Thursday, January 21, 2010

Robert Fergus - Historic Printer of Chicago

Robert Fergus was the pioneer printer and publisher in Chicago.  He arrived in the city on Monday July 1, 1839 by the old-time side-wheel steamer "Anthony Wayne".  He was born August 4, 1815 in Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland.  He finished schooling at age 14 and was apprenticed to several printers.  On May 4, 1839, he set sail from Glasgow in the paddle-wheel steamer "Commodore" to Liverpool.  Four days later he was on his way to New York, arriving June 1.  His destination was Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Things did not go well in Milwaukee, so he made plans to go to Chicago.  He was warned not to go to Chicago because of "what he quaintly called 'sure-death disease.'" In 1835, he had married Margaret Whitehead Scott in Glasgow.  Her father was James Scott a merchant weaver and freeman of the city of Glasgow.  Robert and Margaret had 5 children.

"It is difficult to say whether Mr. Fergus is a printer first and a Scotchman last, or a Scotchman first and printer last, for he appears to be just as devoted as his profession as he is to the literature and recollections of his native country."

George Harris Fergus was the oldest son, born and educated in the public schools of Chicago, and later became a partner with his father.  He died November 24, 1911.  When the call for troops came from President Lincoln, he was appointed First Lieutenant of Company K, 11th New York Infantry under Colonel Ellsworth.  In 1861, this regiment was detailed to guard the President and he was present when Colonel Ellsworth was shot in Alexandria, Va.  After the war, he married Mary Electa Stocking on November 24, 1867.

One of the other sons named Robert was thoroughly Scottish.  "George was thoroughly American. Robert was a great reader of the best literature.  George was a companion to many famous people. Both were true to their respective traditions - Scottish and American.  In their useful career, they exemplified the ancient motto of the Clan Fergus - Ready, Aye Ready." Anyone who studies Chicago history knows well the Fergus name.

Tomorrow the obituary of another son, Benjamin F. Fergus.

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