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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
October 2008

The Five Moffitt Sisters

“During the last thirty-one years William Mercer, a West Virginia farmer, has married successively the five Moffitt sisters, living on Raccoon Creek, near Charleston, W. Va. He was 19 when he led his first bride, Miss Jennie Moffitt, 16 years of age, to the altar, and he became a widower several years later through consumption, which so far as records show, seems to have been an unfortunate inheritance of the Moffitt family.

“Then came his marriage to Miss Ada Moffitt, Catherine Moffitt, and Missouri Moffitt, each in succession becoming Mrs. Mercer and each dying of the same disease that carried off their oldest sister.

“Three years ago Miss Anna Moffitt, the last of the family, became Mrs. Mercer, having jilted a young, handsome, and prosperous businessman to wed her quadruple brother-in-law. She was 26 years of age. Her husband was 47, and on September 3, 1905, there was a reception at the Mercer homestead in celebration of her three years of married life.

“Mrs. Anna Moffitt Mercer is extremely handsome, being a dark, glowing, muscular girl of the mountaineer type, and looking exceptionally healthy. Mr. Mercer has eight children by his various marriages, two of whom are near their stepmother’s age and bright, attractive girls.

“The farms of the Mercers and the Moffitts adjoined, with the Raccoon creek flowing between. The well trodden path between them crossed a rustic bridge, and it was here, it is said, William Mercer asked the momentous question which ended in each of the girls becoming a Mrs. Mercer. Mercer is a genial, cheerful, joyful man, and, in spite of his having lost so many wives seems to take a great deal of comfort and delight in his present spouse. In fact, his successive wives all said as the time of their death drew near that he ‘was as good a man and as loving a husband as woman could want.’

“The neighborhood for awhile took a great deal of amusement in conversing about Mercer’s marrying the Moffitt family. When he was busy courting Miss Missouri one inquisitive old mountaineer ventured to ask him: ‘Why don’t you marry somebody besides a Moffitt, Billy, just for a change, ye know? Billy, looked thoughtfully at the white house across the creek, and, munching a straw said: I ain’t never thought much about it. Pears like, though, if ye want a reason, it’s kin’ o’ handy to go over there an’ git a wife. I ain’t got much time to go chasin’ roun’ in the mountains for one. This reason was satisfactory to the inquirer who said no more about it.

“That the present wife is not jealous of his former ‘better halves’ is shown by the fact that the crayon portraits of Mercer’s four wives hang in a row on the sitting room wall beside her own. It makes me feel at home, she said, to see the pictures of my sisters about, and I wouldn’t be without them.”

Chicago Daily Tribune
December 16, 1906

Archibald G. Hodge

Mr. Hodge was an active member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society and during the years 1909 and 1910 gave a large portion of his time visiting the Scottish societies of Chicago and surrounding towns in the interest of the “Scottish Old People’s Home of Illinois.” He died January 21, 1920, and the Board of Governors wrote a special memorial in his honor.

He was born in Bombay, India, October 25, 1846, both his parents were born in Scotland: his father in Kirkcaldy and his mother in Stirling. He was educated in Edinburgh and at the age of twenty came with his parents to Goderich, Ontario, Canada, and later to Toronto, where he managed the American Hotel and Walker House. At the age of forty, he came to Chicago and became connected with the Sollitt Construction Company, “where he acted in the capacity of secretary for many years.”

Mr. Hodge was very interested in the development of Scottish sports and dancing. He once managed the Cricket Club in Edinburgh and at the age of 18 managed the athletic sports at Holyrood Palace. He “managed many of the annual Scottish athletic sports of distinction on both sides of the border. As a supervisor of these events he had no equal.” In Chicago, he was Past Chief of the Caledonian Society and an active member of the Englewood Scottish Club. He held an honorary membership in nearly every other Scottish society in the area. He was Secretary of the United Scottish Societies of Illinois from its organization until his death. On his death, he left his wife Lona and two sons, Archibald G., Jr., and William H. Hodge. The family lived at 4141 Indiana Avenue.

Sollitt Construction is still actively involved in the Scottish community. Each year they furnish an air-conditioned trailer to use as an office for the Highland Games. They have also had three major construction projects at the Scottish Home, including the Georgeson Wing completed in 1998. My thanks to all our friends at Sollitt Construction for all you have done and continue to do for the Scottish community in Chicago.

Mrs. John A. Logan

We have written about General Logan several times, but his wife, Mary, was also a person of special interest. She was described as her husband’s “constant helpmeet and inspiration” and later as a “great contributor to the good of the nation.” During the civil war Mrs. Logan was actively engaged in caring for those who were wounded. She frequently visited her husband on the front; and following many battles, she could be found in the hospitals caring for the sick and dying. After the war, she took great interest in the Grand Army of the Republic and their efforts to help veterans and their families. She was actually the one who conceived of a Memorial Day to decorate the graves “of the fallen heroes of the civil war.”

Mrs. Logan was an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Dames of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion and once served as president of the American Red Cross. For many years she was a member of the board of directors of Garfield Hospital. She was also the editor of the Home Magazine and contributed many articles to the press and newspapers on current topics. “She traveled extensively in all parts of the world.”

