The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
Scottish Stonecutters Build Texas
The capital building in Austin Texas was built by
Scottish stone cutters from Aberdeen. The complete story
is told in The Institute of Texan Cultures in San
Antonio. These stone cutters first came to Texas as the
result of a labor dispute. The state capital building in
Austin had burned in 1881, and construction was under
way in 1882 on a new structure of pink Texas granite.
The unusual building material was donated by George
Washington Lacy, but the granite had to be cut, finished
and imported 45 miles from the quarry near Marble Falls.
Governor John Ireland had signed a contract with the
State Penitentiary Board for 500 convicts to work the
quarries and construct a railroad from the quarries.
Controversy arose over the use of convict labor, and the
Granite Cutter’s International Union boycotted the
To bypass the boycott, Superintendent Gus Willse sent to
Aberdeen, Scotland, for stonemasons who were considered
the best in the world. After difficulties with federal
alien contract laws, 62 Scots accepted the offer of
$4.00 per day and arrived in Texas.
With the exception of cut-stone moving equipment,
blasting powder and a few hand drills and wedges, they
took the stone from the quarry, cut it to size and
shaped it for construction with tools rarely measuring
more than eight inches. The granite generally was cut by
the use of wedges. To make a uniform break, a line of
holes was drilled no deeper than four inches and no
farther apart than ten inches. Two metal shims with a
small wedge between were placed in each hole. Workmen
hit each wedge in serial order driving all into the
stone at approximately the same rate. Under this
consistent pressure, the stone would crack. Granite of
almost any size could be split in this manner, but
sheets less than one inch thick seldom were worked. Nor
was stone at the quarry commonly wedged apart in
thicknesses of more than six feet. Blocks were moved to
sheds and worked by hand into their finished shapes.
The granite was “bankered” up to a height convenient for
the standing stone cutter. The cutter set to work with
hand patent bush and striking hammers, folding rule,
steel square, chalk, plumb, straight edges and bull
sets. With these seemingly crude tools, the workers were
capable of cutting stone with a tolerance of 1/640 of an
inch. In most cases cutters worked alone, a single stone
taking from several hours to weeks, depending on its
complexity. After 6 years of work, the new capital was
occupied in September, 1888.
The simple tools used by these world-renown craftsmen
from Aberdeen are on display in
The Institute of
More information can be found at the Texas Capital,
State Preservation Board and
*Someone You Should Know*
Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett (1786-1836) typifies the
resourceful freedom-loving frontiersman. His legendary
figure has grown with the years to the folk hero class.
Davy Crockett was born in a log cabin in eastern
Tennessee on August 17, 1786. His Scottish-born father
was a Revolutionary War veteran who had moved on to the
His formal education amounted to about 100 days of
private tutoring. He fought in the Creek Indian Wars
(1813-1815). After serving two terms in the state
legislature, he ran for the U.S. Congress where he
served three terms. During his first two years in
Washington, he incurred the enmity of President Andrew
Jackson and the new Democratic party. It was Jackson’s
opposition that ended Crockett’s career in Congress
during the election of 1835.
Stories in the popular press of the day pictured Davy
Crockett as a shrewd, yarn-spinning eccentric and rough
Indian-fighting frontiersman. Actually, he engaged in
several successful business ventures, and he delivered
his speeches in Congress in the fairly conventional
English of the times.
He wrote an autobiography in 1834 which added to the
Crockett legend. His book played up his frontier life
and minimized his political career. His writing was full
of the realism of pioneer times. It was a style probably
never seen before, and it was well received by the
reading public of that time.
But the most dramatic event of his life came after his
biography was written. Following his defeat in Congress,
he headed west to join the American forces in Texas. In
the gallant defense of the Alamo, Crockett died March 6,
1836, when the defenders were killed to the last man by
a Mexican army under General Santa Anna.” (Written by
James C. Thomson.)
John McGregor was a piper and died during the siege of
the Alamo in 1836. His Scottish ancestry has been a
source of debate, but researchers insist that McGregor
was born at Dull, near Aberfeldy, and immigrated first
to Canada’s Prince Edward Island in 1808. It is said
Gregory Society believe he may have been a direct
descendant of Rob Roy himself.
At the Alamo, McGregor and Davy Crockett held musical
competitions, McGregor on the bagpipes and Crockett on
fiddle. It was reported to have been “a strange and
The first white man to cross Canada was Alexander
Mackenzie who had emigrated from Scotland to Canada. As
a fur trader, his first expedition was down the river
which now bears his name. His second trip was from Fort
Chipewyan across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific
Named for a Great Scot
The Dallas family has a long distinguished record in
Scotland and America. For several hundred years this
family had been active in Scottish public life. The
first Dallas arrived in Britain in 1066 with William the
Conqueror. The name evolved from De Dolyas to Dolas and
then to Dallas about the early 17th century.
