Misremembered in Verse
Arent Schuyler De Peyster, a British officer who commanded posts at Michilimackinac and Detroit in the 1770s and 1780s, retired to Scotland after the Revolutionary War. An acquaintance of Robert Burns, he published an autobiographical volume of fanciful verse in 1813. DePeyster makes a sketchy reference to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable's residence in Chicago in a footnote to a lengthy verse entitled "Speech to the Western Indians" that DePeyster claimed to have delivered on July 4, 1779. Other evidence indicates that DuSable was in what is now Michigan City in 1779, that he was put in charge of managing a British estate in Michigan in the early 1780s, and that he settled in Chicago in the mid-1780s. Nevertheless DePeyster's footnote has led many to assume that DuSable had settled in Chicago by 1779. Arent Schuyler de Peyster,
Chicago in the Middle Ground;
Year Page: 1812
Imagining DuSable in the 1880s
No portrait of DuSable exists, but by the time of A. T. Andreas's
History of Chicago
in 1884, he had already become an iconic figure. The frontispiece to the first volume of Andreas's history presents an imagined portrait alongside an imagined view of his house and its setting north of the Chicago River. In fact DuSable's farm house was not as modest as imagined in 1884; when he sold it in 1800 the farm was a sizeable estate, and including a mill and a bake house. John Kinzie later lived in the same house, which Andreas described as the "Kinzie mansion."
Chicago in the Middle Ground;
French and French Canadians;
Year Page: 1795
DuSable in the 20th Century
The 1933 Century of Progress Exposition boosted popular memory of DuSable by exhibiting a replica of DuSable's cabin as it had been envisioned in the 1884 engraving in A. T. Andreas's
History of Chicago. While the replica was just 8 feet by 12 feet, the record of the sale of the house in 1800 indicates that its area was actually nine times larger, although imagining a tiny, rustic log cabin better serves the narrative of dramatic progress. DuSable's status in Chicago's past took on new significance in the 20th century, as Chicago became a center of African American culture and could look back with pride at the role of a black businessman in the city's origin story.
Official World's Fair Weekly, "Chicago's First Citizen," 1933.
Century of Progress Exposition;
Chicago's DuSable Week
The African-American Heritage Association helped sustain awareness of DuSable in the 1960s. In 1963 Mayor Richard J. Daley proclaimed the third full week in August to be DuSable Week, in recognition of DuSable's status as "the first Chicago resident of record." A decade later the Museum of Negro History and Art, founded in 1961, adopted the name DuSable Museum.
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