Cook County, Illinois
The city of Chicago is the largest place in the state of Illinois, and has grown up almost entirely within the last seven years. It is the seat of justice for Cook county, and is situated on the west side of lake Michigan, at the mouth of Chicago river, and at the eastern end of the Illinois and Michigan canal. Its growth, even for western cities, has been unexampled. In Dr. Beck's Gazetteer, published in 1823, Chicago is described as a village of 10 or 12 houses, and 60 or 70 inhabitants. In 1832, it contained five small stores, and 250 inhabitants; and now (1837) the population amounts to 8000, with 120 stores, besides a number of groceries; of the former, twenty sell by wholesale. It has also twelve public houses, three newspapers, near fifty lawyers, and upwards of thirty physicians.
Chicago is connected by means of the numerous steamboats, ships, brigs, schooner's, &c., that navigate the great fresh water seas of the north, with all the different trading ports on lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie, and especially with Buffalo, to and from which city various lines of regular packets are constantly departing and arriving. Some of the steamboats are of great power and burthen. The James Madison built last winter at Erie, Pennsylvania, expressly for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and Buffalo trade, on her first trip in May of the present year, carried over 4000 barrels freight, and upwards of 900 adult passengers, besides a large number of children; and the receipts for the voyage were estimated at 18,000 dollars. It is intended to have this vessel leave Chicago and Buffalo every 18 days. The James Madison is 185 feet in length, 31 feet beam, and 45 feet in width on deck including the guards, 12 feet depth of hold, 720 tons burthen, and propelled by a high-pressure horizontal engine of 180 horse power.
The merchandize imported into Chicago in the year 1836 amounted in weight to 28,000 tons, and in value to upwards of three millions of dollars, beside a vast number of immigrants with their families, provisions, &c. There arrived in the same year 456 vessels, including 49 steamboats, 10 ships and barques; the rest, brigs, schooners, and sloops. During the last winter, 127 teams, loaded with merchandize for the country, were counted in the street in one day.
The Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics, each have houses of worship. There are likewise one or more insurance companies, fire companies, waterworks for the supply of water from the lake, several good schools, and a respectable academy. A large ship-yard has been commenced near the city. An extensive brewery, a steam saw and grist mill, and a large furnace, are all in successful operation. The building of an Academy of Fine Arts is likewise contemplated, and measures are about being taken to obtain for it a collection of paintings. The care which the original surveyors took to give the prairie winds a full sweep through this city, has distinguished it as the most healthful place in the western country, and has made it the resort of a large number of people during the sickly season. The natural advantages of the place, and the enterprize and capital that will concentrate here, with the favourable prospects for health, must soon make this the emporium of trade and business for all the northern country. The completion of the canal will give Chicago a water communication with all the principal cities in the country: the high prices given for produce, and the ready market, will make it the grand resort of the western farmers.
Chicago is built on level ground, but sufficiently elevated above the highest floods to prevent overflow; and on both sides of the river, for a mile in width, along the shore of the lake, the land is a sand-bank: but back of the city, towards the Des Plaines river, is a rich and fertile prairie, and for the first three or four miles dry and elevated. The following description of the country in the vicinity of this place is from the pen of Mr. Schoolcraft:
"The country around Chicago is the most fertile and beautiful that can be imagined. It consists of an intermixture of woods and prairies, diversified with gentle slopes, sometimes attaining the elevation of hills, and irrigated with a number of clear streams and rivers, which throw their waters partly into lake Michigan, and partly into the Mississippi river. - As a farming country, it unites the fertile soil of the finest lowland prairies, with an elevation which exempts it from the influence of stagnant waters, and a summer climate of delightful serenity; while its natural meadows present all the advantages for raising stock, of the most favoured part of the valley of the Mississippi. It is already the seat of several flourishing plantations, and only requires the extinguishment of the Indian title to the lands, to become one of the most attractive fields for the emigrant. To the ordinary advantages of an agricultural market-town, it must hereafter add that of a depot for the inland commerce between the northern and southern sections of the union, and a great thoroughfare for strangers, merchants, and travellers."
Along the north branch of the Chicago, and the lake shore, are extensive bodies of fine timber. Large quantities of winter pine exist in the regions towards Green Bay, and about Grand river in Michigan, from which lumber in any quantities is obtained, and conveyed by shipping to Chicago. Yellow poplar boards and plank are brought across the lake from the St. Joseph's river. The mail in post-coaches from Detroit, arrives here tri-weekly, and departs for Galena, for Springfield, Alton, and St. Louis, and for Danville and Vincennes.
