J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

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"I am sorry to observe that I have been under the disagreeable necessity of arrest-
ing Doctor Smith. I wish to say no more on the subject," he adds, "it is too dis-
agreeable." In a later part of his letter he refers to a more cheerful matter, as
follows: "I have the happiness of informing you that my oldest daughter was mar-
ried on the first instant to a gentleman of my old acquaintance, James Abbott, one
whom I had a great opinion of." The daughter referred to was Sarah Whistler,
then scarcely eighteen years of age. "This was doubtless the first wedding be-
tween white persons in Chicago, and the wedding journey was made overland to
Detroit on horseback, the bride and the groom tenting in the woods at night." 16


The little settlement about Fort Dearborn was often enlivened by the cheerful
presence of voyageurs, or engages, who were usually French Canadians employed
by the fur traders throughout the North and Northwest, and who formed a distinct-
ive class of their own, picturesque and attractive. Their nationality, their invigor-
ating life in the forest, the traditions of their occupation, all combined to make
them sturdy, resourceful, happy, alert. They were devoted to their "bourgeois,"
or master, and were well content to endure the scantiness of diet and the hardships
which they often, indeed generally, experienced. They were engaged for service
at Montreal, to which place the agents supplying trading posts with voyageurs went
to hire them. There the bargain was made, by which, in return for three years'
service, the engage was to receive annually from four to six hundred livres in old
Quebec currency (a livre is a pound sterling), together with his daily ration of a
quart of lyed corn and two ounces of tallow, or its equivalent in whatever food could
be obtained in the Indian country. With this fare, the voyageurs willingly served
their masters without a complaint, making it a matter of the greatest care to live
up to the letter of their agreement.

The engages of the western country went to Mackinac, the main trading post
of that region, for their assignments. There they received a part of their wages in
advance that they might purchase supplies for the winter tobacco and pipes, needles
and thread, bright ribbons for trading with the Indians; and, if one were going far
to the north where he could not obtain such things, skins to make moccasins.

Among the voyageurs there was a caste of service, depending on the length of
time spent in a certain region. One who was still only in his first year of service
was called a "mangeur de lard," or pork-eater; and for a more experienced voy-
ageur to associate with such a one or accept from him a drink of beer or other kind-
ness would be ignoble and beneath his dignity.

16 Report of the Chicago Historical Society for 1906-7, p. 116.

By courtesy of The Little Chronicle Company and Chicago Historical Society


Drawing by Frederic Remington.


It is interesting here to quote from "Wau-Bun" a little story:

"Another peculiarity of the voyageurs is their fancy for transforming the names
of their bourgeois into something funny which resembles it in sound. Thus, Kinzie
would be called by one 'Quinze ties' (fifteen noses), by another 'Singe' (monkey-
fied). Mr. Kercheval was denominated 'Mons. Court-Cheval' (short horse), and the
Judge of Probate, 'le Juge Trop-bete' (too foolish), etc. The following is an in-
stance in point.

"Mr. Shaw, one of the agents of the Northwest Fur Company, had passed
many years on the frontier, and was by the voyageurs called Monsieur le Chat (Mr.
Cat). On quitting the Indian territory he married a Canadian lady and became
the father of several children. Some years after his return to Canada his old fore-
man, named Louis la Liberte, went to Montreal to spend the winter. He had heard
of his old bourgeois' marriage, and was anxious to see him.

"Mr. Shaw was walking in the Champ de Mars with a couple of officers, when
La Liberte espied him. He immediately ran up, and, seizing him by both hands,
accosted him,

"'Ah! man cher Monsieur le Chat; comment vous portezvous?' (My dear Mr.
Cat, how do you do?) 'Tres bien, Louison.' 'Et comment se porte Madame la
Chatte?' (How is the mother cat?) 'Bien, bien, Louizon; elle est ires bien.' (She
is very well.) 'Et tous les petits Chatons?' (And all the kittens?)

