The Village Thrives
1900 to 1928
In the early 1900’s, Xavier and Josephine [Longtin] Raymond [my great grand uncle and aunt] farmed 700 acres in the St. George area with their 10 children; Homer [who married my grand aunt Cecelia Surprenant; sister of my grandmother, Leah], Xavier, Josephine, Mathilda, Rachel, Eugene, Rene, Henrietta, Aurora and Anne.
In June of 1905, Alfred Longtin quits school after 4th grade to work on his father, Julien’s farm in St. George. Like many young men of the time, he feels no need to continue schooling as long as he can read and write and it is felt he would be more useful working with his dad and brothers.
The first solemn Mass of Rev. Joseph Boudreau was celebrated at St. George’s Church on Sunday, April 7, 1907. he had been ordained a priest by Rt. Rev. T. F. Lillis in the Catherdral of the Immaculate Conception in Leavenworth, Kansas on April 2, 1907.
Leah Surprenant [my grandmother] and her classmates make their First Communion on Christmas Day, 1909 at St. George Church with Fr. Cyrille Poissant. Others making their First Communion that day include:
On October 3, 1911, Leah Surprenant is confirmed into the Catholic Church by Mgr. J. E. Quigley. Also being confirmed that day are follow classmates:
In 1917 at the age of 22, Alfred Longtin [my grandfather] of St. George, Illinois enlists in the Army during World War I and in June of 1918 is stationed in France. From there, he wrote romantic postcards and letters to his sweetheart back home, Leah Surprenant. By June of 1918, the war is well under way and in October, the Italians surrender to the Allies. On November 11th, following a month of negotiations, the Germans sign the armistice treaty at 5 am in a dining car in the forests of Compeigne, France. Six hours later, hostilities cease and joyous celebrations break out throughout the Allied Nations.
Alfred Longtin was considered a reckless young man by St. George locals. Although hardworking, the handsome, carefree, 24 years old batchelor enjoyed life and was always seen in the company of local young women going to country dances or picnics. Stil, his heart remained with the 20 year old, shy farm girl, Leah Surprenant.
Following his return from the war and despite her parent’s repeated warnings, Leah Surprenant marries Alfred Longtin in St. George Church on July 31, 1919. Pastor Cyrille A. Poissant officiates over the ceremony, which is followed by a meal at the bride’s parent’s farm. Two weeks before, on July 17th, Alfred’s last brother, Wilbert Joseph had been born. The baby died two days later on the 19th of July. Unable to get out of bed, Alfred’s mother, Mary asked her future daughter-in-law to wash the baby and dress him for burial. It was a memory that stayed with my Grandmother until the day she died.
Following the wedding, newlyweds, Alfred and Leah Longtin moved to a home on State Hospital Road in nearby rural Manteno and worked for Leah’s father, Albert Surprenant. It was there that first son, Lawrence Anthony was born on May 4, 1920.
Later that year in 1920, Alfred, Leah and baby Lawrence moved to a rented farm in St. George where second son, Thomas Augustine was born on August 25, 1921. Their son third son, Adrian Joseph was born there on March 22, 1922, but died within hours. He was buried in the family plot in the cemetery next to St. George Church.
Working a rented farm for someone else was back-breaking work and Alfred never seemed to be able to get ahead. Unable to make a go of it, Alfred decided to take a job “in town” with the Kroehler’s Furniture Company in Bradley, Illinois. They moved to a house on North Cleveland Avenue in Bradley.
By 1923, the family had again moved to a house on Roy Street in Bourbonnais, where their first daughter Margaret Avilla Longtin was born on August 13, 1924.
In 1926, the Alfred Longtin family moved to a house on 5th Street across from St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee. It was at this house that their third son, Harold Bernard Longtin was born premature. Weighing just over 2 lbs., they placed the baby in a drawer and snuggled the drawer near the warming oven. Baby Harold survived and thrived.
In 1928, Leah Longtin suffered a miscarriage while living in Kankakee. Discouraged, the family moved back to a farm ¾ of a mile from Leah’s parents, Alfred and Mary Surprenant. The farm is located on State Hospital Road near Manteno.
