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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
July 2001

Charity Given - 1847

Most of us are aware of the great famines that swept across Ireland in the nineteenth century, but, did you know that Scotland also suffered during this same period of time? News of the Scottish blight began to reach Chicago in 1845. This is the same year Scots in Chicago began to celebrate St. Andrew's Day. Since the telegraph did not reach Chicago until 1848, the tragic news from both Ireland and Scotland arrived by letter, newspapers and especially word of mouth.

The Irish came to Chicago in large numbers beginning in 1836, drawn here by the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Many of them settled in Bridgeport. By 1850, 20% of the city's population were Irish, and German immigrants accounted for another 20%. More than half of the population were foreign born. Between 1850-1860 the Irish population rose from 6,000 to 20,000. By 1870 the number had increased to 40,000 and 17 of the 40 members of the City Council were native-born Irish. The first St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago was held in 1843.

In the early 1840's, the Irish of Chicago organized to support the Irish Repeal Movement which wanted to repeal the Act of Union between England and Ireland. The Repealers were organized across the country from Boston to Chicago with an agenda to recreate an Irish Parliament. Dr. William Egan, a prominent resident of Chicago played a major role in this endeavor.

In January of 1846, Scots held the first business meeting to establish the Illinois St. Andrew Society, although it is clear the process began on November 30, 1845. They adopted the motto "Relieve the Distressed", at that time. The English established the St. George's Society in 1847, and the Germans founded Chicago Volksfreund in 1846. The first Jewish synagogue was founded in 1847. This clearly shows the diversity of early Chicago. To the best of our knowledge, all except one of these purely ethnic organizations have ceased to function. Jewish synagogues, of course, continue to be active.

As the famine grew worse in Ireland, word came that residents of Scotland were also starving. Individuals who arrived on the ships Hibernia and Sarah Sands reported that 350,000 people were in distress in Scotland and at least 150,000 required food immediately to prevent them from dying of starvation. (Chicago Daily Journal, February 25, 1847)

On this same day in 1847, a committee of thirty citizens organized to raise funds for Ireland and Scotland. George Smith, a Scotsman and member of our Society, was appointed the treasurer. The Chicago meeting, praised Scottish Americans in the City for raising $500 for the relief of the suffering Highlanders. Not only did our members send money, they also bought Indian corn, had it ground into meal, and shipped to Glasgow. It was the first effort by the Illinois St.  Andrew Society to fulfill its mission and the charity went back to Scotland.

The total amount of money raised is rather difficult to ascertain. In a letter dated May 18, 1847, to the Lord Provost, a figure of $1,840 --besides 500 to 1,000 bushels of Indian Corn yet to be received from the country. However, the Chicago Journal of July 13, 1847, which contains a letter to the  Lord Provost also mentions that an additional $1,200 had been remitted to New York to be invested in Indian corn meal. The letter published in the paper is signed by Alexander Brand, George Steele, and Robert Fergus.

George Steele was the first president of our Society in 1846. Alexander Brand served three terms as president: 1848, 1850 and 1851. He later moved to Buffalo, New York and finally back to Aberdeen, Scotland where he died in 1876. Robert Fergus was born in Glasgow and came to Chicago in 1839. He was an early printer in Chicago and a prominent historian of those early days.

A list of the contributors was published in various editions of the Chicago Journal. The list on July 13, 1847, contains about 150 names with the amount of their contribution. The amounts were mostly small, in the $1-$5 range. The largest was from Ogden & Jones for $25.00. The list is like a Scottish Who's Who, including names such as: Robert McNeil, Thomas Chalmers, Carlyle Mason, Patrick Ballingall, James Michie, John Mcglashen, Philo Carpenter, John H. Kinzie, J. Y. Scammon, and George Anderson. Many of these men would later become extremely wealthy, and several served as officers in the Civil War.

A cross-check of names produces some interesting facts. In 1847, John Alston gave $2.50 for famine relief. Poor then and a young man, he had little to give. In the great fire of 1871, he lost his paint and glass factory at 172 Randolph St. valued at $200,000. Robert Fergus ($1.50) who signed the letter to The Lord Provost, would suffer losses of $75, 000 in the fire.

You can find a more complete story of the fire in The Scots of Chicago.


George Russell recently sent me the April 1, 2001 issue of Scotland On Sunday. The newspaper lists a number of prominent American Scots with a short paragraph about each person. Some of the people named are:

Donald Trump, Builder of tall buildings
Xana Antunes, Editor New York Post
Neil Alden Armstrong, Astronaut
Joan Baez, Singer & Activist
Alan Bain, Businessman
Euan Baird, Businessman
Alan Bean, Austronaut & Artist
Jacqueline Bisset, Actress
Duncan Bruce, Author
David Byrne, Musician, Filmmaker
Neve Campbell, Actress
Michael Caton-Jones, Director
John De Chastelain, Military
Donald J. Cram, Scientist
Donovan, Singer
Hugh Malcolm Downs, Broadcasting
David Duchovny, Actor
Sheena Easton, Singer
Clint Eastwood, Actor, Politician
John "Jock" Elliot, Businessman
Craig Ferguson, Actor
Steve Forbes, Company Executive
Kip Forbes, Businessman
Dario Franchitti, Racing Driver
John Kenneth Galbraith, Economist
Professor Roger Gosden, Research
John Glenn, Jr., Astronaut, Senator
Billy Graham, Evangelist
Tommy Hilfiger, Fashion Designer
Kirsty Hume, Model
Garrison Keillor, Radio Personality
Donovan Philips Leitch, Model
Jay Leno, Comedian & TV Personality

We will finish the list in our next issue.

