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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
April 1998

The Forgotten American

Thomas Nelson, Jr., was not really a “junior” but a “II.” He was the grandson of Thomas “Scotch Tom” Nelson and the son of William Nelson.

Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he was elected, sight unseen, by the House of Burgesses while still at sea on his way home to America. He was then 21 years of age.

After he had signed the Declaration of Independence at age 37, he told a colleague “that he was the only person out of nine or ten Virginians that were sent with him to England for education that had taken part in the American Revolution. The rest were all Tories.”

After signing the Declaration he resigned from Congress because of ill health and was appointed commander in chief of the state militia. By 1781 he was governor of Virginia, succeeding Jefferson and also commander of Virginia’s troops at the siege of Yorktown.

During the battle for Yorktown, Nelson observed that his artillery men were directing fire all over the town but were being careful to avoid the area where his own beautiful home was located. Nelson asked why they were not firing in that direction. “Out of respect to you, Sir,” came the reply. As Lord Cornwallis approached to occupy his home, Nelson offered five guineas to the first gunner to hit the house. The house was damaged, and a cannonball, carefully preserved, still lodges in the wall.

After the war the ex-governor and ex-general was reduced to near poverty. He sold his property and used the money to pay the debts and moved to Henrico County near Richmond. He had acquired his huge debts paying for military expenses during the war.

Nelson was the first signer of the Declaration from Virginia to die. He went to his grave a pauper at the age of 51 and was buried in 1789 without a tombstone. His body was placed at the foot of his father’s plot at Grace Church in Yorktown. Only in this century was a marker provided. It is inscribed: “He gave all for Liberty.”

Patrick J. Buchanan recently said: “History may view it differently, but one senses we are living today in unheroic times. Our senators argue the cruciality of their retaining free parking at the National Airport, while our president wails that no other leader as he has suffered as he has been made to suffer—at the hands of those cynical radio talk-show hosts.” Men like Thomas Nelson, Jr. believed in a cause far beyond themselves.

His family later immigrated west and established Abington, Illinois. Mrs. John Markham, a member of the Illinois St. Andrews Society, is a descendant. Thanks for calling this story to our attention.

More information about Thomas Nelson, Jr. can be found at Colonial Hall and pictures of the house are at Carol's House.

Carol Brown
*Someone You Should Know*

Carol Brown was a two-time Olympian and bronze medalist in rowing at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. A graduate of Princeton, she was a member of the first U. S. crew ever to row in the World Championships, finishing second. In 1976, she rowed in a four-oared shell which took a World Championship silver medal in New Zealand. In 1979 her crew took the bronze in the World Championships in Yugoslavia.

She was once described as “the most successful athlete in rowing in the U.S.—male or female.” Like many other top rowers, she had never participated before college. In fact, while at Princeton she was captain of the varsity swimming team and held the American record for the 200-meter freestyle relay. She graduated from Princeton with a degree in economics and politics. After graduation in 1975 she moved to Seattle and obtained a masters in forest management policy at the University of Washington.

In 1978 in order to pursue her rowing interest, she became the first woman truck driver for Alpac Corp., the Seattle-based maker of Pepsi Cola and 7-Up. She later became assistant to the vice president of operations for Alpac. In 1984 she was honored as a recipient of the prestigious Southland Olympia Award. She is also a member of the Northwest Sports Foundation Hall of Fame. Carol Brown is the daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Harper Brown of Lake Forest, Illinois, who are active members of the Illinois St. Andrew Society.

President's Report
San Diego, California
January 2, 1921

To the members of The Illinois Saint Andrew Society:

“During the year 40 old people have been cared for at the Home: three having been admitted, 4 having passed on and 1 has been dismissed.

There have been many festivities during the year: friends of the Home gave dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter time and on Robert Burns Day. Many of the Scottish Societies have given delightful entertainments, and more visitors have been at the Home than ever before, including Sir Harry Lauder and Lady Lauder. It has, in fact, been one of the showplaces of the suburbs during the summer, the visitors book showing that 797 have registered.

I look upon being a member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society as quite an honor, and I hope the Scots of Chicago will look at it in the light
, I do. The fees and dues are smaller than any other Society in Chicago, therefore The Illinois Saint Andrew Society ought to be the banner society of Chicago.”

Dr. J. A. McGill,

What did Scots Die of?

The leading causes of death in the 1700s were recorded in the Melrose Parish Records of Marriages, Session Minutes, and Mortuary Rolls, 1642-1820. The current leading causes of death in the U.S.—cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and accidents—were not included in the first ten causes of death.