The Village Declines
1929 to 2000
In 1929, as the national economy worsened, it became apparent that something needed to be done. In February, The Federal Reserve Board forbad banks to make loans for the purchase of stocks on margin. That same week in nearby Chicago, six local gangsters are lined up along a garage wall and shot to death by a rival gang. This incident will become known as “the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” and it becomes a local fascination to go to Chicago and visit the “blood stained” site.
On March 4th, 1929, Herbert Hoover is inaugurated as the 31st President. That same year, Marvin Hughitt and a group of farmers ask Public Service to bring electricity to some of the farm areas near St. George. This information is overshadowed by the news on October 29, 1929 when the Stock Market crashed, plunging the nation into a depression.
My father, Eugene Longtin, the six child of Alfred and Leah Longtin, was born on September 11, 1930 in Manteno, Illinois.
In June of 1937, Rev Father Emile J. Cousineau was assigned to serve as Pastor of St. George Church.
In the fall of 1945, a private airport is built on the former Leo Granger estate located one mile northwest of St. George. Although started by Leo the airport’s daily operation is managed by his son, Richard Granger until his father’s death on Feb. 1, 1946. It was rented by licensed pilot, Lawrence Rehmer to be used as a private small plane airport. The first hanger is built in 1945 and the airport received permission on February 1, 1946 to add additional runways.
In 1951, St. George Catholic Church is redecorated and on February 26, 1952, electric lights were used for the first time in the street lamps of downtown St. George.
From 1954 to 1956, Rev. Fr. Arthur Joseph Landroche served as pastor of St. George Church. Born on Feb 3, 1895, he had lived as a small child in nearby Bourbonnais and attended Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church. He graduated in 1914 from St. Viator’s High School in Bourbonnais and later taught there from 1923 to 1930. He died July 13, 1963 and is buried in the old church cemetery at Maternity BVM Church.
The neighboring rural communities of St. George/Manteno/Bourbonnais have been under the jurisdiction of the following Illinois counties:
County the area was included in: Date area was included in county: U.S. Census Affected:
St. Clair County, Illinois...............................................from April 28, 1809 until September 13, 1812............................1810
Madison County, Illinois.............................................from September 14, 1812 until December 31, 1816....................none
Bond County, Illinois...................................................from January 1, 1817 until January 30, 1821..................................1820
Pike County, Illinois.....................................................from January 31, 1821 until January 27, 1823................................none
Fulton County, Illinois.................................................from January 28, 1823 until January 12, 1825..............................none
Peoria County, Illinois.................................................from January 13, 1825 until January 14, 1831................................1830
Cook County, Illinois...................................................from January 15, 1831 until January 11, 1836................................none
Will County, Illinois.....................................................from January 12, 1836 until April 4, 1853.....................................1840 and 1850
Kankakee County, Illinois..........................................from April 5, 1853 until the present...............................................1860 through 1930
[Knowing this information will help you to be able to locate family information in the United States Census Records, which are listed by State, County and Township.]
The following priests have served at St. George Catholic Church:
[I do not have complete current information from 1956 to 1961 and 1984 to the present time.
If you have information, I would love to hear from you. Email me at email@example.com]
Information obtained from the following sources:
A New Land is Settled
1835 to 1847
Northern Illinois, including Kankakee County was a brand new frontier in 1836. By 1837, most of the local Indians had been relocated to Iowa and settling of the new lands in the Kankakee area began.
In the late 1840’s, attracted by Noel Le Vasseur’s talk of prosperity in the new country, John Baptiste Letourneau, Captain Fortin and Alexander Boucher come to the Illinois Territory to investigate conditions and report back to family in Canada.
Among the first settlers to the St. George area were Solomon Lanoux, Charles Granger [my 3rd great grandfather], and Peter Bissonnette. They decided to settle in an area that they christened “Les Petite Isles” or “The Small Islands” The area is called that because when it rained heavily, Exline Creek would overflow and make the area look like small islands in a sea of water. The land is low and drains slowly into Exline Creek to the northwest.
