J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

Chicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.1) online

. (page 10 of 59)
Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.1) → online text (page 10 of 59)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Whistler was with her husband, and with them was a younger brother of her hus-
band, George W. Whistler, who later, in 1814, graduated at West Point, served
in the army until 1833, when he resigned, and was afterwards in the employ of
the Russian government as an engineer.

In the life of James A. McNeill Whistler, by Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell,
we find this: "According to Mr. Eddy, Whistler once said to a visitor from Chi-
cago, 'Chicago, dear me, what a wonderful place! I really ought to visit it some
day for, you know, my grandfather founded the city and my uncle was the last
commander of Fort Dearborn !' "

At the time the narrative was reduced to writing, Mrs. Whistler was in Chicago
visiting her daughter, Mrs. Colonel Robert A. Kinzie, her home being in Newport,
Kentucky. An interview was sought by Mr. Henry H. Hurlbut, the author of "Chi-
cago Antiquities." In this work he says he called on Mrs. Whistler in October,
1875, and heard from her own lips the account of her arrival in Chicago with her
husband in the summer of 1803.

They found here but "four rude huts or traders' cabins," said Mrs. W T histler.
These were occupied by Joseph Le Mai and Antoine Ouilmette, mentioned in the
previous chapter, and a man by the name of Pettell, concerning whom we have no
further information. 4 Such others as may have been here at the time are not named
in the narrative.

No horses or oxen were available in the vicinity, and the timber used in con-
struction was dragged from the woods with ropes by the soldiers. The fort was
called Fort Dearborn in honor of the Secretary of War. Captain Whistler con-
tinued in command of the fort until the summer of 1810, when he was relieved by
Captain Nathan Heald, of whom further mention will be made. At the end of
the year an official "return" of the post was made. The post is described as "Fort
Dearborn, Indiana Territory," and the return is dated December 31, 1803. Ac-
cording to this return, there were sixty-nine officers and men in the garrison at that
time. 5


The first Fort Dearborn stood nearly on the site of the fort erected in 1816,
that is, fronting north on the bank of the river at the intersection of the present
Michigan Avenue and River Street, near the southern end of Rush Street bridge.

4 This man may have been the same one who is referred to in the narrative of Andrew
J. Vieau, Si., published in Vol. XI of Wisconsin Historical Collections, as Mike le Petteel, the
narrator's tutor in about 1828, at Green Bay. Mr. Vieau says that this Mike le Petteel was his
father's clerk in 1795, when his father was establishing fur-trading posts on Lake Michigan.
In the narrative of Peter J. Vieau, Andrew's younger brother, (Wisconsin Historical Collections,
Vol. XV, 463) the same man, called here Michael le Pellieur, is spoken of as Peter's tutor in 1826.
5 Andreas' "History of Chicago," I, 80.


There were two block houses, one at the northwest corner, the other at the south-
east corner. The sally-port was on the northern side towards the river, and there
was a subterranean passage from the parade ground within the fort to the river,
"designed either to facilitate escape, in case of an emergency, or as a means of
supplying the garrison with water during a siege." ll The whole was enclosed by a
strong palisade of wooden pickets. At the west of the fort, fronting north on the
river, there was a log building two stories in height used as a "factory" by the gov-
ernment. Between the fort and the building just mentioned were the "root houses"
or cellars of the garrison, with doors opening on the sloping bank of the river. 7
The fort was armed with three pieces of light artillery, and a magazine within
the enclosure was provided with necessary ammunition for the use of the garrison.
Captain John Whistler, who spent seven years in command of the post at Fort
Dearborn, had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War, fighting on the British side.
He was a native of Ireland and came to America as a British soldier. He was in
Burgoyne's army and was taken prisoner by the Americans when that army sur-
rendered at Saratoga, in 1777. After the war he took up his residence at Hagers-
town, Maryland, where he married, and where his son, William Whistler, was born.
Later he enlisted in the American army, taking part in the campaigns against the
Indians in the W'est. He served under St. Clair and afterwards under Wayne,
being successively promoted to lieutenant and captain. After his service in com-
mand at Fort Dearborn, he was placed in command at Fort Wayne, having been
again honored by promotion to the rank of major by brevet. Major John Whistlei
died in Missouri, in the year 1827. He was a brave and efficient soldier, a man oi
ability and discretion, and the progenitor of soldiers who reached high regimenta'
rank. His son William was in command at Fort Dearborn in 1832, while anothei
son, George W. Whistler, as we have seen, was graduated at West Point, and
afterwards became a distinguished engineering officer in the Russian government


