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JEAN BAPTISTE POINT DE SABLE · THE FOUNDER OF MODERN CHICAGO

by John F. Swenson, © 1999, all rights reserved. [This essay is currently undergoing revision based on new information and documents found since 1999.]

Jean Baptiste Point de Sable was the founder of modern Chicago and its first black resident. Point de Sable was his chosen legal name; he was never called Du Sable during his lifetime. Point was an inseparable element of his name, which he had assumed by 1778. The prosperous farm he had at the mouth of the Chicagou river (the French spelling) from about 1784 to 1800 helped stabilize a century-old French and Indian fur-trading settlement periodically disrupted by the wars and raids of Indians and Europeans, and abandoned by the French during the Revolution from 1778 to 1782.

The earliest known documents which refer specifically to him establish that in 1778 and 1779, perhaps as early as 1775, Point managed a trading post at the mouth of the Rivière du Chemin (Trail Creek), at present Michigan City, Indiana, not at Chicago, as is usually asserted. Pierre Durand of Detroit was associated with him and Michel Belleau in the ownership of this business. Here is Durand’s own 1784 account of Point’s post translated from his petition to Gen. Frederick Haldimand, then governor of Canada: "I found the waters low in the Chicagou [River]; I did not get to Lake Michigan until the 2nd of October [1778]. Seeing the season so far advanced that I could not reach Canada I decided to leave my packs at the Rivière du Chemin with Baptiste point Sable, free negro, and I returned to the Illinois to finish my business. The 1st of March, 1779, I sent off two canoes to take advantage of the deep water [at Chicagou], and I gave orders to my commis [business manager] to take these two canoes to the Rivière du Chemin loaded with goods and to go ahead of me with all the men, to help me pass at Chicagou.... I met my commis [Michel Belleau] at the start of the bad part [of the portage].... Some days later I arrived at the Rivière du Chemin, where I found only my packs [of furs]. The guard told me that M. Benette [Lt. William Bennett of the 8th regiment] had taken all my food, tobacco and eau de vie and a canoe to carry them...." Durand also learned that this British force had taken Point prisoner as a suspected rebel back to Michillimackinac, which began an important phase of his career as a minor but valuable member of the British Indian Department.

Up to the time of his capture, Point had been an engagé in the fur trade, travelling on the Great Lakes, the Illinois River and elsewhere from perhaps 1768 to 1779. From 1775 to 1779 his associate Durand was known to have been active in the upper country, under an official trade license. Only British subjects were allowed to work in the fur trade, which was supervised by military officers and the governor of Quebec. All engagés as well as the license holder had to swear an oath of loyalty to the king before the commander at Montreal and sign a printed oath incorporated in the license. Wealthy individuals posted bonds which would be forfeited for the slightest infraction of the rules of the fur trade or acts of disloyalty. The Durand-Belleau license itself and documents of Point’s hiring at Michillimackinac have not been found. Point would have signed by a mark, since he was illiterate as most engagés were, but he must have been a skilled man by the time Lt. Governor Sinclair hired him in 1780 for his semi-official operation at the Pinery, adjoining Fort Sinclair north of Detroit.

Once Point de Sable settled in Chicagou, in territory regarded by law as Indian-owned, at the end of the Revolution, he was mainly a farmer. His farm was known, as far away as the nation’s capital, as the only source of farm produce in the area until after he moved away in 1800. Like all people living in the barter economy of the frontier, he traded with Indians and Europeans alike for goods and services he needed, but he was not a professional trader. William Burnett, who may already have had a financial stake in the farm during the time Point managed it, became the actual owner (of the buildings, not the land) after Point left in 1800, and also used it as his Chicagou trading post until his associate John Kinzie arrived in 1804. By the 1795 Treaty of Greenville the Indians defeated at Fallen Timbers granted the United States a six-mile square tract at the mouth of the river; Point was thus a tenant or licensee, not an owner, of the land.

