Monday, October 31, 2011

St. Andrew's Day Celebrated in Chicago for the First Time - 1845

The Annual Dinner of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society is scheduled for November 18 at the Inner-Continental Hotel on Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois and you can get all the necessary information at their web site.

This event has now been held continuously for 166 years and is the oldest of its kind in Chicago. The original purpose was to celebrate St. Andrew’s Day as indicated by the headlines in the Chicago Daily Journal of December 6, 1845. November 30 is St. Andrew’s Day but, if it fell on Sunday as it did in 1845, the event was held the next night. As most of you know, it was at the Lake House hotel, along the banks of the Chicago River and only a few steps from the present location of the Wrigley Building.

James Murray, Esq. came from Buffalo, N.Y. to chair the meeting. Mr. Murray was a private banker who had lived in Chicago but had sold his business to Alexander Brand and moved to Buffalo. He was assisted by George Steele and Daniel McElroy. Also, on the platform were Judge Thomson and the Rev. Mr. Giles. The Daily Journal reported that between “fifty and sixty sat down to a sumptuous dinner.”

Music was supplied by two individuals but it is unclear what kind of instruments they played. Here is a list of some of the songs they played after the appropriate toasts: It was in this order: “God Save the Queen,” “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Lochiel’s March,” “Washington March,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “Green Grow the Rushes O.” You can hear all of these songs on the Internet. (One song I couldn’t find on the Internet was “Nannia ch,” however the newspaper is very old so perhaps I am not spelling it correctly.)

Apparently there were no dancers but there may have been a piper because George Anderson had written to Rockford, IL. seeking one. The actual letter was purchased from a collector several years ago and is on display in the Scottish American Museum.

After the nine planned toasts with appropriate music, there were some 20 “volunteer toasts” which included such things as: “The Bench and Bar in Illinois,” “The Lyrics of Scotland and her Literature,” “Robert Burns,” “The City of Edinburgh,” and last of all “The Highlands of Scotland” offered by D. E. Ross. The paper reports that the room was “appropriately decorated with the Stars and Stripes blending with the Plaid and Thistle.” There is no indication of what was on the menu or what those in attendance wore.

Captain John McClellan (not the famous Civil War general) was in attendance. He was here working on the Chicago harbor. There is no known record of who planned the event or when they began planning but since George Steele was shown as president in 1845, one would suspect that he was much involved. We do know he passed around a paper soliciting names of those interested in forming a St. Andrew’s Society. The first formal meeting of the new organization was held in January 1846.

The event on November 18 will be totally different from the first one, even the emphasis will not be the same, but it all started 166 years ago.

Wayne Rethford, Historian
Scottish-American History Club


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Titanic and Some of The Scots Who Died in The Disaster

The Titanic, a magnificent ship and the largest ever made up to its time, was built in Northern Ireland. Perhaps, they should have used John Brown and Company of Clydebank which built such world-famous ships as the Lusitania and the Queen Mary. Not sure if this is correct, but I have read that some of the rivets which failed in the collision may have been below standard.

The Titanic had a telephone system, lending library, swimming pool, squash courts and a gymnasium. First class passengers had the use of three elevators with one in second class. The most expensive one-way fare was $99,237.00 (using 2011 values).

The Captain was Edward John Smith who went down with his ship. His body was never recovered. The First Officer was William McMaster Murdock who was born in Dalbeattie, Dumfries, Scotland, and was the officer in charge on the bridge. If his body was recovered, it was never identified. In the recent movie he committed suicide which is not true because numerous people saw him in the water assisting others. The film producers were asked to change the suicide scene but they refused. Studio executives later flew to Murdock’s hometown to issue an apology to his surviving relatives and establish a memorial fund.

The orchestra was composed of eight people. The violinist was John Law Hume also from Dumfries, Scotland. It is true that the band played as the ship was sinking and one of the songs was Sarah Adams’ “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” John Hume was twenty-one and lived with his parents on George St. It was believed that when he finished this trip, he was to return home and marry. The body of John Hume was recovered and he is buried in grave #193 in Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Another young man from Dumfries was Thomas Mullin. Thomas was 20 years old and single. His body was recovered (#323) and buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 10, 1912. Later, the people of Dumfries would erect a monument to honor both men. The monument is 16.5 ft. in height and “covers a space of 9.5 square feet." On the front is an engraving of the Titanic and a bronze scroll of music containing the music for “Nearer My God to Thee”. I assume the monument is still in Dock Park. Perhaps, someone could check and let us know how the monument looks after nearly 100 years.

I received an email from Michael C. Copperthite who lives in Falls Church, VA. stating that a Scottish relative of his named Bert Copperthite also died on the Titanic. He was a fireman but I don’t know if his body was ever recovered. Michael if you have more information, please let us know.

The next meeting of the Scottish American History Club will be November 5th and we will share the program with the Scottish Home. Caroline Goldthorpe will present a program on “Life Aboard the Titanic.” Ms. Goldthorpe, formerly a curator with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is now Director of Museum Studies at Northwestern University.

This paid lecture is a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Jamie McKechnie.  If you have questions please call the number below.

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrews Society


Monday, October 10, 2011


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 1,500 passengers and crew. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, attention focused on the Douglas family because Walter and Mahala Douglas, along with their maid Berthe Leroy, were returning from Europe. They had boarded at Cherbourg, were traveling first class, and assigned to cabin C-86.

