Fort Dearborn

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DEARBORN, FORT. Chicago, long recognized as a center of control for the region between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, proved vital to U.S. military supremacy in the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. As part of a the campaign to oust the British and their Indian allies from the northwestern territories, an army led by Gen. Anthony Wayne forced twelve Native American tribes to sign the Greenville Treaty in August 1795. The treaty exacted the cession of a tract six miles square at Chicago to serve as the site for a future fort, established in 1803 and named after secretary of war Gen. Henry Dearborn. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, the troops and civilians stationed at Fort Dearborn and led by Capt. Nathan Heald were massacred by Native Americans on 15 August while evacuating to Fort Wayne, and the fort was abandoned.

On 4 July 1816, troops reoccupied Chicago and built a second Fort Dearborn. From 1823 until 1832, the fort was alternately abandoned and then garrisoned when new Indian trouble flared. Occupied periods included 1828 to support the government's campaign against the Winnebago Indians, and 1832 at the outbreak of the Black Hawk War. The development of modern Chicago began in 1833. By 1836, the original Native American occupants of Chicago had been defeated, relocated, or killed, and Fort Dearborn was again, and finally, evacuated. Its military reservation was transformed into Grant Park, the front door to the Chicago Loop.


Cronon, William. Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: Norton, 1991.

Quaife, Milo M. Chicago and the Old Northwest, 1673–1835: A Study of the Evolution of the Northwestern Frontier, Together with a History of Fort Dearborn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1913.

M. M.Quaife/a. r.

See alsoArmy Posts ; Illinois ; Indian Land Cessions ; Indian Policy, U.S., 1775–1830 ; Indian Treaties .

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Fort Dearborn, U.S. army post on the Chicago River, NE Ill.; est. 1803 and named for Secretary of War Henry Dearborn. Threatened by the indigenous population at the start of the War of 1812, the frontier post was ordered by Gen. William Hull to evacuate. On Aug. 15, 1812, as Capt. Nathan Heald led the small contingent of troops, militia, women, and children from the fort, a large Native American force attacked. More than half of the people were killed and most of those remaining were taken prisoner; the fort was destroyed. Fort Dearborn was rebuilt in 1816–17.

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