Thursday, December 1, 2016

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the first black, non-native settler of Chicagou.

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable
The first non-native permanent settler in what would become Chicago (Chicagoua). Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, (the "du" of Point du Sable is a misnomer. It is an American corruption of "de" as pronounced in French. "Jean Baptiste Point du Sable" first appears long after his death) was of mixed French and Haitian descent. 

He was born in San Marc, Haiti in 1745 to a French mariner. His mother was a black slave of African descent. In 1764 Du Sable and his friend Jacques Clemorgan moved from Haiti to New Orleans.

Du Sable was educated in France. Then in the early 1770s, sailed to New Orleans. From there, he made his way up the Mississippi River to Fort Crèvecoeur on the east bank of the Illinois River, near modern-day Peoria in the Northwest Territory. The young Du Sable and Clemorgan met Choctaw, a Native American from the Great Lakes. At the time, Choctaw was working at a Catholic mission, most likely, the "La Mission de L'Ange Gardien" [The Guardian Angel Mission], founded in 1696 by Father Pierre François Pinet on the Chicago River.

Du Sable, Clemorgan, and Choctaw later moved to the Northwest Territory. The three men started a trading post. Du Sable and Choctaw spent their time trapping in the woods, while Clemorgan devoted his time to hauling pelts downstream to New Orleans.

While trapping one spring day with Choctaw, Du Sable met Chief Pontiac, an important Indian leader. Little did they know that they would gain the respect of all the Indians of the Midwest in the weeks to come. Pontiac asked Du Sable and Clemorgan to arrange a peace treaty between the Ottawa, Miami, and Illinois tribes. Du Sable eagerly arranged the meeting in order to restore peace between the tribes.

Du Sable and Choctaw stayed a little longer than expected, but Du Sable was thankful, for it was during the stay that he met Catherine, a Potawatomi. He married Catherine in a tribal ceremony. The couple had two children, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Jr., and Suzanne and they lived in a cabin built by Du Sable and Choctaw. 
This log cabin was claimed to be on the west side of the North Branch of the Guarie (Gary) River [Chicago River] as being the location of the first trading post in the Chicago area. It may have been misidentified as Point du Sable's 1779 log cabin at the mouth of the Chicago River.
His cabin was built on a waterway that is now called the Chicago River, Du Sable called it Chicagou, the name given to it by the Indians, in French it's Chécagou. The marriage was formally recognized before a Catholic priest in Cahokia, in the Northwest Territory in 1778.
Chicago in 1820.
Du Sable became well known for trading goods throughout the Midwest. He expanded his cabin to a trading post, which later became a small community with a church, school, and store. By 1778 du Sable had a mansion house with fruit orchards, and livestock, docks, one-horse mill, and a pair of millstones, commercial buildings, a bakehouse, tools, furniture, and household goods. Pleased with his partner's accomplishments, Clemorgan went to St. Louis, Missouri, to close his own trading post for fear of damage during the war between Spain and Britain.

Du Sable's trading post was very prosperous. Settlers came to Du Sable's post from Quebec because of difficulties with the English who enforced strict rules regarding travel and free trade and heavily taxed them. Many wanted to buy land from Du Sable, but he refused to sell the land. Instead, he gave them some land.

Conditions, however, deteriorated in Du Sable's remote outpost. In 1778 British soldiers began to build a fort on Du Sable's land. They arrested Du Sable and about a week afterward the Indians ambushed more than half the troops at the fort and wounded many others. Thus, Indians became a colonial ally in the American Revolution.

In 1779, the war was declared on the British because they would not give up the fort, nor would they leave the Great Lakes. It was then that Du Sable understood that he and his friends could not keep the red coats away from the Great Lakes and that they would be there for years to come.

In 1800 after Du Sable's son and wife died, he sold his land to Jean B. La Lime and William Burnett an employee of his: La Lime later took in Dr. William C. Smith then the land was sold to John Kinzie in 1803.
An 1827 Illustration shows improvements the year before John Kinzie sells the property.
Meanwhile, Du Sable moved with his daughter, Suzanne, to St. Louis. Later, Suzanne and her husband moved to Canada and Du Sable lived with his granddaughter. Du Sable bought a house on a farm that he deeded to his grandchildren, Eulalie and Michael. This was on condition that Eulalie cares for him and promise to bury him with Catholic rites in a Catholic cemetery. 

For the next few years, Du Sable lived quietly on his St. Charles farm in Missouri. On August 29, 1818, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable at age seventy-three died quietly in his sleep. True to her word, Eulalie had a funeral mass held for her grandfather and buried him at the Catholic cemetery in St. Charles, Missouri. Du Sable passed away just before Illinois achieved statehood on December 3, 1818.

Although Chicago was not chartered as a town until August 12, 1833, its founding took place many years before when 
Du Sable opened his trading post beside the Chicago River. From this humble start came an important city, and Du Sable's life there in its early days is an important part of that heritage.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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