Some original settlers to the Bourbonnais area include Peter Spink, the four Fortin Brothers and their families, the two Langlois Brothers and their families, the Dellibanks, the Brosseau family, David Granger, Joseph E. Labrie, the Bissette family, the Rosette family, the Lesage family, Alexis Caron, the Grandpre Brothers, the two Bernard Brothers, another Lesage family and the Brais family. Most of these families first settled in Bourbonnais before moving out and establishing other French settlements such as St. Mary’s [Beaverville], St. Anne, Papineau, Manteno and St, George.
In of fall of 1844, a prairie fire destroys many acres of crops in the Kankakee area near Rock Creek and two years later, the area is once again cursed by Mother Nature when heavy rainfall in the spring causes the Kankakee River to overflow and flooding covers much of the farm acreage in the area.
In 1847, a permanent Catholic church was established in the Bourbonnais area near La Petite Canada and named Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Village of St. George Established
1848 to 1863
In 1848, a small Catholic community is established and dedicated to St. George. Many of the French emigrates decide to name the village after their native homeland of St. George d’ Henriville in Quebec. Mass is offered in private homes when a priest is available until ten acres of land is donated by Hillaire Lanoux to be used for a Catholic Church.
A small wooden mission church is built with L’abbe Rene Courjault serving as the first missionary priest to the new area. A native of France, Rene Courjault also serves as the pastor to a mission in Bourbonnais and had served previously at the mission in Vincennes, Indiana.
Among the early pioneers were my 1st cousins [once removed] Mr. and Mrs. Pasnus [Julienne Alexandre] Langlois and their young daughter, Elodie, who settled in the area of St. George from their home in Henryville, Quebec, Canada. They traveled by oxen-drawn covered wagon with the whole trip taking about two months. They purchased 80 acres two miles west of the Indian Oaks area at .25 cents an acre. They eventually had 15 more children including Neldia Langlois Bouchard, who was born in 1873. Mr. Langlois died in 1891 at age 66 and Mrs. Langlois died in 1908 at age 79.
Sometime between 1849 and 1856, my great grandfather, Pierre Longtin settled in the St. George area with his wife, Marie Huet [dit Delude]. They had come here from St. Constant Parish in Laprairie, Quebec, Canada.
A cholera epidemic, sometimes called “ague” appears in the Bourbonnais/St. George area in June of 1851 when a party of 20 or 30 French immigrants from Quebec came to the area known as “Petite Canada”. The immigrants had brought the body of a child who had died the day before in Joliet with them for burial and within days the disease had spread among the settlers. The epidemic continued in the Kankakee area for three more years.
In 1852, another small wooden church is built on Lanoux’s land to replace the original one, which has fallen into disrepair. In 1858 a combination chapel/church is built of stone by Mr. Sinel and Alexandre LaMontagne to replace the temporary wooden structure and the Rev. Epiphanie Lapointe becomes the first priest to live in St. George. Unfortunately, the structure collapses.
In the fall of 1852, the Illinois Central Railroad opened the first stone quarry in the area on the south bank of the Kankakee River near present day Kankakee.
In the 1848, my great grandfather, Laurent Surprenant came to the St. George area with his parents, Jacques and Isabelle [Granger] Surprenant. He was the 10th of 14 children and their 6th son. On September 15, 1858, Laurent married Melina Boudreau. She was the daughter of Jean Baptiste Boudreau and Clothilde Clouatre.
Also coming to the St. George area in the early 1850’s was another set of my great grandparents, Charles-Octave and Mary Onesime [Spooner] Longtin. Octave [as he was called by family] became a naturalized citizen on April 5, 1858. His wife, Onesime was a cripple, having suffered “milk leg” during childbirth.
In May of 1860, Hillaire Lanoux [son of Solomon Lanoux] helped County Surveyor, Bela T. Clark lay out a plot of land which was recorded on October 2, 1863 by Elon Curtis, County Recorder. This was to become the village of St. George. It is located west of the church property and includes North Street, South Street, Church Street, Field Street and West Street and is bordered to the west by Exline Creek.
