March 12, 1773 — Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is considered the first man to make his home in a US settlement, which today is Chicago. As a free black man born in Haiti before 1750, he was also the city’s first black resident.
Starting in 1768, he operated as a fur trader with an official license from the British government and managed a trading post in Indiana. The area was Indian-owned (he was a tenant) and as a result Point du Sable was harassed by both British and American troops who passed through the Midwest.
Today, though, he left that behind and moved onto a piece of land where he established a farm with his wife, Catherine, and their two children. The family provided stability to an area that was frequented by peripatetic traders.
By the end of the Revolutionary War, Point du Sable’s farm prospered; people as far away as Philadelphia knew his to be the only farmed produce in the area.
Point du Sable left Chicago in 1800, selling his property to a neighbor. His wife did not sign the bill of sale, and is believed to have been deceased at the time.
He moved to St. Charles in Spanish Louisiana, but business deals did not go well, and was declared insolvent in the territory in 1813.By 1818, the once prosperous farmer was destitute and depended on the goodwill of a neighbor, possibly a lover, for his housekeeping. He died on August 28.
Words of Wisdom for March 12, 2017
“Chicago is constantly auditioning for the world, determined that one day, on the streets of Barcelona, in Berlin’s cabarets, in the coffee shops of Istanbul, people will know and love us in our multidimensional glory, dream of us the way they dream of San Francisco and New York.”
— Chicago Tribune Pulitzer Prize Winner Mary Schmich • Image from the cover of The Chicago Negro Business Men and Women, Where they Are Located, by L. W. Washington, Chicago: Flanders Printing Co., 1912.