S1E14 - The Yankee Diaspora: Land Before Lincoln

Illinois's early history in the United States is one without the typical urban touchstone of Chicago. In this episode, Brian & Lyman discusses downstate Illinois, "Little Egypt," and the politically volatile mixing of Yankees and Upland Southerners that lead to yet another interesting clash over the fate of slavery in the Northwest Territory.

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INTRO MUSIC

B: You’re listening to Episode 14 of Migration Nation with Lyman Stone and Brian Hudson, a Podcast about the history of migration in America.

L: I’m an economist and Brian’s a librarian. For this and at least twice as many episodes as we initially expected, we’re going to talk about the migrationes of Yankees and the settlement of the midwest. For this episode, that means talking about how Illinois got settled everywhere except for Chicago. We are going to do a whole episode about Illinois other than Chicago.

B: But don’t worry, that’s not because we’re ignoring Chicago! It’s because the next episode will basically be nothing but an early history of Chicago. The reason for this division is just that Chicago doesn’t really get going until the 1830s and 1840s, and, in terms of the shows timeline, we are really still in the 1820s and just barely into the 1830s.

L: But let’s back up a second. Brian--- are you a librarian?

B: As of quite recently, I am!

L: Well congrats man! Now you have no excuse not to do tons of primary source research for the podcast!

B: Uhhhh… we’ll see about that. Anyways, as listeners may notice, we sound a little different this week. That’s because we’re recording in the same place! Woohoo!

L: Yep! I’ve returned to the Promised Land for Christmas, so we are trying to knock out some recording while we’re together. Which, if the last set of episodes we recorded together is any indication, means we are probably going to get off topic. Oh well.

B: And since we expect to end up wasting time later on, it’s probably best to now jump straight into the story!

TRANSITION MUSIC

B: So, Illinois it is! We’re farther west than Indiana, so my assumption is that we’re looking at a later settlement?

L: Well, not quite. As we’ve talked about, this area was settled by the French, especially at Kaskaskia, the first state capital of Illinois.

B: Oh right! I forgot, the great city of Kaskasia!

L: I know right? But really, even before the French, the bottomlands of the Mississippi were the original urban hub of the future United States, with the native American city of Cahokia. Around 1100 AD, Cahokia housed at least several tens of thousands of people, and some archeaologists suggest Cahokia, whose huge earthen pyramids can still be seen today, may have housed 100,000 or more people.

B: Holy cow.

L: Yeah. Now, these people had dispersed from Cahokia by 1300 AD, and by the time de Soto passed through in the 1500s Native peoples were settled in smaller towns in the area. But by the time the next wave of explorers came through in the 1600s, diseases had ravaged the population, resulting in the near complete abandonment of most stable settlements. The French, then, set up new towns in areas they felt were fertile and had good access to New Orleans.

B: Right, and, as we talked about in previous episodes, these Frenchmen then sided with the Americans in the War of Independence, and, as a reward, were allowed to keep their slaves.

L: Yeah. And, I have to say, my mental image of the free-state midwest is really being challenged by this series.

B: Well, spoiler alert: for Illinois we’re going to see another case of slaveholding elites trying to turn a free state slave.

L: Huh. Okay then. So I guess I should get to explaining how Illinois gets settled then.

B: Well since Indiana’s western and northern borders take a long time to get settled, I’m assuming it’s from the south again.

L: Yep! Once again, southerners make up a large share of Illinois’ early settlers. In fact, “upland southerners” make up a larger share of Illinois’ population in 1850, the earliest data I have, than Indiana’s, though it’s close to 15 percent in both cases.

B: And that means they’re probably moving up from Kentucky, or across from Indiana, so we can expect the southern and eastern counties to get settled first, right?

L: Yes indeed! And Kaskaskia serves as the first capital of the territory, and of the new state. Located on the Mississippi river south of St. Louis, Kaskasia was pretty far to go, even for many southern settlers. Eventually, in 1820, the capital was moved inland to Vandalia.

B: Oh my gosh yes! How did we not realize this was coming?

L: I know right? We had a whole conversation about the name “Vandalia” in the last episode without realizing that most of the key events described in this one would revolve around Vandalia, Illinois!

B: This is great. Now I just hope that James Wilkinson shows up. It’d be perfect, idealized Migration Nation episode.

