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The Du Sable Myth

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To the editor:

Harold Henderson's fine article about recent archaeological findings in Peoria (May 31) describes what must have been Louis Chatellereau's farm. This prominent French-Canadian, who also lived at Cahokia, had an Indian slave, Pointe Sable, whom he mortgaged to the trader Gabriel Cerre, along with his other property, in 1792. This slave became the mythical Jean Baptiste Point de Sable, the black farmer at Peoria who tilled an imaginary farm he was "granted" in 1773 under a "deed" nobody has ever seen.

The real Point de Sable, a free man, was misnamed "Du Sable" after his death by people who never met him. He is well documented in the undisputed military and legal records of Quebec, Michigan, and Missouri dating from 1775 to his death in 1818. Many of these records, often ignored, were published in 1890. Where he came from is not proven. His parish priest buried him at present Saint Charles, Missouri, under his true name, Jean Baptiste Point de Sable, but didn't record his origins or surviving relatives, unlike the other burials noted on the same page of the burial records.

He probably outlived his immediate family and left no descendants. Destitute and seriously ill in 1813, he gave all his property not to a relative but to a young Saint Charles neighbor, Eulalie Barada, for her promise to care for him, feed his hogs and chickens, repair his house, and bury him in the parish cemetery. A copy of this document is in the collection of Chicago's DuSable Museum.

The contemporary documents of Point de Sable's life are the basis for my biography of him in Early Chicago by Danckers and Meredith (River Forest, 2000). Try as I did for over a decade, I found no authentic, believable record (there are plenty of dubious ones) of his supposed life at Peoria or any other place in Illinois than Chicago.

He was the founder of modern Chicago, from about 1784 to 1800. He moved here after running a British government lumbering operation near Detroit, 1780-'84. He had a trading post at present Michigan City circa 1775 to 1779, under a license approved by the royal governor of Quebec, issued to his associates Michel Belleau and Pierre Durand of Detroit.

"Peoria" derives from the Kaskaskia word peouareoua, which probably means "dreamer," an apt epithet for anyone who claims that Point de Sable ever lived there.

Cordially yours,

John F. Swenson

Glenview

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