"This was too much for Mr. Shaw. He answered shortly that the kittens were all
well, and turned away with his military friends, leaving poor Louizon quite as-
tonished at the abruptness of his departure." 17


A review of the important dates up to this point in our history will be given
here, thus enabling the reader to understand more clearly the events on which they
depend. From the period of its discovery in 1673, the entire valley of the Missis-
sippi had been in possession of the French. After the war between Great Britain
and France, terminated by the Peace of Paris, concluded February 10, 1763, that
part of the western country east of the Mississippi passed into the possession of the
English. During the progress of the Revolutionary War the state of Virginia as-
sumed jurisdiction over the Illinois Country, 18 and its legislature passed an act
December 9, 1778, to establish the "County of Illinois." The British relinquished
their claims to the country at the time the treaty of peace was signed, September
3, 1783, since which time it has been in the undisputed possession of the United

The state of Virginia still regarded the Illinois Country as within the jurisdic-
tion of her state government, 19 but finally ceded her western lands to the general
government, March 1, 1784. The ordinance of 1787, creating the Northwest Ter-
ritory, was passed on the 13th of July of the year named. St. Clair county, the
first county to be formed within the present limits of the state of Illinois, was or-

17 Wau-Bun (C), 156.

I8 S1oane's "French War," p. in.

10 Boggess' "Settlement of Illinois," p. 45.

Vol. 15


ganized April 27, 1790, 20 and on June 20th of the same year, another county was
laid off and named after General Henry Knox of Revolutionary fame.- 1 Knox
County included what is now Chicago, the boundaries of St. Clair County not hav-
ing extended so far to the eastward. Thus Chicago at this early stage of its ex-
istence had its first experience under county government at that time, though its
one lone trader, the negro Point De Saible, was probably not even aware that there
was such a political division as Knox County in the territory of which he was an
inhabitant. Chicago continued within the limits of Knox County until the bound-
aries of St. Clair County were changed in 1801, so as to include almost the en-
tire area of the present state of Illinois, including its northern part.

Indiana Territory was formed July 4, 1800, and the area comprised within the
present state of Illinois was a part of that territory. The capital of the territory
was at Vincennes, and the difficulty of reaching it from the western settlements on
the Mississippi was so great that the people became much dissatisfied and petitioned
congress for a division of the territory.


Meantime emigration coming mostly from Virginia, Maryland and the Caro-
linas, was active towards the western settlements of Illinois, that is, the region of
which Kaskaskia was the center, also called the "American Bottom." 22 The north-
ern portion of the territory was still an almost unbroken wilderness, the lead min-
ing region near Galena, and Fort Dearborn, with its garrison and its few traders,
being the only points in that vast region occupied by whites.

But the emigration flowing into the Illinois Country did not compare in volume
with that into Kentucky, which had been already admitted as a state in 1792, or
into Ohio, admitted in 1803, or into that portion of Indiana Territory now within
the area of the state of Indiana. The census reports of the United States give
the following statistics of population: 23

1790 1800 1810

Kentucky, 73,677 220,955 406,511

Ohio, 45,365 230,760

Indiana, 2,517 24,520

Illinois, 2,458 12,282

These figures show that the Illinois Country was making comparatively slow
progress in its increase of population as compared, for instance, with that of In-
diana; though its percentage of increase was greater than that of Kentucky or of

Those who settled in the Illinois Country at this period came through many
dangers, for Indians were unfriendly and malaria prevailed in the lowlands. The
journey made by the emigrants "was tedious and difficult," says Boggess in his
"Settlement of Illinois." "It was often rendered dangerous by precipitous and

20 Rose's "Counties of Illinois," p. 4.

21 Rose's "Counties of Illinois," p. 16.

22 Reynolds' "Pioneer History of Illinois," p. 113.

23 Boggess' "Settlement of Illinois," p. 91.


rough hills and swollen streams, if the journey was overland; or by snags,, shoals
and rapids if by water." The inability of the newly arrived settlers to secure a
title to land, "the unsettled condition of the slavery question, the great distance
from the older portions of the United States and from any market, the fact that
Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana had vast quantities of unoccupied land more accessi-
ble to emigrants than 'was Illinois, the danger and cost of moving, and the priva-
tion incident to a scanty population, such as lack of roads, schools, churches and
mills," were some of the obstacles to emigration.