A Tale of Two Cities

"Glasgow is the most exciting city of its kind east of Chicago."
 --Andrew Porter, New Yorker

The following is a list of similarities between the two former Second Cities:

"Second City"
Chicago River
Art Institute
Union Station
George Pullman & Pullman
Chicago Tribune
Frank Lloyd Wright
John Belushi
The Stockyards
William Stewart
Newberry Library
"My Kind of Town"

"Second City"
The Clyde
Burrell Collection
Central Station
Robert Owen and New Lanark
Glasgow Herald
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Billy Connolly
The Shipyards
Sir Thomas Lipton
Mitchell Library
"I Belong to Glasgow"

Charity Returned : 1871

The great fire began on Sunday evening, October 7, 1871, at about 8:30 p.m. It was a small fire and, though the origin of the fire may still be unknown, there is little dispute that it started in Mrs. O'Leary's barn. There was no concern because other fires had started and in a short time had been extinguished. This time it was different. Around midnight, the flames crossed the Chicago River, fanned by strong winds from the south. At 2:30 Monday morning, the fire took the Court House where the St. Andrew Society had stored their records and belongings. Less than two hours later the flames had reached the Water Tower. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but utter desolation. On Tuesday night, October 9, rain began to fall and the fire was finally over.

According to the annual report of the Illinois St. Andrew Society, some 8,000 Scottish residents were living in Chicago at the time, or about 2.9 percent of the population. At least 90 percent of the Society membership suffered a complete loss of homes and property. Among the estimated 250 persons to die in the tragedy, the Society lost two members - Robert Clark, Sr. and William George. Mr. Clark had just returned from a visit to Scotland and he became disoriented in the flames and died. Mr. George died of injuries several days later.

Appeals for help went out to Scots throughout America and Canada; indeed, around the world. Donations poured in from everywhere - Saint Andrew Societies, companies, individuals, churches, towns and cities. The Saint Andrew Society of Boston canceled their own anniversary dinner and sent the proceeds to Chicago. The Caledonian Club of San Francisco held a second series of games to raise funds, and a total of $1,200 was collected.

Word of the disaster reached Scotland almost immediately. The telegraph was now in place so it was no longer necessary to rely on shipboard passengers to bring the news. It is unclear how the City of Glasgow raised its money, but shortly 5,000 Sterling would arrive in Chicago through Henderson Bros, of the Anchor Line. Perhaps it was repayment for money and Indian corn sent during the potato famine. Whatever the reason, it was a sizable gift in 1871 and undoubtedly helped cement the relationships between these two great cities.

We should also note that gifts came from Cumnock, Scotland ($337.98), J & P Coates, Paisley ($2,000), Dunfermline ($813), J. B. Taylor, Edinburgh ($100), and Greenock, Scotland ($800).

The Scots of Chicago

From the Editor

Several of you sent messages about Buffalo Bill Cody and special memories of Harry Lauder. Marjorie Volkman of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, wrote that her grandfather, Andrew Fleming, who loved Harry Lauder, came to America in 1905 with his wife, 10 children, and one son-in-law. He was born in Motherwell, Scotland, about 1860. Mrs. Volkman grew up hearing tales of Scotland and listening to records of Harry Lauder.

Julianna Greer, one of our staff members, recently visited the homestead of Buffalo Bill in Scott County, Iowa. The home is located in the broad valley of the Wapsipinicon River, a short 20 minute drive from I-80. The Homestead has been restored and furnished with items typical of the mid-19th century. We still don't know if Buffalo Bill was of a Scottish heritage, but we do know the Homestead was later sold to a Scottish immigrant by the name of McCausland.

Thanks to James Brennan, another of our staff members, we know something else about Buffalo Bill - he couldn't dance! James was kind enough to donate a small book entitled Riverside, A Village In a Park. The book describes the Riverside Hotel which was designed by William LeBaron Jenney and was a gathering place for Chicago's elite, offering dining and dancing, promenading, horseback riding, billiards, and concerts. When Chicago was burning in 1871, the resort hotel was packed with refugees. Many were so impressed with the beauty of the area that they later purchased lots and became permanent residents.

Buffalo Bill attended a wintertime dance at the hotel and appeared in a sable coat given him by the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia and refused to leave it in the check room fearing it would be stolen. He insisted it be taken to the manager's private suite. Buffalo Bill danced that night with Mrs. Jenney, the architect's wife. She said Buffalo Bill was a wretched dancer and stepped all over her feet. All of this within a short distance of where the Scottish Home would later be located in 1910.

Small world!


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