Prairiefire: The Illinois Country Before 1818
American Revolution, 1776-1783
by James E. Lewis Jr., Ph. D., Kalamazoo College
The situation in the western Great Lakes had barely begun to stabilize after the French and Indian War and Pontiac's Rebellion before new troubles in the east once again brought upheaval to the area. This time the war pitted Great Britain and its thirteen rebellious colonies (and their French and Spanish allies). As had been the case two decades earlier, there was little fighting in Illinois itself, though it was crossed by British, American, and Spanish war parties at different times. What was different in the 1770s and 1780s was that this time most of the Indians of Illinois were on the winning side. Some tried to remain neutral, but ultimately most at least identified with, and many actually fought with, the Spanish against the British. Only the Sauks and Foxes actively joined the British; in retribution, American and Spanish forces burned Saukenuk in June 1780. But fighting on the right side was not enough to protect the Indians of Illinois as the war wound down. Americans streamed across the Appalachian Mountains during and immediately after the Revolution, settling Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio and making inroads into southern Indiana and Illinois. The treaty that ended the Revolution made it clear that the new United States, like Great Britain before it, believed that its territory extended all the way to the Mississippi.