The prairies of the Illinois Country, which had been regarded by the discover-
ers and explorers as among the chief glories of the new territory opened to view, 24
and in later .times as forming its greatest natural advantages, were looked upon by
some of our public men of that time as a positive drawback to the future prosperity
of the region. In 1786, Monroe wrote to Jefferson regarding the vast region which
afterwards formed the Northwest Territory. "A great part of the territory is mis-
erably poor, especially that near Lakes Michigan and Erie, and that upon the Mis-
sissippi and the Illinois consists of extensive plains which have not had, and from
appearances will not have, a single bush on them for ages. The districts, there-
fore, within which these fall will never contain a sufficient number of inhabitants
to entitle them to membership in the confederacy."


The petitions of the inhabitants of the settlements in the Illinois Country for
a separation from the remainder of Indiana Territory continued to pour in at Wash-
ington. In one of the reports by a committee of Congress made in 1808, it was
estimated that the number of inhabitants of Indiana east of the Wabash was seven-
teen thousand, and the number west of the Wabash was eleven thousand. These
estimates were proved to be very nearly correct, as the census for 1810 shows. The
bill providing for the division of the territory, so ardently desired by the people
of Illinois, was approved on February 3, 1809, and Illinois Territory entered upon
a separate existence. The boundaries of the new territory, established by the act,
were the same as those of the state at present, except that the territory extended
north to the northern limits of the United States, thus including within its bound-
aries what is now the state of Wisconsin. Ninian Edwards, then a man thirty- four
years of age and the chief justice of the Court of Appeals in Kentucky, was ap-
pointed by President Madison the first Territorial Governor of Illinois; and he
continued as such until Illinois was admitted as a state into the Union in 1818.


During the nine years from 1803 to 1812, the period this chapter is designed to
cover, the activities of the Chicago settlement were principally those engaged in by
the garrison of the fort in the performance of their regular military duty, fur
trading with the Indians by the civilian traders and government factors, and the
distribution by the regular government Indian agents of annuities, provided for un-

24 "Jesuit Relations," Vol. 59, p. 161.


der the treaties with the different tribes who resorted to this point. The govern-
ment in its desire to do the Indians a kindness established "factories," or trading
houses, to furnish goods to the Indians and take their furs in exchange, on a plan
by which all the gain in prices should be for their benefit; but in carrying out this
benevolent purpose it encountered the competition or opposition of the private
traders. Whether or not the government officials lacked perseverance or force to
command success in this policy, in the end the consequences were disastrous to the
Indians. 25 The traders excited the Indians against the factories, sold them liquor
secretly, and, as it was considered illegal to accept Indian testimony concerning these
illicit transactions, it was impossible to bring the traders to account. The difficul-
ties encountered in the practical working of the "factory system," as it was called,
reached an acute stage some years later, which will be mentioned in its proper place
in this history.

We are now approaching the period of the second war with Great Britain, the
War of 1812, or, as it has been called, "The Second War of Independence." We
have seen in the previous chapter how in the Revolutionary War the feeble lamp
of civilization, burning at this remote spot, was summarily snuffed out by the car-
rying off of the negro Point de Saible, the sole inhabitant of the place, as a prisoner
to Mackinac; while a bloody action, the battle of South Chicago, took place on
ground now included within the limits of the city. Chicago had already suffered
several eclipses in the past, and was destined to suffer another before its continu-
ous existence was assured.


The echoes of the Napoleonic wars then raging in Europe were heard in this
far away frontier region. The "Orders in Council" issued by Great Britain were
designed to cripple its French antagonist. These were answered by Napoleon's De-
crees of Berlin and Milan, and the effects of these orders and decrees worked se-
vere hardship on American commerce. "The insolence of the powerful belligerents
toward the young republic of the United States was hard to endure," 26 and it was
foreseen that there was no escape from war. "The conduct of the French govern-
ment toward the United States was more insulting, if possible, and more injurious,
than that of Great Britain," says Larned; but the American people, still suffering
from the old anger inherited from the Revolutionary strife, directed their resent-
ment more particularly against England. The Indian outbreaks on the western
frontiers were confidently attributed to the influence of British emissaries, and the
people of the West became especially clamorous for war. 27 Among the leading
causes of war mentioned by President Madison in his message to Congress were
"the attacks of the savages incited by British traders." 28