The cessation of hostilities created an environment in which Point could prosper. He was a British subject in what was still British-controlled territory. It is generally forgotten that the Northwest Territory, ceded by Great Britain to the United States by the 1783 Treaty of Paris, was still almost completely controlled by British military forces and traders until 1796 with the implementation of Jay’s Treaty of 1794 and the surrender of military posts, such as Detroit and Michillimackinac, to the United States. However, British agents remained in place until the Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812 in 1815. In Chicago the British agent was [see] John Kinzie, who changed allegiance in 1812 at great personal risk. When Point sold [transferred] his improvements and household goods for 6,000 livres ($1,200) in 1800, a value certified by appraisers Kinzie and Burnett, and moved to St. Charles in present Missouri, then the Spanish colony of Upper Louisiana, his farm was comparable to those of prominent people in Cahokia. There is no record that Point ever became a U.S. citizen.

Point de Sable means "sand point" in French and was probably taken as a surname by Jean Baptiste to identify a place (one of many so named) important to him which has not yet been identified. Pointe is the proper French spelling, but the final e is almost always dropped in the documents. Sable means sand. It can also mean black in the aristocratic Norman French or English heraldry, but only because this color was used to represent sand on coats of arms. Point is unlikely to have known this, for his command of English was rudimentary at best. Moreover, people of African descent were always called nègre in French America.

Point de Sable in any form is not a French surname found in any vital records of France, Canada or the United States. The fictitious surname Du Sable imposed on Jean Baptiste appeared only long after his death in 1818. Du is a corruption of the proper French pronunciation of de, which Anglophones write as du. George Rogers Clark, for example, had once planned to attack "Dutroit." In nearly all the many surviving documents, from 1779 to 1818, most of them written in French, in which Point was a party or was mentioned, his surname appears as Point de Sable. The Sieur du Sablé (without the Point) was a title of minor nobility used in the 18th century in the Dandonneau family of Quebec. This family had no known connection to Point de Sable, although the related Chaboillez family were prominent fur traders. A Haitian family named Des Sables, again lacking the Point, were French subjects and cannot be related to Chicagou’s founder, whose family probably did not even have a surname, despite the elaborate, undocumented assertions of a member of that family in a fanciful 1950 biography.

Point de Sable was born free, as Durand implied by calling him a "free negro." He was the son of parents still not identified, possibly born at Vaudreuil, near Montreal before 1750. A Jean Baptiste, nègre, native of Vaudreuil, is listed as an engagé in a 1768 fur trade license. Point’s mother was a free woman, not a slave. Children of a slave mother, black or Indian, were slaves under Quebec law, regardless of the status of the father.

Where Point was before 1775 has not been reliably documented, but in that year he seems to have been hired at Montreal by Guillaume Monforton or Montforton of Detroit, a trader and notary at Michillimackinac, to travel there from Montreal. In the surviving British license papers he is simply Baptiste, nègre; earlier licenses are similarly vague. There is no truth to the two-century old myth that for several years from 1773, to about 1790, he farmed land at Peoria, under a 1773 deed from the supposed British commander there, Jean Baptiste Maillet, and was a member of the militia in 1790. Aside from the fact that Maillet was a travelling engagé in the fur trade, under licenses from 1769 to 1776, and lived near Montreal where he had two daughters born in 1768 and 1771, any such grant was illegal under British law. This myth was exploded in 1809 by the U.S. land commissioners hearing land claims at Peoria, who found that no purported British land grant presented to them, of which this was one, was authorized. The militia rolls for Illinois, published in 1890, have many men named Jean Baptiste, but none with a surname resembling Point de Sable.