The Village Grows
1867 to 1898
Another early pioneer family to come to the area in 1867 is Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey Bouchard. They leave Quebec, Canada for Illinois by covered wagon with few processions. Originally heading for St. George, they settle briefly in Chicago, Illinois where Mr. Bouchard works as a milkman. They lived three blocks from the infamous Mrs. O’Leary and her cow, when in 1871 the Chicago fire forces them to finally relocate to St. George. They settle on a farm one mile southeast of St. George. Following his death in 1906, the Bouchard farm is passed to his son, Alfred and eventually is inherited by Alfred’s sons, Eugene and Euclid Bouchard.
The first grocery store is built by Alexander Adam Sr. in 1868. It was located on the corner of North Street and West Street. This store also housed the post office for many years. Originally from Quebec, Canada, Mr. Adam would bring the mail in from Tucker to distribute to the St. George residents. Eventually, the mail was hauled by Magloise Ruel. The post office eventually closed when the Bourbonnais office took over the St. George mail routes. The store changed hands many times and was eventually owned and operated by Leo Leclaire during the 1950’s. Alexandre Adam died on March 26, 1904 at age of 74.
That same year, on December 1, 1868, my great grandfather, Julien Longtin was born to Charles-Octave and Mary Onesime [Spooneur] Longtin in St. George.
The first blacksmith shop was opened by Mr. Narcisse Cyr in 1868 around the same time as the first grocery store. Originally from St. Cyrien, Quebec, Canada, Narcisse Cyr died on August 17, 1870 at the age of 34. His widow hired Exalaphant Gladu of Fowler, Indiana to run the shop after her husband’s death and he eventually purchased it from her in 1872. He ran the business until his death on October 10, 1919 at the age of 71. He was married to Nathalie Ponton-Gladu.
In 1869, St. George Catholic Church is finished and rededicated when it is destroyed by a cyclone. Mr. Joseph Leclaire undertook the complete renovation of a stone church that is completed in 1872 under the supervision of Father Beaudry and his predecessor, Father Paradis.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 causes a large number of French-Canadian immigrants to the the city and resettle in the French settlements in Will, Kankakee and Iroquois Counties helping to establish these communities.
In 1878, a feather duster factory is opened in a barn owned by a Mr. Lebeau and eventually owned by Maurice Leclaire. Employing 13 girls [including Emma Lebeau Bouchard] the dusters are made out of turkey feathers purchased from local farmers.
A Catholic school for boys is started in 1883 in the basement of St. George Church by Rev. Father Joseph Lesage. Brother Mainville of St. Viatur College in Bourbonnais serves as the first teacher. Students included Joseph Ruel, Levi Blanchette, Felix Belisle, Auguste St. Aubin, Norbert Blanchette and Henry Bissonnette [who also played violin for school dances.] The school is closed in 1888. Another school is eventually opened for boys and girls in 1889 with the Sisters of St. Joseph placed in charge. A parish hall is built under Father A. Labrie in 1893 as well as a new rectory.
On April 27, 1892, my great grand parents, Mary Leriger and Julien Longtin marry in St. George.
My paternal Grandfather, Alfred Albert Longtin is born on the family farm in St. George on November 26, 1894. He is the second son of Julien and Mary [Leriger] Longtin. He is baptized at St. George Church by Fr. Armand L. Labrie. His grandparents, Joseph and Julia [Bellegarde] Leriger serve as his godparents.
My paternal Grandmother, Leah Marie Surprenant is born on the family farm in St. George on March 18, 1898. She is the oldest child of local farmer, Albert and Mary [Guimond] Surprenant. She is baptized on the day of her birth by Fr. Boudreau in St. George. Her grandparents, Laurent and Melina [Granger] Surprenant serve as her godparents.
1776 ~ 1834
In December of 1679, French explorer, René-Robert-Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle was the first person to travel with his party to the area now known as Kankakee County. Traveling by birch bark canoes from Quebec, they followed the path of the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario. Proceeding along the eastern and southern shores of the lake, they eventually arrived at the Niagara River. From there, they by-passed the treacherous falls and continued on to Lake Erie following the northern shore westward to the Detroit River. The Detroit River led to Lake St. Clair in present day Michigan and on to Lake Huron. Heading slightly north, they traveled on to Michillimackinac, where a fort had been built. Here the trail divided for people going east, west or south through Indian territories and villages. Miami Indians were so numerous along the Kankakee River that it was sometimes called the River of the Miami.
