The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
Old Fort Dearborn and Whistler
In the spring of 1803, forty soldiers arrived in
Chicago under the command of Captain John Whistler. The
soldiers had been sent to Chicago to build a fort for the
Secretary of War, General Henry Dearborn. Working
through the summer and into the fall, the captain and
his men built their fort where today Michigan Avenue
meets Wacker Drive. Behind the stockade lived the
families of the soldiers. Among the children was the
captain’s infant son, George Washington Whistler, later
to become railroad builder and father to James Abbott
Across the river lived John Kinzie, a man of Scottish
descent, who is known as the first white settler in
Chicago. Kinzie was the banker to the fort and supplied
most of the food and liquor. Kinzie also sold liquor to
the Indians, which made his bargaining for furs much
easier. Selling liquor to the Indians created much
discontent among the soldiers in the fort and after many
problems with John Kinzie, Captain Whistler was recalled
James Abbott McNeill Whistler is known as an American artist, but
spent little time in the United States. He was born July
11, 1834, in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of Major
George Washington Whistler. When he was 9, his family
left for St. Petersburg, Russia. His father worked as a
civil engineer on the railroad to Moscow. He died in
1849 and the family returned to America. James entered
West Point in 1851 and quickly rose to the head of his
class in drawing, but failed chemistry. He was expelled
and left for Europe in 1855 and never returned.
It is said that Whistler “liked to pretend that he was
an American Southerner.” His mother, Anna Mathilda
McNeill, was descended from Daniel MacNeill, chief of
his clan who had emigrated from the Isle of Skye to
North Carolina in 1746 after the Battle of Culloden. His
brother had fought with the Confederate army. Whistler
only visited Scotland once, but in 1888 he married the
daughter of the Scottish sculptor, John Birnie Philip.
In 1935, she presented a great number of painting,
pastels, drawings and prints to the
Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow.
Whistler died in Chelsea, England, July 17, 1903.
An article on the Internet says that Whistler’s father
You can also find a picture of the grave of George Washington
Whistler in Connecticut and a picture of seven of the stone
arch bridges he built for the B&A Railroad. One of the
bridges is still being used. The
Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, which has a
large collection of Whistler art also has a web site.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler is a member of the
Fame at the Scottish Home.
Life of James A. McNeill Whistler, by Joseph and
Elizabeth Pennell, we find this: “According to Mr. Eddy,
Whistler once said to a visitor from Chicago, ‘Chicago,
dear me, what a wonderful place! I really ought to visit
it some day--for, you know, my grandfather founded the
city and my uncle was the last commander of Fort
Sources: The Internet;
Chicago: Its History and Its Builders by J.
Seymour Currey, Pp. 57 & 58
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
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
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 Home Committee
In 1910, when the Scottish Home was moved to Riverside,
a committee was appointed to oversee its operation.
Since then, some of our most prominent Scottish people
have served faithfully on this committee. They have
always met monthly, and today the Home Committee is
chaired by Ian Laing. Other members are: Lois McCullagh,
June Steele, Shelley Thomson Reichle, Sherry Ann
Robertson, John McKinnon, Carolyn Link, John Lekberg,
Rev. Joseph T. Ledwell, Dr. Van Vallina, Lorraine
Seivwright, Doris Burt, and Wayne Rethford.
In 1921, the committee was chaired by Dr. John A.
McGill. Other members at the time were James B. Forgan,
A. W. Fulton, Alex Robertson, John Williamson, Robert
Stuart, and Robert Somerville. At a meeting on Saturday,
April 9, 1921, a decision was made that all applicants
must be examined by the Society physician before
admission. At the time there were no nurses on duty and
the Home was considered a place for retired men and
women. It was also stated that residents must be of
Scottish descent and needing charity.
The Scottish Societies of Chicago were planning a
“Hislop Concert” at the Auditorium theater on April 18 and Mrs. Cummings, the administrator, was to contact Carson Pirie Scott and request the use of their buses to
transport residents to the concert. She was also to
decide which residents would attend to fill the four
boxes “nearest to the stage that had been reserved”, two
on the right side and two on the left.
Also appearing at the meeting was Mr. Harrison, a
resident of the Home. Mr. Harrison was blind and another
resident by the name of Miss Briggs had been denied the
privilege of reading to him. Mrs. Cummings was asked to
explain and she stated that “he insisted on having the
reading done in Miss Briggs’ bedroom.” Mrs. Cummings
explained “that it was the strict rule at the home that
the men residents were not allowed in the rooms of the
women, and it was her opinion that this rule should be
strictly enforced.” Mr. Harrison was then informed that
reading would be permitted only in the sunroom.
John Williamson was at the Presbyterian Hospital and had
recently resigned from the Home Committee. The entire
group visited the hospital after the meeting to inform
Mr. Williamson that his request to resign had been
It was noted by Mr. Forgan at the June meeting that the
Hislop Concert showed a net profit of $5,302.67. This
money, along with $10,000 from the Nellie A. Black
estate, would bring the endowment fund to an even
The Panic of 1836
The country was in a great depression, and Illinois
was unprepared for the event, since most of their money
had been spent improving rivers and building railroads.
