Thursday, April 14, 2016

One Thousand Miles in a Covered Wagon, Part II

Not long after the Scots arrived in Washington County, New York, the “clouds of war” began to gather over the young nation. The young men, as they do in every generation, marched off to war. The War of Independence actually lasted a long time, the first battle being fought at Concord in April 1775. Fighting continued through 1782 and finally ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

When peace arrived and independence came, the community in Salem, New York, had found “a certain prosperity and comfort” on their little farms. Houses had been built, lands cleared, and roads constructed. Children had gone to college, like John Savage in our last Blog or Mary Dunlop who went to Princeton. The church was the center of life and schools were functioning, teaching grammar, philosophy, spelling, Latin and Virgil. Life was good. However, some worried about the future.

George Beveridge and his wife, Ann Hoy, had seven children and were comfortably living in their clapboard house. They were active in the life of the community and were members of the South Argyle United Presbyterian Church. They raised their children to be “God-fearing citizens.” However, the settlement in Washington County was no longer the land of opportunity for their children. Andrew Jackson, in their opinion, had ruined the banks and financial panics swept the country. The land around them was mostly occupied and available lands were expensive. “In this crisis they turned their thoughts to the new world beyond the Alleghenies.”

There undoubtedly was a lot of discussion and prayer about the future. It was Mrs. Beveridge who finally persuaded her husband to undertake the journey. So, this “middle-aged” father and his fourteen-year-old son, John L., began the preparations.

On an autumn day in 1838, they started the journey. A covered wagon pulled by two stout horses was loaded with their necessities, along with a stock of woolen cloth which would finance their expedition. Across the state of New York and the farming communities of Ohio and Indiana, they traveled toward their unknown destination. They rounded the end of Lake Michigan and came to a small settlement. Chicago wasn’t much in 1838. They had now traveled one thousand miles and had not found a home.

They continued west, leaving civilization as they knew it for the “broad stretches of the valley of the Mississippi.” They took the new road to the lead mines of Galena, passing through Dixon’s Ferry and finally came to a rolling prairie between the Fox and the Rock rivers. It was fertile ground. It was Indian country until 1832 and had not long been opened to settlement.

One October evening, George Beveridge and his son came to Somonauk Creek. On the north side stood a log cabin with the stage road running at its door. It was the first house built by a white man in De Kalb County and had often served as an inn for the stage coach. Before he slept that night, George Beveridge had traded his wagon, his horses, and the remaining stock of woolen goods for the log cabin and 400 acres of land occupied under squatters’ rights.

He stayed one entire year and in the autumn of 1839 returned to his home in Salem, New York. But, it was not until 1842 that final preparations for the move were completed. The farm had to be sold and decisions made as to what household effects and stock could be taken. Finally in May 1842 the family started for their new home on the prairies of Illinois. This time they used the canal and the Great Lakes making the journey in seventeen days.

In the party were Mr. and Mrs. Beveridge, and four unmarried children: James Hoy who was twenty-five, Thomas George, twenty-two, John Lourie, eighteen, and daughter Agnes who was thirteen. Isabel, an older daughter and her husband William French were also going. Jennett, the oldest child, had married James Henry and was left behind as was the second son, Andrew. He was entering Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, to study for the ministry.

“There is something valiant, courageous, in the picture of this middle-aged pair, planning to break with all the traditions of life as they knew it, to leave their comfortable house and a lifetime’s associations to set out for a new country, a veritable wilderness to their eyes, and begin anew as pioneers at a time of life when they might have thought only of rest and surcease from labor.”

When they finally arrived at the Somonauk creek and their log cabin, George Beveridge found his wife weeping on the back porch.

To be continued...

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
630.629.4516

Upcoming Events:

NOTE: The Scottish American History Club will meet on Saturday, May 14, 2016. This is the second Saturday of May. It will be our annual birthday celebration. 

We will also have on display a wedding dress. When Mary Anne McCleery married John C. Beveridge on January 10, 1865 in Somonauk, Illinois, she wore this beautiful dress. Albert H. Beveridge of Augusta, Georgia, donated her dress to the museum. He is the great grandson of Mary Anne and John C. Beveridge.

