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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
October 2001


James McNeil Whistler

The American painter James McNeil Whistler has been exposed as an international arms smuggler. Historians had previously believed that when he set sail from Britain to South America in 1866 he was taking a break from his mother, Anna, who had come to live with him and whom he immortalized in his famous portrait Whistlers Mother.

But new research shows that he smuggled sea mines to Chile to be used against the Spanish, who were blockading their former colony. Whistler, then 31, was paid 500 pounds to take the mines, known as torpedoes. The Spanish retaliated against their use by bombing the South American port of Valparaiso.

Glasgow University's center for Whistler studies uncovered the painter's exploits while compiling 10,000 documents about him, to be published electronically in 2003 to commemorate the centenary of his death. Professor Nigel Thorp, the center's director said, "Up to now, several reasons have been given for his trip to South America".

It has been said that he needed a  break from his mother, who came to London in 1863 to live with him.   Whistler was living with his model at the time, so a number of arrangements had to be made. But, William Michael Rossetti, the art critic, recorded in his diary a conversation between Whistler and Frederick Sandys, the artist, in which Whistler said he was taking off with a cargo of torpedoes.

He had a number of contacts in the Confederate Army, and the trip would have allowed him to see a different part of the world. But I think it came down to the money in the end. Letters stored at the Victoria and Albert Museum confirm the story. One, written by Capt. Doty, who hired Whistler for the trip, complains of his behavior. Another, from the ship's captain, says they were on a torpedo exhibition to Chile.

London Daily Telegraph

(The above story was printed in the Chicago Sun-Times, July 17, 2001)


The following list is taken from Scotland on Sunday dated April 1, 2001. Go anywhere and you'll probably find a Scot, or a son of a Scot, or a daughter. The way Scottish people work, think, eat, socialize and play has helped shape the world.

The list was started in our last issue and is continued here.

Senator Trent Lott
Shirley MacLaine
Warren Beatty
Angus MacFadyen
Harry "Hap" McSween, Jr.
Julianne Moore
Colin Powell
Ronald Reagan
Charles Robert Redford
Elaina Richardson
Mickey Rooney
Jane Russell
Elizabeth Taylor
Marilyn Jordan Taylor
Bobby Thomson
Sir Alex Trotman
Albert Watson

Paintings Held by The Scottish Home

The Scottish Home is pleased to have four museum-type portrait paintings on view for the public. They are: the Angus MacBean portrait, the Robert Burns portrait, and two portraits of a man and woman by John Collins. The MacBean painting hangs in the living room across from the fireplace. The Robert Burns portrait is in the private dining room and the two portraits by John Collins (1850-1934) are now on view in the main dining room.

The portrait of Angus MacBean is an oil canvas, 38x48 with a 5" gilt wood frame. It was painted in 1743 when Angus MacBean was 86 years old. The painting was loaned to the Home in 1964 by Hughston McBain and was gifted to the Home in December, 1966. Those of you acquainted with our history know of the importance of Hughston McBain both to the City of Chicago and our own Society. We are not aware of how the portrait came into his possession.

Numerous individuals in Scotland have expressed interest in the portrait and most recently a letter came requesting information about the handle on the sword. In 1991, James Holloway of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery gave some additional information. He says that in 1938 the portrait belonged to Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor whose address was Edinchip, Loch Earnhead. “The painting was exhibited in that year at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition in the Scottish Historical Pavilion.” Mr. Holloway sees no reason to doubt “the traditional identification of the sitter as Mr. McBean.” He indicated that in 1743 very few clans had a fixed tartan so he doesn’t believe that the pattern will confirm or deny the clan of Angus MacBean.
Mr. Holloway further says: “The painting has been attributed to Richard Waitt. That is wrong. Waitt had died by 1743 and anyway the style is unlike his. It is very difficult to suggest anyone else though there is a portrait of Robert Grant of Lurg in the collection of the Earl of Seafield which is quite like it in style. Unfortunately that too is unattributed. The Scottish Home portrait is of great interest and I am delighted to know its whereabouts.”

Lewis Boyd spent considerable time on the history of our portrait and he says in a letter dated September 19, 1991: “...with respect to condition, I’d mention that the McBean portrait could do with cleaning (because it’s very hard to make out the tartan pattern), stretching and age-crack restoration.”

We recently received an email from Erik Wauters who lives in Belgium. He wrote “on the battlefield of Steenkerke (Low Countries, now Belgium) at the very spot where the Scottish regiments fought on August 3, 1692, I found a heart-shaped brass stud, identical to the one on the belt worn by Mr. MacBean, as to be seen on the portrait (dated 1743) in the possession of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society.”

Marshall Field

In 1875, Marshall Field built his home at 1905 Prairie Avenue. The house was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and cost $2 million. It was said to be the first house in Chicago to have electric lights. The outside was somewhat plain in keeping with his desire not to appear ostentatious, but the interior controlled by Mrs. Field was sumptuous. There was a great circular staircase of carved wood and a big hall clock built in 1793 that only needed to be wound once a year.

“Every morning at a regular hour Marshall Field left his home in his carriage for his store. But on arriving at State Street, he would get out of the carriage a short distance from the store and walk the rest of the way. He thought it both bad taste and bad business to arrive at work in a fancy carriage with a coachman on the box.”

In 1886, Mrs. Field decided to have a Christmas party for her two children and use as a theme a “Mikado Ball.” The house was turned into a miniature Japanese village. The supplies, linen, silver and food were all purchased in New York and transported to Chicago in two private railroad cars. The cost was $75,000.