Added to all this were some real and fancied grievances, suffered by the Indians
from the American government and the settlers, which entered into the already com-
plicated state of affairs. Tecumseh and his brother, "the Prophet," contended that

25 Hut-lout's "Chicago Antiquities," p. 201.

26 Larned's "Seventy Centuries," Vol. II, p. 356.

27 Patton & Lord's "History of the United States," Vol. II, p. 623.

28 James' "American History," p. 260.

By permission of Chicago Historical Society


On the north side of the river, opposite Fort
Dearborn. Its location was at the foot of Pine

By permission of Chicago Historical Society

Fort Dearborn on the left. John Kinzie's house on the right.


Indian lands could not be sold without the unanimous consent of all the tribes, es-
pecially referring to the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809, to which they were not
parties; and that the Great Spirit had created this continent exclusively for the
use of the Indians, . . . that no part of it was given to any tribe, but that the
whole was the common property of all the tribes." - rt This proposition, said Gen-
eral Harrison in his report to the territorial legislature of Indiana, was so extremely
absurd that it would forever prevent any further purchase of lands from the In-
dians. "Again there was the difficulty," says Winsor, "of controlling the recklessness
of the irresponsible 'squatter,' and the wild bushranger's provocation of the In-
dian." 3I> Settlers, indeed, showed scant consideration for Indian rights of ancient
domain in the territory which they wished to occupy. Neither was it likely that ab-
solute equity in the distribution of goods and payments of money to the Indians was
exercised; in the nature of the case it was not always possible to be just in these
matters, even if there had been no dishonesty on the part of the government

Warnings of trouble began to appear. Matthew Irwin, Jr., United States Fac-
tor at Chicago from 1810 to 1812, writing to the Secretary of War under date of
May 13, 1811, says: "An assemblage of the Indians is to take place on a branch
of the Illinois, by the influence of the Prophet. The result will be hostile in the
event of war with Great Britain," The Prophet, the brother of Tecumseh, was
later in the same year severely defeated by General William Henry Harrison at
Tippecanoe. There was usually a "prophet" in the case when a general Indian dis-
turbance was on hand, just as in the wars of the English with Soudan tribes in re-
cent years, a Mahdi, another name for prophet, was always to be found as the
inciting cause of trouble. LoAune,

A few days after Irwin's letter of warning, one Sfoty^nje, an Indian interpreter
at Chicago, writes : "Several horses have been stolen. The Indians in this quarter
are inclined to hostility." Another report was that "the Indians on the Illinois
were hostile towards the United States, and that war between the Indians and the
white people had just commenced." This was an allusion to the battle of Tippe-
canoe which had recently been fought. 31


"The Battle of Tippecanoe was but the precursor of more important events,
and only preceded the war with Great Britain, which it had been long foreseen must
soon burst upon the country, as the shadow precedes the substance. If anything
were required to inflame the country to a still higher pitch of exasperation than had
been produced by the well-known efforts of British agents to incense the Indians
against the United States, and their positive encouragement to repeated outrages,
and the insolent aggressions of the British government on our commerce, it was
found in this battle. It was, indeed, the beginning of the war. There was little
doubt that the Indians had previously received assurances of aid from Great Brit-
ain in case of hostilities, and they immediately began to threaten all the American

29 Montgomery's "Life of William Henry Harrison," p. 80.

30 Winsor's "Westward Movement," p. 306.

31 Fergus' Historical Series, No. 16, p. 50.


border-population in the Michigan, Indiana and Illinois Territories, as well as the
north-western confines of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The whole of the
western frontier was thrown into a state of alarm, and many of the inhabitants re-
moved to the older settlements for safety." 32