Lauren Szady, who is the Museum Assistant at the Lombard Historical Society will be our guest and give some history of wedding dresses. Reservations are helpful so please call 708.447.5092 and plan to join us. The museum is open at 9 a.m. and the meeting begins at 10. 

In addition, the museum has been given some WWI medals and these will also be on display. The medals belonged to Charles Albert McCombe who was born in Glasgow and fought with the Arygll and Sutherland Highlanders. These were donated by Betty J. McCombe Cook who lives in Texas. We are hoping that family members who live in the Chicago area will also join us on Saturday, May 14.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Scots Arrive in Washington County, New York, Part I

In the early 1700's a group of Scots settled in eastern New York and were a mixture of Highland Scots and those from Northern Ireland. They were stalwart, rugged, independent, knew how to use guns and were not afraid to fight. The colonial governors encouraged people of this type to immigrate because they provided a barrier between the Colonies and the French and Indians. They occupied land east of the Hudson River in Washington County, New York, and had some 40 miles of farm land in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

Their forefathers were Presbyterian Highland Scots living in Western Scotland. They had supported the first Jacobite Rebellion in 1715 and had lost. Economic conditions were bad, crops failed and there were famines. In addition, there was general discontent with their own Church of Scotland. They looked beyond the sea to America in the hope of finding political, economic and religious freedom. Conditions were just as difficult for the “Scottish Nation” in Northern Ireland.

In 1738, a group of people belonging to the Scotch Presbyterian church and living in Argyleshire were offered free land near Lake George. One thousand acres of land given to every adult person who paid for their passage and every child received 500 acres of land if they paid passage. In the years 1738, 1739 and 1740 some 472 persons were brought in groups by Captain Lauchlin Campbell to the New World. Originally there were some legal problems about the land but in 1764 a grant of 47,450 acres known as the Argyll Patent was secured.

On May 10, 1764, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Clark, born in Galloway but now a pastor in Northern Ireland, brought his entire congregation of 300 people to New York. Their plans were to “carry on the linen and hempen manufacture to which they were all brought up.” It is believed that this is the only instance where an entire congregation moved to the New World.

The land near Lake George proved to be unsatisfactory. It became necessary for Dr. Clark to purchase other land which became known as the Turner Patent. It was composed of some 25,000 acres nearly all in Washington County. This land was divided into lots of 88 acres each and given to families. “The land was rent-free for five years, after which a yearly rental of one shilling per acre was to be paid.”

The country was a wilderness. There were no roads. One had to either walk or use a horse. Mary McNaughton, the mother of chief justice John Savage, walked seven  miles to attend a church service. (John Savage was a lawyer and politician. He was Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court from 1823 to 1837.)

In 1736, there were one thousand Scottish families in Belfast waiting for ships to bring them to America. This new life in America was not easy. It was very difficult. But they possessed a common bond - their membership in the Presbyterian Church. Many of these families were related to each other before coming to American and as time passed, the younger people intermarried, making the bond even stronger.

To be continued . . .

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
office phone - 630.629.4516

ANNOUNCEMENT: 

The History Club will meet on Saturday, May 12, 2016. (Please note this is not the first Saturday of the month.) Museum will be open at 9 a.m. and the meeting will begin at 10. We will center our program around the wedding dress given to the museum and the six medals from World War I. It will also be our annual birthday celebration. Reservations are not necessary but helpful in planning. Please call 708.408.5591 and reserve your space.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Dr. Eliza H. Root

The role of Scots as physicians is pretty amazing. Between 1750 and 1850, no less than 10,000 physicians obtained degrees from Scottish universities. Many of these came to America and had a tremendous influence on their communities. Some Americans traveled to Scotland to obtain their medical education. Scots were also instrumental in establishing many medical teaching schools.

One of the early physicians of colonial times was Dr. Gustavus Brown (1689-1762). He was born in Dalkeith, Scotland. His son, Dr. Gustavus Richard Brown was educated at the University of Edinburgh. His son, Dr. Gustavus Brown attended President George Washington during his last illness. George Fraser Black in his book “Scotland’s Mark on America” lists many of these early physicians.

