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
(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,
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
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.
Negro who founded Chicago. (in Ebony. Chicago, December 1963.
Chicago's Haitian Ancestor.(p.24-27, 41. Americas. v. 4,
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,