The war sentiment, however, was by no means unanimous. John Randolph of
Virginia, in defending himself and others of his way of thinking, indignantly re-
pelled the charge of British attachment made against those who were not willing
to rush into war with England. "Strange," said he, "that we have no objection
to any other people or government, civilized or savage ; we find no difficulty in
maintaining relations of peace and amity with the Autocrat of all the Russias; with
the Dey of Algiers and his divan of pirates, or Little Turtle of the Miamis, bar-
barians and savages, Turks and infidels of every clime and color, with them we can
trade and treat. But name England, and all our antipathies are up in arms against
her; against those whose blood runs in our veins, in common with whom we
claim Shakespeare and Milton, Newton and Locke, Sidney and Chatham, as breth-
ren. Her form of government [is] the freest on earth, except our own,
from which every valuable principle of our institutions had been borrowed." 33


During the summer of 1810, Captain John Whistler was relieved of the com-
mand at Fort Dearborn, and was succeeded by Captain Nathan Heald. About the
time of his arrival Heald wrote to Colonel Jacob Kingsbury, commander at De-
troit, under date of June 8, 1810, that he was not pleased with his new situation
and could not bear to think of staying there during the winter. He further says
that "it is a good place for a man who has a family and can content himself to
live remote from the civilized part of the world." 34 Captain Heald was a much
younger man than his predecessor, being thirty-five years old when he took com-
mand at Fort Dearborn, "and could not be supposed," says John Wentworth in
an address made in 1881, "to have had that acquaintance with the characteristics
of the Indians which Whistler had."

Notwithstanding Captain Heald's reluctance to continue in his present situation,
no change was made. In the summer of 1811, however, he obtained leave of absence
and went to Louisville, Kentucky to be married to Rebekah Wells, a daughter of
Captain Samuel Wells, 35 one of the heroes of the battle of Tippecanoe. 36 Captain
William Wells was a younger brother of Samuel and hence the uncle of Mrs. Re-
bekah Heald. Captain William Wells' intimate connection with the tragic events
soon to be related renders this an important detail of the narrative. Two years
previous to the marriage of Captain Heald and Rebekah Wells, Captain William
Wells had taken his niece, Rebekah, on a visit to Fort Wayne, where Captain
Heald was then on duty ; the marriage was doubtless the result of the acquaintance
formed on that occasion.

After the wedding at Louisville, Captain Heald and his wife started north

32 Montgomery's "Life of William Henry Harrison," p. 105.

33 Fatten & Lord's "History of the United States," Vol. II, p. 624.

34 Report of the Chicago Historical Society for 1906-7, p. 117.
30 Kirkland's "Chicago Massacre," p. 69.

86 Fergus' Historical Series, No. 16, p. 21.


on horseback for Fort Dearborn. There were four horses, one each for the bride
and groom, one for a little slave girl who begged to be taken along, and one for
the baggage. They travelled by compass, making the entire journey in six days,
and on their arrival the garrison of the fort turned out to receive them with mili-
tary honors. Rebekah was much pleased with her reception and found everything
to her liking. She liked the wild place, the wild lake and the wild Indians, then
indeed friendly enough, but soon to become fierce enemies. Everything suited her
ways and disposition, "being on the wild order" herself, she said; 37 and we can well
imagine Captain Heald's becoming, in his changed circumstances, quite reconciled
to the situation with which he was so much displeased the year before.


Captain William Wells, one of the romantic figures of the time, was born in
Kentucky, about 1770. He was a brother of Samuel Wells, whose daughter Re-
bekah married Captain Nathan Heald, as previously related. When twelve years
old, William was captured by the Miami Indians, whose chief, Little Turtle,
adopted him, and gave him his daughter 38 in marriage when he grew to man-
hood. William was highly regarded by the Indians with whom he lived, and
fought with them against the whites in the campaigns of 1790 and 1791, when the
Americans under Generals Harnier and St. Clair were defeated. When Rebekah
Wells was a girl she remembers how the Wells family, having learned of William's
presence among the the Indians, tried to get him back. "We all wanted Uncle
William, whom we called our 'Indian uncle,' " related Rebekah Wells, his niece,
in later years, "to leave the Indians who had stolen him in his boyhood, and come

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.1) → online text (page 11 of 59)