In the early days of Chicago’s medical history the city was not able to easily obtain medical supplies. They had to order from eastern cities and graft was rampant. “All too often the city was unable to buy essential medical supplies yet some bills for drugs concealed 48 cases of beer, 10 barrels of whiskey, 20,000 cigars and other liquors and wines under the appellation of sundry drugs.” (Taken from “Medicine in Chicago” by Thomas Neville Bonner.)

In 1908, ten thousand doctors descended upon Chicago for the convention of the American Medical Association. If you count wives and children the number may have reached 14,000.

One of the early female physicians in Chicago was Eliza H. Root. She was born on February 7, 1846, in Mayfield Township, DeKalb County, Illinois. Her father, Eliza H. Dick, came to America from Scotland in 1842.

On March 1, 1864, she married Jerome Root of DeKalb. They had one son, J. Sherman Root. In 1879 the family moved to Chicago where they remained until the death of her husband in 1914. Her office was 489 W. Monroe in Chicago. Dr. Root graduated from the Chicago Women’s Medical College and practiced medicine in Chicago for thirty years. They lived at 1414 W. Monroe in Chicago. After her husband’s death she moved to Sycamore, Illinois, where her sister lived.

Very involved in the Medical School of Northwestern University and the Woman’s Medical College of Chicago, Dr. Root once served as Dean of the college. She was a member of the Executive Committee and served as its secretary. She was also editor-in-chief of the Woman’s Medical Journal. The records of the Woman’s Medical College are at Northwestern University. She was a strong advocate for women in the medical field and she helped blaze a trail for those who followed. She died at her home in Sycamore, Illinois on Saturday, June 12, 1926 at the age of 80.

Our Society has had three physicians who served as President: Dr. John Macalister (1867); Dr. John A. McGill (1919-1921) and Dr. William Ferguson Dickson (1922-1924).

Wayne Rethford, Past President
Illinois St. Andrew Society
630.629.4516


ANNOUNCEMENT

The Scottish American History Club will meet again on May 7, 2016 at 10 a.m. We haven’t met for awhile so I hope to see many of you there. It’s also the birthday meeting. If you have had a recent birthday, please join us for cake, scones, coffee or tea.

Albert H. Beveridge, who lives in Augusta, Georgia, has donated his great grandmother’s wedding dress to the museum. Mary Anne McCleery married John C. Beveridge in Somonauk, Illinois on January 10, 1865. We will display the dress on May 7 as well see a power-point presentation about the Scottish community in Somonauk. Reservations are not necessary but helpful in planning. Please call 708.408.5591.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Dr. Franklyn Bliss Snyder

(Please read the previous blog for background information)

Dr. Snyder was the eleventh president of Northwestern University located in Evanston, Illinois. He started as a teacher in 1909 and never left. He was very much a conservative with strong independent ideas, and was often concerned about the role of government in education. He would not be comfortable in today’s environment. In fact, many of his thoughts and ideas would not be acceptable as politically correct.

In addition to being a strong conservative, he was a determined leader at Northwestern. War was on the horizon in 1939, so he appointed a committee to study how the University would function. When war was declared, his plan was ready for implementation. By 1942, Northwestern had given 125 faculty members, 400 students and 3,000 alumni to the military. Twenty-two were already reported dead or missing in action. By the end of the war, 50,000 men and women had received training, three hundred had died in battle and two had received the Congressional Medal of Honor. ( Please click here to read about nurse Helen B. Wood who was the first to die in WW I.

He was a leader both on the campus and in the community. Often a guest speaker, unafraid to speak his mind, he was in demand from all groups. The public trust in his leadership was shown in how the community responded to the growth and needs of the University.

In 1944, Col. Robert R. McCormick gave a donation of property at the N. W. corner of Lake Shore Drive and Pearson Street to the university. “The property is to be used for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a fund, the income from which is to be spent for research in the medical school.” It was to be called the Irving S. Cutter Fund for Medical Research. This was one of three property gifts in downtown Chicago that Col. McCormick gave to the school. General Dawes, Vice President from 1925 to 1929, gave his mansion to the university. It was to become the Northwestern Historical Center.

