JEAN BAPTISTE POINTE DU SABLE

(1745 – 1818)

 

“He grew up at a time when, as a black man, he shouldn’t have been thinking about founding a city or being an entrepreneur, but that’s what he set his mind to do. This is a perfect example of how we’re not prisoner to our immediate condition.” — Serge Pierre Louis, President, Du Sable Heritage Association

Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable is regarded as the founder of the city of Chicago. As a trapper and merchant, he built the trading post that evolved into Chicago.

Though little is known about his early life, historians claim Du Sable was born in 1745, in the city of Saint-Marc, in what was then the French colony of Saint-Domingue and is today the country of Haiti. His mother was an enslaved African, and his father was a French mariner.

Du Sable traveled to France, where he worked on his father’s ships. He was able to access some education and learn several languages, including French, Spanish, English, and many Indian dialects.

Around 1764, Du Sable is thought to have been shipwrecked near New Orleans, where he was bound with his childhood friend Jacques Clemorgan. Mentored by Pontiac, prominent leader of several Great Lakes tribes and French ally against the British, Du Sable was instrumental in negotiating and preserving peace among several tribes in the turbulent times that followed Pontiac’s War. His joint ventures with Clemorgan also proved very lucrative – developing into several outposts in New Orleans, Peoria, and eventually Chicago, where Du Sable intended to settle permanently with his wife Kittiwaha (Catherine). From roughly 1780-1800, he maintained a massive settlement that was the center of commerce and communication in the region, before selling his property and moving to St. Charles, Missouri where he remained until his death in 1818.