Wednesday, April 12, 2017

John Kinzie, one of Chicago's Founding Fathers.

John Kinzie (1763–1828) was born in Quebec City, Canada (then in the Colonial Province of Quebec) to John and Anne McKenzie, Scots-Irish immigrants. His father died before Kinzie was a year old, and his mother remarried. In 1773, the boy was apprenticed to George Farnham, a silversmith. Some of the jewelry created by Kinzie has been found in archaeological digs in Ohio. By 1777, Kinzie had become a trader in Detroit, where he worked for William Burnett. As a trader, he became familiar with local Native American peoples and likely learned the dominant language. He developed trading at the Kekionga, a center of the Miami people.
Illustration of the house built by Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable at the mouth of the Chicago River as it appeared in 1827 when owned by John Kinzie from 1804 to 1828 Claimed to be the first house build in Chicago. 
In 1785, Kinzie helped rescue two sisters, U.S. citizens, who were kidnapped in 1775 from Virginia by the Shawnee and adopted into the tribe. One of the girls, Margaret McKinzie, married him; her sister Elizabeth married his companion Clark. Margaret lived with Kinzie in Detroit and had three children with him. After several years, she left Kinzie and Detroit, and returned to Virginia with their children. All three of the Kinzie children eventually moved as adults to Chicago.

In 1789, Kinzie lost his business in the Kekionga (modern Fort Wayne, Indiana) and had to move further from the western U.S. frontier. The U.S. was excluding Canadians from trade with the Native Americans in their territory. As the United States settlers continued to populate its western territory, Kinzie moved further west.

In 1800 Kinzie married again, to Eleanor Lytle McKillip. By the time they moved to Chicago, about 1803, they had a  son, John H. Kinzie. John H. was brought to Chicago by his fur-trading-friend-of-the-Indians father in 1804 when Fort Dearborn was just being completed. When John H. was 9 years old he witnessed the Fort Dearborn Massacre on August 15, 1812.

Eleanor had three more children in Chicago. Their daughter Ellen Marion Kinzie, believed to be the first European child of European descent born in Chicago, was born in 1805; followed by Maria Indiana in 1807, and Robert Allen Kinzie in 1810.

In 1804 Kinzie purchased the former house and lands of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, located near the mouth of the Chicago River. His partner William Burnett had owned the house since 1800. That same year, Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory appointed Kinzie as a justice of the peace.

After the U.S. citizens built Fort Dearborn, across the Chicago River from Kinzie's house, Kinzie's influence and reputation rose in the area; he was useful because of his relationship with the Native Americans. The War of 1812 began between Great Britain and the United States, and tensions rose on the northern frontier.

In June 1812, Kinzie killed Jean La Lime, who worked as an interpreter at Fort Dearborn. He fled to Milwaukee, then Indian territory. While in Milwaukee, he met with pro-British Indians who were planning attacks on U.S. settlements, including Chicago. Kinzie went back to Chicago. During this period, an inquest at Fort Dearborn under Captain Nathan Heald exonerated Kinzie in the killing of La Lime, ruling it was in self-defense. Historians speculate that La Lime may have been informing on corruption related to purchasing supplies within the fort and had been silenced. The case has been called "Chicago's first murder."

Although worried that Chicago would be on heightened alert, the Indians attacked Fort Dearborn on August 15, 1812, and killed most of the people in the fort. Kinzie escaped with his family unharmed and returned to Detroit. Identifying as a British citizen, Kinzie had a strong anti-U.S. streak.

In 1813, the British arrested Kinzie and Jean Baptiste Chardonnai, also then living in Detroit, charging them with treason. They were accused of having corresponded with the enemy (the U.S. General Harrison's army) while supplying gunpowder to chief Tecumseh's Indian forces, who were fighting alongside the British. Chardonnai escaped, but Kinzie was imprisoned on a ship for transport to England. When the ship put into port in Nova Scotia to weather a storm, Kinzie escaped. He returned to U.S. held Detroit by 1814.

Formerly identifying as a British citizen, Kinzie switched citzenship to the United States. He returned to live in Chicago with his family in 1816. Kinzie suffered a stroke on January 6, 1828 and died within a few hours. Originally buried at the Fort Dearborn Cemetery, Kinzie’s remains were moved to City Cemetery in 1835. When that cemetery was closed for the development of Lincoln Park, Kinzie's remains were once again moved, this time to Graceland Cemetery. 
John Kinzie's head stone at Chicago's Graceland Cemetery.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.