On the night of the ball, Prairie Avenue was lit for blocks around with special calcium lights. “A long line of polished carriages drawn by meticulously groomed horses began delivering the first of the five-hundred invited guests at 6 p.m.” Everyone was dressed in Japanese costume. The walls of every hall were obscured behind satin and bamboo screens and expensive bronzes, tapestries and porcelain had been purchased to carry out the oriental motif.

“There were imported favors for every guest, Mrs. Field having scored a social and diplomatic coup by persuading the iconoclastic James McNeill Whistler to design the favors.”

Fabulous Chicago, by Emmitt Dedmon

Scottish Charitable Home -1870

“The preliminary steps have now been taken to carry on this enterprise, and from the flattering success already attending the efforts of the Building Committee, it may safely be said that this much needed and laudable under taking will, at an earlier day than the projectors of it contemplated, be completed. Only one subscription book has been circulated, but others will be put in the hands of the Committee as soon as practicable. It is desirable that a site for the Home should be as central as possible, and, with this end in view, the Committee have commenced negotiations by which they hope, through the liberality of a countryman, to secure, at reasonable figures. The site selected is on the corner of Washington and Desplaines Streets. The Committee, however, are canvassing the district lying between Lake and Van Buren Streets, and the river and Halsted Street, and expect in May to be prepared to ask the Society to ratify their purchase. The follow ing amounts have been subscribed and are hereby acknowledged:”

John McArthur $500
John Alston $500
Wm. Stewart $500
Hugh Ritchie $500
Alex. White $500
John McGlashen $500
Thomas Hastie $500
Solomon McKitchen $500
James Steel $500
Robert Hervey $250
Peter Macfarlane $250
Alex. M. Thomson $125
W. T. Noble $125
George Irons $125
Carlile Mason $500
Adam Robb $500
Hugh Cooper $125
George H. Fergus $125
John Macallister $125
George Anderson $125
James Hutton $100
Peter Downey $100
Conklin & Campbell, 50,000 bricks valued at $500
James Thomson, painting $500
Joseph Hogan, gas fixtures $150
Woodruff & Raffin, Plumbing $250
Peter Devine, boiler $200
James Hamilton $125
Nelson Mason $250
John Mohr, iron work $250
David Bremner $100

From the files of Wayne Rethford

The Roaring Game

“In 1904, during excavation for a subway where the Municipal Building now stands in New York, a perfectly preserved curling stone was found seventy feet beneath the street level. Mystified construction workers, once they were convinced that the stone was an implement in an old Scottish game and not an Indian relic, resorted to an old survey map and discovered that early in the nineteenth century a pond existed on the site. Further investigation proved that the pond was where the New York Caledonian Curling Club was wont to hold its bonspiels, as curing tournaments are called, and that the club paid a city politician twenty dollars a year for the use of it. The same politician also sold the pond’s ice to an iceman for another twenty dollars, which proved something a hazard to the sport.

Although this series of events may have had little or no archaeological value, it at least established curling as one of the earliest known organized sports in New York, predating football, baseball, and even golf. What has happened to curling since some luckless player lost his stone through the municipally juggled ice on that lower Manhattan pond is an interesting and only little-known story.

Called ‘the roaring game,’ because of the ominous sound the heavy stone makes as it glides over sheets of natural ice, curling is an ancient Scottish game that was first intro-duced to North America by Celtic fur trappers and highland regiments who were stationed here in colonial times. The frigid American winters were ideally suited to the games its popularity rapidly spread from Quebec out to the western province and from Boston and New York to the wilds of Michigan. For well over a hundred years, it was the most popular of all American winter sports.”

The above information was sent by James McBain of McBain, whose father, Hughston M. McBain, was primarily responsible for curling in Chicago. The article “The Roaring Game” was written by Hughston M. McBain, Chairman of the Board of Marshall Field & Company and first president of the Chicago Curling Club. Hughston M. McBain was also President of the Illinois St. Andrew Society from 1963 to 1965. We will tell his story at a later date.

Mary Todd Lincoln

Robert Smith Todd had two daughters, one named Mary and a younger sister named Elizabeth. He had been a captain the War of 1812, served in both houses of the Kentucky legislature, and was president of the Bank of Kentucky in Lexington. “The Todds traced back to Scottish covenanters who fought the king” and among the covenanters transported to the American colonies were two Todds. They had fought with “Washington through the American Revolution and with Daniel Boone in Kentucky...” In Mary Todd “ran their vital and stubborn blood.” Elizabeth, would become the wife of Ninian Edwards, Governor of Illinois. Mary would become the wife of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

From Abraham Lincoln, The Prairies Years, by Carl Sandburg
Volume 1, page 255 & 259

From the Editor

This issue takes us to the end of another year. We sincerely appreciate your support and all the notes and letters of encouragement. We received about $1500 in contributions so far this year and that probably covers the postage and cost of mailing. Since all subscriptions are renewable the first of January, I hope that many of you will send your ten dollars to help with our costs.

I recently had an opportunity to visit New York City and attend a seminar on Scottish American history at Columbia University. One of the speakers I especially enjoyed was Tom Devine, who teaches at the University of Aberdeen. He has just written a book entitled The Scottish Nation A History 1700-2000. The chapters on immigration are especially interesting. Perhaps we can share some of this information with you in future issues.

The Scottish American Foundation, led by Allan Bain, had a marvelous dinner where Helen Liddell was the principal guest. She is the Secretary of State in Tony Blair’s Cabinet and during the evening gave a most impressive speech. Stone Phillips of television fame was also present and his story of finding his Scottish roots was most interesting. We hope that he will visit Chicago some time in the future and tell his story.

My family wishes you the best of the Holiday season and a prosperous and safe new year.


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