In 1775 Point de Sable joined forces with the experienced trader Pierre Durand, a Detroit resident, and left Michillimackinac under the trade license of Michel Belleau. His associates were financed and bonded by Jean Orillat, the wealthiest merchant in Montreal. They had previously been in Illinois. Orillat had been trading between Illinois and Montreal since 1767 or earlier. Belleau and Durand travelled to Illinois. Belleau set up a post where Bureau Creek enters the Illinois River. Bureau is an obvious corruption of his name, most likely by local Indians whose dialect replaced the sound of l with r. For example, the Illinois Indians called themselves Irenioua (plural Ireniouaki). Bureau was recorded as early as 1790 as the "River of Bureau," or at Bureau’s, which helps locate his post. Near this post was a conspicuous peninsula of sand (French, pointe de sable), now called Hickory Ridge, behind which was a harbor providing a place to load canoes, pirogues or batteaux. They spent some of their time in Cahokia, Peoria and on the Illinois River from 1775 to 1779. They dealt with each other and with various local merchants such as Charles Marois (interestingly, he was illiterate) and Charles Gratiot of Cahokia, and Pepin & Benito and Charles Sanguinette of St. Louis. Point had an account, managed by Marois, with Michel Palmier dit Beaulieu (no relation to Belleau), a wealthy farmer and prominent Cahokia citizen. Pierre Belleau, Michel’s brother, was hired to go to Illinois in 1776 by Orillat’s former partner Gabriel Cerré. Nothing further is known of him, but Pierre and Michel seem to have been killed by Indians along the Illinois River in the spring of 1780. Michel’s estate was administered in Cahokia, where his creditors were, although when he went to Montreal in 1777 without Durand to get his trading license renewed he seems to have stated that he lived at Detroit. Perhaps he and Point were the two young male boarders in Durand’s modest household noted in the 1779 Detroit census.

Point de Sable was at his trading post on the Rivière du Chemin in October 1778, when Durand, with two boatloads of furs, was forced by the lateness of the season to leave his cargo with "Baptiste point Sable, naigre libre" instead of taking it to Montreal as he had planned. Durand had left Kaskaskia in June just before George Rogers Clark occupied it, but was delayed by the turbulent events of the time. He eventually got underway, passing up the Illinois River and through Chicagou, reaching Lake Michigan on October 2, 1778. After leaving his furs with Jean Baptiste, Durand returned to Cahokia and Kaskaskia for the winter. Perhaps he was able to settle his and Point’s debts to the estate of Charles Marois, who had died recently.

Durand sent off Michel Belleau and two canoes of furs to the Rivière du Chemin on March 1, 1779. He remained in Cahokia and Kaskaskia to collect on his and Point Sable’s accounts with Clark’s army. In July 1779, Durand stopped at Peoria, where he met his Cahokia friend Capt. Godefroy de Linctot, the leader of a small army that had left Cahokia at the end of June. Linctot had brought with him Clark’s commission of Jean Baptiste Maillet as captain of the Virginia militia at Peoria, a community he was expected to defend from attack, although, as Durand later told Lt. Gov. Patrick Sinclair, there was no fort there. A year later Maillet was in St. Louis and his clerk, Pierre Trogé or Trottier, was on the Maumee River in present Ohio. Linctot, coordinating his movements with those of Clark, was planning to attack Detroit. Major Arent Schuyler De Peyster, the British commander at Michillimackinac, got wind of this plan on July 3 and on the 4th dispatched Bennett overland with 20 soldiers, 60 armed traders serving in the militia, and about 200 Indians, to intercept Linctot’s force, which, like Clark’s, never reached Detroit.

Durand met Belleau and 14 engagés at the start of the Chicagou portage des chênes. At Chicagou the local Indian leaders brought him some bad news: Point de Sable had been at his post at the Rivière du Chemin when a detachment of Bennett’s forces under Corporal Gascon arrested him, about August 1, confiscating 10 barrels of rum, food, clothing and a birchbark canoe with repair supplies, all worth 8,705 livres (£580), all the property of Durand. Gascon took Point’s many packs of furs under guard to Michillimackinac pending Durand’s expected arrival with additional packs. These would be brought by 30 horses provided by the Chicagou Potawatomi. Gascon took Point prisoner to Bennett, who was camped on the nearby St. Joseph River.

