Lazy Frenchmen and subjugated Indians: that’s the stereotype of the pre-American French towns along the Illinois side of the Mississippi River valley. Not so, says Robert Michael Morrissey, a history professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The prevailing perception, developed by historian Francis Parkman, had two components: The French were lazy, anarchic fops dependent on French imperial authorities for direction and support. And they made the technologically inferior Indians dependent on European tools and weaponry.
It turns out that early French settlements in Illinois were set up by the Native Americans first. Later, Jesuit missionaries and French fur traders, who were actually occupying the Illinois country illegally, came to live with them. French missionaries and fur traders acted in close collaboration with local natives, seeking mutual benefit rather than hostile competition, which Morrissey details in his book Empire by Collaboration: Indians, Colonists and Governments in Colonial Illinois Country.