Fort Dearborn (3)

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Fort Dearborn (3) (1803-1836) - First established in 1803 by Captain John Whistler, 1st U.S. Infantry on the west shore of Lake Michigan near the mouth of the Chicago River. Named after Henry Dearborn, U.S. Secretary of War (1801-1809). The original fort was destroyed by hostile Indians in 1812 and rebuilt in 1816. Finally abandoned in 1836.

Bronze tracings in the pavement marking the outline of Fort Dearborn in Chicago
The SE pier of the Michigan Avenue bridge in Chicago, commemorating the Fort Dearborn Massacre.

History

The first fort was sited on a slight eminence in the bend of the Chicago River (which bend no longer exists, the river having been straightened in the course of engineering work in the nineteenth century). It had a 12' stockade with two tall blockhouses, one on the southeast corner and one on the northwest corner. Inside the stockade were the hospital, barracks, officer's quarters, a stone magazine and the commandant's quarters.

Plan of Fort Dearborn drawn by John Whistler in 1808.

"This fort was remarkably well calculated to hold out against Indians — lying in the bend of a deep river and nearly surrounded by it; built of very substantial materials, with two rows of high pickets and two Block houses which guarded every point including the communication between the Lake and Chicago River, the latter of which communicates with the Illinois and is the route the Traders and Indians take on their way to Mackinac. It contained a sufficiency of men to protect it and was situated on an eminence, overlooking in every direction, a level Country." (Report of George Irwin, U. S. Factor, to General John Mason, Oct. 12, 1812; further details given by Milo Quaife in "The Fort Dearborn Massacre", MVHR 1:561‑573.)

On 15 Aug 1812 an ordered evacuation of the fort was begun with the assistance of Miami and Potawatomi Indians who were thought to be friendly. The Potawatomi turned on the column of soldiers and dependents, killing most of the soldiers and some of the dependents. The fort commandant, Captain Nathan Heald and his wife were captured and ransomed to the British along with the other survivors. The Potawatomi Indians burned the fort to the ground on 16 Aug 1812. This event became known as the Fort Dearborn Massacre because of the number of civilian casualties.

The second fort was built after the war in 1816. The new post had a wooden palisade, officer and enlisted barracks, a garden, and other buildings. This post was garrisoned until 1823, re-garrisoned between 1828 and 1836. Parts of the fort remained until an 1857 fire destroyed much of the post and the 1871 Chicago Fire finished off the few remaining buildings.


Current Status

Cartouche on the Michigan Avenue bridge in Chicago, commemorating the Fort Dearborn Massacre

The fort site is an official Chicago Landmark and is commemorated with a Cartouche on the Michigan Avenue bridge and brass site outline markers on the bridge and in the sidewalk. The Fort Dearborn Massacre is commemorated on the southeast pier of the Michigan Avenue bridge.



Location: Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.

Maps & Images

Lat: 41.888333 Long: -87.624722

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