Bennett and De Peyster must at the least have known of Point, because Bennett’s first report to De Peyster of his arrest, written at his St. Joseph camp on August 9, 1779, simply says "Baptiste Point au Sable I have taken into custody, he hopes to make his conduct appear to you spotless," without explaining who Point was or where he lived. As commandant De Peyster was responsible for keeping track of all traders in his area, Point cannot have been a stranger to him; he was zealous in his enforcement of fur trade rules.

Point must have known some of the traders and Indians with Bennett, because when he arrived at Fort Michilimackinac about September 1, Bennett reported to De Peyster that "the negro Point au Sable" had "many friends who give him a good character," a clue to his earlier trading voyages. Point was married by now, but there is no mention of his family.

Point de Sable met De Peyster upon his arrival at Michillimackinac about Sept. 1, 1779. De Peyster was waiting for news of a glorious military exploit by troops under his command. Instead, he received Point’s demand that he pay for the property Bennett had confiscated from his trading post at the Rivière du Chemin. De Peyster refused to pay for these goods, valued at £580, treating them as spoils of war owned by a rebel trader. If they were not spoils of war, De Peyster knew he would have to reimburse Durand out of his own pocket. This was a sizable liability for an officer whose annual salary was £75. Durand was finally reimbursed in 1784, probably to De Peyster’s relief.

Shortly before De Peyster left for his new command at Detroit, Durand also arrived at Michillimackinac and learned that De Peyster had ordered his arrest. He managed to avoid being detained and wrote out an itemized bill for his property confiscated from Point’s post. Translated from the French, the heading of the bill reads "Memorandum of Property which I, Durand, left in the custody of Baptiste Point Sable, free negro, at the Rivière du Chemin, which Mr. Bennett, commander, gave orders to seize." De Peyster refused to pay this bill because, as he explained to Governor Haldimand when it was presented to him again in 1780, there was a rumor (not true) that Durand "had made lampoons upon the King, which were sung at the Cascaskias." The miscreant was later identified as Jean-Marie Arsenault, dit Durand, no relation.

There is a widely accepted myth that Point’s trading post of 1779 was not at the Rivière du Chemin, as amply documented at the time, but at Chicago.The evidence for this myth is worse than flimsy, and can be briefly dealt with. Andreas in his history of Chicago drew upon an uncritical reading of the much later writings of De Peyster which flatly contradicted his own and other documents of 1779 to 1784. De Peyster published a pseudo-historical narrative of his experiences at Michillimackinac in 1813 under the title of "Speech to the Western Indians" in his self-published Miscellanies by an Officer. In a fanciful recasting of the arrest of Point de Sable, De Peyster characterizes him as a handsome Negro, well educated and with French sympathies. In fact, Point was illiterate, and in 1780 De Peyster had urged his successor Sinclair to hire him for a position at a sensitive British location. De Peyster further mangled the historical record by stating that Point was arrested by Capt. Charles de Langlade, not Bennett’s Corporal Gascon, and that Point was established at "Eschikagou." Amazingly, Andreas and every subsequent historian have swallowed these fantasies whole, although the essential contemporary documents have been available in published form for more than a century. By the time De Peyster wrote this piece of fanciful doggerel, he had probably heard from old friends, like John Askin of Michillimacknac and Detroit, that Point was then at Chicagou (as De Peyster spelled it in his July 1, 1779 order to Langlade), and mixed up the dates. The obvious conflict between the facts and De Peyster’s late recollection of them has regrettably never been examined, to the discredit of students of Chicago history. No credence should be given to the late jottings of a retired officer whose memory had failed him.

Pierre Durand managed to get passage on a boat manned by black sailors that took him to the Rivière du Chemin to get the 120 packs of furs he had left there in Point’s absence. On Oct. 15, 1779, De Peyster left for his new command at Detroit, replacing Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton, now a prisoner of war at Williamsburg. Shortly after De Peyster’s successor, Lt. Gov. Patrick Sinclair, assumed command at Michillimackinac, Durand arrived with his treasure of furs. Having barely survived a harrowing stormy lake voyage, the exhausted trader landed his cargo in this small leaky sailboat about October 20. Sinclair arrested him, confiscated his papers, and refused to pay the Point de Sable bill. Durand’s papers included a copy of Belleau’s declaration of loyalty to Virginia, a bill of exchange endorsed to Point de Sable and Virginia paper money, all worthless payments for goods requisitioned from them by Clark’s rebel forces in Illinois. This convinced the erratic and generally paranoid Sinclair that Durand and Point were both rebels, and the confiscated property was mere spoils of war. It soon became evident, however, that both were loyal British subjects who had been victimized, like many others, by Clark’s impecunious Virginia forces.