L: No kidding! But I don’t think he will, and, in fact, there are some other differences in Illinois’ early settlers versus Indiana. While Indiana was about 3 percent Yankee, Illinois was about 12 percent Yankee.

B: That’s a pretty solid difference.

L: Yeah. Now, this is 1850 data, substantially later than the period in the 1820s we are talking about today, but nonetheless it does seem to be pretty widely recognized that, for whatever reason, early Illinois got more Yankee settlers than Indiana did. Sadly, I can’t seem to find a map of their distribution within Illinois.

B: So we don’t know for sure if these Yankees just bypassed Indiana and went straight to Illinois along the Ohio River, or if they took a Great Lakes route, and landed in Chicago.

L: Correct. But what we do know is that by 1850, Illinois had over 100,000 Yankees in it, nearly as many settlers as it had from the Upper South. And in total, Illinois had substantially more northerners than southerners. In Indiana, meanwhile, while northerners outnumbered southerners, it wasn’t by as large a margin.

B: So, 100,000 Yankees: but how big is the overall population, especially compared to nearby states?

L: Well, in 1820, Illinois has about 55,000 residents, while Indiana has almost 150,000, and Ohio has 580,000. So Illinois is really small. In 1830, the gap widens, and Illinois has about 150,000 versus Indiana’s 350,000. Up to 1840 the two states are more-or-less at parity, with Indiana rising to 685,000 and Indiana to 476,000. But by 1850, at 851,000, Illinois has just 100,000 less people than Indiana, and by 1860, at 1.7 million people, it has almost 400,000 more people than Indiana.

B: Woah! That’s huge growth in the 1850s! What’s the story there?

L: A huge part of it is Chicago… which we aren’t going to discuss today. But that also tells you something important: all the events we discuss today happen in an Illinois that doesn’t have Chicago as a reference point. This is an internal “downstate” discussion. That’s going to matter quite a bit when we look at some key political events.

B: Right, because, when we think about Illinois’ politics today, Chicago seems pretty inseparable from the state’s overall political position. I mean, without Chicago, Illinois is a red state.

L: Exactly. And, with that, let’s start looking at a key story related to how Downstate became the place it is today.

TRANSITION MUSIC

B: To talk about Downstate Illinois, I think it might be useful to do this in reverse of how we did Indiana: let’s start by talking about their nickname.

L: Egyptians?

B: Yeah; downstate Illinois south of St. Louis is nicknamed “Little Egypt.” And it’s not entirely clear where that nickname came from… but its many possible meanings and uses really help frame a lot of Illinois’ early history.

L: So let’s lay out the theories on why southern Illinois is called “Little Egypt.” Theory 1: Because it’s low-lying land along a major, fertile river valley, kinda like Egypt, and early Americans were big-time fans of comparing themselves to classical civilizations. This story suggests that the geographic resonance can also explain Memphis’ name in Tennessee.

B: Theory 2: because the guys who bought the southernmost land charter kind of arbitrarily decided to name their spot “Cairo,” and they were first-movers, so everybody else adopted Egyptian-themed place names and self-identifications.

L: Theory 3: because in the 1830s, northern Illinois had a harsh winter than killed off the wheat crop, and southern Illinois had to supply grain northwards, just like the Bible says Egypt did for fleeing Israelites during Joseph’s management of Egypt’s grain supplies.

B: Theory 4: because they were a bunch of slave-holding southerners who kept trying to introduce wider legalization of slavery, thus introduce “Egyptian” bondage to Illinois.

L: Oof. That last one’s gotta sting a little bit.

B: Yeah, especially since the “Egypt feeds the hungry Israelites” story is basically the same source material as “Egypt represents slavery and bondage.” It’s intrastate geographic rivalry wrapped up in some of the most epic and dramatic stories from the Bible.

L: So which do you think it is?

B: Well, I think that probably there’s some truth to many of them. For example, maybe the initial settlers of the Cairo land grant looked around at the rivers and fertile bottomland and said, “You know, classicism is really hip these days, and this area reminds us of how we imagine Egypt… let’s do an Egyptian name!” And then maybe that triggered everybody else to have a similar thought. And then maybe with the name attached, any time Little Egypt exported grain, it etched itself into the locals’ minds that they were fulfilling Egypt’s biblical granary role. And then maybe, as the more anti-slavery northern counties saw their political views diverge from the southern counties, maybe they said, “Yeah, ‘Little Egypt’ is right: you’re a bunch of slaveholders who deserve some plagues and fire!” I think it’s worth noting that, when Lincoln and Douglas debated in the 1850s, Douglas used “Egypt” as shorthand for the Democratic south of the state, specifically referring to their pro-slavery views. So even for people friendly to Little Egypt, the name was seen as shorthand for slavery, at least before the war.