(If you google the name “Berthe Leroy: Titanic Survivor”, you will get some interesting information about this lady who stayed with Mrs. Douglas until her death, crossed the Atlantic 19 times, married, became an American citizen and died in France, July 4, 1972.)

Walter Douglas was the son of George Douglas, one of the founders of the Quaker Oats Company. Walter Douglas had been widowed at age 37 and in 1906 married Mahala Dutton Benedict. He had just retired on January 1, 1912. Walter and Mahala had built a mansion overlooking Lake Minnetonka that was said to be a copy of a French palace. The three-month trip to Europe was to obtain furnishings for their new home. Does anyone know if the mansion still exists? At the time of his death, Mr. Douglas was a director of the Quaker Oats company and his wealth was estimated at four million dollars. When his body was recovered, he was dressed in his finest and had helped lower the last lifeboat of the Titanic. It is reported that he refused to leave the ship with others, saying it would make him “less than a man.”

His body (No. 62) was recovered by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett. The crew reported they had recovered a man about 55 with gray hair, in evening dress with the initials W.D.D. on the shirt. They also recovered a gold watch and chain, a gold cigarette case, five gold studs, a wedding ring engraved May 19, 1884. In addition there was a pocket letter case with $551.00 and a one pound note and five note cards.

Mr. Douglas was first taken to his home in Minneapolis and then by special train to Cedar Rapids for burial in Oak Hill cemetery. Later, Mahala returned to her new home and became involved in the life of Minneapolis. She did some writing about the Titanic and actually wrote a poem about the sinking. You can find this poem on the Internet as well as her testimony before a Senate committee investigating the cause of the sinking. She died in 1945 in Pasadena, California where she had a summer home. She is buried with her husband.

Next year the world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the sinking. I understand the movie will be released in 3-D and I am sure the History Channel will have many programs. The History Channel has already aired several programs about the Titanic and especially on attempts to raise a large section of the ship. After repeated attempts the section was raised and it turned out to be a portion of cabin C-86 where Mr. and Mrs. Douglas had their quarters.

The Illinois St. Andrews Society has had many connections with the Douglas family and Quaker Oats. We are grateful for their help and support.

The next meeting of the Scottish American History Club will be November 5th and we will share the program with the Scottish Home. Caroline Goldthorpe will present a program on “Life Aboard the Titanic.” Ms. Goldthorpe, formerly a curator with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is now Director of Museum Studies at Northwestern University.

This paid lecture is a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Jamie McKechnie.

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew Society

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


We are looking for ways to expand the number of people who receive our blog. So, we recently added a number of Scottish organizations and St. Andrew’s Societies around the world. (You can easily opt-out if not interested.) We currently have over 900 on our list and will happily add anyone interested. Just send us a name and email address.

The Scottish American History Club has several goals, first we want to tell the story of our history and its people and second, we want to encourage others to become bloggers. It’s relatively simple and inexpensive to set-up a blog and the stories are endless. In America, I can’t think of a state that doesn’t have a strong Scottish influence.

Our blog is mostly concerned with the Chicago area and the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. Our Society began in 1845 and so we have a long history of people and events. The Society also owns a health care facility called the Scottish Home in North Riverside, Illinois (USA). Thus, many of our stories are about the Home which is 111 years old. However, we do write of other things like today’s story.

On November 2, 2011, The Bank of England will introduce a new 50 pound bank note. For the first time the banknote will have two portraits. One is of James Watt and the other is his business partner Matthew Boulton (pronounced Boulten). The present fifty pound note featuring Sir John Houblon will be gradually withdrawn.

James Watt was born in Greenock, Scotland on January 19, 1736. He began his working career learning the trade of mathematical-instrument making in London. Later, when he returned to Glasgow, he set up a work shop at Glasgow University where he repaired and calibrated instruments. However, he soon became interested in the steam engine which at the time was just being used to pump water from mines. As an engineer, Watt worked on the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Caledonian Canal. He also worked to improve harbors and the deepening of rivers in Scotland like the Forth and Clyde. One of his inventions was an attachment to telescopes for the measuring of distances.

The term by which we measure electricity is named for him and he also coined the word horsepower. Watt charged his customers an extra premium for using his engine. "Watt calculated that a horse exerted a pull of 180 lbs; therefore, when he made a machine, he described its power in relation to a horse: a 20 horse-power engine, for instance. Watt worked out how much each company saved by using his machine rather than a team of horses. The company then had to pay him one third of that figure every year for the next twenty-five years.” The government gave Watt and Boulton a monopoly on the construction of steam engines. There was never any competition.

James Watt didn’t invent the steam engine but like so many other Scottish inventors he improved on the idea. (McCormick didn’t invent the reaper, he just made it work better, especially when the grain was wet.) The first patent issued to James Watt was in 1769 and had to do with a separate condensing chamber which greatly increased the power of the engine. He also made it a rotary engine.

Arthur Herman in his book How the Scots Invented The Modern World writes about the influence of these two men, Watt and Boulton. He wrote, “They made the modern factory, and the factory system, possible. They also altered the way people saw the world. That became clear when James Boswell visited their Soho works outside Birmingham, and Boulton showed him around, uttering the famous phase: ‘I sell here, Sir, what all the world desires to have: power.’”

James Watt died in Heathfield, England, August 19, 1819. “By the time he died, he’d changed history and was the most honored engineer who had ever lived.”

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

The next meeting of the Scottish American History Club will be November 7, 2011. We will have a guest speaker on the subject of the Titanic. More information to follow. No December meeting. Visit our web site at