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The French and Métis in Chicago

The young Frenchmen who ran through the woods of the North America stopped long enough to marry Native American women.  Traders sought marriages with Indian women to cement trading alliances with their wife’s tribe and clan and those tribes in turn, encouraged such partnerships.

Their children were known as “Métis”, French for mixed race.   But they also created a mixed culture that became distinct from traditional Native and European cultures.   Métis were identifiable by their dress, bilingual language and Roman Catholic religion.  During the early 1700's, over 85% of the children with French surnames baptized in Kaskaskia were born to Indian mothers.

A number of Métis families with ties to Peoria and Milwaukee began living near the mouth of the Chicago River sometime in the late 1700’s.  Sometime after the spring of 1784 Jean Baptiste Point de Sable moved to Chicago.  His previous trading post was near present day Michigan City.  He and his wife and their two children are considered the first permanent residents of Chicago.

Their small family was joined by other Métis.  Antoine Ouilmette and his wife Archange, a French and Pottawatomi woman who came from a family that lived by the Calumet River, built a cabin next to the DuSable’s.  Ouilmette had been a voyageur and continued that heavy work by moving the trade goods and supplies of traders and travelers over the Chicago Portage in his own employ.

Gurdon Hubbard describes a French trader, the remnants of whose fields were still visible when he first passed through Chicago in 1818: “What is now known as the North Branch was then known as River Guarie, named after the first trader to follow LaSalle.  The field he cultivated was traceable on the prairie by the distinct marks of the cornhills.
For more on the French in Chicago see Ulrich Danckers excellent essay: “FRENCH CHICAGO DURING THE 18TH CENTURY” on the Early Chicago website

Next page: Jean Baptiste Pointe De Sable