L: But then, after the war, a known confederate sympathizer and activist, and Federal judge, sat down and wrote a history of southern Illinois ignoring the civil war and slavery, and introduced the “Egyptian Granary” name hypothesis. Which, I have to say, knowing that a confederate apologist suggested that name theory makes me wary of its reliability.

B: I mean, the winter of 1830-1831 was awful in northern Illinois, and the southern part of the state did ship a lot of grain north… but yeah I’d be hesitant to say everybody immediately saw the biblical connection.

L: But whatever the case, Little Egypt here does refer to an area that was heavy on agriculture, tightly connected to the Mississippi and Ohio River trading networks, which were dominated by slave-states like Louisiana, Kentucky, and Missouri, disproportionately settled by southerners, and included some actual slavery, in the form of grandfathered-in French slaves, and the “leasing” of slaves for salt production, and even various forms of indenturehood.

B: Predictably, Little Egypt voted differently as well. Indeed, in 1856 and 1860, Republicans did even worse in southern Illinois than in Indiana. Likewise, anti-slavery movements in 1844, 1848, and 1852 found southern Illinois probably the most hostile political territory, and their worst polling results, anywhere outside of the southern states. Nowhere in the north was quite so southern as Little Egypt.

L: Paired with strong Republican and other anti-slavery party showings in northern Illinois, where it seems likely that Yankee and other northern settlers were more prevalent, this set up Illinois for some fairly extreme internal regional divides. During the civil war, some in southern Illinois actually joined up with the Confederate cause.

B: But the story we really want to talk about doesn’t happen in the 1850s or 1860s. It’s in the 1820s and, as in Indiana, is the story of how Illinois almost became a slave state.

TRANSITION MUSIC

B: Illinois’ early settlers were largely southerners, settling a southern part of the state where tobacco and cotton were both cultivated, and hundreds of slaves were employed by nearby French farmers, or else in salt production. The capital was in Kaskaskia, just across the river from eventually-slaveholding Missouri, and by 1820 would be in Vandalia, just at the northern fringe of Little Egypt.

L: If I could interject a population note--- in 1820, Little Egypt could account for about 50,000 of the 55,000 Americans living in Illinois, or 90% of the population. By 1830, however, Little Egypt accounted for just 50% of the population, as migration spread further and further north, and as the population came to have more and more Ohioans, Pennsylvanians, Yankees, and some native-born Illinoisans who grew up without slavery being normalized in their everyday life.

B: So then, between 1820 and 1830, Little Egypt accounted for at least 50% of the state’s population, right?

L: Yes, absolutely. There’s no point between 1820 and 1830 where more than half the population lived in the areas that would, eventually, be friendly to the Liberty, Free Soil, or Republican parties. The state is overwhelmingly centered in the more southern-oriented Little Egypt.

B: Okay, well, that makes the story here even more interesting. See, Illinois gets its statehood in 1818. They elected a governor in a nonpartisan, uncontested election, one Shadrach Bond, a native of Maryland. Bond was term-limited at one term, and spent his time advocating for basic infrastructure improvements, like a road connecting the Mississippi and Ohio rivers via an inland route.

L: Presumably he saw more financial success than Indiana’s projects got?

B: Well, yes, his projects were successful, but he never got his dream project, a canal connecting to Lake Michigan, approved. The canal that birthed Chicago would have to wait until the 1840s.

L: Okay, boring infrastructure story, check. This is definitely an episode about the midwest.

B: Right, so, in 1822, Illinois elects another governor. This time, four men run. Three were Democratic-Republicans, and all pro-slavery. One was an independent candidate, a Virginian, a personal friend of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, and the former personal secretary to President Madison, Edward Coles.

L: That dude’s got a resume.

B: Yeah--- we have extensive correspondence documented between him and multiple founding fathers, and he actively promoted historical documentation of his and their lives, so we know quite a bit about this guy. For example, we know he lied to his Virginian family to ensure that he would inherit a plantation with slaves, just so he could emancipate those slaves.