Sinclair bought more trade goods from Durand on credit and promised to reimburse Durand for the cost of shipping his furs to Montreal, promises he never kept. He failed to pay Durand for moving and repairing a house for Matchekiwish, a local Chippewa war chief. He also hired him at a piastre (dollar) a day to guide a war party, headed by Langlade, to Chicagou and down the Illinois River in 1780 to join the attack on St. Louis and Cahokia. Ironically this war party passed the post of Michel and Pierre Belleau, who were killed about this time by Indians on British orders. Sinclair had confiscated from Durand a copy of Michel’s oath of loyalty to Virginia, which became his death warrant. Durand was never paid for anything but guiding this party and the property confiscated from Point. Sinclair characteristically declined to pay for about 10,000 livres of charges on Durand’s second bill.

Point de Sable fared much better than Durand. Surprisingly, within a year this prisoner, arrested under suspicion of siding with the Americans, was employed with De Peyster’s knowledge and at the request of Meskiash, village chief of the local Ojibway, as manager of Sinclair’s Michigan estate, the Pinery. This property, illegally bought from Indians including Meskiash and others in 1765, was near the mouth of the Pine River at present St. Clair. He held this position from August 1780 until 1784, when the property was sold. His wife and children had probably joined him there, in a house built in November and December 1779, by British workmen. This structure was built of squared pine logs covered by hand-sawed boards. The interior was partitioned into rooms, and the board walls were plastered with clay from the bed of the Pine River.

Shortly after his arrival in the Detroit area Point again pressed De Peyster for payment of the 8,705 livres. De Peyster again refused because of Durand’s supposed rebel sympathies. He was taking a big risk because if, as it turned out, these goods were requisitioned from a British subject, he would be legally responsible for payment out of his own pocket. This uncertainty hung over him until the wartime expenses of the upper posts were finally approved by the auditors in London in 1787.

The Pinery was supplied from Detroit, and the commandant there was responsible for the regulation of this trade, including approval of any voyages there and beyond, as far as Michillimackinac. As the officer who had jurisdiction over the Pinery, De Peyster must have had regular contact with, and intelligence about Point de Sable, who was there with his permission and no doubt was an employee of the Indian Department. One of De Peyster’s sources would have been Meskiash, the Ojibway village chief near the Pinery, who participated in a 1781 Indian council which De Peyster had convened at Detroit.

In the late summer of 1781, Point was apparently running a British trading post at Ouiatenon (Lafayette, Indiana). Lt. Valentine T. Dalton, the Virginia commander at Vincennes, was kidnapped from his home by Indians and taken to Quebec. In a letter to George Rogers Clark he describes his experiences and meeting "Jno Batise." At the forks of the Maumee River (Defiance, Ohio) he met Pierre Trogé ("Truchey") of Vincennes, who was running another trading post. Significantly, he mentions one of Trogé’s former employers, LeGras of Vincennes, but not Jean Baptiste Maillet, whom he must have encountered at Peoria or Cahokia.

In 1784 Point de Sable shipped his household goods, obviously the furnishings of the comfortable family home of a very loyal British subject, from the Pinery to Detroit, and moved there with his family. Soon he became associated with William Burnett, a wealthy and wide-ranging trader at the mouth of the St. Joseph River, who also had a post at Michillimackinac, and at Chicagou. By 1788 Point de Sable had settled with his family at the Chicago River and was farming the land with his wife and two children. He had probably disposed of the telltale framed portraits which had adorned his home at the Pinery. The subjects included King George III and Queen Charlotte Sophia; the King’s younger brother (the Duke of Gloucester); His Serene Highness, Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Braunschweig-Luneberg, a cousin of George III who had sent his Brunswick troops to Canada’s defense against the rebels; and Baron Hawke and Viscount Keppel, both First Lords of the Admiralty who had battled French fleets. These treasures from their home at the Pinery would have exposed him as a loyal British subject in a place now visited by patriotic citizens and soldiers of the new United States, such as the covert intelligence officer Lt. John Armstrong, travelling under secret war department orders in 1789.

