You can read a version of this story and more in the Summer 2021 issue of The TRiiBE Guide: Heritage Edition. Visit reshapethenarrative.com to find a copy of The TRiiBE Guide near you. Cover photo features Kannon Purnell, the 5th great-grandson of 19th century Chicago abolitionists John Jones and Mary Richardson Jones.

 

Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable’s settlement at the mouth of the Chicago River is the heart from which the city of Chicago was built. As time passed, and ownership of the land changed, its history has been smudged, so much so that most people had no idea he lived there until the mid 20th century. DuSable, Kitihawa and their children first showed up in future Chicago during the 1780s. They built a five-bedroom home, a horse mill, a bake house, a dairy, a smokehouse, a poultry house, a workshop, a stable, a barn, an orchard, and huts for DuSable’s employees. The family lived and worked on this land for at least a decade. It is unclear why DuSable moved his family to St. Charles, Missouri, where he ended up living a modest life as a ferry operator.

[Hover over the map on desktop, or press the map on mobile, to activate the magnifying glass to see the “Kinzie Mansion,” situated on the property where DuSable’s settlement stood years before. Interactive map works best on Google Chrome browser. Map courtesy of the Chicago History Museum].

The story gets stranger when you look at the circumstances surrounding the purchase, and how they might’ve led to Chicago’s first murder. Jean La Lime, an agent of a Canadian named William Burnett, bought the estate from DuSable in 1800. The sale was filed in Detroit, and witnessed by John Kinzie, a fur trader and Burnett’s business partner. Kinzie, who became infamous for his shady business practices, gained ownership of the land from La Lime under murky circumstances that didn’t sit right with La Lime. Kinzie built a mansion on the property. Kinzie and La Lime’s beef escalated into a fight where Kinzie killed La Lime on June 17, 1812. The cause for the murder is disputed but it’s suspected that La Lime was threatening to expose Kinzie’s shady dealings in land acquisition and illegal trading at Fort Dearborn. Considering that the only people who knew of DuSable’s ownership of the property were traders who’d passed through, and the Indigenous people who were being systematically murdered and displaced, killing La Lime meant that Kinzie could bolster his reputation as the so-called “Father of Chicago.” 

Image of a painting of the John Kinzie house, also called the old Kinzie mansion, which stood in the 1830s in the area of the present 401 North Michigan Avenue, in the Near North Side community area of Chicago, Illinois. The painting is matted and framed. This painting may have been exhibited in 1903 as part of the celebration of the centennial of the founding of Fort Dearborn in 1803. The house was built by John Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a man from Haiti who is considered to be the first settler of Chicago. Image from Chicago History Museum.

The false title stuck. The site where DuSable built the first settlement in Chicago was recognized as “Kinzie Mansion,” and Kinzie’s family was hailed as Chicago’s first family. This misconception was treated as fact for much of Chicago’s history and was first debunked by the Black women-led National DeSaible Memorial Society at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.
is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE and a 2023-2024 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.