General Henry Dearborn, referred to in connection with the establishment oi
Fort Dearborn in 1803, requires some notice in this place. The name of Dearbon
is a favorite one among Chicago localities and institutions, and our city honors it
self in thus perpetuating the memory of a man who, though he never visited Chi
cago, held positions of responsibility and honor in the affairs of the country. Gen
eral Dearborn was a native of New Hampshire, and at the time of which we write
was a man fifty-two years old. After passing through the best schools of the stati
in which he was born, he studied medicine, and practiced his profession for somi
years before the Revolution. While yet only twenty-four years of age, he raisec
a company of militia and joined the regiment commanded by Colonel John Stark
afterwards the hero of the battle of Bennington. As a captain young Dearbori
took part in the battle of Bunker Hill, and soon after was with Arnold in the ill
starred expedition to Canada, where he was taken prisoner. Having beei
exchanged, he again entered the American service, and as major assisted in thi
capture of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga. During this campaign he kept a journal

"Wau-Bun (Caxton Club Ed.) p. 156.
7 Fergus' Historical Series, No. 16, p. n.


which is now preserved in the Boston Public Library. The entry made the day of
the surrender is as follows: "This day the great Mr. Burgoyne with his whole
army surrendered themselves as prisoners of war with all their public stores; and,
after grounding their arms, marched off for New England the greatest conquest
ever known." Later in the war he was promoted to be lieutenant-colonel, and was
present at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781; after which he wrote
in his journal. "Here ends my military life." He was, however, afterwards coin-
missioned as a major-general of militia by the state of Massachusetts, later became
a member of Congress, and, in 1801, was appointed Secretary of War by President
Jefferson. He remained in this office for eight years during the two terms of Pres-
ident Jefferson's administration. In the War of 1812, General Dearborn was ap-
pointed senior major-general and did excellent service. Afterwards he made his
home in Boston, where he died in 1829 in the seventy-ninth year of his age. 8 A
copy of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of General Dearborn is hanging ,on the walls of
the Chicago Historical Society. John Wentworth said of him, "One of the highest
compliments paid to General Dearborn is the fact that whilst the names of so
many of our streets have been changed to gratify the whims of our aldermen, no
attempt has been made to change that of Dearborn Street. Not only is this the
case, but the name Dearborn continues to be prefixed to institutions, enterprises,
and objects which it is the desire of projectors to honor." 9


The early days of all cities and sections are usually connected with the name of
some individual or family well known in its history. The beginnings of Philadel-
phia, for example, are associated with the name of William Penn; those of St.
Louis with that of Pierre Laclede ; and of Milwaukee with Solomon Juneau. So
also, in the early history and settlement of Chicago, the name of Kinzie must al-
ways be mentioned with a degree of fulness not permitted to any other name.

The year following the building of Fort Dearborn, John Kinzie came to Chi-
cago. He bought the cabin of Le Mai, and occupied it both for trading and living
purposes. Kinzie was an Indian trader and had already been doing business at
Detroit for several years previous to his arrival in Chicago. He is referred to as
"merchant" and also as "silversmith," in the records of some land transactions in
Detroit. In "Wau-Bun" it is stated that Kinzie "early entered into the Indian
trade and had establishments at Sandusky, Maumee, and afterwards pushed fur-
ther west, about the year 1800, to St. Joseph's."

The date of the first entry on the books of John Kinzie at Chicago is May 12th,
1804. 10 He became sutler for the garrison at Fort Dearborn, and soon won the
confidence of the officers of the post. "It is quite likely," says Hurlbut, "that Mr.
Kinzie had often been at Chicago before on business in the time of fur trading."
He was then about forty years of age, was regarded as a man of intelligence, and
had a large acquaintance among prominent men. He was thoroughly acquainted
with the Indian character, and had had much experience in dealing with Indians.

8 "The Dearborns," by Daniel Goodwin, Jr., .p. 32.

