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Break a Leg

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris gave Rock Island and all the surrounding territory east of the Mississippi River to the new United States. That same year, in Lincolnshire, England, George Davenport was born. It took a series of improbable accidents to bring the man and the island together.

George Davenport grew up and became a sailor. In 1804, at the age of 21, he found himself on an English ship in New York Harbor. A fellow sailor fell overboard, and Davenport went to his aid. In the rescue attempt, Davenport broke his leg and ended up in a New York hospital.

The ship returned to England without him. Davenport went to Pennsylvania to recuperate. While there, a persuasive recruiting sergeant talked him into enlisting in the American army, where he remained for the next ten years, fighting against the Indians and British in the War of 1812.

His enlistment up, he was hired by a man who had contracted to provide food and supplies for the United States Army. In 1816, this contractor assigned George Davenport to accompany troops of the 8th United States Infantry who were going up the Mississippi to build a fort on Rock Island in order to protect American trading interests.

Davenport built a small cabin near Fort Armstrong in order to carry out his job a suttler to the troops.

However the vagaries of Fate by which he arrived, George Davenport turned out to be the right man in the right place at the right time. The area's Sauk Indians had fought with the British against the Americans in the War of 1812, and many of them remained loyal to the British.

And here, on the island, was an Englishman with an English accent. He soon had the confidence of the Sauk and their fur trade business as well, a business that gave Davenport the position and the wealth to develop the whole surrounding region. Davenport helped found the towns of Davenport and Rock Island and was instrumental in planning the first railroad to the Mississippi at Rock Island.

It's hard to imagine what Rock Island would be like today had it not been for George Davenport. Especially hard, since none of us would be here to imagine anything.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.