Kinzie was born in Quebec City, Canada to John McKenzie and Anne McKenzie. His father died before Kinzie was a year old, and his mother remarried. In 1773, he was apprenticed to George Farnham, a silversmith. Some of the jewelry Kinzie created has been found on archaeological digs in Ohio. By 1777, Kinzie had become a trader in Detroit, working for William Burnett.
His travels brought him to Chicago in 1804, where he purchased the house and lands of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable near the mouth of the Chicago River. After Fort Dearborn was built, Kinzie’s influence and reputation continued to climb in the area. He escaped the Fort Dearborn Massacre in 1812 unharmed and returned to Detroit with his family. He returned to Chicago in 1816 and remained until his death.
Originally buried at the Fort Dearborn Cemetery, Kinzie’s remains were moved to City Cemetery in what has become Lincoln Park. When City Cemetery was closed for the creation of the park, he was removed to Graceland Cemetery.