Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Charles Jouett, the First U.S. Indian Agent Residing at Chicago.


In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.


Charles Jouett (not "Jewett," as it is often mistakenly written) was born in Louisa County, Virginia, in 1772, and was the youngest of a family of four boys and five girls. His father was John Jouett, of Charlottesville, Va., and the maiden name of his mother was Harris. The father was with the Virginians at Braddock's defeat, and John, Jr., and Robert fought the enemy in many of the battles of the Revolutionary War. 

John, Jr., or Jack as he was usually called, received a vote of thanks and a sword it is said, from the Legislature of Virginia, for an exhibition of daring and timely notice to that body, whose capture by Col. Tarleton was determined on. Jouett having knowledge of the plan, and being mounted in the guise of a British dragoon (cavalry), passed (a necessity under the circumstances) through the enemy's camp without detection, and gave the alarm.

Another story has been told of Jack Jouett; while with Gen. Greene, in North Carolina, in the vicinity of Guilford Court-House, on one occasion near a spring between the contending forces, he pounced upon an incautious Briton (Britain) who had come for water, and easily carried him away under one arm as prisoner. It is proper here to say that John Jouett, Senior, and his four sons, were all of gigantic stature and strength. Charles Jouett is said to have been raised under the immediate notice and enjoyed the friendship of presidents Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. He studied law and practiced a few years in Charlottesville, Virginia, but in 1802, he accepted from the Government the appointment of Indian agent at Detroit, Michigan. Mr. Jouett ably filled this position, not only there, but after his transfer to the new and perhaps more important agency at Chicago.

In 1804, while in Michigan, he took measures at the request of the Government, to learn the facts concerning the settlements at Detroit and vicinity, and submitted an extended report of the same, which appears in one of the printed volumes of American State Papers. Charles Jouett was the first Indian agent stationed at Chicago; and William Wells, (Captain Wells, subsequently killed at Chicago Fighting for U.S. at the Fort Dearborn Massacre), the Agent at Fort Wayne, had been advised by the Department, October 17, 1804, that the annuities of the Pottawattamie and Kickapoo Indians under his charge, would in future be sent to Chicago. Mr. Jouett under his new appointment moved here in 1805, and by instructions from the War Department, was informed, October 26, of that year, that there would be included in his agency here, the Sacs, Foxes, and Pottawattamies, as well as other [Illiniwek] tribes in the vicinity of Chicago.

Hon. John Wentworth, in a supplement to one of his lectures, gives the names of quite a number of Virginians who were early residents of Chicago; to those may be added that of Charles Jouett. Mr. Jouett had married in 1803, Miss Eliza Dodomead; she died in 1805. From the time of his first arrival at Chicago, we are unable to state precisely how often or how long he was absent from this post, yet we are advised of one furlough at least, reaching along through the holidays it is understood, in the winter of 1808-09. The occasion was his (2nd) marriage, the lady being Miss Susan Randolph Allen, of Clark County, Ky., and we must characterize it as something extraordinary, that their wedding-tour was made on horseback, in the month of January, through the jungles, over the snow-drifts, on the ice, and across the prairies, in the face of driving storms, and the frozen breath of the winds of the north. They had on their journey, a Negro servant named Joe Battles, and an Indian guide whose name was Robinson, possibly the late chief Alex Robinson. A team and wagon followed, conveying their baggage, and they marked their route for the benefit of any future traveler.

After some six years residence here, Mr. Jouett, probably from Indian difficulties and complications, which rendered a continuance in the office impracticable, resigned his position in 1811, and removed to Kentucky, and settled in Mercer County, near Harrodsburg. In 1812, he was made one of the Judges of that county. After the close of the war with England, and the rebuilding of Fort Dearborn, Judge Jouett again occupied the position of Indian Agent at Chicago, having been re-appointed in 1815, and made the journey to this place across the country, accompanied by his family. 

