Thursday, February 24, 2011

Colonel Alexander W. Raffen, Chicago's First Plumber and Civil War hero. Dead, April 22, 1901.

I have written about Alexander W. Raffen before (History Club Newsletter at but have just read again the article about his death. (Chicago Daily Tribune, April 23, 1901)

Alexander Raffen was born in Cupar, Fifeshire, Scotland and came to Chicago before 1850. In 1850, he is listed in a professional directory and in the same year became a member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. In 1870, his company made a donation of $250.00 for the building of a Scottish Old People’s Home. Municipal records list Alexander Raffen as the city’s first plumber. In 1871, his company, located on Dearborn Street, was destroyed by the Great Fire. A picture of Raffen hangs in the union hall of Local 130 on West Washington Street in Chicago.

Raffen had an impressive record during the Civil War. He was “commander of one of the first volunteer infantry companies of the State” and later was an officer of the Nineteenth Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He led the charge against the Confederate forces at Stone River that “saved the left” and won the battle for the Union Army. Colonel Scott, also from Chicago, was killed in the battle and Raffen was promoted to the command. (I should some day print the letter written to Mrs.Scott on the death of her husband. It was signed by Colonel Raffen and other officers.)

During the war, his regiment participated in some of the greatest battles. For a time they were part of Sherman’s march to the sea. In the battle of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee, his regiment was the first to mount the heights, “where Daniel F. Bremner planted the first union flag.” We have already written about Mr. Bremner, and in fact have been in contact with some of his family members living in the Chicago area.

Colonel Alexander W. Raffen died at his home, 300 West Chicago Avenue, on April 22, 1901. He was survived by six children: Mrs. Mary Triplett, Mrs. Eleanor Webb, Mrs. Agnes Burgess, Mrs. Belle Brennan, William Raffen and Bessie Raffen. I have visited his grave at Rosehill Cemetery.  According to the monument, his wife, Grace Brown, died October 20, 1883 at the age of 51.

With such a large family there must be family members still living in the Chicago area, please make contact with the History Club.

Wayne Rethford, Historian
Scottish American History Club
Illinois St. Andrew Society

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Request for a List of Presbyterian Presidents

I have been asked to post the names of the Presbyterian Presidents. This list is taken from They Seek A Country by Gaius Jackson Slosser. This book was purchased on ebay. Here are the Presidents he listed::

Andrew Jackson
James Buchanan
Woodrow Wilson
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
Dwight David Eisenhower

In his book Mr. Slosser also has a “Who’s Who.” Here are a few of the names I recognized:

Jane Addams
Alexander Graham Bell
Andrew Carnegie (Never an active member)
Robert Dollar
John Hay
Cyrus Hall McCormick
Andrew Mellon
Benjamin Rush
Henry van Dyke
George Westinghouse

In the appendix there is also a list of the “educational institutions in the United States and foreign lands also theological seminaries in the United States related to American presbyterians.” A total of 124 schools in various categories are listed.

The book was published in 1955.

Wayne Rethford
Scottish American History Club
Illinois St. Andrew Society

Thursday, February 17, 2011

First Newspaper Mention of the Scottish Home on Bryan Street

Information about the beginnings of the Old People’s Home of the Illinois St. Andrew’s Society is very limited. Newspaper articles announcing the opening on Bryan Avenue have yet to be found and some of the minutes and records of the Society for the years 1900-1910 are also missing. The following article appeared in the newspaper on February 12, 1903.  This is the first newspaper reference to the Scottish Home on Bryan avenue.

“The most notable assemblage of Scottish people Chicago has every known is promised for the evening in the Auditorium, when the charity concert of the United Scottish Societies is to be given for the benefit of St. Andrew’s Old People’s home. The prima donna of the occasion will be Miss Jessie N. MacLachlan, who was a court singer to Queen Victoria. She is now making a tour of the world, and has gained recognition as the greatest Scottish ballad singer in the world. The pianist will be Mme. Jeanne Edgar, while others who will have a part in the program are: Lewis Campion, basso; Allan M. Campbell, ballad singer.”