9 "The Dearborns," by Daniel Goodwin, Jr., p. 48.
JO Hurlbut's "Chicago Antiquities," p. 470.


He could speak their language and enjoyed their respect and friendship, and in
times of difficulty the military people consulted him regarding their relations with
the tribes. There is little doubt that had his advice been followed the dreadful
massacre which occurred a few years later would have been avoided.

For such readers as desire to learn more of John Kinzie, the "Father of Chicago,"
as he has been called, the following details of his career will be of interest. John
Kinzie was born at Quebec about the year 1763. This was soon after the French
possessions in America had been ceded to the English. The father of John Kinzie
was a Scotchman whose name was John McKenzie. He died while John was an
infant, and his widow married William Forsyth; soon after the family removed to
New York. Here young John, or "Johnny Kinzie," as he had come to be called,
was placed in school with two of his Forsyth half-brothers. At the age of ten he
ran away, leaving his books and school, and took passage on a sloop bound for Al-
bany, resolved to find his way to his old home in Quebec. By good fortune he
found a friendly fellow passenger who assisted him to his destination, where he
sought and found employment as a silversmith, becoming an apprentice under a
kind master. Here he remained three years, at the expiration of which time he
returned to his parents, who had in the mean time removed to Detroit.

Young Kinzie found his trade of silversmith of advantage to him, and he read-
ily procured employment. He also became engaged in trade with the Indians and
in time established a business of his own with branches at other points. During
these years he formed an attachment for a young woman of Virginian parentage
named Margaret McKenzie, who had for many years been a captive among the In-
dians in Ohio. Three children were born to them, William, James and Elizabeth.
Margaret McKenzie and her sister Elizabeth had been carried off when children
from their parents' home in Virginia by Indians, during the so-called "Lord Dun-
more's War," in 1774. When they had grown up the chief who had adopted them
took them with him on a visit to Detroit, peaceful relations with the tribes having
been once more established. Here John Kinzie saw Margaret, and Elizabeth her
sister, also found a partner in Alexander Clark, a Scotch trader. . . . The fa-
ther of these two girls, having heard at his Virginia home of the presence of his
daughters at Detroit, laboriously worked his way thither to visit them. "There
was a pathetic reunion, and when the white-haired frontiersman went back to Vir-
ginia, Margaret and Elizabeth, declining the legal marriage proffered by their con-
sorts, followed him to the old home," u Margaret taking her three children along
with her.

The sisters were afterwards legally married, Margaret to Benjamin Hall, and
Elizabeth to Jonas Clybourn. Both of these men as well as sons of these second
unions, afterwards became residents of Chicago, and took prominent parts in the
drama of the pioneer life of the place.

In the year 1800, John Kinzie met and married Eleanor (Lytle) McKillip, a
widow with a daughter named Margaret. There seemed to have been as many
Margarets in our narrative as there were in Shakespeare's "King Richard III,"
making it somewhat bewildering to the casual reader to keep them distinct in his
mind. Mrs. McKillip, whose maiden name was Eleanor Lytle, had a thrilling and
romantic experience as a child, which is fully related in "Wau-Bun." She had been

11 "Wau-Bun," p. XV.

From a copy of Gilbert Stuart's portrait, the copy being in possession of the Chicago
Historical Society


Genera! Dearborn issued the order to Captain John Whistler
to go to Chicago with a company of soldiers to occupy that place
and there build a fort. The fort was named iu honor of General


a captive for four years in a tribe of Seneca Indians, and had been adopted into
the family of an Indian chief known as Corn-Planter. At length, actuated by a
sudden impulse of generosity, the chief restored her to her parents, soon after which
the Lytle family removed to Detroit. This was after the Revolutionary War, and
while yet only fourteen years old, she was married to Captain McKillip, a British
officer, and by him had a daughter Margaret, as related above, who afterwards be-
came the wife of Lieutenant Linai T. Helm and passed through a most terrifying
experience at the massacre of Fort Dearborn.