If you read the quotations you can get a feel for the man, his views and thoughts.

QUOTATIONS

 “I do not think we overemphasize football at Northwestern. We deal with college men who want to play football, not football players who want to go to college.”

“We make no apologies for treating an athlete as well as a flute player.” The primary aim of the university is to provide an education whether the education is for an athlete or a musician.”

“There is no bonded indebtedness on Dyche stadium. The university built it. Interest and principal if eventually paid from athletic receipts will constitute only a refund to the university. No outsider has any voice in our athletics.”

 “Northwestern is seeking additional scholarships and does not wish to be known as a rich man’s school. Northwestern wishes to educate any youngster deemed worthy of the opportunity.”

 “Too many young men and women go to college now. Too many assume that the only approach to a happy life lies thru a college.”

“The American educational system was built on two principles: local responsibility and local authority. If we go on the dole from Washington, the ultimate authority will be in Washington. No man is bright enough to have that authority, and if he were, I wouldn’t want him to have it.”

“God didn’t intend everybody to be a PhD or to have a $20 hospital room without charge.”

Graduating class in 1941 - “alert in observation and vigorous in protest if you see freedom of thought and speech ever in danger.”

“If endowed schools, hospitals and other non-governmental institutions are to survive, the federal government must cease confiscating the incomes and estates of wealthy men.”

“Northwestern’s retiring president is acutely aware that privately endowed universities are threatened by confiscatory federal tax policies. Society won’t let it be killed by a group of theorist who want to take everything in. I am much opposed to federal control of education. If we get that, we’ll soon have a police state whether we like it or not.”

“Dr. Snyder said that at the founding of the university in 1853, two themes appeared - a belief that church and university have a common purpose, the development of educated Christian citizenry, and second, a belief that the university could best work toward this purpose in an atmosphere of religious and intellectual freedom.”

“Today the arch foes of humanity are not Hitler and Stalin, Naziism or communism,” he said, “but sin and ignorance. I have no fear that our American way of life will fall a victim to the 20th century black death that is ravaging Germany and Russia.”

(Dr. Franklyn Bliss Snyder was born 26 July, 1884 in Middletown, Connecticut. On June 15, 1908 , he married Winifred Perry Dewhurst. They were both 24 years of age. Dr. Snyder died 11 May, 1958. They had 2 sons: Franklyn Bliss Snyder, Jr. and Peter Miles Snyder.)


Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
630.629.4516

Friday, January 22, 2016

Northwestern University

Dr. Franklyn Bliss Snyder was born 26 July, 1884, in Middleton, Connecticut. He was once described as “quick moving, a lover of books and of outdoor sports.” He married Winifred Perry Dewhurst, July 25, 1909, and they had two sons. She was well known in Chicago and university circles, her father being the pastor of the University Congregational church. When Mr. Snyder died in 1958, he left a widow, two sons, two brothers and five grandchildren. It is possible that descendants are still living.

Dr. Snyder was a graduate of Beloit College (1905) and obtained both his master’s and a doctor of philosophy degree from Harvard. In 1911 he became an assistant professor at Northwestern and a full professor in 1919. He succeeded Dr. Walter Scott Dill in 1939. He was followed by Dr. J. Roscoe Miller upon reaching the age of sixty-five. Dr. Miller was recognized as the Distinguished Citizen of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society in 1966. If Walter Scott Dill is Scottish that means that three successive presidents of Northwestern had a Scottish heritage.

At the St. Andrews’s dinner, December 3, 1932, Dr. Snyder was the principal speaker. The Toastmaster was Rabbi Garson Levi a native of Greenock and Distinguished Citizen in 1975. Also on the program was the Rev. Dr. John Timothy Stone. The surprise of the evening was an appearance of Scots comedian Willie Fyfe and his wife. They had been brought over from the Palace theater by their old friend, Robert Black, who owned a construction company.

