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Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable

Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable   1745 - 1818

‚ÄčChicago is one of the largest cities in the United States.  Its land was once no more than a swamp.  A Black fur trapper and pioneer, named Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, was the city's founder and its first settler.

DuSable was born on the island of Haiti, around 1745.  His father was a French sea captain, and his mother was an ex-slave.  His father took DuSable to France to be educated.  He later worked as a seaman on one of his father's ships.  DuSable was a strong man, standing over 6 feet tall.  He spoke French, English, Spanish and several Indian language.  He had a love for art and owned many art treasures.

When he was 20 years old, DuSable headed toward the port of New Orleans in one of his fathers boats.  While sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, his boat sank and he was injured.  New Orleans, at the time, belonged to France, but was under Spanish control.  Having lost his identification papers, he was almost enslaved.  French priests protected DuSable until he was able to make his way up the Mississippi River to St. Louis.  DuSable later settled in an area near Peoria, Illinois.

In the early 1770's DuSable built a log cabin and owned over 800 acres of land.  The Potawatomi Indians admired and respected DuSable.  They made a gift of an Indian bride to him.  He called her Catherine, and they later had a son and a daughter.  Years later, he left the area and made is way north until he reached the Great Lakes area.  The Indians called this land Eschikagou (Chicago), the "place of bad smells, " due to the odor of the swampland.  Many White settlers feared attacks by some of the fierce Indian tribes.  DuSable was one of their "brothers" and allowed to travel freely.

By 1779, DuSable had built the first permanent home on the north bank of the Chicago River.  His house contained five large rooms and was well built.  He also built a trading post.  Trappers were well paid for their fur pelts, and DuSable sold them needed supplies and tools.  A mill, smokehouse, dairy, poultry house, horse stable, and barn were just some of the buildings on DuSable's trading post.  DuSable owned a large number of cattle, poultry and hogs.  People from as far as Canada knew of DuSable's trading post.

In 1784, DuSable brought his wife and children from his home in Peoria to his Chicago settlement.  In 1796, their granddaughter became the first child born in Chicago.  On May 7, 1800, the "Father of Chicago" suddenly sold his land and property for a mere $1,200 and left the area.  It is believed that DuSable did not like many of the changes that he saw taking place.  It is also believed that DuSable was forced out of Chicago by Whites who wanted the land for themselves.  On August 28,1818, this noble pioneer died almost penniless.  He was buried in a Catholic cemetery in St. Charles Missouri.

Today, on the land which DuSable once owned, lies some of the most expensive property in the world.  A city plaque pays tribute to Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.  There are also many schools and museums which honor his name.  On October 25, 1968, the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago recognized Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable as the founder of Chicago.

Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage Historic Black Pioneers.

This is only a summary of the life of Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.