L: Wow. Dude had conviction.

B: He then spent his life trying to get Madison to emancipate his slaves, though he didn’t succeed in that. But anyways, Coles moved to Illinois with his former slaves, bought them land, helped them get jobs, then ran the local land office parceling out claims for new settlers. His opponents were two Illinois Supreme Court justices, one from Tennessee named Joseph Phillips, and one from Kentucky named Thomas Browne, and also one James B. Moore, about whom I haven’t found much information. Anyways, all three were pro-slavery. And, together, they won ⅔ of the 8,600 votes cast. But Coles came out with 2,845 votes, 200 more than the next highest candidate, and so became governor.

L: But, to be clear, that means he, a fairly committed abolitionist, became governor of a state where ⅔ of the voters had just voted for pro-slavery men.

B: Correct.

L: So he was likely to face some hard political battles.

B: Also correct. In fairly short order, the pro-slavery faction called for a referendum to revise the Illinois constitution to allow wider legalization of slavery. There were three hurdles in this process: first, get the legislature to put a referendum on the ballot. Second, win that referendum. Third, hold a convention and get pro-slavery amendments inserted into it. Then, not directly related but a likely outcome, defend the new constitution from likely Federal responses trying to maintain free- and slave-state balances.

L: Well, obviously they failed somewhere in there.

B: Right! To begin with, they swept the legislature, such that a huge share of Illinois’ elected officials were slaveholders, despite the state having under 1,000 enslaved people in it. Four of the five newspapers in the state had pro-slavery editorial leanings. Only two state-level elected officials, Coles and one other, were openly anti-slavery.

L: So the entire elite apparatus of state government was ready for slavery.

B: Yeah, and, as you might guess, Coles was unable to stop the legislature from calling for a referendum. The referendum’s results were, initially, a foregone conclusion: the pro-slavery side was going to win. But as it turns out, the pollsters in Illinois were not always reliable.

TRANSITION MUSIC

L: So…. back up here, they had pollsters in Illinois?

B: Hah! No, not actually, but it turns out the anti-slavery crowd was always bigger than people thought. In fact, Coles had been so certain he was going to lose his own initial election, he’d already gone home to Virginia! And in the referendum of 1824, the pro-slavery side didn’t even bother to run a campaign for the first few months.

L: That seems dumb. Even if you think you’ll win, you still have to put your back into it and earn peoples’ votes.

B: True. Especially if your opponents are highly motivated, have financial support to print materials, and are clandestinely helped by the big-city abolitionist presses of the east, as happened in this case. The anti-slavery cause rallied together, distributed materials, and succeeding in convincing people to vote anti-slavery. The August 2, 1824 vote came to 6,640 votes against a new constitution to 4,972 votes for it. That makes 11,600 votes cast, solidly 3,000 more than were cast just 2 years earlier in 1822. Just a few months later, in the Presidential election of 1824, only 4,700 ballots were cast. Oddly enough, in the 1824 election, John Quincy Adams won the popular vote in Illinois with 1500 votes, but only got 1 of the state’s 3 electors; Jackson got the other 2. Illinois used a districted system to select its electors, and Adams’ supporters seem to only have been a majority in one district, the northernmost one. By the 1828 election, Jackson would sweep Illinois with 9,500 out of 14,000 votes.

L: So what I hear you saying is that the constitutional referendum, which was basically about slavery, had very high turnout.

B: Exactly. And, to get 60% of the vote to go for the anti-slavery side in 1824 makes it almost a mathematical necessity that some meaningful share of the population in Little Egypt voted against slavery.

L: Oh, right, okay, now I see the point here. Yeah, with only 4,972 ballots cast for the pro-slavery side, it turns out that their absolute number of votes had even declined since 1822. Nearly 1,000 people who voted for pro-slavery gubernatorial candidates then turned around and voted against a implicitly pro-slavery constitutional convention.

B: Which, to me, says a few things: first, that the anti-slavery campaign was pretty effective at persuading people to change their vote, and second that there was a lot more than just slavery being debated in some of these races.

L: I mean, the huge increase in votes cast also suggests, to me, that there was probably an influx of anti-slavery voters, maybe including Yankees.

B: Yeah, that’s likely. But before you get me off topic, I want to mention that another issue may have been in play. Illinois antebellum politics has sometimes been portrayed, especially by those friendly to the pro-slavery side, as being a battle between “the Big Folks,” meaning elites, and especially east-coast elites, and “the White Folks,” meaning the southerners who dominated the early years of the state’s history.