In 1788 he and Catherine went from Chicagou to Cahokia to have their marriage solemnized by Father De St. Pierre (né Heiligenstein) in the newly rebuilt church of the Holy Family. Jean Baptiste had established business and personal relationships in and near Cahokia, dating back to 1778 or earlier.

In 1790 the Detroit-Cahokia trader Hugh Heward stopped at Point’s farm and traded cloth for food which Point had grown. Cloth was a major item stocked by traders, and Point would not have needed it, if he were himself in the business.

In 1794 the legendary Shawnee war chief Blue Jacket was making plans to move out of Ohio after Gen. Anthony Wayne’s defeat of his British-backed Indian forces at Fallen Timbers, near present Toledo. He thought of going to "Chicagou on the Illinois River" in British-controlled territory, but he didn’t because the defeated Indians were forced to cede a six-mile square tract at the mouth of the Chicago River to the United States in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville. A 1794 smallpox epidemic which killed 50 Indians at Chicagou must also have discouraged him.

In 1794 Pierre Grignon, a British trader living at Green Bay, paid a visit to Point de Sable at Chicagou. The brief report of this meeting by his brother Augustin Grignon included a cryptic reference to a government commission Point exhibited to his visitor, who probably then considered himself a fellow British subject in British-controlled territory. It seems unlikely that the United States would employ Point as a secret agent, a man who had for several years been a British subject working at the Pinery, a post controlled by the British Indian Department. The Grignons were themselves employes of the Indian Department as late as 1815. In fact [see] John Kinzie, the Chicagou trader who acquired Point’s farm in 1803, was an officer of this department who narrowly escaped hanging or being killed by pro-British Indians for treason committed near Detroit, after he had switched his allegiance to the United States, in 1812. He had been reported by Tecumseh as attempting to win Indians to the Amerian side while bringing them gunpowder furnished by his department.

Suzanne Point de Sable was married at Cahokia in 1790 to Jean Baptiste Pelletier; Fr. Pierre Gibault, long sympathetic to the American cause, officiated. The young couple must have lived with or near her parents in Chicagou. Their daughter Eulalie was born there in 1796.

In 1796 Pelletier got a receipt at Chicagou for some furs, credited to his father-in-law’s account, signed by the trader Jean Baptiste Gigon as agent for François Duquette of Michillimackinac and St. Charles. The receipt acknowledges payment of two dozen eggs to have the furs pressed and packed for shipment, a service not necessary if Point had a trading post equipped with the press needed to package furs. Three years earlier Duquette, under a British trading license, had been selling trade goods below cost to the Wabash Indians in an effort to keep them loyal to the crown.

The Pelletiers and another pair of Chicagoans, the Le Mais, went to St. Louis in 1799 to have their children baptized. Little Eulalie Pelletier, whose grandparents were not present, had two interesting godparents. Hyacinthe St. Cyr, now a prominent merchant in St. Louis, was the brother of Baptiste St. Cyr who in 1770 had led a group of Jean Orillat’s engagés to Chiquagoux to evaluate it as a site for a trading post, which Orillat never established. Hyacinthe’s wife Hélène Hebert acted as godmother. St. Cyr would have known Point de Sable and may have acted as his representative at the ceremony. Hélène’s brother François had been Point’s fellow voyageur from Detroit to Michillimackinac in 1775.

