This lecture about the early days of Chicago was delivered before the Sunday Lecture Society at McCormick Hall on Sunday, May 7th, 1876. Hon. John Wentworth was the editor, publisher and proprietor of the "Chicago Democrat", the first corporation newspaper, and member of Congress for twelve years.
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Early Chicago, J. Wentworth
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
From Fulton County.38
Chicago Marriages Recorded In Fulton Co.39
Notes Upon The Tax Payers Of 1825.39
Notes Upon The Voters Of 1826.40
Notes Upon The Voters Of 1830.41
More Returns From Peoria County.42
One year ago, I gave a lecture at this place, as I then stated to you, "with a view of exciting among our people a spirit of historical research which would result in recovering lost newspapers and documents, and placing upon record the experiences of our early settlers." I had no ambition to figure as a lecturer, or as a historian. I waited until the regular lecture course was finished. The proceeds were given with pleasure to the Committee for the employment of men more at home in the lecture field, as the proceeds of this lecture will be,—such men as pass six months in preparing one, two, or three lectures, and pass the next six months in delivering them. As this is their sole means of living, it is right that they should be well paid for them; and it is one of the noble objects of this Association to furnish you, at an hour when you have no worldly pursuits nor religious entertainments, for ten cents, what other people on a week-day pay from fifty cents to a dollar for.
I can think of no other object that would have brought me before you with a written lecture. I felt that the duty peculiarly devolved upon me, and I performed it with pleasure. There are scarcely half a dozen persons, habituated to public speaking, who were here before the city was incorporated. I was sole conductor of a public press for twenty-five years lacking a few months. It seemed proper that I should lead off in this important matter.
The Chicago Democrat was commenced on the 26th of November, 1833, by the late John Calhoun, whose widow now resides in this city.
Augustine D. Taylor, now living in this city, saw the press landed; and Walter Kimball, now living in this city, was a visitor in the office, and saw the first number printed. That paper fell into my hands in November, 1836, and contained not only a history of current events, but also a vast amount of information touching the early history of the entire Northwest. It is a sad reflection that the same fire which swept away my files, also swept away those of everyone else, and all our public records. But there are copies of the Chicago Democrat scattered all over the Northwest, as well as of other papers and documents that will be of service in restoring our lost history. No person should destroy any papers or documents of a date prior to the fire. If there is no one who wants them, let them be sent to me, and I will take care of them until our Chicago Historical Society becomes reorganized. Our old settlers are fast passing away. Some of the few remaining have very retentive memories. Let them not be discouraged because they do not remember dates. It is events that we want; and by comparing them with other events, the dates of which we know, we can in time obtain the exact dates of all of them.
While so many of our old settlers have passed away, there yet may be remaining among their effects old papers whose value their legal representatives do not appreciate. Many old packages have been given to me, with the remark that they did not see of what use they could be to me. One widow sent me some pieces of newspapers, which the mice had kindly spared, with the remark that she was ashamed to be sending such old trash to any one; but from-them facts enough were gathered to save another widow from being swindled out of her homestead. When I lectured before, it was a matter of dispute what was the name of the first steamboat that ever came to Chicago, and who was the person in command. She came to bring the troops for the Black Hawk War in 1832, and brought the cholera with them. All that was known for a certainty was the place where they dug the pit into which they most unceremoniously plunged the dead bodies. That was remembered because it was the site of the old American Temperance House, northwest corner of Lake street and Wabash avenue; and many old settlers remembered that from the fact that they always passed by the Temperance House on the other side, and so could read the sign. The river and lake water, which we had to drink in those days, was considered unhealthy. I made a statement as to the name of that boat, based upon what I considered the best authority. But when I had finished, a gentleman came upon the stage and gave me another name, claiming that he helped fit out the very vessel at Cleveland, and I changed my manuscript to correspond. But some of the reporters published the statement as I delivered it, and thus two statements were before the public, as given by me. Thus different persons, anxious to assist me in reestablishing the landmarks of history, had an opportunity, by quoting the one statement to provoke discussion by insisting that the other statement was true, when they really did not know any more about the matter than I did, and had perhaps consulted only one authority, when I had previously consulted many. But a lady, in looking over her old papers, found, where she least expected it, a Chicago Democrat dated March 14, 1861, containing a letter from Capt. A. Walker, giving a history of the whole expedition, showing that both statements were correct. The United States Government chartered four steamers to bring troops and supplies to Chicago, and their names were the Superior, Henry Clay, William Penn, and Sheldon Thompson; but the Superior and Henry Clay were sent back when the cholera broke out on board. Capt. Walker says, that when he arrived at Chicago, in July, 1832, there were but five dwelling-houses here, three of which were made of logs. There are other old newspapers yet to be found settling questions equally as interesting.
