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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
January 1998

Barre, Vermont

“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 Princeton.

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

James Lind, born Edinburgh, Scotland, October 4, 1716. Established the curative effect of lemon juice on scurvy.

John Hunter, born East Kilbridge, Scotland, February 13, 1728. Wrote The Natural History of the Human Teeth and laid the foundations for dental anatomy and pathology.

James 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.

William 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

“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

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 World.

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 disgraced.4

More information can be found at MapForum

Alexander Dempster

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 ElectricScotland

Franklin Buchanan

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

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 Winfield Scott 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

Gaelic Mission

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.”

From the Editor

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 are appreciated.

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 family stories.
6.  D. MacDougall, p.62.
7.  The Herald, February 24, 1997, Jack Webster
8.  Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1994.


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