Suzanne`s brother Jean Baptiste Point de Sable fils [Jr.], of whom little is known, was living in St. Charles before 1810. He worked for Manuel Lisa, a Spanish trader of St. Louis, as an engagé on an 1812-1813 trading expedition up the Missouri River. He died in 1814 and his father was administrator of his meager estate. The surviving probate documents do not mention any heirs. It is not known when Catherine died. Point de Sable sold [transferred] his Chicago property in 1800 to his neighbor Jean Lalime. William Burnett financed the deal, guaranteeing payment because Lalime put up no earnest money. Catherine did not sign the bill of sale, probably because she was no longer living. Jean Baptiste Pelletier may have been alive in 1815, but nothing is known of Suzanne and Eulalia at that time, nor indeed since 1799.

In the fall of 1800 Point de Sable moved from Chicagou to St. Charles in Spanish Upper Louisiana. There he bought a house and lot from Pierre Rondin, a free black, and also acquired two tracts of farm land. François Duquette was now his neighbor. He became involved in various real estate transactions that did not work out, including perhaps even the land he had bought for his home on the basis of Spanish land titles of doubtful validity. In some of these deals he was joined by his son. By 1809 he was in financial difficulties. Duquette got a judgement against Point for negligence in 1813, but the sheriff could not collect because Point was insolvent.

Somehow Point’s name had become involved in the rampant land speculation of the time. Two spurious claims were made by men who had supposedly purchased his rights under acts of Congress to land in Illinois. These claims were filed by land jobbers with the U.S. Land Office at Kaskaskia about 1804, based on the fictitious assertion in perjured documents that he and his family had lived and farmed at Peoria from 1773 to after 1783, and that Point had served in the militia there in 1790. Of course, Point has been well documented as being elsewhere. In 1809 the Land Office rejected these claims as unproven. In 1815 it grudgingly and tentatively recommended that Congress consider approving these claims, but only to Point himself, who was probably unaware of the use of his name by swindlers. The disappointed speculator, Nicolas Jarrot, must not have told Point about Congress’s tentative approval in 1816; in fact, he seems to have abandoned these and several other dubious Peoria claims, and he did not mention them in his will, written in 1818, the year Point died. Had deeds been issued with Congressional approval, Point would have received title to 800 acres of valuable real estate in Peoria. But this was not to be, and his financial woes increased. No further land claims were made in his name before another land office in 1820, specifically under a law for consideration of Peoria claims, probably because they had already been exposed as fraudulent, and would have been disputed by the testimony of long-time Peoria residents who recalled events well before 1779, but who did not remember the well-known Point de Sable.

By 1813 Point was destitute, and had even been forced to borrow household utensils from his neighbor Eulalie Barada. This Eulalie, who has been carelessly confused with Point’s granddaughter Eulalie Pelletier, was the daughter of Louis Barada (Baradat) of St. Charles, a prominent landowner, and Marie Becquet, a native of Cahokia. Eulalie was born in St. Louis, probably in 1788, and married her first husband in 1802. In 1813 Point de Sable deeded all his remaining property to his "friend" Eulalie, not for money, but for her promise to take care of him for the rest of his life in sickness and in health, to do his washing, provide firewood, repair his house, supply corn to feed his pigs and chickens, and to arrange for his burial in the parish cemetery. She and her second husband Michel De Roi both made their marks on the 1813 deed. Point affixed his usual "signature," the block capitals IBPS, this time writing the S backwards.

On August 28, 1818, Point de Sable died and on the 29th was buried in the St. Charles Borromeo parish cemetery. The priest’s handwritten entry on the burial register describes him as nègre. Unlike the usual burial records of this period, there is no mention of his age, origin, parents, relatives or people present at the ceremony. Nor is there any record of probate proceedings.

The contemporary documents, long neglected and never assembled, tell a fascinating story of a successful free-born black entrepreneur, advancing through a series of significant careers to a position of prominence in Chicagou, and then in his final tragic years to poverty and ignominy. The founder of the modern city of Chicago merits nothing less than recognition of the facts of his life and achievements.

[PRINCIPAL SOURCES: 9; 18a; 201; 300a; 470; Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, vols. 9, 16, 19.]

 

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