Exploration and Travel in Illinois History

The works below are accounts by or about explorers and travelers in Illinois history. See the right column for more info about this website.

Documents, Papers, Materials and Publications relating to the Northwest and the State of Illinois

Springfield, ILL: Illinois State Historical Library. 1903
Beckwith, H.W. Go to Book

This is a collection of documents (translated into English) for the early history of French Canadian exploration of the Illinois region, and also for the conquest of Illinois country by George Rogers Clark during the Revolutionary War. The editors have added introductions and explanatory notes to each group to assist readers and provide background information. There is a separate index for each document group.

The topics or titles of documents are:

-Voyages and Discoveries of Father James Marquette in the Mississippi Valley
-French Plans of Conquest
-Hennepin’s Narrative
-La Salle’s Voyage down the Mississippi
-Memoir of Henry de Tonty of 1693
-The Aubry Manuscript
-George Rogers Clark’s Conquest of the Illinois
-Letters from the Canadian Archives

Also see: Explorers and Travelers in Great Lakes History; Illinois General History; and Great Lakes General History

Letters from Illinois

London: Taylor and Hessey. 1818
Birkbeck, Morris Go to Book

Morris Birkbeck (1764-1825) was a political ‘radical’ who emigrated from England to Illinois in 1817 with George Flowers to establish a colony of English emigrant farmers. They bought 26,000 acres in Edwards County, calling it the English Prairie Settlement, and also laid out the town of Albion. Birkbeck was a progressive farmer, and organized the Agricultural Society of Illinois.

For this book, Birkbeck collected a number of letters that he had written to acquaintances in England, providing information about Illinois and encouraging them to come to the English Prairie. The book was very widely read in Great Britain, and was also translated into German and French.

For several early-19th century descriptions of the Great Lakes states and adjoining areas, see: Settlers’ Guides for the Great Lakes Region

Explorers and travelers in Illinois history

Travel and Description, 1765-1865, together with a list of county histories, atlases, and biographical collections and a list of territorial and state laws

Springfield, ILL: Illinois State Historical Library. 1914
Buck, Solon Go to Book

This is Volume 2 in the Illinois State Historical Library’s Bibliographical Series. It contains annotated bibliographies of books that are significant in Illinois history for the following subject areas:

Travel and Description, 1765-1865
-County Histories, Atlases and Biographical Collections
-Historiography of Illinois Counties
-Territorial and State Laws

Also see: History of Illinois Cities, Counties & Regions

Illinois in 1837: a sketch descriptive of the situation, boundaries, face of the country, prominent districts …

Philadelphia: Mitchell. 1837
Ellsworth, H. L. Go to Book

(title continued) “… prairies, rivers, minerals, animals, agricultural productions, public lands, plans of internal improvement, manufacturers, &c., of the state of Illinois : also, suggestions to emigrants, sketches of the counties, cities, and principal towns in the state, together with a letter on the cultivation of the prairies, by the Hon. H. L. Ellsworth: to which are annexed the letters from a rambler in the West”

From the publisher’s Preface:

“The first 72 pages are devoted to the illustration of the Natural Geography, Minerals, Animal and Vegetable Productions of the State, also its Civil Divisions, Public Lands, Plans of Internal Improvements, Manufactures, Education, Suggestions to Emigrants, Travelling Routes, Remarks on Location and Manner of Building in newly-settled Countries.”

“The next 58 pages are occupied with a descriptive sketch of the Counties, Cities and Towns in Illinois; the remainder of the work is filled up with a Letter from the Hon. H. L. Ellsworth on the Cultivation of the Prairies, together with the Letters of a “Rambler in the West”.

For historic maps of the Great Lakes region and states, see:
Great Lakes Maps, Atlases & Map Collections
Ohio Maps, Atlases & Map Collections;
Indiana Maps, Map Collections & Gazetteers;
Illinois Maps, Map Collections & Gazetteers;
Michigan Maps, Map Collections & Gazetteers;
Wisconsin Maps, Map Collections & Gazetteers

Explorers and travelers in Illinois history

Memorable days in America; being a journal of a tour to the United States …

London, Simpkin &Marshall, 1823
Faux, William Go to Book

(title continued) “…principally undertaken to ascertain, by positive evidence, the condition and probable prospects of British emigrants; including accounts of Mr. Birkbeck’s settlement in the Illinois; and intended to shew men and things as they are in America”

Faux describes his trip to America, which began in November 1818. Emigration to America was a hot political issue in England at that time, and some of the accounts coming from America were suspected of being inflated. Faux writes that he was determined to write an objective and factual account of America to help people in England make the right choice about whether to emigrate. Among his stops in America was the English Prairie Settlement of Birkbeck and Flowers, which he described in detail. He also spent two months in Indiana. The book contains a lot of information about frontier life and conditions.