The first Agency Building, or United States Factory, as sometimes called, Mrs. Whistler told us, was near the river on the south side, a short space above Fort Dearborn; and in Mrs. John Kinzie's book "Wau-Bun, the Early Day in the Northwest," (published 1873), we are informed that "it was an old fashioned log-building, with a hall running through the center, and one large room on each side. Piazzas (veranda) extended the whole length of the building in front and rear." This structure is understood to have been built soon after Mr. Jouett came; it did not of course survive the destruction of the first Fort Dearborn.

The Agency House, during Judge Jouett's second term as Indian Agent here, and the home of his family during the period, was on the north side of the river. It was a log-building of two large rooms, standing some "two or three hundred yards from the lake," and close by the river. "It was about twenty steps from the river bank," says a lady now living, a daughter of Judge Jouett, and who, coming with her parents in 1816, remained here several years. The log-domicile referred to, was one built previous to the evacuation of Fort Dearborn, in 1812, and we much believe that it was the same frequently spoken of in connexion with an earlier date as "the Burns house." It stood where a freight depot of the N.W. Railroad once stood, at corner of North State and Water Streets. The future building of the Indian Agency, sometimes called "Cobweb Castle," was afterwards erected close by it; indeed it was already commenced, but never occupied or completed during Judge Jouett's sojourn here. We will here remark that the timbers of the old log-building were a stolid (a person, calm, dependable, and showing little emotion or animation) witness to a deed of blood, supplementary perhaps to the massacre on the south side of the river. Says Mrs. Callis (the daughter of Judge Jouett), "The house in which my father lived, was built before the massacre of 1812; I know this from the fact that ' White Elk,' an Indian chief, and the tallest Indian I ever saw, was frequently pointed out to me as the savage who had dashed out the brains of the children of Sukey Corbin (a camp-follower and washer-woman), against the side of this very house." We have reason to think that this savage was the same fiend that had previously tomahawked the dozen other children, after the action and surrender by the soldiers. Mrs. Jouett told her daughter of a frantic mother[1], a former acquaintance of hers, who on that occasion fought the monster all the while the butchery was being done, yet who in turn fell a victim herself. Says Mrs. Corbin "how I shuddered at the sight of this terrible savage." In Augustin Grignon's Recollections, we find that he speaks of Op-po-mis-shah or the "White Elk" as a Menominee chief of "considerable distinction." He may have been; yet if he was the same Indian before spoken of (of which, however, we are not sure, as we supposed the Menominees did not take part in the attack at Chicago), his deeds of cowardly butchery here will ever distinguish this child murderer as eminent in brutality[2]. Mrs. Corbin remembers that Mr Kinzie lived near the lake, opposite the Fort, at the old cabin or "Kinzie House," the picture of which is familiar to readers of Chicago history. 
1827 Illustration of the house built  at the mouth of the Chicago River. Kinzie purchased the cabin and land from his partner William Burnett who in-turn bought it from Jean B. La Lime who purchased it from the original builder, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. John Kinzie owned it from 1804 to 1828. Claimed to be the first house build in Chicago.
She says, "between my father's house and Mr. Kinzie's was a house occupied by a gunsmith, a Mr. Bridges, who had been a silversmith. A man named Dean had a store near Mr. Kinzie's house; there may have been other houses which I do not remember. Just across the river from our house, and near the river bank, was a little space enclosed by a paling (a fence made from pointed wooden), where, on the surface of the ground, lay bleaching, the bones of Nou-no-ga, an Indian who had befriended some of the whites in their peril, at the time of the massacre, but was pursued and killed at that spot, it was said. My father's interpreter was James Riley.[3]

My mother was respected and loved by the Indians; many were frequent visitors at her home, and were especially kind to her children, sister and myself. Our nurse was an Indian girl, a faithful, devoted servant, who afterward married a soldier of the garrison."

We notice that the agents of the Indian Department, within the then Illinois Territory, were all in 1817, placed under the superintendence of this Territory. "The most strict and vigorous economy in the expenditures," was enjoined by the War Department, and "the whole amount of the expenditures for the Indian Department within the Illinois Territory, including rations, presents, contingencies of Agents," etc., etc., was " limited to $25,000 per annum." 

