Fort Dearborn Cemetery


(Also known as: Common Burial Ground at Fort Dearborn and Garrison Cemetery)

South Township –     Section: E 1/2 10 Township 39  Range: 14  Circa 1805 – 1835


In the summer of 1803, the Schooner Tracy arrived with the building materials and supplies needed to construct the first Fort Dearborn. Another ship brought sixty‑six men and three officers. The fort, finished in late summer, 1803,  also served the early settlers but was destroyed during the massacre of 1812 and was not re-established until 1816.


And where ever people gather, deaths begin to occur and a place for the dead need to be established. Fort Dearborn Cemetery can well be considered Chicago’s first cemetery. Very little physical description of Fort Cemetery is known, but we know  the site was not much more than sand, which shifted with the winds off Lake Michigan. It was  difficult if not impossible to maintain the graves against the elements. Markers at best were probably simple wooden  headboards or crosses. Many other graves probably went unmarked.

The History of Cook County states that “the cutting through of the  sandbar for the harbor caused the lake to encroach and wash away  the earth, exposing long range of coffins and their contents, which were afterwards cared for and reinterred by the civil  authorities.”

wm howard feb 24 1830 highlighted copy

 1830 map drawn by F. Harrison Jr. U.S. Civil Engineer

and approved by William Harrison , U.S. Civil Engineer..

 Located southeast of Fort Dearborn, the Common Burying Ground at Fort Dearborn was located between the road leading to the fort and the west bank of the Chicago River as it flowed southward to the lake and before the channel was cut. According to modern street grids, the cemetery would have been south and east of the intersection of Lake Street (200 north) and Wabash Avenue (50 east).  It was located on what today would be the south end of the Michigan Avenue bridge at the Chicago River (Approx. 300 N. Michigan by today’s street numbering system).


Eliza Dodemead Jouett  died 1805

Although there might have been an earlier burial, the first grave at the fort other than Indian burials is that of Eliza Dodemead,  wife of Charles Jouett (1772-1834), the first Indian agent and government factor at Chicago. Her grave was placed at the entrance to the garden of the fort .  Eliza of Detroit married Charles on January 22, 1803 and had one daughter. After Eliza’s  death, Charles remarried in 1809 and had one son and three daughters by his second wife.

On modern day street grids, Eliza’s  grave would be in the middle of South Water Street (Wacker Place – 300 north) between Wabash Avenue (50 east) and Michigan Avenue (100 east). Although the special significance of her grave, by its location and identification on the Harrison map (marked in yellow), is not well explained, her death probably occurred before the formal beginning of the cemetery at the fort. It could have been the first death at the fort or least one of the earliest.

The documented history of this cemetery can best be established when Captain Hezikiah Bradley was sent to Chicago to re‑establish Fort Dearborn after the Massacre of 1812. He returned to Chicago  on July 4, 1816  and found the victims of the massacre lying unburied in and  around the fort. Thirty‑nine men, two women, and twelve children  died in the ambush, according to Chicago, Growth of a Metropolis. History accounts state that his first task was to carefully  gather the bones and bury them in what would be later called the Fort Cemetery. (More about this massacre can be found in a separate blog.)

The earliest map reference to the cemetery is  one drawn by  Captain Smith in 1818. It appears in a portfolio of maps entitled  Indian Villages of Chicago, one copy of which was found in the Evanston Public Library. The features on the map are not labeled, but can be compared to more detailed maps drawn in later years.

For additional map reference, see The Location of the Chicago  Portage Route of the Seventeenth Century, Robert Knight, published 1928 by the Chicago Historical Society. The map is a  composite of many early maps, government notes and surveys, and the street grid from the 1925 Chicago plat maps.

Another source, Chicago and her Churches reported “The burial ground for the Garrison was on the spot where the I.C. (Illinois Central railroad station) now stands, but it was swept away by lake waters, with all its dead, before that magnificent structure was built.”

  The cemetery probably closed about the time  when the new North Side and South Side cemeteries were opened in 1835.

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