Did you know that a Black man established the city of Chicago? Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable (1745-1818) earned his place in history when he opened a trading post on the banks of the Chicago River in 1779 and became the brand-new settlement’s first permanent resident.
Du Sable certainly had an adventurous life. He was born in Haiti to a French Canadian sea captain and an African mother, who was an ex-slave. After getting an education in France, he made his way back home by working as a sea hand on one of his father’s ships. Now 20, athletically built, multilingual and educated, du Sable saw his future in moving to New Orleans. But he lost his identification papers along the way and was almost carted off into slavery. Du Sable escaped north, traveling along the Mississippi River and settled in Illinois. There he started a trading business by befriending the Potawatomi tribe. Legend has it that he traded goods for a bride. He married his Native American wife, Kittihaha, (calling her Catherine) and soon they started a family.
Du Sable’s trading post was key to the development of the Midwestern wilderness. Trappers stopped there to trade their pelts for supplies and tools. The post also expanded to supply settlers’ daily needs as people remained in the area. Soon, du Sable added a stable, smokehouse, dairy and mill to his holdings. The trading post was the main supply station for traders, trappers and travelers from Detroit and Canada and the cornerstone of what Chicago is today.
Du Sable is officially recognized by the state of Illinois as the founder of Chicago, and the site of his original cabin is an historic landmark. The Postal Service issued a stamp honoring him in 1987.
- Founder of Chicago’s DuSable Museum dies (sfgate.com)