For La Salle, this meant following the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan to the Kankakee River near present day South Bend, Indiana. Here they portaged their canoes through the swampy grasslands for 5 miles. The land these men found was a vast fertile plain teeming with wildlife and abundant wild fruits and vegetables. La Salle eventually continued on to the mouth of the Mississippi River claiming the land they discovered for France and King Louis XIV. La Salle was eventually assassinated by his own men while trying to rediscover the Mississippi River from his recently discovered colony near present day Texas.
In 1776, The Revolutionary War starts on the east coast and the United States is formed by the revolting English colonists.
On March 1, 1784, the area of the Illinois was ceded to the United States by the English following the Revolutionary War. In 1800, the Northwest Territory was divided and the western portion [which includes Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin] was constituted into the “Indiana Territory”.
The following year, in 1785, trader, explorer and Government agent, Noel Le Vasseur is listed as a rifleman serving in the Opelousas Militia.
In 1787, the Northwest Territory is divided and the western portion [which includes Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin] is constituted into the “Indiana Territory”. In a survey that year for the Continental Congress, it is reported that the area later known as Kankakee County is settled mostly by Canadians of French descent.
General George Washington of Virginia is elected President of the newly formed nation of The United States of America in 1789. He served from 1789 until 1797 and in 1797, John Adams of Massachusetts is elected the 2nd President of the United States. He serves from 1797 until 1801.
In 1801, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia is elected the 3rd President of the United States. He serves from 1801 until 1809. Jefferson's contributions as president will change the future of the Illinois area.
In 1802, Gordon S. Hubbard, a trapper, hunter and trader for the American Fur Company, is born in Quebec, Canada. It is Hubbard who will be influential in shaping the Bourbonnais/Kankakee area.
On February 28, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson finally obtains approval from Congress to explore the lands. He forms the Corps of Discovery and sends Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to begin exploring the western territories. On April 30, 1803, Congress approved spending $15 million dollars for 820,000 acres of land from France. This was called the Louisiana Purchase. The announcement of the purchase was not made public until July 3rd. In the Fall and Winter of 1803, the Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery Expedition begins near Camp Dubois [Camp Wood], Illinois. It starts on the east shore of the Mississippi River just upstream from St. Louis.
In 1809, James Madison of Virginia is elected the 4th President of the United States. He serves from 1809 until 1817. Ninian Edwards is appointed the 1stgovernor of the Illinois Territory. St. George village becomes part of St. Clair County, Illinois from April 28, 1809 until September 13, 1812.
In 1812, St. George village becomes part of Madison County, Illinois from September 14, 1812 until December 31, 1816.
By 1814, The American Fur Company, owned by John Jacob Astor, begins operations in the country of the Illinois, attracting a large number of trappers, hunters and traders to the Kankakee area. Among those men are Noel Le Vasseur and Gordon S. Hubbard. Gordon Hubbard, born in 1802 is placed in charge of the Illinois outposts on the Iroquois River at Middleport.
In 1817, James Monroe of Virginia is elected the 5th President of the United States. He serves from 1817 until 1825 and St. George village becomes part of Bond County, Illinois from January 1, 1817 until January 30, 1821.
On December 3, 1818, Illinois becomes the 21st state in the union and Shadrach Bond becomes the first governor of the new State from October 6, 1818 until 1822.
In 1821, St. George village becomes part of Pike County, Illinois from January 31, 1821 until January 27, 1823.
On December 5, 1822, Edward Coles becomes the 2nd governor of Illinois.
In 1823, St. George village becomes part of Fulton County, Illinois from January 28, 1823 until January 12, 1825.
By 1824, the “Hubbard Trail” has been established Danville to Chicago and crossing through the outposts of Momence, Grant, Crete, Bloom and Chicago Heights. The trading outposts and settlements which grew up along this trail provide food stuffs, furs and a rapid population growth to the region in the years that follow.
In 1825, John Q. Adams of Massachusetts, son of former President John Adams is elected as 6th President of the United States. He serves from 1825 until 1829.
In 1825, St. George village becomes part of Peoria County, Illinois from January 13, 1825 until January 14, 1831.
On December 6, 1826, Ninian Edwards once again became the governor of Illinois, this time as an official state.
