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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
April 2005

Was it George or John?

Our Society has often stated that one of the people at the first St. Andrew’s Day celebration in 1845 was Captain George McClellan who allegedly was here working on the harbor. In fact, it was not George McClellan, later to become the famous Civil War General, but another army soldier named John McClellan. Our records have always been wrong and the person who knew that our facts were wrong was life member, Robert E. McMillan. He now lives in Florida, but was once a member of our Board of Governors for our Society and then lived for many years in Peoria. His mother was a resident at the Scottish Home and the Georgeson Wing dining room is named in her honor. Bob McMillan spent many hours of research to help us get the facts correct. We are indebted to him for his work and hope this corrects a long standing error in our history.

Every historian I have read also listed the wrong man. J. Seymour Currey in his five-volume history entitled “Chicago: It’s History and Its Builders” published in 1912, says in volume I, page 260 (speaking of the harbor work) “...the engineer in charge being Captain George B. McClellan, afterwards a major-general and Commander-In-Chief of the Army of the Potomac.” It appears that A.T. Andreas who wrote several volumes about Chicago also had the wrong information. In fact, almost every Chicago history book has it wrong. Our Society has always had it wrong, beginning with writings that date back to 1889 and continuing to this present time.

The annual report for 1889 makes the following statement: “Ever since the organization, in 1657, of the ‘Scots Charitable Society of Boston, wherever a few Scotch-men are located together, an immediate desire arises to form a Charitable or St. Andrew’s Society, for the purpose of relieving their distressed fellow-countrymen. In accordance with this national trait of character, the first Scottish residents of Chicago early bestirred themselves to organize the Illinois Saint Andrew’s Society. A call to meet and celebrate the anniversary of Saint Andrew, in 1845, in the Lake House, was heartily responded to by residents of the city and neighborhood. Among those present were the late General J. A. McDougal, and Captain, afterwards General G. B. McClellan, and other patriotic Scotchmen, who earnestly discussed the propriety and duty of forming a Saint Andrew’s Society. Consequently, on January 26, 1846, the Illinois Saint Andrew’s Society was organized...”

Here is what we now know through the research of Bob McMillan. George McClellan was admitted to West Point on July 1, 1842 at the age of sixteen. He did not graduate until July 1, 1846, when he was immediately sent to the Mexican War. The military records of McClellan do not support his being in Chicago in 1845. He apparently did not arrive in Chicago until about 1857 when he became the Chief Engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad. While our original records were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871, there is no indication that George McClellan was every involved in the Illinois Saint Andrew Society and he is only mentioned in connection with this first Dinner.  This may be related to his alliances against Abraham Lincoln and the fact that he was a democrat. It appears, for what little we know, that the majority of our early members were supporters of Lincoln and thus Republicans.

The directory of the City of Chicago, compiled by Robert Fergus in 1843, lists a John McClellan, Superintendent of Public Works on Lake Michigan. The directory in 1845-1846 shows the same information but with John McClellan now living at the Lake House where the first Anniversary Dinner was held. There is no mention of a George McClellan.

Who then was John McClellan? Here is what we know. He was born in Pennsylvania (date unknown). He entered West Point July 1, 1822 and graduated July 1, 1826. Upon graduation, he served in the garrison at Ft. Monroe, Va. and was assigned to the 1st Artillery school for practice. He resigned from the army in 1838 and became a civil engineer. He was re-appointed to the Army in 1838 with the rank of Captain in the Corps of Topographical Engineers. In 1839, he was in charge of harbor and river improvements on the coast of North Carolina and served in the Florida wars until 1842. In 1843-1846, he was “in charge of Lake Michigan Harbor Improvements and then served in the Mexican War seeing action in most of the major battles. He became a Bvt. Major for “gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco.. After the war, John McClellan was assigned to the Topographical Bureau and helped survey the boundary between the United States and Mexico. In 1853, he was in charge of the Tennessee River improvements and died September 1, 1854 at Knoxville, Tennessee. He was 49 years of age. George McClellan died October 29, 1885, in Orange Mountain, New Jersey at the age of 59.

All of Bob McMillan’s research is now stored in our historical files, and we hope this corrects the mistake and gives ample credit to Captain John McClellan.

Pictured:  George McClellan

The Best Laid Plans

As the city grew in prosperity and influence, so did the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. Men of significant wealth became members and shared their good fortune with others. The Society increased its giving and enlarged its plans to ensure the fulfillment of its mission statement. By 1870 the population of Chicago was about 300,000, populated by mostly northern European types, principally English, Scots, Irish, German, French, and Scandinavian, either by descent or, quite often, by birth.

In the first twenty-five years of the Society’s existence, eighteen men served as president. Robert Hervey, a distinguished attorney, served five terms. Business leaders, attorneys, generals, land developers, and common men would all find a place of leadership during those early years. One in particular will always be remembered by the Chicago street named in his honor - John H. Kedzie, president in 1854.   

