“There is no report indicating where Fort Crevecoeur is located, but there are maps that identify Lake Pimiteoui and show Fort Crevecoeur in the southeast corner of Lake Pimiteoui,” he said. “Well, armed with this knowledge, once you’ve identified Lake Pimiteoui, you can begin your search for Fort Crevecoeur.”
Gross and Fischer obtained English translations of La Salle’s original letters through the Detroit Public Library. Reviewing La Salle’s letters, Gross considered his “league” to be about three miles, the distance he said was considered a standard league in New France at the time.
“When he says it’s 15 miles from the port to the Des Plaines River or the Illinois River, you look at that and compare 46 miles to 15 miles and say, ‘That sounds awfully like three miles to a league, doesn’t it? ? No?’” he said. “You do that five or six times and you get a good idea of how far La Salle estimated the distances.”
Gross adjusted La Salle’s distance estimates to match the first federal survey of the state of Illinois, conducted in the 1830s, before human activity significantly altered the rivers.
“So we set out to support Marty’s conclusion that Crevecoeur was in that location with the idea that Crevecoeur should have been in Creve Coeur, Illinois, and my thought was okay, prove it. He couldn’t do it,” he said. “All I could taste was Beardstown, Beardstown, Beardstown.”
Beardstown is more than 75 miles southwest of Creve Coeur. But Gross said it makes sense when La Salle’s account is compared with the account of later French explorers such as Henri de Tonti, who founded Pimiteoui’s Fort St. Louis in 1691.
Fort de Crevecoeur (circled in red) on Abbott Claude Bernou’s 1681 map of New France.
To further complicate matters, the French may have referred to two separate lakes as Pimiteoui at different times. According to Gross, the Peoria Lakes adopted the name in the early 18th century when the French encountered American Indians in their summer villages near present-day Peoria.
Gross said Beardstown best fits La Salle’s description of a Pimiteoui lake. He mentions three different basins, not the two that make up the Peoria lakes. He said La Salle also described his lake as a wintering ground for Native Americans, just south of the area where the river freezes over in the colder months. Gross said that description fit the Illinois River at Beardstown but not Peoria.
According to Gross, Fort Crevecoeur at La Salle was probably built in a bay in a swampy area south of Beardstown as a temporary fortification to protect a shipyard.
“It was the first European building to be built in Illinois, but it was never intended to be a permanent settlement,” he said.
Gross recently published his research in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. He admits that he has been criticized by people who accuse him of being a revisionist historian. But he claims that all he is doing is reviewing the work of previous history buffs, and finding research based on Hennepin’s version remains to be found.
“I tell the story closer to the truth than anyone before. And what I have is that I know the documents and I can back up whatever claim I make with historical documents and historical facts,” he said.
Gross said the area where he believes Fort Crevecoeur was built is now cut off from the river by a causeway. This has raised the water level significantly since La Salle’s time. Gross said he now wants to pump enough water out of the area to knock down some sensors and look for archaeological evidence to support his theory.
Source : localtoday.news