A deeper look into Chicago's founder Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable

ByYukare Nakayama WLS logo
Friday, July 16, 2021
Who is DuSable?: A deeper look into Chicago's founder
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With the renaming of Lakeshore Drive to Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive, we take a deeper look into who this Chicago founder was and what he contributed to the city.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicagoans have heard about the renaming of Lake Shore Drive, which honors a Black man who many consider to be the founder of Chicago.

Lake Shore Drive is now known as Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive, but who is he and what was his significance to Chicago?

"He was Chicago's first settler. He was Chicago's first city administrator. He was Chicago's first city entrepreneur. He was the first real estate developer. And he was a proponent of multiculturalism," said Etzer Cantave, president of the DuSable Heritage Association.

Although some scholars debate the origins of DuSable, most agree that he was born to a French father and a Black African mother in present-day Haiti, according to the DuSable Heritage Association. Surprisingly, not much is known about the founder.

"I think his most important contribution was really learning to peacefully coexist with the indigenous tribes, marrying into the Potawatomi to a woman named Kitihawa. She was married into the Catholic faith and became known as Catherine," said Julius Jones, curator at the Chicago History Museum.

Jones said DuSable was a successful tradesman. He said DuSable's biggest asset was his neutrality with the indigenous people, the American and the British before, during and after the American Revolutionary War.

RELATED: Jean Baptiste Point DuSable: How Chicago plans to honor city's founding father

His other biggest asset was the location of his settlement, which was on the north bank of the Chicago River. Cantave said that location is now where the Apple store on Michigan Avenue currently resides.

"Other settlers that have come before him, they looked it over and said 'no this is not the place to settle or to live.' But for him, it was the perfect location strategically located. Good for economics, good for his settlement and the story went there," said Cantave.

Jones, from the Chicago History Museum, said he was the first non-indigenous person to see the economic potential of Chicago.

Although Cantave said DuSable was not interested in politics, politics found him.

"He was actually arrested by the British for being thought of as an American Patriot sympathizer. However, he's able to successfully beat the charges as they were and be successful and prosper, negotiating all these different communities and identities that existed," said Jones.

Starla Thompson, Educator and Cultural Consultant, said DuSable's wife Kitihawa, a woman from a prominent Potawatomi family, was responsible for his release and contributed to his success.

"When he was captured for those two years, not only did she sustain that settlement but she demanded his release and sent three bands of Ojibwe to demand his release, which he was released. That speaks to her power alone," said Thompson.

DuSable and his wife met in what is known today as Peoria before moving to Chicago. The couple had two children.

In his later life, DuSable sold his settlement, which was later owned by John Kinzie. According to the DuSable Heritage Association, the founder ultimately retired in St. Charles, Missouri.