The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
“A warm, sultry July day was closing; the sun had sunk
behind a canopy of golden clouds and the rugged peaks of
the green mountains, and as she sank from sight there
disappeared one full century since the death of Robert
Burns, the peasant poet, the world’s pride.” The date
was July 21, 1896, and the Burns Club of Barre, Vermont,
met to celebrate the centennial of Robert Burns’ death.
At that meeting the idea of erecting a monument to Burns
was discussed and endorsed. The entire town became
involved in the project and three years later the
monument was ready to be dedicated.
The sculptor was
J. Massy Rhind,
born in Edinburgh. His other works include “The
Expulsion of Adam and Eve,” the design for the doors of
the Trinity Church, New York, the Memorial Fountain to
Senator Rufus King in Washington Park, Albany, New York,
the Calhoun statue, and the decoration for the Commencement Hall at
On the day of dedication “lowering skies hung dark over
Barre..., typical perhaps of the clouds that shrouded
the life of the great Scotch poet.” Eighteen thousand
people witnessed the events of the day. There was a
procession fully a mile in length which included the
Royal Scots Band from Montreal. The orator of the day
was the Honorable Wendell Phillips Stafford of St.
Johnsbury. It was a great oration. A copy of the entire
speech is now in our files.
“And now citizens of Barre, I present to you, through
your mayor, Mr. Gordon, this monument, and hope that you
will see to it that it is carefully protected and
preserved, so that in future years, when we who are
present here today shall have vanished into the
obscurity of the past, this monument shall still stand a
noble and lasting tribute to the memory of the world’s
greatest poet,” remarked Robert Inglis, president of the
Burns Club. From recent pictures, it appears that Barre,
Vermont has carefully preserved the monument.1
More can be found at the
Vermont History site.
Scots of Note
Lind, born Edinburgh, Scotland, October 4, 1716.
Established the curative effect of lemon juice on
Hunter, born East Kilbridge, Scotland, February
13, 1728. Wrote The Natural History of the Human Teeth
and laid the foundations for dental anatomy and
Watt, born Greenock, Scotland, January 19, 1738.
Completed construction of the first rotary motion steam
engine. In 1874, he used steam pipes to heat his office,
employing the first use of steam heat.
Murdock, born Auchinleck, Scotland, August 21,
1754. Built a working model of a steam-powered carriage.
In 1792, he introduced coal-gas lighting using it to
light his home. In 1803, he used coal-gas for the first
time to light his main factory.2
“Robert Burns died of his boyhood. At any rate, the
endocarditis that killed him at thirty-seven stemmed
from the rheumatic fever and colic that plagued him all
his life. Both were rooted in the living and working
conditions of his youth and early manhood on his
father’s various farms in Ayrshire.
He knew little more than the drab existence of the most
miserable serf, working exhausted soil with meager
implements as long as there was light. Then to crawl
home, too tired to eat his crowdie, too hungry to sleep
in the damp straw.
Helplessly, he had to watch his father battle against
leases, the weather, the cost of improvements, the
always-growing family, the greed of the landlords, the
snarl of factors, until his body broke before his pride
did. ‘Kind Death’ had snatched his father away, and
Burns was left in charge of his brothers and sisters.
But bad seed spoiled their first year, and a late
harvest the next.
Small wonder Burns hated farming. His heart was never in
it. His heart was in writing and reading and songs and
convivial talk, not in crops and cattle, enclosures and
fencing. But it was just as hard to make self
improvements as it was to make improvements on the land.
Eventually, when he was able to better himself, he was
still plagued by the twin curses of his volatile
existence - barren soil and fertile women.
And so from Burns’ time till our own day, we have seen
how life has ebbed and flowed, and gone on its way. In
the end, not much has changed. Essentially man remains
much as he was, and the problems and joys known to Burns
are basically very much those that affect men and women
through the ages. He knew well his own posterity,
because he also knew humanity. If he had a good guess at
his own posthumous fame, he had an educated intuition
about the state of man in his time. We all grow old and
in the process, know pleasure and pain as an inevitable
part of life itself. Every life reduced itself to
survival. Where once our ancestors scurried into a cave
and made an image on a wall, so we now, all these
thousands of years later, snuggle into a comfortable
chair and read the words upon a page. We know the same
need they knew — to be reassured, to be encouraged, to
be stimulated, to be guided. All this we find in great
literature and in great art of any kind. This is also
what we find in Robert Burns.”3
John Law was a Scotsman, a gambler, a manipulator, a man
of financial genius. He was forced to leave Great
Britain after killing a man in a duel and then became
active in the Court of France. In 1716, he signed a
contract with the government of France allowing him to
establish a bank which gave him all the credit he
needed. His task was to induce the wealthy of France to
buy land in Louisiana, which would then be populated by
the poor people of Europe to form a colony in the New
A ruthless sales campaign followed. Volunteers were
offered free land, provisions and transportation. They
were promised “gold mines, pearl fisheries, as well as a
delightful climate where there was no disease or old
age.” They were told that the land of Louisiana would
produce two crops each year without cultivation, “and
that the Indians so adored the white man that they would
not let him labor...”
Paupers who strayed into Paris were often kidnapped to
“fill the emptiness of Louisiana.” Five thousand people
are said to have disappeared from Paris in April, 1721.
“Prisoners were set free in Paris...under the condition
that they would marry prostitutes and go to Louisiana.
