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The DeSaible Cabin

By Cate LiaBraaten

The above photo of women of the National De Saible Memorial Society and the replica De Saible Cabin (and replica Fort Dearborn) is from the Esther Parada papers in the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, part of the Chicago Public Library.

The De Saible Cabin commemorated the first permanent non-indigenous resident of what became Chicago, Jean Baptiste Pointe De Saible, now mostly known as Du Sable. Du Sable was a French-speaking Black man who is most commonly understood to have been Haitian. He settled on the Chicago river in 1779 and built a prosperous fur trading business and homestead over the years. This small exhibit commemorating Du Sable is significant because it was one of the few places of African American self-representation at the fair.

A group of African American clubwomen from Chicago’s South Side worked together to establish this exhibit to promote the history of Du Sable. These women formed the National De Saible Memorial Society. Annie Oliver, an educator and hairdresser, led the group in commemorating Du Sable at the fair and elsewhere throughout the city of Chicago. The National De Saible Memorial Society worked to convince A Century of Progress to let them build the exhibit, and then they raised money in their communities for the reconstruction of the replica cabin. Throughout the fair these women acted as hostess to visitors from around the world and told the story of De Saible, thus claiming Chicago history for themselves.

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