The fertile prairies of Illinois attracted the attention of French trader Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette as they explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. France claimed this region until 1763 when he surrendered it to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris.
During the American Revolution, George Rogers Clark scored a bloodless victory when he captured Kaskaskia for the Commonwealth of Virginia and Illinois became a county of Virginia. This area was ceded to the United States in 1784, and became in turn a part of the Northwest Territory and the Indiana and Illinois Territories. On December 3, 1818, Illinois entered the Union as the 21st state.
A short distance above Hamilton the lower rapids of the Mississippi River obstructed steamboat navigation. In 1820 the steamboat Western Engineer ascended to the foot of the rapids and three years later, the Virginia churned through the swift, shallow water.
In the late 1830's, Lieutenant Robert E. Lee supervised drilling and blasting to widen and deepen the river channel. When this project proved too costly and ineffective, an independent canal around the western side of the rapids was started in 1866.
Between the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers, Highway 136 cuts through the military tract, an area used as "Bounty Land" for veterans of the War of 1812; north of Warsaw, site of Fort Edwards (1814), south of Nauvoo, Mormon City of the 1840's and south of Dickson Mounds, ancient Indian burial site near the Illinois River.