The Society celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary dinner on November 30, 1870. George Anderson was the lone representative from the Society’s first dinner in 1845. It must have been an emotional moment as he rose to speak. “Gentlemen, we may all feel proud of the standing and confidence that the Society has now attained all over this broad and mighty land. It being a child of my early affections and love, I have watched and nursed it in its almost helpless infancy, until it has, as exemplified here tonight, attained the stature of a stalwart man.

fireapr0The Society had great plans for the future. Members had already begun raising money to build a charitable Old People Home, a Scottish hospital, and an office building to house all the Scottish organizations that flourished at the time. It was believed the second twenty-five years would be tremendous. Yet few could anticipate the bittersweet irony of Robert Burn’s prophetic words: “The best laid plans of mice and men...” The city made of wood burned on October 7, 1871.

The Scots of Chicago,
Page 43

Scotland, Connecticut

Issac Magoon was the first settler to inhabit the southeast corner of Windham, Connecticut, now known as Scotland. In 1700, he purchased 1,950 acres of land. He was associated with Clan MacEwen, which was a sept of Clan MacLachlan. “As he viewed the rolling hills, he was reminded of his ancestral country in all its beauty and named the area Scotland. The area was originally made part of the parish of Windham, but was finally incorporated in 1857 as a separate town called Scotland.

 Source: Internet

Carnegie Libraries

carnegieapr05We have continued our search for libraries built with Carnegie grants. On a recent trip to Colorado Springs, we were able to visit their beautiful library which has been enlarged and modernized, but the original building was kept intact. It opened in 1907 with a fireplace and a drinking fountain in the middle of the entrance hall. The fountain has since been removed.

In March, we spoke to the Historical & Genealogical Society in Pekin, Illinois and visited libraries in Spring Valley and LaSalle. In both instances the original libraries have been enlarged and expanded, but the original buildings were changed very little. Pekin tore down their original building in order to build a new one. All three libraries visited contained a picture of Andrew Carnegie, but none had a bust of Robert Burns.

A short stop in Oglesby, Il. revealed that the town was named for the former Civil War general and later governor of our State. I had a conversation with the town historian who said the area was once active with coal mines and that many Scots had worked the mines.

Driving south on highway 51, we saw a country cemetery somewhere south of Wenona, Il., There, we found the graves of Mr. & Mrs. Allan MacDonell born in Fort Augustus, Invernesshire, Scotland. The monument states that he was born September 25, 1825 and died May 1, 1876. Five sons are also buried in the family plot. I left a plastic calling card just in case anyone visited in the future.

The Almoners

 The original mission statement of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society read like this - “that no deserving Scot, seeking aid, would ever go hungry, homeless, without medical care or be buried in a Potter’s Field.” It was a daunting task in the 1840's and not until after the Civil War were there funds enough to fully carry out the mission. Fulfilling the work of the mission statement fell to the Board of Almoners presently called the Almoner's Committee.

The word Almoners is not a modern, familiar word. It means one who distributes alms (something, as in money or food, given freely to relieve the poor.)  The word is used 13 times in the Bible. It appears that the Society has always had a committee named “The Almoners” even though our original records were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871. Since then, there is a continuous record of this committee down to the present time.

The record for the Almoners Board reads much the same year after year. In 1914, they provided groceries to five families, gave coal to two families, paid the room and board for a sick man, provided drugs and transportation, paid for one burial at Rosehill Cemetery, gave clothing to two blind men and assisted 136 transient applicants. The cost for the year was $225.59.

Up Tight

When I finished my needlepoint wallet, I used velcro instead of a snap as a fastener. It was this wallet I had with me when I was shopping for woolens a small town in Scotland. I was so busy chatting with the shopkeeper about my Scottish ancestry that I didn’t realize how my determination to ferret out every bargain was trying his patience. When at last I opened the wallet pay for my purchases, the velcro made it characteristic ripping sound. The shopkeeper’s eyes lingered on the wallet and he said admiringly, “Oh, aye, that’s a guid Scots pocket. It even scr-r-reams when ye open it.”

This joke was found among the papers of James B. Forgan with a notation that it had been used at the Scottish Home. The papers were mostly dated in the early 1920s but it appears that velcro was invented much later.

Archiving the Society Records

 This daunting effort is now called “The Alexander D. Kerr, Jr. Project” after our attorney who is better know to us as Sandy Kerr. He has long wanted the minutes and legal records placed in a retrieval situation. Mr. Peter Georgeson has graciously provided the funds for a professional scanner, the expensive software program and other office equipment to make this project feasible. The software is know as Intact, and produced by InfoDynamics in Indianapolis, Indiana It is a searchable database. The entry task has fallen to me in my retirement years and I have now finished minutes from 1912 through 1942. Some years have few records, but we are hoping that others will be discovered in the multitude of boxes at the Scottish Home.

If you have ever served on our Board of Governors or any of the numerous committees, we would be pleased to have those written records that may be in your possession. Records are being filed in the computer by the year and also alphabetically. Once the older pages have been scanned, they are placed in an acid-free sheet protector and secured by three-ring binders. 


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