When Dr. Snyder was introduced, he spoke about his German name and that he was born in New England. Then he mentioned his grandmother who was born in Skye. In his possession was a table that “stood beside her bed on which stood the lamp and Bible.” He said he owed to her several things. “First of all I owe her much more than those material things...I owe her an abiding confidence in Scotland and Scottish men. I have said many times to my students that if they could choose their ancestries, and did not choose to sprinkle a few Scotsmen there, they would be stupid beyond words. For I know of no nation that has made as large a contribution to human welfare as has Scotland.”

“Another thing I owe to my grandmother is an interest in and better understanding of the man who most of us would consider greatest of all Scotchmen, Robert Burns. I know of no one else who is Burns’ equal when it comes to the difficult task of thinking the thoughts of the wise and speaking the language of the humble.” Dr. Snyder was considered a Burns scholar and had published two books about the national poet of Scotland. One of his books, The Life of Robert Burns, I was able to purchase on eBay. His second book was Robert Burns, His Personality, His Reputation and His Art.

He gave the commencement address at Northwestern in 1949. “In that address, he warned that the United States would be a sorry place in which to live in 50 years if the unjustified demands of labor or the unchecked greed of the tax assessor, or the theorizing of the planner stopped men from saving and investing in agriculture and industry.”

Dr. Snyder led the university through the years of World War II when it trained 50,000 for the military and also through eleven additions and building programs. After the war, the university was jammed with returning veterans. (If memory serves, Don Buick attended something at the University. I don’t remember if it was before or after the war.)

I need to stop because this is getting too long but there is much more. Dr. Snyder was one of a kind. He was blunt, fearless and certainly not political correct by today’s standards. I have collected a number of his statements and if there are 100 requests, I will make them the next blog. You can see how much we have changed in the last 50 years.

Wayne Rethford, Past President
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
630.629.4516

Upcoming Events

January 30, 2016 - Chicago Scots 18th Annual Burns Supper: Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson, Chicago. Cocktails, dinner, toasts, music and dancing beginning at 6:00 p.m. Dinner seating, toasts and program at 7:30 p.m. Music and dancing at 10:00 p.m. For more information, please contact Carey Smith, Director of Programming, at 708.426.7149 or visit their website. (Sponsored by the Illinois Saint Andrew Society)

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Scots of Chicago Celebrate Robert Burns

As we approach the Birthday of Robert Burns on January 25, I find it interesting to look back and see how the Scottish population of Chicago celebrated this event. These stories have all been taken from the Chicago Daily Tribune and cover the period up to 1900. Not every event is listed and often several events were conducted at the same time by different Scottish organizations and clans.

1857 - 96th anniversary of birth of Robert Burns. The Chicago Highland Guard, “one of the most beautifully uniformed military companies, celebrated a Burns Anniversary Ball.” It was held at the German Hall, corner of Wells and Indiana. The Guard was presented with a beautiful silk flag by a number of female friends. It was painted by William Mackie. “A finely gilded Eagle, carved by Power & Farel of State Street, surrounds the flag staff. It is to be presented in front of the Briggs House."

1859 - In the afternoon there was a parade composed of the Saint Andrew Society’s Highland Guard and other military companies. In the evening an address by ex-Governor McComas, followed by a concert. “After this, comes the Banquet and Ball at the Tremont House, where beauty and mirth will predominate. Large deputations from the cities and towns along the lines of railways centering here are coming to join with the citizens of Chicago in the affair. It promises to be the most magnificent affair every gotten up in the West.” The paper reported that “tens of thousands waited along the streets.” The parade was delayed three hours by a ferocious snowstorm.

1860 - “The Sons of Auld Scotia gave their brilliant and attentive Caledonian Festival at the Briggs House in honor of the Birthday of Robert Burns.

1864 - A dinner was given for Colonel A. Raffin, of the 19th Illinois, at the Briggs House on January 25, 1864. About 30 attended. Present were Robert Hervey, Capt. James, John Alston, and other “whole-souled Scotchmen” who were there and participated. Colonel Raffin was home on a short furlough during the Civil war.

1866 - Robert Hervey, who was President of the Caledonia Club, gave a series of talks on the “Genius and Character of Robert Burns.” He had also been President of the Saint Andrew Society. Proceeds from the lecture were given to the benevolent fund of the Society.