L: That sounds kind of like the “real America” versus “elites” that we hear about today.

B: To some extent, yes. Though, thankfully, today, while “real America” still definitely has racial significance in many settings, we at least don’t go so far as to explicitly identify “real” Americans with whiteness. There’s at least some sense that there’s some non-racial issue here, even though, obviously, claims to being “real America” sometimes are about race.

L: Also, it’s kind of weird that the white elites were not rhetorically included as being white people. Not sure what to make of that.

B: Well, it’s kind of like how Hoosier, which may have originally been a disparaging term, came to be a term of honor. The migrants into Illinois, like Indiana, were the poor upland southerners, those who didn’t want to have or couldn’t afford to have slaves. They were rejecting the elitist planter aristocracy as much as anything else, and so it may be that the contemporary Illinoisans’ rhetoric of “White People” versus “Big People” reflected a view of the white working class as a racial group, in some sense separate from planter elites.

L: Now that I think about it, that’s exactly how pre-Revolutionary enslaved Haiti worked too. There were “Big whites” and “small whites,” meaning plantation owners and workers or merchants, and they operated like different races in many situations. Which, gratuitous plug for other Podcasts here: Mike Duncan’s Revolutions series on Haiti is amazing, and you should all listen to it.

B: Because of course we can’t have an episode where we don’t advertise other podcasts.

L: Nope.

B: Aaaaanyways… back to the story I was trying to tell before you rudely interrupted. Despite being a southern white, Coles’ high level of education, his frequent physical illnesses, his association with eastern elites, his principled abolitionism, and even his status as part of the elite plantation aristocracy all led many of the “White People” to identify him with the “Big People;” Coles and his Yankee-migrant allies were painted as out-of-touch elites.

L: Err… but didn’t we say that most of the government officials, newspapers, and slave-owners in Illinois were in the pro-slavery group?

B: Yeahh…. Soooo…. That’s the thing. The proslavery faction presented itself as pretty downtrodden, pretty “common man” oriented. They were really latching onto the political style we’ll eventually identify as Jacksonianism. But at the end of the day, the vast majority of the elites in Illinois were pro-slavery! The anti-slavery referendum outcome only happened because common people, Yankees in the center and north, but also southerners in Little Egypt, rejected the move towards slavery that elites had tried to foist on them.

L: So, in practice, this “White People” vs “Big People” distinction is even more ridiculous: both sides were white, and the “big people” were probably less likely to be elites in Illinois?

B: Yeah. Turns out that sometimes people claiming to channel populism are actually just rich elitists pursuing the economic interests of their salt mines, tobacco plantations, or resort hotels.

L: Zing!

TRANSITION MUSIC

L: We’re running long here, so we’ll hasten forward. Looking back on the referendum of 1824, it seems impressive. Illinois’ rejection of slavery stemmed the otherwise rapid tide of new slave states entering the union, and solidified the westward march of the free states. Had Illinois become a slave state, who knows what would have happened to Iowa or the Dakotas? Slavery-desensitized Illinoisans might have brought the execrable commerce there as well.

B: Slavery remained contentious in Illinois, and wouldn’t be fully abolished until 1845. But before then, there were two other key events to note: the relocation of Illinois’ capital, and the Black Hawk War.

L: We can start with the Black Hawk War. In 1832 and 1833, US soldiers and Illinois militia faught a war with a Native chief named Black Hawk. The issue in question was ownership of land in northwest Illinois. William Henry Harrison had signed a treaty giving the US rights to the land, but the chiefs who signed that treaty… maybe weren’t really chiefs, and maybe didn’t really know exactly what land they were selling, and maybe, had they known, wouldn’t have sold for so low a price.

B: We’re hitting this issue very fast, but, rest assured, the next round of episodes after the Northwest Ordinance will be all about Native Americans, so be aware our cursory treatment here is not the last word we’ll have.

L: No, certainly not. But anyways, by 1828 the US was ready to sell the northern Illinois land to new settlers, again, largely Yankees or other northerners. That meant it was time for the natives, in this case the Sauk tribe, to leave. Most did, despite the treaty’s dubious provenance. But a few, led by the military leader Black Hawk, resisted. The ensuing war was brutal, and some of the battles would be better termed massacres.

