This Week In Illinois History: The Liberty Bell Of The West (July 4, 1778)
On July 4, 1778, Colonel George Rogers Clark marched his Virginia militia regiment of 175 men into Kaskaskia, a prominent trading outpost on the Mississippi River, and liberated it from the British. Clark’s successful campaign to expel the British from Illinois Territory was the westernmost campaign of the Revolutionary War.
Kaskaskia had been inhabited by Native Americans for centuries. The French built a mission there in 1703 and a fort in 1718. Kaskaskia became an essential river trading post, providing food and raw materials to New Orleans. The British took control in 1763 after the French and Indian War, but the population remained a mix of mostly French settlers and Native Americans.
When Clark liberated Kaskaskia on July 4, 1778, Kaskaskians rang the local church bell in celebration. The 650-pound bell had been a gift to the Catholic Church from King Louis XV in 1741. It became known as the “Liberty Bell of the West.”
Kaskaskia was the Illinois Territorial capital from 1809 to 1818, and Illinois’ first state capital. Its population peaked at about 7,000 but quickly dwindled after the state capital moved to Vandalia in 1820.
In 1882, a massive flood rerouted the Mississippi River, severing the village from Illinois. It is now attached to Missouri, though its few remaining residents – only 14 in 2010 – remain Illinois citizens.
The Liberty Bell of the West – older than the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia – is on display at the Kaskaskia Bell State Memorial.