Pierre Menard is little recognized today, although he was very important in early Illinois. Menard was born in Canada on October 7, 1766, at St. Antoine, Quebec. His father was an officer in the French Canadian Army, and his mother was a woman of superior education and intelligence.
At the age of twenty-two he left Canada for Post de Vinsenne, now Vincennes, Indiana. Menard traveled down Lake Michigan and the Illinois River from Canada in search of furs. Beaver was plentiful in what is now Illinois and its neighboring states. The trading of beaver and other fur made some settlers wealthy. Pierre Menard was one. When Menard arrived in Post de Vinsenne, he worked for Francis Vigo.
Menard and Vigo traveled to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to confer with General George Washington on the defense of the Northwest Territory. When Menard and Louissant DuBois opened a trading post at Kaskaskia, Menard's interest in public affairs began. For the next thirty-eight years he pursued his political interest first at the territorial, then at the state level. Through his work he met many people.
In 1792 Menard married Therese Godin. She died in 1804 and left Menard with four children. Two years later, he married Angelique Saucier. Angelique was the granddaughter of the French Army's Engineer General Francois Saucier, who was supervisor of construction of the original Fort de Chartres. That marriage produced six more children. Two well-chosen marriages, plus a lot of innate ability and wide experience had considerably improved his lot in life.
In 1802 Menard's classic mansion was built by slaves. The mansion, now beautifully restored, is often referred to as the "Mount Vernon of the West." The Pierre Menard Home stands on a grassy bluff above the Mississippi River just north of the site of old Kaskaskia. It is one story high, built long and low. In 1927 the site was acquired by the state and became part of Fort Kaskaskia Slate Park. It contains some of the original furnishings and personal belongings of Menard and his family. Menard enjoyed his home and entertained many American and foreign notables. Regardless of their race or station in life, Menard was a friend to all men. Because he was the leader of the French in 1818, he did not stay in Kaskaskia long.
Not only was he the leader of the French in 1818, but Pierre Menard was presiding officer of the territorial legislature when it was part of the Illinois Terrifory. He was elected the first lieutenant governor of Illinois after the new constitution was amended to make him eligible for the post. This required a special act of the legislature because Menard was not a native-born United States citizen. Menard was easily elected to the office over two opponents.
Pierre Menard definitely made a difference in Illinois' history. The Treaty of Green Bay was negotiated by Lewis Cass and Pierre Menard with the Winnebago and the United Tribes of the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi on August 25, 1828. It ceded lands in the territory of Michigan and all lands in the state of Illinois situated between the Illinois River and the Fever River, and lands east of the Fox River from the Lake Michigan-Rock River line to the boundary of the canal strip. This area included what would later become the state's most-populated city, Chicago.
After many years as a public servant and political figure, Menard retired to his home. In 1844, at the age of 78, he died there, leaving a fortune estimated at more than a quarter of a million dollars. In the years to come, such a person as Pierre Menard should not be erased from our memories.—[From Solon J. Buck, Illinois in 1818; John Clayton, The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968; Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State; Roscoe Misselhorn, Illinois Sketches; Robert M. Sutton, The Heartland.]