B: Needless to say, Black Hawk lost the war, badly. The land was surveyed, parceled up, and sold to cheerful sleigh-riding Yankees who, because they never held slaves, are the good guys of antebellum American history.

L: But the Black Hawk War is really notable because it introduces us to two young men who get a taste of military service there, and would eventually come to, between them, spill the blood of 750,000 Americans. Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis served in the Black Hawk War; Lincoln as an enthusiastic militiaman intent on enforcing Illinois’ claims, Davis as a young US Army officer given personal charge of the captured chief Black Hawk, and who was noted by that chief for his concern for Black Hawk’s dignity, and his kindness.

B: An ironic remembrance.

L: Certainly. But what was that about a capital change for Illinois?

B: Oh, right! In 1833, they have a referendum on where to move it to from Vandalia. The winner was actually Alton, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis. But it was such a narrow margin, no move was made. But in 1837, the legislature, prodded along in no small part by the budding young politician Abraham Lincoln, voted to move to Springfield instead for a nice, centralized location. And with that, I think we have a good stopping point. By 1837, the last natives are removed from Illinois, the modern capital is established, the non-southern population is booming, and Chicago has begun to grow.

L: Which means the next episode will be almost entirely about Chicago! But, before that, I thought I’d share a short quote from a speech Lincoln gave in 1856, reflecting on the 1824 referendum: It was by that policy that here in Illinois the early fathers fought the good fight and gained the victory. In 1824 the free men of our State, led by Governor Coles... determined that those beautiful groves should never re-echo the dirge of one who has no title to himself. By their resolute determination, the winds that sweep across our broad prairies shall never cool the parched brow, nor shall the unfettered streams that bring joy and gladness to our free soil water the tired feet, of a slave; but so long as those heavenly breezes and sparkling streams bless the land, or the groves and their fragrance or their memory remain, the humanity to which they minister SHALL BE FOR EVER FREE! Palmer, Yates, Williams, Browning, and some more in this convention came from Kentucky to Illinois (instead of going to Missouri), not only to better their conditions, but also to get away from slavery. They have said so to me, and it is understood among us Kentuckians that we don't like [slavery] one bit. Now, can we, mindful of the blessings of liberty which the early men of Illinois left to us, refuse a like privilege to the free men who seek to plant Freedom's banner on our Western outposts? Should we not stand by our neighbours who seek to better their conditions in Kansas and Nebraska? Can we as Christian men, and strong and free ourselves, wield the sledge or hold the iron which is to manacle anew an already oppressed race? "Woe unto them," it is written, "that decree unrighteous decrees and that write grievousness which they have prescribed." Can we afford to sin any more deeply against human liberty?

TRANSITION MUSIC

L: And with that, we complete the 14th episode of Migration Nation. Thanks for listening in, and we hope you’ll join us again next time as we turn our attention to America’s second city, Chicago. If you’d like more information about what we’re doing here, or would like to offer us your support, join us on the web at migrationpodcast.com, where you can find transcripts of our episodes, bonus nerdy materials from Brian and me.

B: For this week’s episode, we wanted to point listeners to a really great biography of Edward Coles. We relied heavily on this book, “Governor Edward Coles and the Vote to Forbid Slavery in Illinois,” by David Ress, for a lot of our material here related to Coles. Ress is a journalist and certainly has a strong political perspective in the book, but nonetheless presents a lot of fascinating information, and his writing is what tipped us off to the usefulness of this topic for the show in the first place.

L: As always, don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions or critiques! We love to hear from you! You can reach us @migrationcast or @lymanstoneky or @bphudson, as well as on Facebook at facebook.com/migrationpodcast. You can also email us at migrationpodcast@gmail.com. And if you like what you hear on Migration Nation and want us to do more of it, then the best thing you can do is to leave us a review on iTunes and share the show with your friends.

Let’s make America Migrate Again!

RUTH'S SUMMARY JINGLE


And yes, we know, Illinois's Cairo is pronounced "KAY-ro" or "CARE-o", but we opted to use the classic Egyptian pronunciation. We wanted to make obvious the Egypt connection.
We Kentuckians have our own share of towns with pronunciations that make no sense in the context of their Old World namesakes or antecedents: Louisville ("LUHL-vull"), Versailles ("Ver-SAILS"), and Athens ("AY-thenz"), just to name a few.