In 1829, the War of 1812 hero, Major General Andrew Jackson of South Carolina is elected 7th President of the United States. He serves from 1829 until 1837.
On December 6, 1830, John Reynolds becomes the 4th governor of Illinois.
In 1831, St. George village becomes part of Cook County, Illinois from January 15, 1831 until January 11, 1836.
In 1833 [January 21], the Treaty of Tippecanoe deeded the area around Rock Creek to the United States government. The local Pottawatomie Indians were forced to leave their village near the Kankakee River. Their leader, Chief Shawanassee died the next year in 1834, while the tribe was preparing to leave. He was buried there with all his worldly processions. [The area of his burial is reputed to be near the 4-H area in Rock Creek and is marked by a stone.]
By 1833, fur trader, Dominick [Bray] Brais and his wife, Mary Almira Van Sickle, along with their first three children Elden [b.1829], Ellen [b.1831] and Dominick [b.1932] had decided to move to a site near Bourbonnais areas and open a trading post near Bunkum. This site will eventually become the farm of America Brosseau.
Through the intervention and kindly offices of his friend, LeVasseur, [Bray] Brais succeeded in purchasing his land from its Indian owner for a cash consideration of twenty-five cents an acre, in specie, together with a few beads and trinkets, which, in the eye of the Indian, possessed a value in excess of specie. He set to work and built a commodious double log cabin and here, in 1833, was born Andre [Bray] Brais, the first white child born in Bourbonnais township.
In 1834, following John Reynolds resignation, Lt. Governor William Lee Davidson Ewing becomes the 6th Governor of Illinois for just 15 days before leaving to join the senate in the vacancy left by the late Illinois Senator, Elias Kane.
On December 6, 1834, Joseph Duncan becomes the 7th Governor of Illinois. Northern Illinois, including Kankakee County was a brand new frontier in 1836.
In 1836, St. George village becomes part of Will County, Illinois from January 12, 1836 until April 4, 1853. By 1837, most of the local Indians had been relocated to Iowa and settling of the new lands in the Kankakee area began.
Between 1836 and 1837, the Pottawatomie Indians were moved west to Council Bluffs, Iowa at the request of the United States government in 1836 and 1837. They traveled with a Canadian translator, Noel Le Vasseur who was acting as the government agent. Mr. Le Vasseur had been one of the first white settlers in the Bourbonnais area. While there, Mr. Le Vasseur’s had taken an Indian maiden as his wife. Watseka [wife of Noel Le Vasseur] choose to move west with her people and left Le Vasseur in Bourbonnais, although she frequently returned for visits, despite Le Vasseur’s remarriage.
Following the Indians exodus to Iowa, the fur trade fell off due to lack of manual labor in hunting and trapping the animals. This caused a problem for the American Fur Company and by 1834, fur trader, Dominick Brais had decided to move to a site Bourbonnais areas and open a trading post near Bunkum. This site will eventually become the farm of America Brosseau, two miles out on the Bourbonnais road, in Bourbonnais township, and between this place and the river laid the reservation of the Pottawattomie chief, "Me-she-ke-te-no". Brais was a forceful, energetic man, who, in lieu of education, [he was unable either to read or write], had accumulated a fund of practical knowledge and experience by association with such men as Gordon S. Hubbard and Noel LeVasseur.
Following this removal of the Indians from the Kankakee/Bourbonnais area, Mr. Le Vasseur returned to Quebec. He had hopes of finding a Canadian wife and enticing more white settlers from Quebec, Canada to move to the unsettled American territory. He told them about the plentiful open farmland, the excellent trapping and furring opportunities and cheaper costs. This caused thousands of French settlers to migrant to the Illinois territory over the next 5 decades.
In June of 1837, the first Catholic Mass is celebrated at the modest home of Dominick Brais in the “Petite Canada” settlement. Father La Lumiere, a Catholic missionary is called to baptize Brais’ infant son, Andre.
By 1837, most of the local Indians had been relocated to Iowa and settling of the new lands in the Kankakee area began and lawyer, Martin Van Buren of New York becomes the 8th President of the United States. He serves from 1837 until 1841.
