Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Statue

Pioneer Court, 4 River Esplanade

Chicago’s first non-native permanent settler, like his predecessors, was French. Unlike his predecessors, he was black.

Little is known of Jean Baptiste Pointe de Sable’s beginnings. Some legends claim that his mother was a Haitian slave; others, who reference reports calling him a “Free Negro,” insist that his mother must also have been free, and that he was most likely born in Canada.

One certainty is that in August 1779, British Lieutenant Thomas Bennett arrested him in what is now Michigan City, Indiana, on suspicion that he was aiding the upstart Americans. The Brits sent him up to Mackinac as a prisoner, but by the next year he had so impressed them that Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair hired him to manage his estate near Detroit. 

De Sable* managed that estate until he and Kitihawa, his Potawatomi wife, settled on a plot of land on the north side of the chicagou river sometime in the mid-1780s. When they arrived isn’t exactly known, but according to a journal entry that Hugh Heward, a clerk out of Detroit, made in 1790, the couple was already well established. 

The de Sables sold their property in 1800 to Jean Baptiste Lalime for the impressive sum of $1200. They could get such a princely amount because, by that time, the property consisted of a home filled with furnishings, as well as a barn and several outbuildings. For a remote trading post in a place that smelled like garlic, this was quite the setup.


1. Statue of Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable in Pioneer Court

2. DuSable's house as it appeared in 1832

3. A sketch of DuSable

*Was the founder of Chicago’s name du Sable or de Sable? If you look around present-day Chicago, Jean Baptiste’s name is spelled du—Du Sable Bridge, Du Sable Museum, even the statue of him at Pioneer Court, marking the site of his home. Yet, an earlier tablet at Pine (present-day Michigan Avenue) and Kinzie spelled his name de.  An authoritative article by John Swenson in states that de Sable was Jean Baptiste’s chosen legal name, and the “du” spelling didn’t appear until long after his death.


Where Chicago Began
  1. Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Statue
  2. Fort Dearborn
  3. DuSable Bridge
  4. LondonHouse Chicago
  5. Wrigley Building
  6. Tribune Tower