Captain McKillip was killed in 1794, at the Miami Rapids, where there was a
post afterwards known as Fort Defiance. "A detachment of British troops," re-
lates the author of "Wau-Bun," "had been sent down from Detroit, to take posses-
sion of this post. General Wayne was then on a campaign against the Indians, and
the British government thought proper to make a few demonstrations in behalf of
their allies," for although peace had been declared between the United States and
Great Britain, the British chose still to regard the Indian tribes as their allies, a
policy that brought woe and disaster to all parties concerned. "Having gone out
with a party to reconnoitre, Captain McKillip was returning to his post after dark,
when he was fired upon and killed by one of his own sentinels." During her widow-
hood, Mrs. McKillip resided at Detroit, where, in 1800, as above related, she was
married to John Kinzie, who seems to have had a predilection for young women
who had been Indian captives.

Their oldest child was John Harris Kinzie, born at Sandwich, Canada, (near
Detroit) on July 7th, 1803. A separate account will be given of him, and of his
talented wife, the author of "Wau-Bun." Their other children were Ellen Marion,
born in 1805; Maria Indiana, born in 1807; and Robert Allen, born in 1810; the
last three having their birthplace in the Kinzie mansion at Chicago. Mr. Kinzie,
at the time that his son John H. was born, had a trading house on the St. Joseph
river, and there the young boy and his mother were taken, and remained until their
removal to Chicago in 1804, where they took up their residence in the house which
had been bought by Mr. Kinzie from Le Mai. "John Kinzie came to this new lo-
cation," writes Andreas, "in the prime of his life, strong, active and intelligent
his life sobered by experience, but his heart kindly and generous. He was beloved
by the Indians, and his influence over them was very great. He acquired the repu-
tation of being, par excellence, 'the Indian's Friend,' and through the most fearful
scenes of danger, Shaw-nee-aw-kee, the Silverman, and his family moved un-

It seems necessary here to correct some erroneous statements made in former
histories, that Margaret McKenzie was married to John Kinzie, but there is the
best of authority for saying that this was not so. Andreas states that she "became
the wife of John Kinzie;" and Blanchard, in his work, says that they were married.
Mrs. Nelly Kinzie Gordon, daughter of John Harris Kinzie, is now living at Savan-
nah, Georgia, and in a letter to the author of this history written December 3,
1909, she says that her grandfather, John Kinzie, was never married to Margaret
McKenzie. She refused to marry him "and deserted him, carrying her three chil-
dren back to Virginia with her father, thus breaking up his home and robbing John
Kinzie of his children. Moreover, she distinctly repudiated him and all legal ties,
as far as he was concerned, by marrying 'a man named Benjamin Hall, on her ar-


rival in Virginia." No claim that a marriage had taken place was "ever made by
the children of Margaret McKenzie, or by Margaret herself." Mrs. Gordon fur-
ther says that the only one of these children she ever met was James Kinzie, and
that she knew him well. James perfectly well knew and "accepted his status as
John Kinzie's natural son." When he "came back to his father in 1816 after the
massacre and the return of the family to Chicago, James was made a member of
the family, and treated with such unfailing kindness by my grandmother (who
knew all the circumstances, and of his mother's desertion), that he became much
devoted to her, and named his second daughter after her."


A tragic episode in John Kinzie's life occurred in the spring of 1812. Kinzie
and one John Lalime, an interpreter at the fort, were at feud with each other; and
one evening about sunset when the fort gates were being closed, Kinzie passed out
and walked down the path towards the river, intending to cross over to his house
on the other side. Lalime followed him outside the gate, and an officer who ob-
served his actions called out a warning to Kinzie, telling him to "look out for La-
lime." ] An eye-witness of the encounter which followed, Mrs. Victoire Porthier,
a half breed woman then living in Ouilmette's house, relates that she saw the two'
men grapple with each other, heard a pistol go off and then the men fell together.
Directly she saw Kinzie get up, but Lalime remained on the ground. Kinzie soon
after reached his house streaming with blood from a wound in his shoulder, caused
by a shot from a pistol fired by Lalime. Lalime was also armed with a knife which
he carried in his belt; in the struggle Kinzie had got possession of the knife, and
had killed his adversary with his own weapon.