From the Melrose records consumption (tuberculosis) was the leading cause, followed by old age, smallpox, fever, and chincough (whatever that might have been). Other leading causes at that time were colic, childbirth, measles, hooping cough (sic) and scarlet fever. There were a few odd deaths and some sad ones, too:

Thomas Bell died at age 36 of Elia’s passion. Andre Pringle died at age 15 of the King’s Evil (scrofula). John Hunter perished in the snow, and James Williamson lost his life while bathing in the Tweed.1

he Third Duke of Sutherland

George Granville William Leveson-Gower arrived in Tarpon Springs, Florida, in the year 1887. He arrived on an ocean-going yacht with the name of Sans Peur (Without Fear). At his side was a beautiful woman, a commoner, named Mary Caroline Mitchell Blair. She was the widow of Arthur Kindersley Blair of the 71st Highlanders regiment. His wife, the Duchess Anne, mother of his four children, was serving as Mistress of the Robes to Queen Victoria in London.

The Duke was well known on both continents. He had attended the opening of the Suez Canal and the celebration in Delhi when the Queen was proclaimed Empress of India. He had also visited the United States to inspect railroads and in Scotland he had built a 17-mile railroad to reach his vast estate at the northern tip of Scotland.

The Duke was taken to see forty acres of land on the north shore of what is now Lake Tarpon. He bought the land and began to immediately construct his mansion. No expense was spared especially for a huge drawing room with a polished hardwood floor suitable for dancing. Parties were held on a regular basis and the empty bottles of champagne were shoved “neck deep into the soil flanking both sides of the broad sidewalk from the door of the mansion down to the lake.”

The Duke and Mrs. Blair frequently took rides on perfectly matched white horses. They often rode as far as Dunedin and Clearwater. Another trip was made by boat to Fort Myers, “where the Duke, preceded up the wharf by bagpipers, and paid his respects to Thomas Edison.” So prominent was the Duke that the town of Palm Harbor was renamed Sutherland.

Responding to a request to help build a new church in Dunedin, the Duke responded generously. The
Church of the Good Shepherd was completed in 1888 and the first wedding was that of the Duke of Sutherland to Mary Caroline Blair on March 4, 1889, the Duchess Anne having died on November 25, 1888. The church, located at 639 Edgewater Drive in Dunedin, has now been restored to its original splendor.

Shortly after the wedding the Duke and Duchess retired to his baronial estates in the north of Scotland where he died on September 22, 1892. The Duchess Mary Caroline was married again in 1896 to Sir Albert Kaye Rollit, a wealthy ship owner and M.P. for Islington.

“The property on the shores of Lake Butler remained neglected. The broad lawns were overgrown with weeds, the windows were broken and the building fell into major disrepair...The village of Sutherland returned, though not for many years, to its original name of Palm Harbor. And leading down to the shores of Lake Tarpon there is still a brick wall, though the champagne bottles are gone. But the memories linger on, and sometimes, visitors still say they can hear the popping of corks, and sometimes the wail of the wind in the palm trees sounds like the wail of bagpipes.”

Taken from an article by Howard Hartley which was published in Beach Life, March 1975. Thanks to member Sheila Wilson of Dunedin, Florida, for sending the article.

William Sleigh Kerr

William Sleigh Kerr died January 31, 1998 at the age of 86 in Vero Beach, Florida.

In WW II, he spent three years as a Colonel with the United States Army leading an effort to build railroads through India, Burma and China. After the war, he spent 25 years with the Burlington Railroad and designed the Double Decker Commuter Rail Car so familiar to those of us who live in the Chicago area. The last 25 years of his working life was spent as Vice President and Business Manager with Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In the early 1960’s he conceived and developed the J. Roscoe Miller Lakefront Campus of over 100 acres.

Mr. Kerr was the father of Andrew Kerr who presently serves on the Board of Governors of the Illinois St. Andrew Society and the uncle of Alexander Kerr, immediate past president of the Society.

From the Editor

As most of you probably know, April 6 is now officially designated as National Tartan Day. The resolution introduced by Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi passed unanimously. I understand the Senate received thousands of letters in support of this resolution. Some 200 Scottish organizations in the United States helped make the effort a success.

Many of you in Illinois wrote our two Senators asking for their vote on Senate Resolution 150. Thanks to all of you who wrote letters and made telephone calls.

The Board of Governors at their meeting on April 6, gave special recognition and honor to the contributions that Scots have made to the United States. Our thanks to Will Norman for playing his pipes that day on Wacker Drive.

Several Chicago radio stations picked up the story and I was interviewed by Stu Cohen and Clark Weber concerning the significance of National Tartan Day.

The celebration was somewhat dampened by the loss of a true friend and generous supporter, Dr. Andrew Thomson. His memorial service was held April 6, 1998. Members of the Board of Governors attended the service in full Scottish attire. He will be greatly missed.


 The files of James Thompson

2. 1921 Annual Report of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society.


Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546