The Brown Skin Pioneer who Founded the Windy City, Jean Baptiste DuSable

Jean Baptiste DuSable, also known as Jean Baptiste Point DuSable (Point de SablePoint au SablePoint SablePointe DuSable) was a black pioneer trader and founder of the settlement that later became the city of Chicago. 

About DuSable

His french father moved to Haiti, where he met and married DuSable’s mother, a slave of African descent. DuSable was later born in Santa Domingo, Haiti, in 1745. According to legend, Jean Baptiste’s mother was killed during a Spanish raid, and the young DuSable swam out to his father’s ship to take refuge.

Around the 1770s, he went to the Great Lakes area of North America and settled by the Chicago River, developing a trading post around 1779 with his wife. The frontier settlement was known as “shikaakwa,”. The name came from the Algonquin language: meaning “striped skunk” or “onion.” According to early explorers, the lakes and streams around the area were full of wild onions, leeks, and ramps. Now known as Chicago.  

In the mid-18th century, the Native American Potawatomi tribe and previously the Miami, Sauk, and Fox peoples inhabited the Lake Michigan area. Jean Baptiste DuSable built the first house/trade-in post and created the foundation of what we know as CHICAGO! 

Six Interesting facts about the founder of Chicago

1. The British arrested him

Lt. Thomas Bennett arrested DuSable at Michigan City, Indiana, on suspicion that he was a spy. He worked for the British lieutenant governor of Michilimackinac on an estate near Detroit called St. Clair. They released him after reviewing his credentials because they were so impressive. 

2. DuSable spoke several languages.

Jean Baptiste DuSable traveled to France, where he worked on his father’s ships. In France, he learned to access some education and understand several languages. He spoke Spanish, French, English, and several Native American dialects. At his trading post, DuSable served Native Americans, British, and French explorers and was an entrepreneur and mediator. 

3. His contributions went largely unnoticed.

He built a cabin near Lake Michigan, north of the Chicago River. Du Sable sold his property to Jean Baptiste DuSable La Lime, a trader from Quebec. The reason for DuSable’s departure is unknown. However, La Lime sold the property to William Burnett, John Kinzie’s business partner. Kinzie when buys the house in 1804 from Burnett until 1828.  Kinzie was recognized and referred to as “Chicago’s first citizen.” In 1912, the city’s first recognition DuSable when a plaque was placed on a building near his cabin site.

4. He was wealthy

The house built by John Baptiste DuSable close to the mouth of the Chicago River as it appeared when owned by the Kinzie family in the early 1800s
The house built by John Baptiste Point du Sable close to the mouth of the Chicago River as it appeared when owned by the Kinzie family in the early 1800s

According to original manuscripts regarding the sale of DuSable’s property, his cabin was spacious, with a roomy salon with five rooms. His home featured five rooms, including:

  • A large fireplace and a store
  • four glass doors
  • couch
  • four tables
  • a bureau,
  • seven chairs
  • a pair of candlesticks
  • an iron coffee mill
  • a pair of scales
  • weights
  • a giant feather bed
  • 23 European paintings

In addition, he owned smoke and bakehouses, huts and stables for employees and an orchard, and a fenced garden. Inside his home included paintings, mirrors, and walnut furniture.

5. He gave his property to a neighbor

There is no documentation that says he had any living relatives. Many believe he outlived them all. However, a document posted in the DuSable Museum in Chicago writes that when he became seriously ill in 1813, he gave his property to a neighbor, Eulalie Barada. Also, he asked her to promise to take care of him, and feed his hogs and chickens, as well as repair his house, and bury him in the parish cemetery. 

6. He became increasingly involved in the affairs of the Potawatomi tribe.

 On October 27, 1788, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable married a Potawatomi Indian named Kittihawa ((Christianized to Catherine). They had a Catholic ceremony in Cahokia, a longtime French Illinois Country (a village in St. Charles, IL). The couple may have been already married in the Native American tradition. DuSable and his wife later had a son named Jean, and a daughter that was named Suzanne in memory of Jean-Baptiste’s mother. His Potawatomi Indian wife helped translate for him and gave him access to a vast network for trading. The Potawatomi thought of DuSable as a brother, leader, and counselor. 

 Jean Baptiste DuSable grave at Saint Charles Borromeo Cemetery in Saint Charles, St. Charles County, Missouri.
Saint Charles Borromeo Cemetery in Saint Charles, St. Charles County, Missouri.

After Jean Baptiste DuSable sold his estate on May 7, 1800, he returned to Peoria, Illinois. Soon after, he later moved to St. Charles, Missouri, where he died at the age of 72 or 73 on August 28, 1818.

Buried at Saint Charles Borromeo Cemetery in Saint Charles, St. Charles County, Missouri. 

Honors 

  • Several institutions, parks, and museums have been named in honor of Point DuSable
  • DuSable High School in Bronzeville, Chicago
  • DuSable Museum of African American History
  • DuSable Harbor in downtown Chicago ( Randolph Street)
  • DuSable Park is an urban park in Chicago. 
  • A park is named after du Sable in St Charles
  • The US Postal Service has also honored Point du Sable with the issue of a Black Heritage Series 22-cent postage stamp on February 20, 1987.
  • The Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable Homesite located at what is now 401 N. Michigan Avenue.
  •  The Michigan Avenue Bridge renamed DuSable Bridge in honor of Point du Sable in 2010

Work Cited

The Evolved Man of the Week: Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable …. https://lornettvestal.com/2020/02/11/the-evolved-man-of-the-week-jean-baptiste-point-du-sable/

Jean Du Sable, Explorer who founded Chicago – African …. https://aaregistry.org/story/jean-du-sable-explorer-who-founded-chicago/

What Does “Chicago” Mean? | Origin of the Word “Chicago …. https://theskydeck.com/things-to-do-in-chicago/what-does-chicago-mean/

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