In 1838, Thomas Carlin was elected the 8th Governor of Illinois.
By the 1840s French - Canadians were literally pouring into the area, and within 20 years the majority of persons living in and around the following towns were French -- Canadians. Those towns even today retain a very high percentage of this national group. The towns are Manteno, St. George, Momence, Beaverville, Martinton, L'Erable, Papineau, Exline, Bourbonnais, Bradley, and the west side of Kankakee. Joliet, in Will County, has a large French - Canadian population also. Attracted by Noel Le Vasseur’s talk of prosperity in the new country, John Baptiste Letourneau, Captain Fortin and Alexander Boucher come to the Illinois Territory to investigate conditions and report back to family in Canada.
Ten or so families come to the Bourbonnais area and settle where Dominick Brais’ outpost was built. There, Mr. Brais decides to build the first two story brick structure in the area. Besides being his family’s primary residence, it is used for church gatherings, meetings and an area for local youth to gather for dances and holiday celebrations. Original settler’s to the “Petite Canada” settlement include Charles Tebeault with 16 acres, John Odette with 20 acres, Alex Dandurand with 20 acres, Luke Betoune with 30 acres, John Dandurand with 30 acres, Francis Baltazor with 30 acres, Louis Goyette with 3 acres and Alexine Castonneau with 3 acres.
A study of census returns for French-Canadians living in Will County, 50 miles south of Chicago in 1850, shows that 250 families were already living on the land. Of these 110 were reported underage children born in Illinois. Furthermore, the earlier of these Illinois births showed that at least 22 French-Canadian families were present at the future Bourbonnais by 1846. The number was undoubtedly larger if one factors in a portion of the families who did not have young, Illinois-born children to declare to the census taker. Click here to continue
Among of the earliest settlements of French Canadian Catholics in the Illinois area was the village of St. George in Kankakee. This is the area where many of my family’s ancestors settled in the mid 1800’s.
Early Kankakee Area History and the Bourbonnais Settlement
1673 – 1839
At the turn of the second half the of nineteenth century [1840-1860], many French Canadian families migrated from the province of Quebec, Canada and settled in the fertile farmland area just northeast of the city of Kankakee, Illinois. Most of these people were staunch Catholics. They brought with them a heritage, which was very dear to the hearts of their French ancestors. This is their history.
The first Frenchman to explore the area was French Jesuit Father, Jacques Marquette and explorer, Louis Joliet in 1673. They were the first white men to arrive in the Northeast Illinois territory. They immediately claim the land for France.
The history of the St. George/Bourbonnais/Kankakee area started six years later in December of 1679 with French explorer, René-Robert-Cavelier. Sieur de La Salle was the first person to travel with his party to the area now known as Kankakee County. Traveling by birch bark canoes from Quebec, they followed the path of the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario. Proceeding along the eastern and southern shores of the lake, they eventually arrived at the Niagara River. From there, they by-passed treacherous falls and continued on to Lake Erie following the northern shore westward to the Detroit River. The Detroit River led to Lake St. Clair in present day Michigan and on to Lake Huron. Heading slightly north, they traveled on to Michillimackinac, where a fort had been built.
Here the trail divided for people going east, west or south through Indian territories and villages. Miami Indians were so numerous along the Kankakee River that it was sometimes called the River of the Miami. For La Salle, this meant following the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan to the Kankakee River near present day South Bend, Indiana. Here they portaged their canoes through the swampy grasslands for 5 miles. The land these men found was a vast fertile plain teeming with wildlife and abundant wild fruits and vegetables. La Salle eventually continued on to the mouth of the Mississippi River claiming the land they discovered for France and King Louis XIV. La Salle was eventually assassinated by his own men while trying to rediscover the Mississippi River from his recently discovered colony near present day Texas.
The Illinois territory became part of French Louisiana in 1717 and by 1760, the Pottawatomie Indians had begun hunting along the Kankakee River. In 1763, the loss of the French and Indian War forced France to cede a large portion of the Illinois country to Great Britain and by the 1770’s, the Pottawatomie, Ottawa, and Chippewa nations had begun to dominate the Kankakee River area that would later become Bourbonnais and St. George.
My Family History in St. George, Illinois