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Chester, Illinois

Liberty Bell of the West

Now nearly abandoned, Kaskaskia was once the capital of Illinois and one of the most important towns on the upper Mississippi. 

The town of Kaskaskia, Illinois is home to 14 people today, making it the second-smallest incorporated town in the state. It sits west of the Mississippi, in an enclave of Illinois that is completely surrounded by Missouri. But Kaskaskia has a much more important legacy than its size and remoteness seem to suggest. 

Kaskaskia was settled by French colonists in 1703 on the eastern shores of the Mississippi. The establishment of a Christian mission and a fur trading post eventually made the town, strategically located on the river, an important regional hub for the French, and they made it the capital of Upper Louisiana. It was captured by the British during the French and Indian War, and again a decade later, by American revolutionaries in 1778. This battle is where the Liberty Bell of the West comes in. 

In one of the westernmost battles of the American Revolution, the town was captured by George Rogers Clark and his colonist forces. In celebration, the parish rang the church bell which had originally been sent to the French settlers in Kaskaskia by King Louis XV in 1741. It was known as the Liberty Bell from then on, symbolizing the American victory. 

Later, Kaskaskia became the capital of Illinois, was home to over 7,000 people, and was where the first Illinois newspaper was published. Its importance faded after the capital was moved to Vandalia, and the town has since been flooded and largely abandoned. The Mississippi, which once ran to the west of the town, has been rerouted due to flooding, leaving Kaskaskia in an enclave of Illinois on the Missouri side of the river. With only 14 residents, the town is not what it used to be. But the Liberty Bell of the West, still visible in a brick building near the center of town, stands as a testament to the historical importance of this obscure village. 

Know Before You Go

Kaskaskia is an enclave of Illinois, lying west of the Mississippi and accessible only from Missouri. The doors to the building housing the bell open by pushing a large green button. It may take several long pushes before it activates the automatic doors.

An annual Independence Day program celebrates the July 4, 1778 capture of Kaskaskia by Virginia troops commanded by George Rogers Clark during the Revolutionary War. Contact the Fort Kaskaskia site for details.