Thomas Jefferson Vance Owen

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Thomas Jefferson Vance Owen (April 5, 1801 – October 15, 1835) was an American settler who was the first president of the Town of Chicago. He was born in Kentucky and emigrated to Kaskaskia, Illinois, with his father in 1809. [1] He had served several offices in Randolph County, Illinois, during the 1820s. He was elected to serve in the 7th Illinois General Assembly for Randolph County in August 1830 [2] and took office on December 6 in the Illinois House of Representatives. [3]


Alexander Wolcott Jr., the Indian agent at Chicago, died in October 1830. Owen was appointed to take his place by the United States Senate on February 4, 1831, being chosen over local residents Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard and John H. Kinzie. [4] Owen arrived in Chicago without having a house; the building intended to house the agent had become the property of Kinzie after Wolcott's death for having been included in James Thompson's plat of Chicago and Wolcott's subsequent inaction to stop it from falling into private hands. [5] When Cook County was established in 1831, Owen served as its first school commissioner. [6]

Chicago officially voted to incorporate as a town on August 5, 1833, with 12 votes for and one against, the lone dissenter living outside of Chicago. [7] The Town of Chicago held the first election of its Board of Trustees on August 10. [7] Those elected were Owen, George W. Dole, Madore B. Beaubien, John Miller, and E. S. Kimberly. [7] The Trustees first met on August 12, where Owen was selected as the president of the Board. [7]

Owen died on October 15, 1835, at his home in Chicago from a pulmonary illness he had been suffering since May. [8] His health at that time had been compromised due to efforts of expelling Potawatomi Indians west of the Mississippi River per the Treaty of Chicago. [8] He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. [9]

Grand Avenue is so called due to a quote of Owen's referring to Chicago as "a grand place to live". [10] Owen Avenue is named for Owen directly. [10] The historian James Ryan Haydon claimed in 1934 that Owen's contributions to Chicago were deliberately downplayed by later historians so as not to drown out the stories of Chicago's other pioneers, what he called the "Kinzie mythology". [11]

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  1. Haydon, p. 1
  2. Haydon, p. 19
  3. Haydon, p. 22
  4. Haydon, p. 28
  5. Haydon, pp. 29–30
  6. Haydon, p. 63
  7. 1 2 3 4 Andreas, p. 128
  8. 1 2 Haydon, p. 192
  9. Haydon, p. 202
  10. 1 2 Varon, Roz (May 1, 2015). "7 on the Streets: Wolcott Avenue, Grand Avenue, Owen Avenue". ABC 7 Chicago. Retrieved January 27, 2020.
  11. Haydon, pp. 153–154


Political offices
Preceded by
Position established
President of the Town of Chicago
August 12, 1833 – 1834
Succeeded by
John H. Kinzie