“Governor Yates, Mayor Harrison, the British Consul, Capt. Wyndam; Marshall Field, David R. Forgan, Judge Holdon, and a score of others have secured boxes. The chairman of the box committee is Graeme Stewart. All the proceeds of this concert will be devoted to the Old People’s home of the St. Andrew’s society, which is the oldest charitable society in Illinois, having been in operation for more than fifty years

Wayne Rethford, Chairman
Scottish American Histroy Club
A Division of the Illinois St. Andrew's Society

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hugh Ritchie Dies in 1918. His Granddaughter Lives In Wheaton, Illinois. Age 95

This past Saturday night at the First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton,. I met the granddaughter of Hugh Ritchie. She is 95 years old. She told me that Ritchie Court in Chicago is named for him In searching through the documents I have scanned and placed on Intact. I found the Memorial given by the Board of Governors of the Illinois St. Andrews Society upon his death in 1918. The memorial covers two and one half pages, so I will not include all of it on this blog. However, if anyone would like a complete copy, please send me your email. Here are some of the comments in the Memorial.

“The Illinois Sant Andrew Society, with deep sorrow, and the feeling of a very personal loss, is called upon to record the passing on Oct. 6, 1918, to the Great Beyond of our esteemed and well-beloved life-member Mr. Hugh Ritchie, at his late home, No. 28 West Chestnut St., Chicago.”

“A native of Stevenson, Ayrshire, Scotland, he came while a young man to this country . . . The Chicago Fire of October 1871, was a severe calamity to our city’s interests and their managers, and he was among those who were heavy sufferers . . . Mr. Ritchie was the last surviving charter-member of the Illinois St. Andrew Society.”

“In 1845, the Society was instituted, but it was not until 1853 that it was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly of Illinois. He became a member of the Society in 1849, which was four years before it was chartered by the State, and he was therefore one of the original charter-members . . . He was for many years a member of its Board of Managers . . . At the time of his decease he was the oldest life-member.”

“We extend to his family our sincere sympathy. They may not sorrow as those without hope. His life will remain to the one who so long has been his helpmeet as a comfort, a satisfaction, and an enduring memorial of conjugal fidelity and affection; and to his children as an inheritance which shall become more precious with the passing years.”

Signed: Thomas C. MacMillian, Robert W. Hall, John Williamson, Dr. John A. McGill, George Fraser, Thomas Innes, and John J. Badenoch.

(There was a death notice in the Chicago papers, but it did not show the place of burial. I am going to make an effort to contact his granddaughter tomorrow and perhaps have more information to report later.)

Wayne Rethford, Chairman
Scottish American History Club
A part of the Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

Sunday, February 13, 2011

First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois, Celebrates Their Scottish Heritage

Today, February 13, 2011, the First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois, is having a Kirkin’ of the Tartan. It’s an American celebration started by the Reverend Peter Marshall and is observed mostly by Presbyterian churches. In my opinion every Presbyterian church should have one annually as it helps people know who they are and where they came from.

Last night the Kirkin’ O’ The Tartan Supper Club held a dinner at the church with good food and fellowship. We estimated 125-150 was in attendance. Tom Boynton was the Master of Ceremonies and Peter Wilkie read some historical Scottish songs. We also had a piper, James McCallum. Later, Greg Drinan illustrated the story of the Black Regiment during the American Revolution.

Our family was welcomed with open arms and all of us felt very comfortable. This is a very large active church with a long history in the Wheaton area. (You can read their history on a very well designed web site.) Their building is just magnificent. The pastor is Dr. Paul J. Kirbas a friendly outdoing younger man who has served in this capacity for five years.

My 20 minute talk centered around the role of Presbyterian Scots at the very beginnings of our nation. I think it was all right and was politely received by the group. After this, we moved to a lower lever and were entertained by Nancy Strolle and her Thistle and Heather Highland Dancers. These young people are always entertaining and last night was no exception. They really connected with the audience.