E. O. Gale, in his book,
Chicago, writes about
George Smith, who he
describes as a “keen, shrewd, Scotch businessman.” Smith
and his partners saw that one could make money “by
making money” and that this paid a higher rate of
interest than buying land. He and his friends therefore
incorporated the Wisconsin Fire and Marine Insurance
Company with headquarters at Milwaukee, where Smith
placed Alexander Mitchell, whom he had brought from
Scotland as secretary of the new venture. Gale
continues: “By 1839 banking and brokerage became the
principal business which was conducted for several years
on the southeast corner of Lake and Wells Street,
(Chicago) where, in 1836, Smith opened the Scottish and
Illinois Land Investment Co. I do not know what the
community would have done without George Smith’s money.
It was about the only reliable
western currency in
circulation for years, and although its issue was
largely inflated, no person ever lost a dollar from it.
The west should not complain, even if the great
financier did leave large holdings behind him, and
return to the heaths and hills of his native land, after
furnishing for us during so many years the issue of one
bank that never failed us.”
Reminiscences of Early Chicago and Vicinity,
By Edwin O. Gale
Pages 257 - 260
Air Raid Fund
In the Quarterly minutes dated July 11, 1940
there is a notation that members of the Society had
donated $744.00 to the British War Relief Fund. On April
10, 1941, President Alex G. Shennan reported on the
British War Relief Society and suggested that the
Illinois Saint Andrew Society should raise enough money
among its members to purchase a mobile kitchen. A
committee was appointed consisting of James B. Forgan,
Robert Black, Donald Fraser and William Lister. Don M.
Compton gave the first check of $100.00 followed by one
from Stuart Grant.
At the same time the Daughters of Scotia and the Order
of Scottish Clans was sponsoring a Tartan Ball in the
Aragon Ballroom on May 8. Proceeds were to go the
British War Relief Society.
In a letter dated August 15, 1941, the Lord Provost of
Glasgow expressed his thanks to the Illinois St. Andrew
Society for their recent gift. The letter is addressed
to William Lister, who may have been the Society’s
attorney and reads as follows: “Glasgow thanks the
members of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society for their
generous contribution of £400. It is one of the best we
have received from any St. Andrew Society on your side
of the Atlantic. The Scots in most of the American and
Canadian towns are now gathering funds for Scotland. The
Air Raid Fund has reached £164,000, but much more will
be needed to assist in the re-establishment of all the
families returning home after enemy attacks. I am
enclosing a Robert Burns Book as a remembrance.” The
signature is rather difficult to decipher, but it
appears to be the name “Dollan.”
It was also just being announced that the Society had
received $232,000 from the estate of William Streeter
which was now “on deposit in The First National Bank of
Anyone know Mr. Streeter?
Should an Air Raid Occur
Jane Davis of Peotone sent me some interesting
information about a play entitled "The Night of The Big
Blitz" by James Barke. Her family had sent her the
program when the play was given on March 13, 2001, in
the Clydebank Town Hall.
play had originally been given in the 1940s and this was
a replay for the 60th anniversary of the blitz on
Clydebank. Mrs. Davis lived through the blitz and later
came to the United States arriving on the day FDR died,
April 12, 1945.
The original program said, “If an air-raid warning be
received during the performance the audience will be
informed from the stage. The warning will not
necessarily mean that a raid will take place, and in any
case it is not likely to occur for at least five
minutes. Those desiring to leave the theater may do so,
though they are advised in their own interests to remain
in the building. The performance will continue.”
James Philip, a resident of the Scottish Home remembers
the great raids on Glasgow and the ships along the
Clyde. He says, “the flames could be seen for many
Pictured: A family snuggled together, trying to get a good
night’s sleep during an air raid.
Marshall Field Residence
In our last issue we wrote about the residence of
Marshall Field and connected it to James McNeill
Whistler. This year, the Northern Trust Company used a
picture of the mansion on the front of their Christmas
card. The architect, Richard Morris Hunt, has a Scottish
sounding name, but as yet I have not discovered his
heritage. He is not listed in The Mark of the Scot by
Duncan A. Bruce, which probably means he is not
Scottish. Marshall Field died in January 1906, at the
age of 71 "and the house remained in the Field family
until 1936, when it was donated to the Association of
Arts and Industries. After several changes of hands, the
house was razed in 1955. Too bad for our generation!
Another book I enjoy is Old Chicago Houses by
John Drury. We know him better as a television anchor,
but he also wrote a very interesting book. There are
many Scottish-sounding names, but they are not
identified as such; names like Henry B. Clarke, B. F.
Ferguson, Samuel Faulkner, Charles L. Hutchinson, and
Michael Smith. Most of the old homes are now gone, but
if anyone would like to help with some research for our
newsletter, please call or e-mail me.
My thanks again to all of you who are helping with
the cost of postage for the newsletter. Some of you have
included "post-it" note comments which are also
appreciated. Last year was an extremely busy time and we
fell somewhat behind in our schedule. We will do better
this year, I hope.
April 6, as most of you know is Tartan Day, based on a
resolution adopted by the United States Senate. We will
be celebrating Tartan Day with a number of events that
extend throughout the month. We almost need to designate
the entire month as Scottish-American Heritage Month.
You will see those announcements in the Tartan Times and
I hope everyone will participate. There have been many
requests to resume our History Tours, so please watch
for those announcements as well. There is so much
Scottish history connected to Chicago and we need to
enjoy and appreciate the influence of Scots on our great
I am presently reading How the Scots Invented the
Modern World by Arthur Herman. It was recently
reviewed by the Wall Street Journal and it is
interesting reading. Most of the major bookstores will
have a copy.