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Facts about Fort Dearborn for Kids


Fort Dearborn was a United States fort built in 1803 beside the Chicago River in what is now Chicago, Illinois. It was constructed by troops under Captain John Whistler and named in honor of Henry Dearborn, then United States Secretary of War.

  • The original fort was destroyed following the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812, and a new fort was constructed on the same site in 1816.
  • The fort was de-commissioned by 1837, and parts of the fort were lost to the widening of the Chicago River in 1855 and a fire in 1857; the last vestiges being destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
  • The history of human activity in the Chicago area prior to the arrival of European explorers is mostly unknown.
  • In 1673, an expedition headed by Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette, though possibly not the first Europeans to visit the area, was the first recorded to have crossed the Chicago Portage and travelled along the Chicago River.
  • Marquette returned in 1674, camped a few days near the mouth of the river, then moved on to the portage, where he stayed through the winter of 1674–75.
  • Joliet and Marquette did not report any Indians living near the Chicago River area at this time, though archaeologists have since discovered numerous Indian village sites elsewhere in the greater Chicago area.
  • Captain John Whistler was selected as commandant of the new post, and set out with six men to complete the survey.
  • The troops reached Chicago on August 17; the Tracy was anchored about half a mile offshore, unable to enter the Chicago River due to a sandbar at its mouth.
  • The troops had completed the construction of the fort by the summer of 1804; it was a log-built fort enclosed in a double stockade, with two blockhouses.
  • The fur trader John Kinzie arrived in Chicago in 1804, and rapidly became the civilian leader of the small settlement that grew around the fort.
  • In April, Whistler and other senior officers at the fort were removed; Whistler was replaced as commandant of the fort by Captain Nathan Heald.
  • Heald oversaw the evacuation, but on August 15 the evacuees were ambushed by about 500 Potawatomi Indians in the Fort Dearborn Massacre.
  • This fort consisted of a double wall of wooden palisade, officer and enlisted barracks, a garden, and other buildings.
  • In 1837, the fort and its reserve, including part of the land that became Grant Park, was deeded to the city by the Federal Government.
  • In 1939, the Chicago City Council added a fourth star to the city flag to represent Fort Dearborn.