1875 - The Caledonian Club of Chicago celebrated with a dance and supper. There were over 100 couples present. Pipe music was furnished by Neil McPhail and Joseph Cant. Nevins and Dean furnished the music for dancing. “The supper was a sumptuous repast and many toasts were drank...” It lasted until the early hours of the morning.

1889 - Gov. Thomas Moonlight of Wyoming Territory spoke at the Central Music Hall to honor Burns on his birthday. He was in Chicago at the invitation of the Burns Monument Association. There was also an event at Farwell Hall. Every available space was occupied and more than a thousand were turned away. The Rev. Robert McIntyre gave the address.

1890 - The Highland Association hired the biggest hall in Chicago to celebrate the birth of Robert Burns. “Well-to-do Scotchmen - and there are scores of them in Chicago - bought boxes for themselves and their families. Middle class Scotch men and Scotch women occupied the vast parquet. Thrifty Scotch men bought every seat in the balcony.” The orator was The Rev. Dr. Lorimer. Mayor Creigier was present and said to be a Scotchman.

1891 - The Auditorium was again filled to capacity for the celebration. (There is a long list of names present at the event listed in the paper.) The Honorable Benjamin Butterworth was the speaker. The organist was from Edinburgh and he also brought his choir A grand chorus of 300 voices sang Scottish songs and 250 girls and women took part in the Highland Fling. The event lasted two days and the Auditorium was filled for all performances.

1896 - “The birthday of Burns, the Scottish bard, is generally well honored in Chicago, where there are probably more Scottish national societies than in any other place on earth.”

1896 - “A dramatic and spectacular entertainment in honor of Robert Burns, under the auspices of the Scottish Assembly of Chicago, will be given in the Auditorium on Thursday, January 23, under the direction of Mrs. Cora Scott-Pond-Pope. Over 500 characters appear in the sketches.” Among the patrons were: Mr. And Mrs. Harry G. Selfridge.

1896 - The Chicago Scottish Club held a military and civic ball at Battery D the evening of January 24. The Mayor of Milwaukee attended. He was entertained by: Mayor Swift, Capt. A. F., Campbell, Comdr. William R. Kerr, Police Chief Alex. Ross, Dr. E. P. Murdock, and Mr. Wm. Hannerman. Special attention was given to the boxes occupied by Governor Altgeld and other visiting officials. “A luncheon will be served and Major-General Wesley Merritt will lead the grand march at 9.30 p.m.”

(The first class to graduate from Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, had nine members. In that class was Jonathan Spillman who wrote the music for a song which became a classic, “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.” The words were by Robert Burns - the music by Jonathan Spillman.)

1896 - The Caledonian Society will honor Robert Burns at Steinway Hall, January 26, 1896. Robert T. Lincoln presiding and Wallace Bruce speaking. (Wallace Bruce was the Bard of Clan MacDonald and lived in Brooklyn, New York. He had also been the Ambassador to Scotland.) To the left of the stage was a bronze model of the statue of Burns now being cast in Edinburgh. “The Campbells Are Coming” was the best thing on the program, according to the Chicago Daily Tribune. Clan leaders were marched down the aisle headed by the bagpipers. “Scottish patriotism manifested itself in applause which did not cease until an encore was given.”

Those who sat on the stage were: Robert T. Lincoln, Gen. J. A. MacArthur, T. B. Livingston, F. D. Todd, Hugh Shirlaw, Col. James A. Sexto, George Bain, Peter Brice and William Gardner.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this is only a sampling of events listed in the paper. In those early days of Chicago, the Scottish population was quite prominent. They were mayors, governors, entrepreneurs and successful business people. Chicago was indeed a Scottish city much like Lake Forest, Illinois. Not sure that any community or city in the USA can match either of these two.