The newly-married couples were chained together and thus
dragged to the port of embarcation. The venture was a
total failure. John Law’s career ended on December 10,
1720, when he fled to the Belgian frontier, bankrupt and
More information can be found at
Alexander Dempster was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in
1811. He was about to enter college when his father died
and he became responsible for his future. He first went
to work as a hatter, but later trained in the art of
making quill pens. In 1832, he married Jane Whitaker and
they set out on a six week journey to America. Landing
in New York, they made their way to Chicago through the
Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. Disliking Chicago, they
moved west to the Fox River and staked a claim to land
where they built a log cabin. They had never farmed
before, “but we were young and strong and determined to
make a good life here.” Later when Jane died, Alexander
married a young woman from the east who had been living
with the family of Allan Pinkerton. After his retirement
he moved to Dundee, Illinois, and built a house on the
northwest corner of Washington and Fourth Streets. Part
of the original house may still be in use.
“Sandy was red-headed and hot-headed (so were Allan
Pinkerton and General George McClure, his
contemporaries) and his ungovernable temper several
times got him into trouble with the Baptists who
excommunicated him and publicly admonished him for such
crimes as working in the harvest field on the Sabbath,
for speaking abusively to his livestock, and for hurling
a destructive axe at his neighbor’s cattle.”
William Dempster, a brother of Alexander, was a
celebrated ballad singer and composer “who appeared in
concert before crowned heads of Europe and important
persons here in the land of his adoption.” He held many
concerts and programs in Chicago and “local history bits
also mention him as a member of the Scots’ colony
here...” The Daily Chicago American reported on
September 7, 1839, that William Dempster “who had
contributed his vocal talents to music lovers in New
York, Philadelphia, Boston, and London, appeared before
a large and highly delighted audience in Chicago.”5
More information can be found on
Franklin Buchanan was born in 1800 in Baltimore of
Scottish descent. In 1845, he organized the Naval
Academy at Annapolis and served as its first
superintendent. He entered the Confederate Navy in 1861
and was in command of the ironclad Merrimac at Hampton
Roads. However, he was wounded the day before, and could
not participate in the battle with the Monitor.
“John Ericsson, the builder of the Monitor, had a
Scottish mother. On the Monitor itself, in charge of her
engines and turrets, was Isaac Newton, a Scot. “...Scotland was not without representation in the strange
sea-battle that opened a new chapter in the naval
history of the world.”6
More information on and pictures of the
Monitor can be found here.
Thomas Glover from Fraserburgh, Scotland, was sent to
Japan as a young man by the Jardine Matheson Trading
Company. But he formed his own company and became
fabulously wealthy, “and was the catalyst for bringing
Japan into the industrialized world.” He took the first
steam locomotive to Japan, opened its first coal mine,
ordered its first full-scale dock, which was built in
Aberdeen, and founded the Japanese Navy with three ships
ordered from Alexander Hall in his native Aberdeen.
Glover is a hero in Japan but hardly known at home. To
crown it all with a touch of romance, his affair with a
lady called Maki Kaga was apparently the prototype for
Puccini’s Madam Butterfly.7
Army Trail Road
Persons living in the western suburbs of Chicago are
well acquainted with Army Trail Road. In 1832, General
was pursuing renegade Indians who were
terrorizing settlers during the Black Hawk War. As Scott
and his company made their way along this old Indian
trail there was a severe outbreak of cholera. Many of
those who died are buried in Wayne, Illinois. General
Winfield Scott so impressed the local people that the
town of Winfield, Illinois, is named after him.
Scott, Pennsylvania, an urban township southwest of
Pittsburgh, was also named for the general. Winfield
Scott was the grandson of a veteran of Culloden.8
On October 16, 1884, a Gaelic mission was opened at 89
West Madison Street in Chicago. It offered “a cheap
lodging house and a place of worship for the Highlanders
in the city.”
This marks the beginning of our fourth year in
publishing the Scottish-American History Club
Newsletter, and from a recent survey of our membership,
it appears that the majority of you are reading it. We
do get a considerable number of comments from our
readers and, as you can tell, some great stories. There
continues to be an unlimited amount of material about
Scottish people and their accomplishments.
I had the opportunity of visiting New Orleans recently
and found some interesting Scottish stories. We visited
Jackson Square, of course, and saw the great statue of
Andrew Jackson. He is probably their most famous person
of Scottish descent. I found the story of John Law
interesting. If nothing else, it shows that some Scots
have a shady past! We may tell you about John MacDonogh
in our next issue.
Since we have reached the end of another year, let me
remind our readers to please send $10.00 to help with
the postage. The Illinois Saint Andrew Society has been
kind enough to underwrite the cost, so your donations
Happy New Year!
1. Mr. and Mrs. Howard Strong. Mr. Strong is V.P.,
George Sollitt Construction Co. in Wood Dale.
2. The Timetables of Technology, Bryan
Bunch & Alexander Hellemans.
3. From A Moment White by John Cairney;
with appreciation to Mrs. Sydney B. Lunn.
4. Beautiful Crescent, a History of New Orleans,
John B. Garvey & Mary Lou Widmer, pp.22-26.
5. The Dempster’s are great uncles to Dorothy
Stewart of Chicago. Thanks for sharing these great
6. D. MacDougall, p.62.
7. The Herald, February 24, 1997, Jack
8. Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1994.