It was a very enjoyable evening and I appreciate the opportunity to attend and make a small contribution.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew's Society
Scottish American History Club

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Some Thoughts About Mr. Lincoln on His Birthday

Francis Bicknell Carpenter painted the giant Emancipation Proclamation that hangs near the Senate’s west stairway in Washington, D.C. It took him six months to complete the painting and he literally lived in the White House while he worked.
One evening while he was painting, Mr. Lincoln leaned his head on the back of his chair and said: “There is a poem which has been a great favorite with me for years, which I will repeat to you.” Closing his eyes he began “O, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?” He then recited all the verses without a break.

The day after the assassination, Carpenter copied the poem and took it to a Mr. Bryant who published it in the Evening Post. At Sunday services Rev. Vinton, rector of Trinity Church read the poem. It was soon reported across the nation as Lincoln’s favorite poem

Carpenter went on to say: “Mr. Lincoln told me the poem was first repeated to him by Jason Duncan, a companion of his youth. Some time afterward he found the verses in a newspaper. He cut them out and carried the slip in his pocket till he knew the lines by heart. He said he had made many inquiries, but never discovered the author.”

The poem was written by William Knox, a Scotchman, who was a contemporary of Sir Walter Scott. It is called Mortality, has 64 lines and is much too long to publish here, but can easily be found on the Internet.

Here are some lines:

For we are the same our fathers have been;
We see the same sights our fathers have seen;
We drink the same stream, we view the same sun;
We run the same course our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think
From the death we are shrinking, our fathers would shrink,
To the life we are clinging, they also would cling,-
But it speeds from us all like a bird on the wing.

(Part of the information used in this story was taken from an article published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on February 12, 1894)

Wayne Rethford, President
Scottish American History Club
A Division of the Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More About the Reverend John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian Dissenter

The Reverend John Witherspoon was born in  Scotland on February 5, 1732.  He died in New Jersey, 1794.  Witherspoon was a member of the Continental Congress from New Jersey.  He was a Presbyterian minister and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

There is a statue of Witherspoon near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.  The sculpture is by William Couper of New York and was unveiled May 20, 1909.  A plaque at the base of the statue reads:

"For my part, of property I have some, of reputation more.  That reputation is staked, that property is pledged on the issue of this contest; and although these gray hairs must soon descend into the sepulcher, I would rather that they descend theither by the hand of the executioner than desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my country."

Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918) was an American historian. He wrote:

"It was from John Witherspoon of New Jersey that Madison, bred in the school of Presbyterian Dissenters under Witherspoon, imbibed the lesson  of perfect freedom in matters of conscience.  When the Constitution of that State, New Jersey, was framed by a convention composed chiefly of Presbyterians, they established perfect liberty of conscience without the blemish of a test."

Wayne Rethford, President
Scottish American History Club
A division of the Illinois St. Andrew's Society

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

John Witherspoon, America's Most Influential Teacher was a Presbyterian Minister

Some have called John Witherspoon the most influential teacher in the history of American education. Born in Scotland, a Presbyterian minister, President of Princeton University and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

He believed and taught the right of people to self-govern and the supreme dignity of man.

His students included:

1 President, James Madison

1 Vice-President, Aaron Burr

3 Supreme Court Judges

5 Cabinet Members

12 State Governors

29 U.S. Representatives

56 State Legislators

5 Signers of the Declaration of Independence

9 Delegates to the Constitutional Convention

31 Revolutionary army officers

100+ ministers

Monday, February 7, 2011

Speaking Engagement at the First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Il.

On February 12, 2011, I will be speaking at the First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Part of the program will be highland dancing by the Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers. On Sunday, the church will have a “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans" which appears to be an annual event. The event on Saturday is called the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Supper Club.

The Kirkin’ is a purely American event, usually conducted in Presbyterian churches, to celebrate the contribution of Scots to America and the world. The first Kirkin' was held by the Rev. Peter Marshall in Washington, D.C. and I repeat here an article that appeared in the History Club Newsletter in 1999. All of those issues can be found on our web site at

The personality of Peter Marshall flashed like a meteor across the conscience of America. Regretfully, it was extinguished with his early death at age 45.  As U.S. Senate Chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Marshall challenged the best in the nation with his piquant and pointed references to the problems of the day in his prayers.