Wayne Rethford, Past President
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
630.629.4516

Announcements:

Nicht Wi Burns Annual Dinner: Saturday, January 23, 2016, at the Hilton Chicago/Oak Lawn, 9333 S. Cicero Avenue, Oak Lawn, Illinois. Beginning at 5:45 p.m., the Stockyards Kilty Pipe Band will play at 6:15 and the program begins at 6:30. Contact: Sally Johnson, 630.515.1997 or nichtwiburns@gmail.com

Chicago Scots 18th Annual Burns Supper: Saturday, January 30, 2016, at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson, Chicago. Cocktails, dinner, toasts, music and dancing beginning at 6:00 p.m. Dinner seating, toasts and program at 7:30 p.m. Music and dancing at 10:00 p.m. For more information, please contact Carey Smith, Director of Programming, at 708.426.7149. (Sponsored by the Illinois Saint Andrew Society)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tragedy at Stornoway

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1919. The Armistice has been signed and the “Great War” is finally over. Scotland had paid a high price. Almost 150,000 Scots lost their lives between 1914 and 1918. A generation was gone, the country’s brightest and ablest young men.

For an example, look at the Isle of Lewis. The Isle of Lewis is the largest island in the Outer Hebrides, the only settlement is Stornoway. The population was about 30,000 when the war began. More than 6,000 from the Isle and Lewis and Harris served in the war and more than a thousand died before the war ended.

Now the war is over and the warriors are returning home. In London, two trains headed north carrying troops. They were dressed in full uniforms, with heavy shoes and backpacks. Everyone was joyous and happy. There was singing and drinking because at last they were going home, back to the Isle of Lewis and Harris.

Waiting for them at the Kyle of Lochalsh was the Iolaire. (The Iolaire was an Admiralty yacht built in 1881.) The ship was not equipped for its next and final journey. There was a shortage of lifeboats and jackets and the ship would be overwhelmed with soldiers and sailors. The Captain hesitated to leave, but it was New Year’s Eve and the soldiers were anxious to get home. No adequate arrangements had been made for them to have a safe journey.

Back on the Islands, the celebrations had already begun as homes were decorated and bunting had been hung along the streets. It was going to be a joyous event. Some families had walked to the quay side in order to be there when the boat docked at Stornoway. The ship never arrived.

“Making its final approach into Stornoway Harbor on a dark night and in a strong gale, it changed course at the wrong point. With the lights of the harbor in sight, the ship struck the rocks at full speed and began to tilt. The reef was called the “Beasts of Holm.” It was 2:30 in the morning.

Out of a crew of 27 there were just 7 survivors. Among the dead 174 men from Lewis and 7 men from Harris. Only 75 of the 280 passengers survived. Families gathered to claim the bodies but more than a third were never found and six were never identified. One family that had already lost three sons in the war, lost a fourth on the Iolaire. It is said that women wore black for two generations. No one spoke of it, a “veil of silence” descended on the Islands. It was forty years before a memorial was built.

Not a family or village escaped. Lewis never recovered.

The Glasgow Herald on the 4th of January, 1919, wrote: "An old man sobbing into his handkerchief with a stalwart son in khaki sitting on the cart beside him, the remains of another son in the coffin behind --- that was one of the sights seen today as one of the funeral parties emerged from the barrack gate. Another, an elderly woman, well dressed, comes staggering down the roadway and bursts into a paralysis of grief as she tells the sympathizers at the gate that her boy is in the mortuary. Strong men weeping and women wailing or wandering around with blanched, tear stained faces are to be seen in almost every street and there are groups of them at the improvised mortuary”

Thirty-one men with the name MacLeod died. The mother of Donald Trump was Mary Anne MacLeod born on the Isle of Lewis in 1912. She would have been seven at the time. For more information about Mary Anne MacLeod, click here.

There was an official inquiry but they did not find a satisfactory explanation for the disaster. (The report was not made public for seventy years.) The last survivor died in 1992. Fifteen days after the tragedy, the Iolaire was put up for sale by the Admiralty even though eighty men were still missing. The ship’s bell was recovered from the bottom of the sea in 1971.

          “Two hundred more were plucked from us with home almost in reach.
          New Years dreams and Christmas presents washed up on the beach
          Now the winds will blow and the waves will break upon this lonely shore
          Where the ghosts of those young men that died must roam forevermore.”                                            
A memorial was dedicated in 1958 at Holm, just outside of Stornoway. A stone pillar sticks out of the water at the site of the wreck, which can be seen today on the right side as the car ferry approaches the harbor entrance.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
630.629.4516