Early American Places


NIU PressNIU Press

From Furs to Farms:

The Transformation of the Mississippi Valley, 1762-1825

by John Reda

Superior Achievement Award, Illinois State Historical Society, 2017

212 pp., 6x9
ISBN: 978-0-87580-499-6 (h), 9780875807867 (p)


[This] succinct and pointed history of the white settlement of the Mississippi Valley challenges the oversimplified and convenient notion of Manifest Destiny...Like the work of all diligent, mindful scholars, Reda’s account of the history is complex.
— Foreword Reviews

This original study tells the story of the Illinois Country, a collection of French villages that straddled the Mississippi River for nearly a century before it was divided by the treaties that ended the Seven Years’ War in the early 1760s. Spain acquired the territory on the west side of the river and Great Britain the territory on the east. After the 1783 Treaty of Paris and the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the entire region was controlled by the United States, and the white inhabitants were transformed from subjects to citizens. By 1825, Indian claims to the land that had become the states of Illinois and Missouri were nearly all extinguished, and most of the Indians had moved west.

John Reda focuses on the people behind the Illinois Country’s transformation from a society based on the fur trade between Europeans, Indians, and mixed-race (métis) peoples to one based on the commodification of land and the development of commercial agriculture. Many of these people were white and became active participants in the development of local, state, and federal governmental institutions. But many were Indian or métis people who lost both their lands and livelihoods, or black people who arrived—and remained—in bondage. 

In From Furs to Farms, Reda rewrites early national American history to include the specific people and places that make the period far more complex and compelling than what is depicted in the standard narrative. This fascinating work will interest historians, students, and general readers of US history and Midwestern studies.

About the Author

John Reda received his PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is associate professor of history at Illinois State University, specializing in colonial American history and the history of the Early American Republic.

Reda provides a welcome, readable account of the formative years of Missouri and Illinois. While emphasizing the place of economics in their formation, he also restores the Mississippi River to its historical role as a short fence between close neighbors, rather than an impermeable barrier.
— Robert M. Owens, author of Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind, 1763–1815