Peter Marshall was born in 1904 in Coatbridge, Scotland, in the industrial Clydeside. His father died when he was four. He studied engineering, and was encouraged to pursue his career in the U.S. where he arrived in 1927. He worked in New Jersey and Birmingham, Alabama, where he was inspired to study for the ministry.

After graduation, he became pastor of a church in Covington, Georgia, and later in Atlanta. By 1933, he was attracting large crowds with his sermons. He moved to Washington where he was well known as the preacher at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Here hundreds were turned away every Sunday.

He was asked to preach the Christmas sermon to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and family. Before long he was appointed Chaplain to the Senate. It was said that Senators started coming early just to hear his prayers which were widely quoted in national publications. An editorial in the Atlanta Journal said, “His arresting pulpit personality holds his listeners enthralled by the dramatic forcefulness of his delivery.”

He suffered severe heart pains in 1947 and died January 25, 1949. Later, his wife Catherine said of her husband, “There were things that Scotland contributed to Peter - as she does to all her sons - a sturdy independence that scorns hardship, a tenacity of purpose, and a deep appreciation of religion and political liberty with the will to defend it at any cost.”

Posted by Wayne Rethford, President of the Scottish American History Club.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

How Many Visited The History Club Web Site in January? Google Analytics Provides the Answer.

Google Analytics follows two sites for the Scottish American History Club. One is the web site at and the other is my blog at They collect data by the day, the week and the year.

During the month of January, 2011, 850 people visited the web site from 36 countries/territories. From the U.S. came 627 visits, the United Kingdom contributed 90 visits, Canada 53 and Australia 19 visits. Eight people visited from Russia and four from China. London showed 23 visitors with 9 from Glasgow and 7 from Edinburgh. The most popular area viewed was the name lists with 325 visitors. The second most popular was Philip D. Amour in the name list.

The blog had 253 visits in January from 19 countries/territories. Most came from the U.S. (174) followed by the United Kingdom (53). Two visitors came from France, two from Peru, two from Brazil and one from Estonia.

The most visitors read the blog about the statues of Robert Burns and the most active day was January 25. Again 16 people read the blog about Philip D. Amour, Jr. and his marriage to Mary E. Lester. It was posted on January 9, 2010. Not sure what spurred this interest in Philip Amour.

We appreciate all the visitors and their comments.

Wayne Rethford, President
Scottish American History Club
Arts & Culture Division
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Donald McKay, Born in Nova Scotia (Little Scotland) Designed Sailing Ships

In the romantic era of the fast sailing clipper ships, Donald McKay was one of the most prominent figures. He was a naval architect who designed and built the biggest and fastest of the clipper ships. These were sailing vessels that flourished just before the steamship era.

McKay was born September 4, 1810, in Nova Scotia (New Scotland) a descendant of the Jacobite rebels who fled to Canada in the 18th century. He moved to New York City in 1827, where he was apprenticed as a ship’s carpenter.

His training complected, he worked at his trade in New York and Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1845 McKay established his own shipyard at East Boston where he designed and built the ships that became world famous for their beauty and their speed.

This was the time of the Gold Rush when the greatest revolution in naval architecture was taking place. The clipper ship had become the safest and most comfortable way to get from the East Coast to California. McKay was the foremost architect of this change. He was a shrewd businessman with the talents of an artist and a scientist  His first ship Stag Hound was launched in 1850 followed by many others, including the beautiful Flying Cloud, Glory of the Seas and Westward Ho! McKay designed every vessel in his yards and supervised every detail of their construction.

When steamship ended the clipper era (1846-1859), McKay saw the change coming and closed his yards. With the Civil War he reopened his yards and built steam-powered ships for the U.S. Navy. But his heart was with the beautiful sailing ships that made him famous. He soon retired to Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he died September 20, 1880.

Donald McKay is in the Hall of Fame maintained by the Illinois St. Andrew’s Society. The above article was written by Mr. James Casement Thomson  If you would like more information about Nova Scotia, attend our History Club meeting on February 5, 2011.

                                                                      Wayne Rethford, President
                                                                       Scottish American History Club