In this episode of our “Laying the Foundation” series of the Windy City Historians we explore an often ignored and long forgotten era and complete our interview with Dr. Ann Durkin Keating. We tap into the history of Juliette Kinzie and the city’s early wheelers and dealers as it rises up out of the swampy prairie landscape along the Y-shaped Chicago River on far southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.
Founded in 1803, Chicago’s Fort Dearborn is the western most outpost on the frontier, and by 1812 still the most isolated fort in Indian Country. The garrison and few settlers are outnumbered five-to-one by the neighboring tribes within a day’s ride. A pivotal year in Chicago history the corner of today’s Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue is the site of Chicago’s first murder on June 17. At that point tensions are already high and this killing comes one day before Congress declares war on Great Britain. Although, the approximately 100 residents of Chicago will have no idea war is declared until mid- to late-July.
Just why trader John Kinzie stabbed fort interpreter Jean Lalime to death is a two-centuries’ old Chicago mystery. Was it jealousy, a trade dispute, bad blood? Listen in as we set the scene of Chicago on the cusp of the War of 1812, weight the accounts, motivations, and events surrounding this gruesome murder on the banks of the Chicago River. We hope you enjoy this fascinating slice of Chicago history and interview with writer Paul Dailing who authored the Chicago Reader article “The long death of Jean Lalime“.
Links to Research and History Documents
- “The long death of Jean Lalime” in The Reader by Paul Dailing
- The blog: 1001 Chicago Afternoons by Paul Dailing
- Fort Dearborn: A Novel by Jerry Crimmins
- Chicago River Bridges by Patrick McBriarty
- Bio of Milo Quaife (1880-1959) authority on the Old Northwest and former Superintendent of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines settler as, “a person who goes to live in a new place where usually there are few or no people”. Native Americans have lived in the greater Chicago area for approximately 10,000 years dating back to the last ice age. Dependent on long lost oral histories we have no clear records of the future city’s earliest peoples, though archeological efforts and early French documents seem to indicate no native villages existed within today’s Chicago city limits. There have been significant native villages in the suburbs surrounding Chicago, but no evidence of native settlement on the Chicago River has ever come to light.
The last seven episodes of the Windy City Historians Podcast has attempted to relate the first hundred plus years of Chicago’s earliest recorded history from the first westerners to pass through the area; be it Nicolet somewhere between 1628 and 1634 or Jolliet and Marquette in 1673. We now unveil this story of Chicago’s very first settler connecting us to the permanent and continuous settlement of the City of Chicago.
This man, a man of color, and his family has long been swept under the rug while the trader and opportunist John Kinzie was held up as the town’s founder, a man we can best describe as Chicago’s first scoundrel. We hope you will enjoy this in depth conversation with historians John Swenson and professor Courtney Pierre Joseph Ph.D. relating the life, times, and impact the very first settler made on the site and city that would follow in his footsteps. This is the story of the trader, gentleman farmer, and Chicago’s founder — Jean Baptiste Point de Sable. Mr. Point de Sable, and yes, that is the proper French spelling of his full surname, is a fascinating character we hope you will enjoy learning about as much as we have.
Links to Research and History Documents
- Early Chicago, by Ulrich Danckers & Jane Meredith, 1999. See also the website: https://earlychicago.com/
- “The DuSable Myth”, by John Swenson, Chicago Reader, August 1, 2002.
- British Trader John Orillat (1733-1779) of Montreal “the Rockefeller” of Canada in his day
- Chicago’s Authentic Founder by Marc Rosier
- Wauban by Juliette Kinzie (1806-1870)
- George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) who lead American militia in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois during the Revolutionary War against the British.
- Battle of Fallen Timbers
- Transcribed Treaty of Greenville of 1795
- Images of the original Treaty of Greenville of 1795
- Jay Treaty of 1794
- Alexander Robinson
- “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration”, by Isabel Wilkerson, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2016.
- Cahokia is one of Illinois’ large towns when it was a part of the Indiana Territory
- The Defender by Ethan Michaeli
- DuSable Museum of African-American Art at 740 East 56th Place, Chicago, Illinois 60637