08.28.2019: 006. Hidden History Vol. 1 - Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

Posted by Nevele Chambers on

The ways in which ones spirit works never ceases to amaze with it's infinite probabilities, plot twists and alternate outcomes. I spent a few months of 2016 into early 2017 in the beautiful but frigid city of Chicago. Not during the more ideal time of the spring, summer or autumn but during that fourth and most harshest time of year.


It took only a few weeks before seeing first hand how that nickname came to fruition, especially when one is staying a stones throw away from Lake Michigan. Even so, nothing short of below zero temperatures would keep me indoors and not experience what I've missed all those years prior.


Leading up to this very brief stay, there was a big excitement on my part. Extended family residing there with connections to my maternal Grandmother; of course the long history of music and the arts.


Before the Tribune, Sears Tower, Valentine's day massacre, Wrigley Field, the first Moorish temple No. 9 founded by Noble Drew Ali in 1928; before the great migration made it's way up the Delta and into South Side, Elijah Mohammed and the Nation, Al Capone, before Muddy Waters played for Chess, Larry Hoover, GD's, House...Frankie Knuckles, Oprah, Kanye, Virgil and their crew; before the infamous deep dish and what felt like a thousand pairs of Jordan's per square foot.


Little was I aware that there was another large piece of history embedded throughout the grid of the city itself that hit close to home.


Noble Drew Ali (in white, lower center)


The etymology of Chicago is shikaakwa, utilized by the tribes of Algonquian of Miami-Illinois, better known to botanists as Allium Tricoccum (that's garlic, baby), which the French speaking portion of these tribes transformed it to Chicagoua, due to the amount of the plant that grew throughout the region [1].


Allium Tricoccum. 🙂


The future Father of Chicago, Jean Baptiste (a familiar name throughout my own tribe) was born in St. Marc, Ayiti, ca. 1745. Unfortunately, little is known of his early life except that he was born a free man, his father was a French mariner, his mother of African descent was not free.


Educated and well traveled before settling in Chicago in the late 1770's as it’s first non native resident, Jean Baptiste built a farm, developing a trading post and a few other small buildings at the mouth of what is now Michigan avenue and the Chicago river. As a furrier, this afforded him the opportunity to travel across America and developed a closeness to Native Americans.


During this time, he met Kitiwaha, daughter of the Potawatomi chief who turned out to be very instrumental in cultivating his business. They got married in a traditional Native American ceremony and had two kids, Jean and Susanne. Jean Baptiste even welcomed a granddaughter Eulaine Pelletier, who was birthed on the farm in 1796 [2].


Artist rendering of the DuSable house, ca. early 1800's. [3] 


It's the turn of the 19th century. The homeland is in the midst of battle for liberation for the first time in over three centuries (over a half century before it was "abolished" in the states), Jean-Jacques Dessalines on the verge of being crowned Emperor for life.


Jean-Jacques Dessalines.


Most likely due to pressure by the American government to settle in the Chicago harbor as part of the Treaty of Greenville, Point du Sable sold his property to a trader from Quebec for a reported six thousand French livres and moved to Missouri. He would remain there until his transition in 1818.


Chicago, ca. 1820 by Chicago Lithographic company.


Fast forward two centuries to present day Chicago with a population of approximately 2.5 million. There are a few landmarks around the city erected in Jean Baptiste's name...but this was only a recent phenomenon. Alice J. Neal spends a great deal of her life ensuring the DuSable name doesn't fade into obscurity. She helps start the National DuSable Memorial Society, which began with an exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 [4]. The first building in his honor opens the following year, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood.


A museum bearing his name opens in 1968 [5], the nation's first of it's kind for the Moor. In 1966, Neal organized the Chicago DuSable League, pushing for a street and a statue to be built in his honor. A year prior, the city builds Pioneer plaza where his estate once stood, now the heart of Magnificent Mile. It would be another decade before the spot would be recognized as the original DuSable homesite.


Unfortunately, Alice would transition in 1981 before her goals are achieved. In 1987 under Mayor Harold Washington, DuSable is honored with a U.S postage stamp, the harbor right at the Chicago river on Randolph street is named DuSable Harbor, DuSable park in 1987 (which remains closed due to lack of development or what appears to be a bad game of hot potato among different agencies and developers), a bronze bust which sits at Pioneer plaza, and finally, the Michigan avenue bridge is renamed DuSable bridge in 2010.