Fearing the consequences Kinzie at once concealed himself in the woods, and
soon after was taken to Milwaukee by a Frenchman named Mirandeau, the father
of the woman whose narrative we are following. Here he remained until his
wound was healed ; when, having learned that the officers at the fort had decided
that the killing of Lalime was a case of "justifiable homicide," he returned to Chi-
cago. In later years Mr. Kinzie never alluded to or spoke of this episode. "My
impression has ever been," said Mr. Gurdon S. Hubbard, in a letter to' John Went-
worth, written in 1881, "that Mr. Kinzie acted, as he told his wife, in self defense.
This is borne out by the fact that, after a full investigation by the officers, whose
friend the deceased was, they acquitted Mr. Kinzie, who then returned to his
family." ls


Chicago's early history is intimately connected with the Kinzies and their rel-
atives. It was a fortunate circumstance that one of this family, the wife of John
Harris Kinzie, a notice of whom will be given in a later portion of this work-
should have given to the world her recollections of the "early day" of the North-
west, a volume of narratives and sketches, under the title of "Wau-Bun," which
has become a classic in the historical literature of the Middle West. 14

12 Andreas: "History of Chicago," I, 105.

13 Kirkland's "Chicago Massacre," p. 189.

14 Introduction to Wau-Bun (Caxton Ed.), p. I3 .


She says of John Kinzie, her husband's father, that he was a man of "an enter-
prising and adventurous disposition." After becoming established at Chicago, he
extended his business relations until they covered a wide range of territory. Quot-
ing further from Mrs. Kinzie's account, she says that "by degrees more remote
trading posts were established by him, all contributing to the parent one at Chi-
cago ; at Milwaukee with the Menominees ; at Rock River with the Winnebagoes
and Pottawattomies ; on the Illinois River and Kankakee with the Pottawattomies
of the Prairies, and with the Kickapoos in what was called 'La Large,' being the
widely extended district afterwards erected into Sangamon County.

"Each trading post had its superintendent, and its complement of engages its
train of pack-horses and its equipment of boats and canoes. From most of the sta-
tions the fur and peltries were brought to Chicago on pack-horses, and the goods
necessary for the trade were transported in return by the same method.

"The vessels which came in the spring and fall (seldom more than two or three
annually) to bring the supplies and goods for the trade, took the furs that were
already collected to Mackinac, a depot of the Southwest and American Fur Com-
panies. At other seasons they were sent to tha,t place in boats, coasting around
the lake." 15

In a note to this Mr. R. G. Thwaites, who edited the Caxton Club's edition of
"Wau-Bun," from which the above is quoted, says: "It was early discovered by
the French traders that a strong current encircles Lake Michigan, going south along
the west shore, and returning northward along the east shore. For this reason
boats usually followed the Wisconsin bank up [that is, going towards Chicago],
and the Michigan bank down."


A collection of original documents and letters referring to affairs at Fort Dear-
born came into the possession of the Chicago Historical Society some years since.
The letters in this collection, called the Kingsbury Papers, bear various dates from
1804 to 1813, and are described in the society's report for the year 1906-7. A
few of them are printed in the report, from which, by the society's permission, we
make a few extracts. It is understood to be the intention of the society to publish
the Kingsbury Papers in a volume at as early a date as practicable. Its appear-
ance will be looked forward to with interest.

One of the letters in this collection was written by Colonel Jacob Kingsbury,
the commandant at Detroit, addressed to Captain John Whistler, commanding Fort
Dearborn, and dated July 12, 1804. In this letter he says, "I am informed by
Major Pike and Doctor Smith that your men are almost destitute of every article
of clothing. Immediately on the report being made to me, I ordered the brig
Adams to take on board for your post clothing for your men, pots to cook in, a
whip saw, stationery, hospital stores, etc. I shall, with the greatest cheerfulness,
do everything in my power to make your situation as agreeable as possible. I think
you deserve great credit for the work you have done, considering you had no cloth-

15 Wau-Bun (Caxton Ed.), p. 150.


ing for your men nor even the necessary tools to work with." These articles arrived
safely at the fort and were acknowledged in a letter dated July 26, written by Cap-
tain Whistler to Colonel Kingsbury, thus showing that the voyage between the two
places was accomplished within two weeks. In his letter of acknowledgment he
writes: "I have received the clothing and the other articles you mentioned. The
whip saw can but be of very little use without files, as the timber we saw is oak;
there is no other at this post."

Later in the same year, under date of November 3, Captain Whistler writes:

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.1) → online text (page 10 of 59)