Two barriers to settlement of the near empty, muddy, swampy site called Chicago were removed between 1825 and 1833. This removal caused a trickle of settlers to turn into an unstoppable torrent of humanity within a decade. The development of Chicago would mirror what had already happened on the east coast after. People came from Europe and settled the first area they found on the Atlantic coast, children were born and grew up. Then they looked for land. Go west, became the watchword. But mountains, swamps, and the indigenous peoples who already occupied the land were challenges to the westward movement.
By Chicago Lithographing Company, United States Library of
Congress's Prints and Photographs division,
digital ID pga.03605. 1867, Public Domain,
Two factors made it difficult for Americans east of Chicago to make the trip. First, the Indian population showed their objections to white settlers moving into their land by frequent raids. Second, no direct land or water route to Chicago existed. But these impediments were not to stand.
First, the US government made a two-pronged policy to discourage the Indian population from remaining in the area: soldiers were sent to raid the villages and treaties were made with promises of land west of the Mississippi. By the early 1830s, most of the Potowatami people were forced out. With the IndianRemoval Act of 1833, one barrier to new settlement of the Chicago area was now gone.
The next barrier to fall was the geographic difficulties facing those who wanted to settle in the area. Americans coming from New England, New York and New Jersey had no roads to travel overland to Chicago. They had to rely on water transportation, but there was not a direct unbroken route. Finally in 1825, the Erie Canal made it possible for travelers to come by boat from the East Coast to Chicago via the Great Lakes. This new route to Chicago brought in many settlers although an additional canal and other improvements would be necessary to really open up the way.
As we noted in a previous post of February 16, 2017, Chicago in the 1820s to mid-1830s was composed of just a few buildings, surrounded by nearly impassable, muddy swamp for much of the year. As you can see from the drawing below, by 1830 Chicago had not grown much in a decade:
Chicago 1830, Population 96, Chicago in Early Days 1779 – 1857”, 1893,
Kruz and Allison [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
“The term Métis (MAY tee) refers to people of mixed ancestry, usually Native American and European. Historically, Métis people were important to Chicago and the Great Lakes region during the fur trade era, especially during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Fur traders from Europe, Canada, and the Atlantic colonies and states frequently married Native American women living in the communities with which they traded.”1
Just how many Metis lived in the Chicago village in 1826? We can infer the number of heads of households and the ethnic composition of the village in 1826 from the 35 names on the poll list of the first official election (for Governor and Congressman) held there on August 7, 1826 2:
“Of the thirty-five names on the poll-list, twenty-one were French.”3 p.32
“Of the thirty-five names on the poll-list, twenty-one were French.”3 p.32
More evidence of the French/Metis presence comes from a petition requesting a priest that the early Catholic Chicagoans sent to the Archdiocese in St. Louis, MO in 1833:
“The following signed the petition, the figure after each individual's name indicating the number of persons in his family: Thomas J. V. Owen, 10; J. B. Beaubien, 14; Joseph Laf ramboise, 7; Jean Pothier, 5; Alexander Robinson, 8; Pierre Leclerc, 3; Alexis Laf ramboise, 4; Claude Laf ramboise, 4; Jacques Chassut, 5; Antoine Ouilmet; Leon Bourassa, 3; Charles Taylor, 2; J. Bt. Miranda and sisters, 3; Louis Chevalier and family, 3; Patrick Walsh, 2; John Mann, 4; B. Caldwell, 1; Dill Saver, 1; Mark Beaubien, 12; Dill Vaughn, 1; James Vaughn, 1; J. Bt. Kabbie, 1; J. Bt. Poulx; J. B. Tabeaux, 1; J. Bt. Durocher, 1; J. Bt. Brodeur, 1; Mathias Smith, 1; Antoine St. Ours, 1; Bazille Desplat, 1; Charles Monselle, 1; John Hondorf, 1; Dexter Apgood, 1; Nelson Peter Perry, 1; John S. C. Hogan, 1; Anson H. Taylor, 1; Louis Francheres, 1; a total of 122.4But the dominance of the French and Metis in early Chicago and the great fur trading empire was on the decline by the early 1830s:
“Numerous biracial fur trade families, including Métis, Indian, and Euro-American members, were among the first families of Chicago. Between the 1790s and 1812, Billy Caldwell, Alexander Robinson, and members of the Beaubien, Ouilmette, Chevalier, Bourassa, Mirandeau, and LaFramboise families established Chicago as a fur trade center along with the Anglo Kinzie family and the African American Jean Baptiste Point DuSable. After the War of 1812, however, English-speaking settlers from the eastern United States began to migrate into northern Illinois, and by the 1830s this stream of migration increased to the point where the old French-speaking Métis and other Creole residents became a minority in their own town.”5
And what caused this change in the Chicago economy from reliance on the fur trade? The emergence of farming and the concurrent deluge of new settlers from the Atlantic states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia) combined with a multitude of entrepreneurs eager to take advantage of Chicago’s geographic advantages brought a new vitality and money to Chicago.