All must admit, that there has been more said about the history of Chicago, and more important publications made, the past year than ever before. Booksellers inform me that they have had within the past year, a greater demand than in all time before for all works appertaining to the history of the Northwest, and that they have had, all the while, standing orders for such works as are out of print. And it is to encourage a still further research that I address you to-day. And, if the result of this year's researches is not satisfactory, I shall feel myself in duty bound to address you again in a year from this time. Many aged settlers have thanked me for bringing them into a higher appreciation. One octogenarian lady informs me that, for the past fifteen years, when any young company came to the house, she was expected to leave the room. After my lecture, she said she saw a gentleman approaching the house, and she left the room as usual. But soon her granddaughter came out and said, "It is you he wants." And this was the first gentleman caller-she had had for fifteen years. When she entered the room, and he told her he wanted to inquire about early Chicago, she felt as if her youth had come again, and she told the others that it was their time to leave the room. She said, "He has been to see me six times, and has printed nearly all I said, and there is not another member of our large family who-has ever said a word that was thought of sufficient importance to be printed; and now I am thinking over what I know about early Chicago, and letting the newspapers have it." She observed with great force that the young folks were constantly asking her how she used to get along amid early privations, and she insisted that, if I ever lectured again, I should assert that the early settlers of Chicago were the happiest people in the world, as I believe they were. But a strict regard for the real historical purposes of this lecture will permit me to allude only incidentally to our early sources of entertainment.
We are apt to speak of Chicago as a new city. But it is not so, compared with the great mass of other cities in the United States.
Take out Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and New Orleans, and what is there older, in the date of its incorporation, in the West, extending to the Pacific? But when our city was organized we had no Pacific possessions, save Oregon Territory, which we then owned in common with Great Britain. The future historian of America will not, however, take into consideration the date of our incorporation. The ancient Romans were in the habit of dating events from the foundation of their city. But "Urbs condita" or "Chicago condita" will never be a reckoning point in our city's history. Even in this assembly, there are not as many who know in what year our city was incorporated as in one of our public schools there are children who can spell Melchisedec, notwithstanding modern politicians have kicked from the public schools the Book that contained the eighth commandment.
From Washington's inauguration, in 1789, to Chicago's first Mayor's inauguration, in 1837, we have but forty-eight years, a period of time that the future historian of America, when speaking of Chicago, will not notice. But a resident of Chicago was not elected to Congress until 1843, and yet he became associated not only with men prominent under every Administration of the United States Government, and many of them born before the inauguration of Washington, but with some born even before the Declaration of Independence, and two, at least, before the tea was thrown overboard in Boston harbor. John Quincy Adams was born in 1767, and he was accustomed to tell us that among his earliest recollections was that of hearing the report of the guns at the battle of Bunker Hill. Benjamin Tappan, Senator from Ohio, was born in 1773. Then there was Henry Clay, Secretary of State while John Quincy Adams was President, United States Senator as early as 1806, Speaker of the House in 1811, born in 1777, nine months after the Declaration of Independence, and one who could collect a larger crowd and disperse it quicker and in better humor than any other man who ever lived in America. I shall never forget my last interview with Henry Clay, and its description is appropriate to the history of Chicago. Our harbor was suffering for appropriations. President Polk had vetoed them all. A change of dynasties had been effected. Millard Fillmore was the acting President, and he was a warm friend of our harbor. It was in the spring of 1851. The Harbor bill had passed the House, and was sent to the Senate at a late day, and the controlling spirits had managed to keep it back until a still later day. The Southern Senators, under the lead of Jefferson Davis, spoke against time, declaring the bill unconstitutional. Clay did all that man could do for us, but in vain. Our bill was talked to death. Clay came on with us to New York City, to take a steamer for New Orleans. As the vessel was about to sail, we went on board to take our leave of him, and we all expressed a hope that the next time he returned home he would go around by the lakes. He replied, "I never go where the Constitution does not go. Hence I must travel by salt water. Make your lakes Constitutional. Keep up the war until your lake harbors get their deserved appropriations, and then I will come out and see you." We finally got the Constitution out here, but not until after Henry Clay had paid the debt of nature.
Then there was John C. Calhoun, Vice-President while John Quincy Adams was President in 1825; a member of Congress in 1811; Secretary of War when the reconstruction of our fort was completed in 1817; born in 1782, the year before Great Britain acknowledged our independence. He said his name came once very nearly being associated with Chicago,- as the new fort had been completed while he was Secretary of War, and it was suggested that it be called Fort Calhoun. But he did not think it right to change the old name which had been given in honor of Gen. Henry Dearborn, who was Secretary of War when the first fort was built, in 1804. Official documents tell us that, in 1803, Capt. John Whistler, then a Lieutenant at Detroit, was ordered here to build the fort, that his troops came by land, and that he, with his family and his supplies, came round by the lakes in the United States schooner Tracy, with Dorr for Master. This probably was the first sail-vessel that ever came to Chicago. I can think of no business that could have brought one here before. This Capt. John Whistler was father of Col. William Whistler, who died in 1863, and was so favorably known by our early settlers, and who was father-in-law of the late Robert A. Kinzie, of this city.
Besides, there was Judge William Wilkins, of Pennsylvania, born in 1779; Daniel Webster, of Massachusetts, born in 1782; John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky, born in 17863 and Judge Levi Woodbury, of New Hampshire, born in 1789.
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