Jean Baptiste Point du Sable | theories and legends

Theories and legends

Early life

Though there is little historical evidence regarding Point du Sable's life before the 1770s, there are several theories and legends that give accounts of his early life. Writing in 1933, Quaife identified a French immigrant to Canada, Pierre Dandonneau, who acquired the title "Sieur de Sable" and whose descendants were known by both the names Dandonneau and Du Sable.[37] Quaife was unable to find a direct link to Point du Sable, but he identified descendants of Pierre Dandonneau living around the Great Lakes region in Detroit, Mackinac, and St. Joseph, leading him to speculate that Point du Sable's father was a member of this family, while his mother was a slave.[38] In 1951 Joseph Jeremie, a native of Haiti, published a pamphlet in which he said he was the great grandson of Point du Sable.[39] Based on family recollections and tombstone inscriptions he claimed that Point du Sable was born in Saint-Marc in Haiti, studied in France, and returned to Haiti to deal in coffee before traveling to French Louisiana. Historian and Point du Sable biographer[40][41] John F. Swenson has called these claims "elaborate, undocumented assertions ... in a fanciful biography".[4] In 1953 Shirley Graham built on the work of Quaife and Jeremie in a historical novel about Point du Sable that she described as "not accurate history nor pure fiction", but rather "an imaginative interpretation of all the known facts".[42] This book presented Point du Sable as the son of the mate on a pirate ship, the Black Sea Gull, and a freed slave called Suzanne.[43] Despite lack of evidence and the continued debate about Point du Sable's early life, parentage, and birthplace, this popular story is widely presented as being definitive.[44][45]

Peoria

In 1815 a land claim that had been submitted by Nicholas Jarrot to the land commissioners at Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory, was approved. In the claim Jarrot asserted that a "Jean Baptiste Poinstable" had been "head of a family at Peoria in the year 1783, and before and after that year", and that he "had a house built and cultivated land between the Old Fort and the new settlement in the year 1780".[46] This document has been taken by Quaife and other historians as evidence that Point du Sable lived at Peoria on the Illinois River prior to going upriver to Chicago.[47] Other records demonstrate that Point du Sable was living and working under the British at the Pinery in Michigan in the early 1780s.[25] The Kaskaskia land commissioners identified many fraudulent land claims,[48] including two previously submitted in the name of Point du Sable.[49][50] Nicholas Jarrot, the claimant, was involved in many false claims,[51] and Swenson suggests that this one was also fraudulent, made without the knowledge of Point du Sable.[4] Although perhaps in conflict with some of the above information, some historical records suggest that Point du Sable bought land in Peoria from J. B. Maillet on March 13, 1773, and sold it to Isaac Darneille in 1783 before he became the first "permanent" resident of Chicago.[52]

Departure from Chicago

Point du Sable left Chicago in 1800. He sold his property to Jean La Lime, a trader from Quebec, and moved to the Missouri River valley, at that time part of Spanish Louisiana. The reason for his departure is unknown.[47] By 1804, John Kinzie, who also settled in Chicago, had bought the former du Sable house. In her 1852 memoir, Juliette Kinzie, Kinzie's daughter-in-law, suggested that "perhaps he was disgusted at not being elected to a similar dignity [great chief] by the Pottowattamies".[53] In 1874 Nehemiah Matson elaborated on this story, claiming that Point du Sable was a slave from Virginia who had moved with his master to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1790. According to Matson, Point du Sable became a zealous Catholic to convince a Jesuit missionary to declare him chief of the local Native Americans, and left Chicago when the natives refused to accept him as their chief.[54] Quaife dismisses both of these stories as being fictional.[11]

In her 1953 novel Graham suggests that Point du Sable left Chicago because he was angered with the United States government, which wanted him to buy the land on which he had lived and called his own for the previous two decades.[55] The 1795 Treaty of Greenville, which ended the Northwest Indian War, and the subsequent westward migration of Native Americans away from the Chicago area might also have influenced his decision.[32][n 4]

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