Alexander Dallas was the patriarch of the American
family and exerted a profound influence on early
America. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1783 where he
planned to practice law. He might well have been
president but, tired of politics, he declined to run.
Though foreign-born, he would have qualified to be
president, because he arrived in America before the
constitution was adopted barring foreigners from the
The middle son, George Mifflin Dallas, for whom Dallas,
Texas, was named, served as a member of the delegation
negotiating the end of the War of 1812. He was 21 years
of age. He was later elected to the U. S. Senate and
served as president of that body. He later served as
ambassador to both the United Kingdom and Russia.
George Dallas was Vice President in the James Knox Polk
administration when the issue of “Manifest Destiny”
surfaced. He along with the President believed that
America was destined to expand its borders across the
frontier to the Pacific. This meant the annexation of
Texas, the purchase of California from Mexico, and the
settlement of boundary disputes with Britain over the
Oregon Territory. These things were all accomplished in
a span of four years during the term of President James
Knox Polk and George Mifflin Dallas. Two Great Scots!
Pictured: George Mifflin Dallas
Little Known Facts of Illinois
John Kinzie, son of John McKinzie was the first
permanent white settler in the city of Chicago.
Clark, known as “Father Clark”, born near Inverness,
Scotland, was the first Protestant minister to preach in
the wilderness area of Illinois.
Joseph Duncan, as a state senator, introduced the first
bill to establish a system of free schools in Illinois.
He later served three terms in Congress and was also
governor of this state.
Stephen Forbes was the first school teacher in Chicago
(1830). One of his students would later become General
David Hunter of Civil War fame.
Blackburn University in Carlinville, Il., is named for
Rev. Gideon Blackburn whose parents were Ulster-Scots.
Matthew Duncan published the first newspaper in Illinois
Of the 102 counties in Illinois, 25 bear
It is said that in olden days in Scotland there was a
ritual visit to friends and neighbors on the first day
of each new year. Shortbread was often taken as a gift
of food and there was usually a drink from the family
bottle. The first visitor, or the “first foot” was the
person who brought good luck to the house for the coming
year. The person chosen of course was very important. It
was usually someone with a dark complexion and never
someone with red hair. The person should not be a woman,
should not be cross-eyed, flat-footed, and the eyebrows
must not meet “across the nose”.
In the early days of the Illinois St. Andrew’s Society,
the President would have an open house at his home and
all members were invited to attend. Dr. John McGill, for
instance, opened his palatial home on Drexel Avenue to
all members on New Year’s Day. The complexities of
modern society and the size of our organization no
longer makes such events practical. However, the
President of the Illinois St. Andrew Society, Alexander
D. Kerr, Jr., wishes all three thousand families on our
mailing list a safe and profitable New Year!
Capt. Peter MacMillan
The Western British American, a newspaper once published
in Chicago reported on April 16, 1898, that Peter
MacMillan was visiting Chicago. Capt. MacMillan, the
story says “is a Scotchman, 73 years of age who has
given his life to mechanical work. MacMillan had joined
the British Navy when he was 17 and spent ten years at
different posts around the world. When Sumpter was fired
on he was working in a machine shop in Edinburgh. He
threw up his position and started at once for the United
States, where he obtained a position in the navy yard at
Philadelphia.” It was under his direction that “the
first ironclad in the United States Navy was fitted
The first white man to cross Australia from south
north was John McDowall Stuart.
Calgary, Canada was named by Scottish emigrants from the
at Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull.
James Bruce, a Scotsman discovered the source of the
In 1774, George Bogle, a Scotsman, led the first
make contact with the Grand Lama of Tibet.
The province of Western Australia was founded by a Scot,
He named the state capital, Perth, after
his friend and patron, Lord Perth.
Brisbane in Queensland got its name from Sir Thomas
a Scottish governor of New South Wales.
From the Editor
A few weeks ago, Mary and I attended a convention in San
Antonio, Texas. Looking for Scottish stories, we visited
the Alamo, used bookstores, and The Institute of Texan
Cultures. The Institute has an entire section dedicated
to Scots. We found nothing in the way of used books
about Chicago, but we encourage those of you who travel
to keep looking for books for the history library.
You will also notice a slight change in our title. Two
libraries called and suggested we include Scottish in
our heading. It makes for easier filing, they said. Our
thanks to those of you who have mailed in your
subscriptions to help with the mailing costs.