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Life in Kaskaskia

When Ninian Edwards was appointed governor of the Illinois Territory in 1809, one of his first acts was to fire the corrupt sheriff of Randolph County. He then appointed Benjamin Stephenson to fill the position. Stephenson’s duties were largely confined to property assessment, the collection of property taxes, and organizing land sales to settle delinquent taxes. Due to the unsettled land laws at the time and the unsettled claims of the French residents of the area, many large parcels of land were sold through this process; as a result, Stephenson held a position of considerable public significance.

Between 1809 and 1816, the Stephensons lived in Kaskaskia, capitol of the Illinois Territory. Benjamin V., the last of their four children, was born there in 1812. Because of his official position, Stephenson was closely connected to Governor Ninian Edwards, Territorial Secretary Nathanial Pope, and the three judges of the Territorial Court. Initially, there was no Territorial Legislature and all laws were written, approved, and enforced by the governor and the three judges. Consequently, Stephenson worked daily with the five most powerful people in the Illinois Territory.

Life in Kaskaskia was both interesting and challenging. The town was inhabited by a large number of merchants and farmers of French descent and by Americans from the south, the middle Atlantic, and New England. Living side by side with the French and Americans were many Kaskaskia Indians and remnants of other tribes of the Illini Confederation. Some of the challenges were natural: In 1811, the Stephensons endured the New Madrid earthquake. Houses and chimneys in Kaskaskia were destroyed and successive quakes left deep crevices in the streets. The following year a tornado struck the town. It destroyed homes, ripped up fences, and killed horses and cattle.

© 2007 The Friends of the Benjamin Stephenson House