Judge Jouett secured the confidence of the Indians by kind and honorable treatment; we add also that his commanding presence and physical strength doubtless added to his influence with them; his height was six feet and three inches; he stood erect, broad-shouldered, and muscular. An incident is told of by Mrs. Corbin of a fearless encounter which her father had here with a drunken Indian chief named Aborigine, called "Mar Pock," because his face was badly disfigured by small-pox, who was brandishing his scalping-knife with furious menaces, betokening (be a warning or indication of a future event) bloody violence; but Jouett, confronting the savage sternly ordered him to give up his knife; we are told that Mr. Aborigine immediately quailed and surrendered. 

The name given by the Indians to Judge Jouett was "The White Otter;" his negro servant they called "Blackmeat."

Judge Jouett finally resigned the Agency in Chicago in 1818 (or '19), and returned to Mercer County, Ky. He was soon appointed by President Monroe to the position of Judge of the U. S. Court for Arkansas, where he moved, and assisted in the organization of that Territorial Government, etc.; but the unhealthiness of that region at the time obliged him to relinquish the position within a half year. In 1820, he moved to Trigg County, Kentucky, which was afterward his home.

His death occurred while on his way to Lexington, at the house of a friend in Barren County, Kentucky, May 28, 1834, being in his 62nd year. His widow, Mrs. Susan R. Jouett, died near Hopkinsville, Kentucky, in 1871. Judge Jouett's children were (1st marrage) Jane Harris, born 1804, died in Christian County, Kentucky, 1839. (2nd marrage) Charles La Lime, born in Chicago, Oct., 1809, died 1810; Catharine, born in Mercer County, Kentucky, Feb. 8, 1811; Susan M., born in Mercer County, Kentucky, Nov. 1812; Mildred R., born in Mercer County, Kentucky, July, 1814; the two last named are living in Kentucky (at the time this was written in 1876). Mr. William O. Callis, a grandson of Judge Jouett, now, (in 1876), resides in Chicago.

The following, relating to Judge Jouett, written at the time of his decease, was not an unmerited tribute to his worth: "Few men in the United States Indian Department ever showed more devotion to the interests of the Government, more unbending integrity of purpose or promptitude of action, or more impartiality and justice to the Indians; few had more the confidence of the Government. The management, finesse, and double-dealing, by which so many Indian Agents have enriched themselves from the spoils of the Indians, whose rights it was their duty to maintain, had no place in the school of honor where he was educated.

By Chicago Antiquities, published 1881
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


[1] Perhaps the same Mrs. Corbin, before referred to, and who is spoken of also in Mrs. Kinzie's book "Wau-Bun, the Early Day in the Northwest." In that work the name of Mrs. Corbin appears as part of the statement of Mrs. Helm, but in the earlier published account, from which much of the Wau-Bun account is copied, Mrs. Corbin's name is not mentioned, nor is that part of the incident which is there, given as communicated by Mrs. Helm. This may possibly account for some little indefiniteness or confusion regarding the locality of the Corbin family murder. Vet the main facts of a horrid slaughter cannot be doubted.

[2] The "White Elk" referred to by Grignon, joined Tecumseh the following year (1813), from which it seems probable that he was the same as the one at Chicago.

[3] James Riley, and his brothers Peter and John, were sons of Judge Riley, of Schenectady, who was at one time a trader with the Indians at Saginaw. The boys were half-breeds, the mother being of the Indian race. Judge Witherell says, "They were educated men. When with white people, they were gentlemanly, high-toned, honoralile fellows; when with the Indians in the forest, they could be perfect Indians, in dress, language, hunting, trapping, and mode of living. The three were thorough-going Americans in every thought and feeling." The British authorities, it is said, were so jealous of the active enmity of James Riley during the war of 1812, that they procured his capture, and sent him to Halifax for awhile. In what year we are not informed, but he finally lost his life by the explosion of a keg of gunpowder at Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

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