Accomplishments and Records

How a Man Without a Country Created a Quiet Place of Refuge

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable was a man without a home, a country, or a culture. He was an outsider everywhere he went. He simply wanted a chance to make a life for himself, but everything seemed to conspire against him. The winds of destiny worked to blow away his hopes and dreams.

This depiction of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is taken from A. T. Andreas’ book History of Chicago (1884).

He was born in the mid-1700s. Not much is known about his early life. Some say that he was born in Haiti. Historians have yet to reach a consensus on whether this is true. Some sources say that the reason we know so little about him is that his citizenship papers were lost when the ship that was to bring him to New Orleans was destroyed by a hurricane off the coast of Florida.

Although he made it safely to shore, he had a problem. The dark color of his skin marked him as a slave. Without his paperwork, there was no way for him to prove his status as a free man. Left with few alternatives, he made his way north to the British colonies.

Timing was not on his side. It was August 1779, and the American Revolutionary War was at its peak. Jean was apprehended by British troops in northern Michigan. He was accused of being a French spy, in league with the American revolutionaries. He was imprisoned at Fort Michilimackinac.

After his release, he moved north of Detroit, working on woodlands along the St. Clair River. Several years later, he married Kitihawa, a woman of the Potawatomi tribe. They had two children, a son named Jean and a daughter named Susanne. He supported his family by trading on the frontier.

Although Jean was no longer imprisoned, he remained a prisoner of circumstances. The British considered him French. The French viewed him as a Black slave. Despite the circumstances of his marriage, the Native Americans regarded him as White. In short, he had nowhere to call home.

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable’s settlement in 1820.

Since Jean couldn’t find a place that would accept him, he decided to create one. He started a trading post on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan. There, he hoped to find a simple, quiet refuge from a chaotic world. It turned out that he was not alone in this desire.

It wasn’t long before a community of like-minded people formed around Jean’s trading post. Individualists, outcasts, and dreamers were all welcome. Soon the community became a town. Then it became a city.

If you find yourself identifying with Jean Baptiste Point du Sable and are looking for a place of refuge, you’re in luck. The place he started is still there. There’s one thing you should know, though. If you are looking for peace after being blown around by the winds of misfortune, you may find peace, but you won’t escape the wind. Jean’s trading post has become somewhat famous for it, in fact. People refer to it as “The Windy City.”

His quiet place of refuge is Chicago, Illinois.

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