History of DuSable
DuSable’s largest contribution to early Midwestern history is his Chicago settlement. Founded around 1778/1779 (although some scholars put him there as late as 1790), 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 (on the north bank of the Chicago River at its junction with Lake Michigan) 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. Thus, DuSable established the first permanent settlement in present-day Chicago and lived at that site for at least a decade. He set up a trading post which supplied 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, which helped his settlement flourish. More than a business, DuSable’s Chicago settlement was also the site of the first wedding-Suzanne DuSable to Jean Baptiste Pelletier and the first birth (DuSable’s granddaughter, Eulalia) in the city’s history.
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, 1818 in St. Charles.
Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable was born in St.Marc, St. Domingue (present-day Haiti) around 1745 to 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 St. Domingue prior to his migration to New Orleans around 1765. In fact, scholars debate DuSable’s origins, with some arguing that he had French Canadian roots. However, most biographers agree that the majority of evidence points to DuSable being a mulatto from present day Haiti. Upon his arrival in New Orleans, a popular city for Haitians in the 1770’s, DuSable made the epic journey up the Mississippi River. He eventually settled in Kaskaskia (present-day Peoria, Illinois). There, he maintained excellent relations with Native Americans and lived among various indigenous tribes. He eventually married Kitthawa (better known as Catherine), a member of the Potawatomie tribe. This common law marriage was solemnized in a Catholic church in Cahokia, Illinois in 1778. DuSable and Catherine went on to have two children, Jean-Baptiste Jr. and Suzanne.
DuSable became a powerful trader and pioneer of the Midwest, even becoming involved in the American Revolution. 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. However because of his good character DuSable was released within a few months and 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.
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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.)
Gates Jr., Henry Louis. “The First White Man in Chicago Was a Negro?” in The Root, September 30, 2013.
Rosier, Marc. Chicago’s Authentic Founder: Jean Baptiste Point DuSable or Haitian Secret Agent in the Old Northwest Outpost, 1745-1818. (Trafford Publishing, 2015)