Monday, June 8, 2015

The Rendezvous at Fort De Chartes

The French colonial regime is barely remembered in modern American studies. Heck, most of American history is barely remembered. Being new to the area, Courtney and I were anxious to see what kind of festivals are held around this time of year. Sunday is one of my regular days off, and when we heard about a big shin dig across the river, we loaded up and went!

The gatehouse, main entrance to the fort itself.

Fort De Chartes was built during the reign of Louis XV, and named after the Regent's son: Louis, Duke of Orleans. First built in 1718, its main purpose was to bring the nearby Native Nations under control, specifically the Fox and Osage tribes (the only two peoples that the French tried to exterminate because their warrior society made coexistence very difficult). However, the fort's location on the flood plane of the Mississippi River meant that it was in horrid condition in just five years. By the time it was finally stable enough to serve as a center of civic and military authority, it had been relocated four times. In 1763, France lost the Seven Years' War and gave up all of their holdings east of the river to Great Britain. Officially, the fort had commanded French power in the region for only ten years.

The 42nd Highlanders fighting Napoleon's Grand Armée at Quatre Bras, 1815.

The British kept the original name, but expelled all of the French settlers. The people migrated west to St. Louis or south to Ste. Genevieve. The British stationed a small detachment of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment within the fort's walls, but even the might of the Empire could not stop the Mississippi. Continuing floods were a persistent problem, and the British finally abandoned the post in 1772.

We were treated to a very nice performance by the old Black Watch (although they weren't called that until much later...). It was so long that we couldn't get it all on tape. They didn't play "Cock of the North" or "Scotland the Brave," but it was amazing nonetheless!

By 1900, the walls had fallen into the river and only one structure remained standing: the powder magazine.

The magazine, before restoration.

In 1966, Americans decided that they didn't want LBJ's "Great Society" tearing down all of the old buildings. The historic preservation laws passed that hear have served as a template for all fifty states that want to encourage their people to save the built environment.

Thankfully, there's enough interest in these old places that the people of Illinois continue hosting their annual Rendezvous. The event covers history in the region from the Seven Years' War to the final days of the colonial regime (British and French). There were lots of vendors with hand-made items, sword-fighting demonstrations, period games like Nine Pins (aka, bowling minus one), and so much more.

Here's the first thing we saw as we walked the grounds:

Fire makes everything better!

We weren't exactly prepared for everything. Ran out of phone storage, so I'm afraid this is all the footage I've got. We'll do better next year!

Power to the pen!

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