In 1757 the French erected a fort and named it Fort Ascension near the mouth of the Tennessee River. It was strengthened in 1759 and renamed Fort Massiac in honor of a French minister. In 1765, under terms of a recently signed treaty, they surrendered it to the British. In 1778, George Rogers Clark, the older brother of William Clark, and his men captured the fort. In 1794 President George Washington ordered that Fort Massiac be fortified and rebuilt, and it was renamed an anglicized “Massac.” It became a major port of entry for settlers entering Illinois country.
On November 11, 1803, Lewis and Clark arrived at Fort Massac. Only two volunteers from Fort Massac met Captain Lewis's standards, and became members of the expedition. On November 13th, the Corps of Discovery left Fort Massac.
In 1805 Aaron Burr came to Fort Massac for a meeting with General Wilkinson. It is believed that Burr tried unsuccessfully to enlist Wilkinson's participation in a scheme to establish a nation west of the Alleghenies. In 1811, the New Madrid earthquake caused severe damage at the fort, but the damage was repaired and the fort became headquarters for the 24th Infantry. The fort was evacuated in 1814 and its garrison was moved to St. Louis. Nearby settlers stripped the fort of its wood and bricks.
In 1903, the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased 24 acres surrounding the site. On November 5, 1908, it was officially dedicated as Illinois' first state park. Currently, a replica of an 1802 American fort stands on the site.