Monday, July 9, 2018

Important Chicago Firsts by the Kinzie Family.


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 by me personally, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.


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 Indians and likely learned the dominant language. He developed trading at the Kekionga, a center of the Miami people.
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.
In 1785, Kinzie helped rescue two sisters, U.S. citizens, who were kidnapped in 1775 from Virginia by the Shawnee Indians 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.

Antoine Ouilmette was the first permanent white settler of Chicago building a cabin at the mouth of the Chicago River in July of 1790

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 cabin and land from his partner William Burnett who in-turn bought it from Jean Baptiste La Limewho worked as an interpreter at Fort Dearborn, which he purchased it from the original builder, 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 de Sable" and first appears long after his death). The cabin was located at 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 Indians. 

In 1810 Kinzie and Whistler became embroiled in a dispute over Kinzie supplying alcohol to the Indians. In April, Whistler and other senior officers at the fort were removed; Whistler was replaced as commandant of the fort by Captain Nathan Heald.

Kinzie was said to be an "aggressive" trader and was described as a "volatile and violent character" who clashed with some American soldiers stationed at Fort Dearborn.

Jean Baptiste La Lime worked as an interpreter at Fort Dearborn and was a neighbor of John Kinzie. La Lime was Chicago's first murder victim. Tensions between Kinzie and La Lime came to a head on June 17, 1812, when the two men met outside Fort Dearborn. La Lime was armed with a pistol and Kinzie with a butcher’s knife. There was a witness account.

The War of 1812 began between Great Britain and the United States, and tensions rose on the northern frontier.

Kinzie fled to Milwaukee, then the 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."

The Fort Dearborn Massacre was partially due to the attack by Indians at Charles Lee's Place, today's Bridgeport neighborhood. On April 6, 1812, a party of ten or twelve Winnebagoes, dressed and painted, arrived at the Lee house, and, according to the custom among savages, entered and seated themselves without ceremony. What happened next was horrific. This incendent was the precursor to the Fort Dearborn Massacre later that summer.

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. Billy Caldwell arrived on the scene just after the battle and saved the lives of the John Kinzie family. That’s the traditional account of what had happened. Historians have been unable to verify it. 

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.

John Kinzie's Spouses
Eleanor Lytle Kinzie
1769–1834 (m. 1798)
Margaret MacKenzie Kinzie
1763–1859

John Kinzie's Children
William Kinzie
1789–1869
Elizabeth Kinzie
1791–1832
James Kinzie
1793–1866
John Harris Kinzie
1803–1865
Ellen Marion Kinzie Wolcott Bates
1804–1860
Maria Indiana Kinzie Hunter
1807–1887
Robert Allen Kinzie

1810–1873



Kinzie Family Firsts


John Kinzie call his house the "Mansion."
The bronze plaque is considered to be lost.
The first person born at Chicago of white parentage, was the daughter of John and Eleanor Kinzie and sister of Maria and Robert A. Kinzie. The event happened, in what was afterward known as the Kinzie House on the north side [of the river], (so Mrs. Whistler tells us,) and the little lady first saw the light upon the shore of the Divine River, (a name sometimes applied to the creek here in former days, though scarcely divine at present, if purity is an essential attribute), on one of the days of December, 1804. [Her published obituary, gave the date of her birth as December 1805; yet Mrs. Whistler assures us that it occurred earlier by some months, than that of her son Lewis, and that it was in winter or cold weather. Allowing the month to have been December, agreeable to the obituary referred to, the conclusion must be, that the year was that of 1804.] 

In due time, she was given the christian name of Ellen Marion [Kinzie], and her playmates in early childhood were often the Indian children, with whom she gathered the summer flowers along the sedgy banks of the quiet stream. But the war came, Fort Dearborn was abandoned, and then occurred an exhibition of brutal carnage which savages so delight in; it was the massacre at Chicago [Fort Dearborn]. But the household of John Kinzie, after various perils and escapes, under the care of friendly captors, were taken to St. Joseph, and thence to Detroit. The rebuilding of Fort Dearborn brought back the Kinzies to their old home.

The First Negro Slave in Chicago. 
"Black Jim" was brought here by John Kinzie in 1804.

Chicago's First Murder.
Jean Baptiste La Lime was killed by John Kinzie on June 17, 1812.

The First Wedding in Chicago.
Ellen Marion Kinzie, the daughter of John Kinzie one of Chicago's founders, married [at 18 years old] Dr. Alexander Wolcott, Jr. (1790-1830) who came to Chicago from Windsor, Connecticut, as an Indian Agent in 1820. They married on July 20, 1823. Her married name would therefore be Ellen Marion Wolcott. The marrage was eight years before the formation of Cook County, and at that time, this unorganized region was attached to Fulton County.

Everybody in the settlement received an invitation to the wedding. If anybody failed to be present it is not recorded in the “antiquities” of Chicago. Fort Dearborn had been evacuated a few weeks before the nuptial event, otherwise the festivities would have been attended by the officers and men of the garrison.

The Guest List:
  • Mr. and Mrs. John Kinzie, parents of the bride.
  • John, Harris and Robert Kinzie, brothers of the bride.
  • Maria Indiana Kinzie, sister of the bride.
  • James Kinzie, half brother of the bride.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Jean Baptiste Beaubien, and son Madore Beaubien.
  • M. du Pin, a French trader and wife, the latter was the widow of Charles Lee, who was scalped by the Indians at Fort Dearborn in April, 1812.
  • David McKee, the “village blacksmith,” who was a recent arrival.
  • Joseph Porthier, employee of McKee.
  • Victoire, Genevieve and Jean Baptiste Mirandeau, servants in the Kinzie household.
  • Antoine Ouilmette and wife, the former was in Mr. Kinzie’s employ.
Besides the mentioned there were two Indian chiefs in attendance at the wedding Billy Caldwell (Indian name: Saugannash) and Alexander Robinson (Che-che-pinqua). Both were sons of British officers, who had taken Indian wives, and both played a prominent part in early Chicago’s history.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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