“Contrary to popular belief, Milwaukee was originally a Scotch-Irish town, not a German settlement. A great part in building it up from a small town to the twelfth city of the United States was taken by Scotchmen, who achieved prominence in finance, commerce and industry, and upheld the finest traditions of Scottish culture.” So says the Milwaukee Journal on January 24, 1934.
The article was written because the St. Andrew’s Society was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary and the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. At their first dinner on January 25, 1859, Alexander Mitchell was in the chair, the vice-president, Judge Arthur MacArthur was the toastmaster. Robert Menzies was the first secretary and the poet laureate was Robert Shiells. So many Scots lived in Milwaukee that the “Scotch public picnic was for years the largest and merriest gathering in Milwaukee.” In the winter there was curling promoted by the St. Andrew’s Society.
As we have previously mentioned the first president of the Milwaukee Society was Alexander Mitchell, who according this article, was the outstanding Scotchman who played the leading role in the development of Milwaukee and the northwest. John Johnston was a nephew of Mr. Mitchell and a graduate of the University of Aberdeen. He came to Milwaukee in 1856 and spent his entire life working at the Mitchell bank. Three times the St. Andrew’s Society elected him president and he was also the president of the Grand National Curling Clubs of America.
Another prominent Scot was Arthur MacArthur who came to Milwaukee in 1849 and two years later was the city attorney. He later became an associate judge of the supreme court of the District of Columbia and was later chancellor of the National University in Washington. His son Arthur served in the Civil War and was given “the congressional medal of honor for bravery at Missionary Ridge.” In the Spanish-American war he served with honor in the Philippines. He fell dead while addressing his comrades of the 24th Wisconsin volunteers at a reunion in Milwaukee. His son was General Douglas MacArthur of World War II. He also received the Medal of Honor.
I have never seen the Robert Burns statue in Milwaukee but the sculptor is the same as ours standing in Garfield Park since 1906. They are identical. “In 1909 the Milwaukee Society unveiled the statue of Robert Burns which now stands in Franklin Square.” It was a gift from James A. Bryden, a founder and past president of the Society. The organization also contributed money to the Scottish memorial in the Princess Street Gardens which says: “A tribute from men of Scottish blood and sympathies in America to Scotland.” I wonder if that memorial still exists?
I find it interesting that Douglas MacArthur and Billie Mitchell grew up in the same town and were nearly the same age. Later in life they would be in the same courtroom - one a defendant, the other a member of the jury. More on that later. I can’t think of a major American city that does not have a Scottish history. I hope someone in Milwaukee will take interest and begin to gather these great stories.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society
The first History Club meeting in the new year will be on January 11, 2014. Same place - same time - different date. The speaker will be Tina Beaird and her subject - “The Scottish Diaspora - Migration Chains to Illinois.” Tina is the Reference Librarian at the Plainfield Library. We met Tina on our History Tour last summer. She is smart, full of energy and knows her subject. It will be a good start for 2014.