For several early-19th century descriptions of the Great Lakes states and adjoining areas, see: Settlers’ Guides for the Great Lakes Region

“Lewis and Clark in the Illinois Country”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 10, No. 3, 2003, pp 29-33

Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Hartley, Robert E.Go to Article

A Winter in the West; by a New Yorker

NY: Harper, 1835
Hoffman, Charles F. Go to Vol 1|Go to Vol 2

Hoffman spent most of the first three months of 1834 in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, visiting Chicago, Galena and Peoria. He wrote letters to friends throughout his travels, and published some in newspapers in New York. After seeing northern Illinois he went to St. Louis through Springfield, Jacksonville and Alton; and later down the Mississippi and up the Ohio.

For memoirs and biographies of life on the frontier in the Old Northwest, see:
Biographies & Memoirs in Ohio History
Biographies & Memoirs in Indiana History;
Biographies & Memoirs in Illinois History;
Biographies & Memoirs in Michigan History;
Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Chicago, the Vacation City

Chicago: Passenger Department, Illinois Central 1930
Illinois Central RailroadGo to Book

Ten Tours in Illinois: A Guide to the State Parks, Scenic Beauties, Historic Memorials, and Lincoln Shrines

Springfield: State of Illinois 1940
Illinois Development Council Go to Book

Illinois Tourists Guide

Springfield: State of Illinois 1930?
Illinois State Chamber of CommerceGo to Book

Explorers and travelers in Illinois history

“Following the Westward Star”

Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association Vol X, 1918-21, 49-56

Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association
Jenks, Chancellor L.Go to Article

Brief article describing migration of author’s ancestors from Pennsylvania to Illinois in 1836, drawing upon extended quotes from a travel journal.

Illinois and the West: with a Township Map, Containing the Latest Surveys and Improvements

Boston: Weeks 1838
Jones, Abner DumontGo to Book


NY: Appleton 1888
McCormick, Henry Go to Book

Geography – small tourist booklet, with state map.

Eight Months in Illinois, with Information to Immigrants

Chicago: Hill 1924
Oliver, WilliamGo to Book

A reprint of an 1843 book.

The Present State of the European Settlements on the Mississippi, with a Geographical Description of that River, illustrated by Plans and Draughts

London: 1770
Pittman, Philip (Captain)Go to Book

Captain Pittman was an engineer in the British army when he was assigned to a unit that sailed up the Mississippi River about 1763 to take possession of French military posts in Illinois country, after the conclusion of the French and Indian war. He also described Spanish towns and posts on the lower Mississippi, on the way north. This is was the first English report of these Mississippi towns in Illinois.

Pittman’s plans and maps of several of the locations are at the back of the volume, including a plan of Kaskaskia and maps of the Mississippi.

Illinois: The “Prairie State”

Girard, KS: Haldeman-Julius 1946
Smith, Carl WillardGo to Book

24-page booklet.

Illinois State Parks, Memorials and Conservation Areas. An Illustrated, Descriptive Guide to Scenic Parks, Historic Memorials and Lincoln Shrines in Illinois

Springfield: State of Illinois 1958?
State of IllinoisGo to Book

Seeing Chicago by the Photograph Route

Chicago: 1912
Unknown Go to Book

60 pages of photos.

Two Year’s Residence in the Settlement on the English Prairie, in the Illinois country, United States …

London, Longmans. 1822
Woods, John Go to Book

(title continued) “…with an account of its animal and vegetable productions, agriculture, &c. &c; a description of the principal towns, villages, &c. &c. with the habits and customs of the backwoodsmen”

The title of this book is a little misleading. There was great interest in England around 1820 in the English Prairie settlement of George Flowers and Morris Birkbeck, so the emphasis on the settlement may have been the publisher’s way of marketing the book. (See Birkbeck’s Letters from Illinois and William Faux’s Memorable Days in America on this web page for more on the English Prairie.) About half this book by Woods is a description of the trip from England to southern Illinois, and the second half is about the English Prairie as well as descriptions of other towns in the area and of many aspects of the region.

You can find more works like these at our other ‘Explorers and Travelers’ pages. Check ‘Explorers and Travelers in Great Lakes History’ for more material covering Illinois.

Explorers and Travelers in Great Lakes History

Explorers and Travelers in Indiana History

Explorers and Travelers in Ohio History

Explorers and Travelers in Michigan History

Explorers and Travelers in Wisconsin History

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