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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
January 2002


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 McNeil Whistler.

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 to Detroit.

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 invented the train whistle. 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 Hall of Fame at the Scottish Home.

In the 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 Dearborn.’”

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 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 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 denied.

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 $100,000.

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, Reminiscences of Early 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 Chicago.”

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.

air_raidThe 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 miles.”

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.

Editor's Note

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 city.

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.

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