This first comprehensive account of the Illinois village of Kaskaskia covers more than two hundred years in the vast and compelling history of the state. David MacDonald and Raine Waters explore Illinois’s first capital in great detail, from its foundation in 1703 to its destruction by the Mississippi River in the latter part of the nineteenth century, as well as everything in between: successes, setbacks, and the lives of the people who inhabited the space.
At the outset the Kaskaskia tribe, along with Jesuit missionaries and French traders, settled near the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi rivers, about sixty miles south of modern-day St. Louis. The town quickly became the largest French town and most prosperous settlement in the Illinois Country. After French control ended, Kaskaskia suffered under corrupt British and then inept American rule. In the 1790s the town revived and became the territorial capital, and in 1818 it became the first state capital. Along the way Kaskaskia was beset by disasters: crop failures, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, epidemics, and the loss of the capital-city title to Vandalia. Likewise, human activity and industry eroded the river’s banks, causing the river to change course and eventually wash away the settlement. All that remains of the state’s first capital today is a village several miles from the original site.
MacDonald and Waters focus on the town’s growth, struggles, prosperity, decline, and obliteration, providing an overview of its domestic architecture to reveal how its residents lived. Debunking the notion of a folklore tradition about a curse on the town, the authors instead trace those stories to late nineteenth-century journalistic inventions. The result is a vibrant, heavily illustrated, and highly readable history of Kaskaskia that sheds light on the entire early history of Illinois.
An analysis of how nineteenth-century women regional writers represent political economic thought
Readers of late nineteenth-century female American authors are familiar with plots, characters, and households that make a virtue of economizing. Scholars often interpret these scenarios in terms of a mythos of parsimony, frequently accompanied by a sort of elegiac republicanism whereby self-sufficiency and autonomy are put to the service of the greater good—a counterworld to the actual economic conditions of the period.
In Kitchen Economics: Women’s Regionalist Fiction and Political Economy, Thomas Strychacz takes a new approach to the question of how female regionalist fictions represent “the economic” by situating them within traditions of classical political economic thought. Offering case studies of key works by Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rose Terry Cooke, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson, this study focuses on three complex cultural fables—the island commonwealth, stadialism (or stage theory), and feeding the body politic—which found formal expression in political economic thought, made their way into endless public debates about the economic turmoil of the late nineteenth century, and informed female authors. These works represent counterparts, not counterworlds, to modernity; and their characteristic stance is captured in the complex trope of feminaeconomica.
This approach ultimately leads us to reconsider what we mean by the term “economic,” for the emphasis of contemporary neoclassical economics on economic agents given over to infinite wants and complete self-interest has caused the “sufficiency” and “common good” models of female regionalist authors to be misinterpreted and misvalued. These fictions are nowhere more pertinent to modernity than in their alliance with today’s important alternative economic discourses.