What's in a county name? Ask him

Professor theorizes on who put the
'DuPage' in DuPage County


August 10, 2007

Ron Pazola, staff writer at Sun-Times News Group.
© Copyright 2007 Sun-Times News Group

Carl J. Weber hopes to set the record straight on how DuPage County got its name. Weber, a DeVry University retired professor of history, was recently at the DuPage County Historical Museum. He got into a discussion with the museum's executive director, Jody Crago, on the origins of the county name. Crago admitted to Weber that historians don't really know who DuPage County was named after.

Weber, whose expertise is "the map-intensive history of the exploration and discovery in the heartland of America, 1650-1700", is a lecturer and member of the Chicago Map Society at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and has taught at several colleges and universities. He is challenging the theory that the county was named for a French trader with the family name Page or Paget.

"Give me a year, and I'll see if I can come up with something," he told Crago. Instead, it took Weber three hours of research to uncover the name of the man he believes is the DuPage in DuPage County.

Before Weber arrived at his conclusion, the foremost theory was proposed by John F. Swenson, a retired lawyer who has written on French colonial history. In a 1996 article in the DuPage County Historical Museum Quarterly, Swenson proposed that DuPage was the name of a French trader in the area with the family name Page or Paget. But Pierre Lebeau of the Center for French Colonial Studies at North Central College in Naperville said that on linguistic grounds, Swenson's proposed solution is "highly improbable." Swenson acknowledges there is "no direct proof" for his theory.

Weber credits Antoine-Simone Le Page DuPratz as the real source of the name. DuPratz, a Frenchman, was a well-known historian, army captain, engineer, surveyor, cartographer and man of science. He spent the years 1718 to 1734 in the North American interior. In 1758 Du Pratz published a three-volume history of Louisiana and the North American continental interior, which included several maps. With his "Histoire de la Louisiane," DuPratz became an acknowledged expert on the North American interior.

"People are surprised, even dumbfounded, to learn that the area later to become DuPage County, and even part of today's Chicago, was part of the original Louisiana." Weber elaborated on this in a presentation at the Newberry Library. "The original Louisiana was delineated on a map created in 1684 and presented to King Louis XIV. It was a vast spread of land comprising all the geography drained by the Mississippi, 34 of today's states. LaSalle, perhaps the greatest explorer of the era, created Louisiana as part of the European dominion in April, 1682."

Weber, having done extensive research on French colonial history, was familiar with Thomas Hutchins, America's first geographer. The first map that the word "DuPage" appeared on was created by Hutchins in 1778. "It seems rather straight-forward that Hutchins, in his research, relied heavily on the work of DuPratz," said Weber, noting that DuPratz often signed his name Le Page. DuPage in French literally means "of Le Page."

English Tanslation of DuPratz Title Page.

Apparently, the earliest map with the DuPage name. Map by Thomas Hutchins, 1778.

When asked what he thought of Weber's theory, Crago remained noncommittal. "I will leave that up to the historians and scholars," he said. Weber, who researches the maps and explorers of 17th century regional history in the American Heartland, is not positive he's correct about duPratz, but is nonetheless confident that his theory is the most reasonable to have come along. Weber quipped, "If cartographer Hutchins had gotten up on the other side of the bed that mornng, we might all now be living in DuPratz County".