Her father served in the Mexican War and her husband in the Civil War. A son, Major John A. Logan, Jr., was killed in the Philippines in the Spanish-American War in the battle of San Jacinto, November 11, 1899. Her grandson served in World War I and “was a major of the 37th division, 136th machine gun battalion with A. E. F.” She contributed to the state of Illinois a valuable collection of wartime souvenirs and war trophies as a memorial to her son, Major John A. Logan.

Mary Simmerson Cunningham Logan died February 23, 1923. She is buried in Washington, D.C., alongside her husband.

Pictured:  Mary Simmerson Cunningham Logan

Walter Douglas Lost on the Titanic

A little after midnight on April 15, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic sank off the coast of Newfoundland and took the lives of more than 1500 passengers and crew. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, attention focused on the Douglas family because Walter and Mahala Douglas and their maid Bertha were returning from Europe. Walter Douglas was the son of George Douglas, one of the founders of the Quaker Oats Company. He and his brother George later founded the Douglas and Company Starch Works in 1903. He had just retired in 1911 and Walter and Mahala had built their estate in Minneapolis which they named Walden. The trip to Europe was to obtain new furnishings for their new home. At the time of his death, he was a director of the Quaker Oats Company. Our Saint Andrew Society has had many connections with the Douglas family and Quaker Oats.

It was reported that Walter Douglas “dressed in his finest, helped lower the last lifeboat of survivors off the Titanic. Walter’s body was found by the cable ship MacKay Bennett and the crew recorded that they had recovered a man about 55 with gray hair, in evening dress with the initials W.D.D. on the shirt. They had also recovered a gold watch and chain, a gold cigarette case, five gold studs, a wedding ring engraved May 19, ‘84. In addition there was a pocket letter case with $551.00 and a one pound note. Mr. Douglas was first taken to his home in Minneapolis and then via a special train to Cedar Rapids for burial. (His cousins, and other family members living in Chicago were members of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society.)

If you watch the History Channel, you know that several attempts have been made to raise a section of the ship’s structure from the ocean floor. Historians have now been able to identify this large piece as part of berth C-86 which had been occupied by Walter and Mahala Douglas.

Mrs. Douglas returned to Minneapolis “where she resumed her role in society.” She died in 1945 at the age of 81 and is buried alongside her husband in Oak Hill Cemetery, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Pictured:  Walter Douglas

A great website on Brucemore, the Douglas estate, is linked here. Interesting history and pictures of the family.

A website worth visiting is Britannica.  Click on "Enter the Exhibit" for pages of pictures.

Scottish-American History Club

The history Club meets on the first Saturday of each month, except July August and December, in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home.  The meetings begin at 10:00 a.m. and last about an hour.

■  On November 1, the discussion will center around the Century of Progress held in Chicago in 1933 and 1934. We will compare that World's Fair with the one held in 1893. Those of you who have memories or memorabilia are invited to attend.

■  There will not be a meeting in December, but the Annual Meeting and Christmas Party of the Society will take place December 14 in Heritage Hall. The next Tartan Times will give full details.

■  On January 10, 2009, the subject will be the Presbyterian Church and its influence on American history. Six American presidents have been members of the Presbyterian Church and many others have attended their services. It is truly a great story.

■  February 7, 2009, we will continue looking at Abraham Lincoln and his Scottish connections, including some new information on the influence of Robert Burns on the life of Mr. Lincoln.

Anyone interested in Scottish-American history is welcome to attend and there is no charge. Please check our website for more information on each meeting.

Centennial Award

The Illinois State Historical Society is 109 years old and has some 2,000 members. Each year they recognize businesses and other groups that have existed for 100 years or more.

This year, the Illinois Saint Andrew Society was recognized along with 21 others from across Illinois. The reception was held in the beautiful Governor's mansion in Springfield. Because of Celtic Fest in Grant Park, Gus Noble, our president, was unable to attend, so I had the honor of representing the Society.

The first official meeting of the Society occurred on January 26, 1846 when charter members were admitted to membership. However, in 1845 some type of organization existed with George Steel serving as president. The State Historical Society has accepted 1845 as the starting date for our Society. The beautiful plaque given to the Society will be displayed in the museum.

From the Editor

In our last issue, we wrote about General W. H. L. Wallace of Ottawa, Illinois. I was able to purchase on the Internet a copy of the book written by his adopted daughter, Life and Letters of General W. H. L. Wallace. It is recommended to anyone interested in the Civil War. She states that Prince, the General's horse, accompanied his body back to Ottawa after his death at Shiloh. The horse lived another 25 years and is buried in the family plot. Mrs. Wallace had cousins who fought for the south and some were captured and taken to Camp Douglas, where she was able to visit them and bring food and other necessities.

Several of you have sent emails about Fort McCoy. Maureen Brady sent the following site which also contains his picture:  Sparta Wisconsin. Dennis Follett wrote to say that he knew the camp as Camp McCoy and that at some point the name was changed. Dennis attended four summer camps there when serving with the 327th MP Battalion located by O'Hare Airport. He now lives in Maryland. Thanks for writing.

One of our honored clans at this year's Highland Games was the Moffitt Clan. They held their Annual General Meeting in Chicago and Moffitts came from many states to attend their AGM and our games. I had the privilege of speaking at their banquet and, in doing research for the speech, came across our lead story. It was a pleasure having this special group of people with us and we hope they will return soon.

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