The United States has a strip of elevated ground between the town and lake, about half a mile in width, on which Fort Dearborn and the light-house are situated, but which is now claimed as a pre-emption right, and is now in a course of judicial investigation.
Fort Dearborn was for a considerable period occupied as a military station by the United States, and garrisoned generally by about three companies of regular troops; but the expulsion of the Indians, and the rapid increase of settlements at all parts of this region, have rendered its further occupancy as a military post unnecessary: in consequence, the troops have been recently withdrawn. It consists of a square stockade, inclosing barracks, quarters for the officers, a magazine, provision store, &c., and is defended by bastions at the northern and south-east angles.
During the last war with Great Britain, this place was the scene of a most foul and bloody tragedy. In 1812, in consequence of the disgraceful surrender of general Hull at Detroit, it was determined to abandon the fort. A number of the troops, shortly after leaving it, were inhumanly murdered by the savages, who lay in ambush on the margin of the lake.
The following account of this affair is extracted from M'Afee's History of the late war in the western country. "On the morning of the 15th (Aug.) at sunrise, the troops, consisting of about 70 men, with some women and children, marched from the fort with pack-horses in the centre, and captain Wells with his Indians in the rear. They had proceeded about a mile from the fort, when the front guard was fired on by the savages, who were posted behind a sand-bank on the margin of the lake, and in a skirt of woods which the party were approaching; the rest of the country around them being an open prairie. At the same time, they saw a body of Indians passing to their rear, to cut off their retreat to the fort. The firing now became general, and the troops, seeing nothing but death and massacre before them, formed in line of battle, and returned the fire of the enemy with much bravery and success, as they slowly retreated in the prairie. The Indians made several desperate efforts to rush up and tomahawk them; but every charge was repulsed by the firmness of the troops, who fought with desperation, determined to sell their lives as dear as possible. Captain Wells being killed, his Indians retired from the party and joined the others. Several women and children were also killed; and our ranks were at last so reduced, as scarcely to exceed twenty effective men: yet they continued resolute, and stuck together, resolved to fight while one remained able to fire. But the Indians now withdrew some distance, and sent a small French boy to demand a surrender. The boy was captain Heald's interpreter, who had run off to the Indians at the commencement of the action. He advanced cautiously; and Mr. Griffith, who was afterwards a lieutenant in a company of spies in colonel Johnson's regiment from Kentucky, advanced to meet him, intending to kill him for his perfidy. But the boy declared, that it was the only way he had to save his life, and appeared sorry that he had been obliged to act in that manner. He then made known his business; the Indians proposed to spare the lives of our men, provided they would surrender. The proposal being made known to the surviving soldiers, they unanimously determined to reject it. The boy returned with the answer to the Indians; but in a short time he came back, and entreated Mr. Griffith to use his influence with captain Heald to make him surrender, as the Indians were very numerous. The captain, his lady and Mr. Griffith were all wounded. He at last consented to surrender; and the troops having laid down their arms, the Indians advanced to receive them; and notwithstanding their promises, they now perfidiously tomahawked three or four of the men. One Indian, with the fury of a demon in his countenance, advanced to Mrs. Heald, with his tomahawk drawn. She had been accustomed to danger; and knowing the temper of the Indians, with great presences of mind, she looked him in the face, and smiling said, "Surely you would not kill a squaw." His arm fell nerveless; the conciliating smile of an innocent female, appealing to the magnanimity of a warrior, reached the heart of the savage, and subdued the barbarity of his soul. He immediately took the lady under his protection. She was the daughter of general Samuel Wells of Kentucky. The head of captain Wells was cut off, and his heart was cut out and eaten by the savages.
"The Indians having divided their prisoners, as usual in such cases, it was the fate of captain Heald, his lady, and Mr. Griffith, to be taken by the Ottawas on the lake beyond the mouth of the river St. Joseph. Their wounds being severe they looked upon destruction as inevitable; but Heaven often smiles when we least expect it. Griffith had observed a canoe, which was large enough to carry them; and they contrived to escape in it by night. In this frail bark they traversed the lake 200 miles to Mackinaw, where the British commander afforded them the means of returning to the United States."
After the war, this fort was repaired, and again taken possession of by the American troops; since which time, it has always been, until lately, occupied by a garrison.
[Source: "Illinois in 1837: a sketch descriptive of the situation, boundaries, face of the Country..." By Samuel Augustus Mitchell; 1837]
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