History of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable


A bust of Chicago's first resident,
Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, by
Marion Perkins. Photo courtesy of
the Chicago Historical Society.

Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable was born in St.Marc, Haiti (or St. Domingue as Haiti was known then) around 1745 of a French father and a Black African Slave mother. There is a paucity of information in the historical record as pertains to DuSable’s life in Haiti prior to his migration to New Orleans around 1765. Many scholars suggest that DuSable may have had French Canadian origins. However most biographers generally agree that the majority of evidence regarding his origins leads to the conclusion that he was a mulatto from present day Haiti. 

Once in New Orleans, DuSable made the epic journey up the Mississippi River where in the mid to late 1770’s he built a home and cultivated approximately 30 acres of land in Peoria, Illinois. He maintained excellent relations with Native Americans and lived among indigenous tribes where he married Catherine, the daughter of Potawatomie Chief Pokagon in a tribal ceremony. This common law marriage was solemnized in a Catholic church in Cahokia, Illinois in 1778. Jean-Baptiste and Catherine had two children, Jean-Baptiste Jr. and Suzanne. In 1793 or 1794 Suzanne married Jean-Baptiste Peltier. Suzanne bore a daughter Eulalie in Chicago in October of 1796. Historical evidence suggests that DuSable must have settled in Chicago prior to 1779. 

Located on the north bank of the Chicago River at its junction with Lake Michigan, DuSable’s estate consisted of a modest sized home, a horse mill, a bake house, a dairy, a smokehouse, a poultry house, a workshop, a stable, and a barn. The location of this settlement was at a natural crossroad for both Native Americans and Europeans seeking access to the Mississippi River. Many explorers and pioneers had come in passing prior to this settlement however none had stayed. DuSable established the first permanent settlement in present day Chicago and lived at that site for at least twenty years. He set up a trading post which flourished supplying customers with flour, pork, and bread in exchange for cash and durable goods. DuSable had established a good reputation with trading relations as far as Detroit, Green Bay, Mackinac and St. Joseph. 


"Chicago In 1779 (Then called Eschikago)"
by  A. Ackermann & Sons, Paris, France, 1930. 
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

During the period of the American Revolutionary War, DuSable sided with the Americans. Historical evidence suggests that DuSable had ties to Colonel George Rogers Clark of Virginia, who was sent to Illinois and Indiana to win the territories for the Americans. To avoid attack by Captain Charles de Langlade, DuSable fled with his family and settled on the River du Chemin (near modern day Michigan City, Indiana). In 1779, he was subsequently arrested by a British lieutenant, Thomas Bennet and sent to Mackinac.

DuSable remained in detention for the remainder of the American Revolution. However because of his good character DuSable was sent to the Pinery a trading outpost located on the St. Clair River, south of modern day Port Huron.  The Pinery had been established by the British Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair. Upon receiving news that the present manager had been mistreating the indigenous people of the area, Governor Sinclair appointed DuSable as manager where he worked for a period of three years. 

In 1784 DuSable returned to Chicago to reclaim his abandoned property and to reestablish his trading post. His business thrived and he lived in peace among Native Americans and white traders traveling through the area.  Historical accounts of white traders, British Governors and Lieutenants describe DuSable as a wealthy man of good character, sound business acumen, and with many friends.













"Chicago In 1779 (Then called Eschikago)" Showing the Cabin of Jean Baptiste Point de Sable 'Colored'
The 1st Permanent Settler. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

In May of 1800, DuSable sold all of his property in Chicago to Jean La Lime, a French-Canadian fur trapper from St. Joseph for 6,000 pounds. The sale was recorded in Detroit and witnessed by John Kinzie. Four years later Kinzie would purchase the estate from La Lime. The reasons for which DuSable sold his estate are unknown. Some historians suggest that he sought new adventures others suggest that DuSable may have been forced to leave. Subsequent to the sale of property, DuSable returned to his land in Peoria for over a decade and then retired to St.Charles, Missouri. Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable died on August 28, 1819 in St. Charles.

Bennett, Lerone
Negro who founded Chicago. (in Ebony. Chicago, December 1963. v.19,no2, p.170-178)

Cook, Mercer
Chicago's Haitian Ancestor.(p.24-27, 41. Americas. v. 4, February 1952)

Lindberg, Richard C.
Jean Baptiste Point Dusable. (American National Biography. New York: Oxford, 1999. v.7, p.166-168.)

Meehan, Thomas A
Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the first Chicagoan. (Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. Springfield, 1963. v.56, p.439-453.)

 

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DuSable Heritage Association
P.O. Box 6121
Chicago, IL 60680
Tel/Fax:  (312) 938-0341

Tel/Fax:  (312) 938-0341