Change was in the air in the village of Chicago. A land grab of huge proportions was just beginning. Enterprising persons with a view to the future saw the possibilities of the geographic position of Chicago both as a trading hub and a gateway to the west. There was money to be made! Speculators began buying up lots. Joining the fur traders and those who furnished them with lodging, liquor and supplies, surveyors, lawyers and speculators arrived to assist in mapping and selling land to eager buyers. More grocery stores opened and new clothing and building materials stores sprang up to serve the growing population.
“The first census of Chicago was reported in the “Democrat” of November 25, 1835, showing 3,265 persons, 398 dwellings, 4 warehouses, 29 dry-goods stores, 19 grocery and provision stores, 5 hardware stores, 3 drug stores, 19 taverns, 26 groceries (probably liquor stores) and 17 lawyer's offices.” 6
As stated above, the increase in population correlated with a change in the ethnicity of the people of Chicago. Let’s look at some records to chart the changes in the ethnic make-up of this area from the 1820s to the 1830s.
The poll record of 1835 compared to the 1826 poll list shows a sharp movement from the few old Métis families to many, many American-headed households:
In conclusion, we see that Chicago underwent a huge increase in population from the mid-1820s to the mid-1830s. Along with this increase, we also see a change in the ethnic make-up of the people in the growing town. The era of the French and Métis fur traders was fast ending to be succeeded by Yankee businessmen and farmers with their families. What happened to the fur traders:
“A majority of those having French names (on the August 7, 1826 poll list) were employees of the American Fur Company, or hunted and traded for themselves. When Chicago was abandoned as a fur trading post, they went further into the frontier country, like Archibald Caldwell.”7 p. 16Notes
1 Métis, The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago, Chicago Historical Society, The Newberry Library, < http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/818.html>, downloaded 12 Dec 2018.
2 Fremont O. Bennett, compiled, Politics and Politicians of Chicago: Cook County, and Illinois. Memorial Volume, 1787-1887. A Complete Record of Municipal, County, State and National Politics from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. And an Account of the Haymarket Massacre of May 4, 1886, and the Anarchist Trials, (Chicago, IL, The Blakely Printing Company, 1886), p. 14.
3Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago The beginning of a City 1673-1848, Vol 1, (Chicago, IL, The University of Chicago Press, 1937), p. 32.
4 Joseph Garraghan Gilbert, The Catholic Church in Chicago, 1673-1871: An Historical Sketch, (Chicago, IL, Loyola University Press, 1921), pgs. 45-46.
5 Métis, online <http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/818.html>.
6 Joseph Kirkland, The Story of Chicago, Vol. 1, (Chicago, IL, Dibble Publishing Company, 1892), p. 152.7 Bennett, Politics and Politicians of Chicago: Cook County, and Illinois. Memorial Volume, 1787-1887. A Complete Record of Municipal, County, State and National Politics from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. And an Account of the Haymarket Massacre of May 4, 1886, and the Anarchist Trials, p. 16.