Saturday, June 23, 2012

I Followed My Husband

The Reverend James Caldwell (1734-1781) was one of our earliest patriots. He was born to Ulster-Scots parents in Cub Creek, Virginia. He became a Presbyterian minister and served as a chaplain during the Revolutionary War. At the battle of Springfield, New Jersey, when his company ran out of wadding, Caldwell was said to have dashed into a nearby Presbyterian church, scooped up as many Watts hymnals as he could carry and distributed them to the troops, shouting “put Watts into them, boys.”

He was killed by a single shot from the gun of James Morgan. Morgan was arrested, tried and hung on January 29, 1782. (You can find the full story on the Internet.) Mrs. Caldwell was killed earlier by the Hessians under the command of the British. Their nine children were raised by friends. One of the girls, Hannah Ogden Caldwell, married James R. Smith of New York City.

James R. Smith came to America as a child from Kirkudbright, Scotland. Through hard work and shrewd business ability, he became a very successful merchant in New York City. He owned all the property along Broadway up to thirty-fourth street. He lived on Pearl Street and had a summer home in Greenwich near what is now Washington Square. The Smiths had a daughter named Elizabeth Caldwell who was born on Pearl Street, March 28, 1808. After the death of her mother, Elizabeth moved to Washington, D.C. to live with her sister, Mrs. Matthew St. Clair Clarke whose husband was the clerk of the House of Representatives.

Elizabeth was once invited to have dinner at the White House when John Q. Adams was President. She “wore a crimson silk dress with her hair in three puffs on the top and three puffs on each side of her head and a high tortoise shell comb. She also wore silk stockings and black satin slippers. At the dinner she met Joseph Duncan from Kaskaskia, Illinois and Henry Clay told Elizabeth some things about him. He was not only a good looking man but was a good son, having taken care of his mother and educated his sister and two brothers.

Joseph Duncan was born on February 22, 1794 in Kentucky. Born into a very poor family, he educated himself especially in the classics. He served in the War of 1812 and later commanded troops as a brigadier general in the Black Hawk War. He was awarded a testimonial sword by Congress for his role in defending Fort Stephenson, Ohio. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827, he served four terms. Later, he would become the 6th governor of Illinois.

Joseph Duncan and Elizabeth Caldwell Smith were married in Washington, D.C. on May 13, 1828. Two weeks later they began the long journey to Illinois. They crossed the mountains in a stagecoach and took a steamboat from Wheeling to Cairo. From Cairo to St. Louis, they traveled “in the company with Mr. And Mrs. James K. Polk of Tennessee, little thinking he would ever fill the President’s chair, such a commonplace man.” They spent a week in St. Louis and then took a boat to Kaskaskia and then on horseback to Fountain Bluff where Joseph Duncan owned a sawmill.

They chose Jacksonville, Illinois, to be their home and in 1834 built a three-story, 17 room mansion. It was the official Governor’s mansion during his term in office (1834-1838). The house is still standing. When they first arrived in Jacksonville, Elizabeth wore a dress of “white India muslin and a long sky blue sash.” She wrote in her diary: “Wherever I went they turned my trunk inside out, tried on all my clothes and admired them generally. It was funny and often annoying to have them cut patterns of everything they could, often ruining them past use.” "No wonder people asked, what brought you so far from the city out into the wild country? I said, My husband, I followed him.”

 Mrs. Duncan was 4'5" tall and if she “was pouting” when the Governor arrived home after a long stay in Springfield, Governor Duncan would laughingly set his petite wife on the mantle, where she remained until some other member of the household came to her aid. This diminutive little lady gave birth to 10 children.

When they returned to Washington for the Second Session of Congress. Elizabeth wrote: “Mrs. Mather took us in their carriage to Carlyle several days journey, two nights and two days. We stopped for the night at a log cabin, so four of us slept in one room, not an unusual occurrence in those days.” At Carlyle they took the stage through Indiana over corduroy roads and then on to Cleveland. “The lake was so rough and the boat so poor we coasted the lake in a covered wagon to Buffalo.” From Buffalo they took a stage to Albany and a steamboat to New York. Another stagecoach completed the final leg to Washington. The entire journey took three weeks. Elizabeth said, “In November the weather was beautiful. It was a rough journey. I felt I was going home. I never liked the west and was so glad to get back.” On one of their many trips to Washington, their son James “died at Wheeling, Virginia and we buried him on a hill in sight of the river.” He was 2 years and 7 months old. What sadness they must have endured to leave this little boy, not in a cemetery but on a hill. During her lifetime, Mrs. Duncan would make this trip eight times.

I have been unable to find the exact date of her death, but believe she is buried alongside her husband in Jacksonville, Illinois. Governor Joseph Duncan died January 15, 1844. He is buried in the Diamond Grove Cemetery in Jacksonville. The mansion is owned today by the Rev. James Caldwell Chapter NSDAR and is open to the public. The home has been fully restored and contains many original Duncan family furnishings.

A Scottish girl from New York City - a Scottish man from Paris, Kentucky, who met in Washington, lived on the Frontier and died in Jacksonville, Illinois, makes an interesting story fit for the movies.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus

    No History Club meeting in July or August.
    Scottish Home Picnic - August 4, 2012
    History Club Meeting - September 8, 2012
    Kilted Classic Golf Outing - September 21, 2012
    History Club Tour - October 6, 2012
    North American Leadership Conference - Oct. 26-28. Troy, Michigan
    St. Andrew’s Day Dinner - November 16, 2012
    Rockford Burns Banquet - January 19, 2013 (
    Nicht Wi’ Burns Supper - January 26, 2013
    St. Andrew’s Society Burns Dinner - February 9, 2013

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