Monday, August 15, 2011

Charles Walker

In short, taking into consideration the varied incidents of his active life, his indomitable perseverance and industry, and the financial ability he has exhibited, Mr. Charles Walker has had few equals and no superiors, as a skillful business man and a good citizen.
-Chicago Magazine, March 1857

The Clarke family's relocation to Chicago in 1835 can be largely attributed to the persuasion of Charles Walker. Walker was Henry Brown Clarke's brother-in-law, married to his younger sister Mary (1805-1838). Charles Walker was born February 2, 1802 in Plainfield, Otsego County, New York. He was the oldest son of Colonel William W.  and Lucretia (Ferrel) Walker. Charles had limited education but was a quick learner. He  started school at age six in a log school house built by local farmers. Working his father's farm most of the year, Walker had only three months during the winter to devote to study, doing lessons with a teacher during the day and his parents in the evenings. By age fifteen he became a teacher himself, teaching local children during the winter months. At  eighteen, while still employed as a teacher, he began to study law. The sedentary lifestyle of an attorney did not bode well with Walker's active disposition so, upon the advice of physicians, he soon gave up the law choosing instead to travel the countryside as a livestock buyer for his father.

At age twenty-one his health began to diminish, presumably from excessive time outdoors, and he decided to hire himself out to a friend as a mercantile clerk. Within two months he had mastered the trade and opened his own business in Burlington Flats, New York May of 1824. He soon owned a grist mill, saw mill, potash factory, and tannery in addition to his mercantile. Walker married his wife, Mary Clarke May 8, 1827. He dealt successfully in grain, cattle, and other sundries until 1828 when a large shipment of cheese, butter, and pork, en-route to a southern market, was lost at sea. Walker suffered financially, but was able to grow his business back until 1832 when a decline in prices brought on another blow. Still determined to make it in trade, Walker continued to buy and sell in the New York market.  In spring 1833 he was able to turn a damaged cargo of raw hides from Buenos Aries into a profitable venture by making the leather into boots and shoes for fall Indian payments in Chicago. His brother Almond Walker took these, along with an assortment of guns, boots, shoes, and raw leather to Fort Dearborn in Chicago autumn of 1834.

Realizing the profit to be made out west, Charles Walker set out for Chicago himself in May 1835. Confident in the potential of Chicago as a center of commerce, he purchased several real estate lots, one at the corner of Clark and South Water Streets. Through a partnership with Captain Bigelow of Boston and Jones, King, & Co.Hardware, Walker bought the land for $15,000 cash. That spring he purchased hides in St. Joseph which he added to the other goods picked up in Chicago, which he sent back to New York. The total shipment was said to be the first from the state of Illinois to be sent as far east as Utica or Albany.

In June 1835 he returned to Chicago with his brother-in-law, Henry Brown Clarke. While Clarke purchased land for his own estate, Walker introduced him to local business associates which undoubtedly secured Clarke employment with Jones. King, & Co. when he returned with Caroline and their two sons in October. Walker also returned to Chicago in 1836 to establish the firm Walker & Co. with brother Almond Walker and brother-in-law Eri Baker Hurlburt, Esq (also spelled Hulbert, 1807-1852) a general store on South Water Street that dealt in importing animal husbandry implements and household goods from the east. Even with his primary business affairs in Chicago, Walker continued to reside in New York.

When the panic of 1837 hit Chicago, Walker was one of few who remained in business. He was able to satisfy his debts and keep a good reputation, which enabled him to actually grow his operations during a time of economic downturn. He used depreciated Western money, still accepted and circulated in Chicago, to purchase large quantities of goods, then shipped the items to his Eastern creditors as barter payment avoiding any transmutation of currency. Walker's success allowed him to help Henry and Caroline when they experienced financial trouble in the late 1830s, saving them from foreclosure on their house. Although financially secure, Walker experienced personal tragedy with the death of his wife Mary in June 1838. He was remarried in 1841 to Nancy Bently (d.1881) at Lebanon Springs, New York. His new wife and son Charles H. Walker (by Mary) left from Otsego County, New York and permanently took up residence in Chicago May, 1845.

Despite the assistance from Walker, Henry Brown Clarke declared bankruptcy in 1842. That same year Walker formed the firm Walker & Clarke in Buffalo with Henry's younger brother Cyrus Clarke, Esq. (1806-1884) of Utica, New York. Walker was chosen as a director for the Galena Railroad in 1847. Another financial crisis occurred the same year, this time in the grain trade, but Walker's ventures again endured so that by 1851 C. Walker & Son of Chicago (formed with his son), Walker & Kellog of Peoria, and Walker & Clarke of Buffalo were among the largest purchasers of grain from farmers in the United States. He served as second president of the Chicago Board of Trade from 1849 to 1851.

Ad for Walker & Clarke, 1853.

Charles Walker contracted cholera around 1851 and was forced to leave the management of his affairs to his son Charles. He recovered, but the toll of illness lead him to retire from business altogether in 1855. In 1856 he served as president and director of the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska line, intended to be a continuation of the Galena railroad. Charles Walker died in Chicago June 28, 1869 leaving a lasting legacy as one of Chicago's early businessmen but more importantly, as a dear friend and devoted kinsman to the Clarke family.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Acquisition: Pink Lustreware Tea Set

Pink lustreware tea service c.1820-30 now in the collection of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Illinois, housed at Clarke House Museum.
Clarke House Museum recently received an English pink lustreware tea service c.1820-30. The set is almost complete with eleven cups an saucers, cake plate, serving bowl, sugar bowl, and teapot.  The Staffordshire porcelain features a transfer print design accented by lustre banding.

Lustre is a form of decoration that can be applied to any form of ceramic goods, whether earthenware or porcelain. The design is formed in metal, then dissolved in acid and applied as a thin film on top of the glaze. This can be brushed on or applied through a dipping process.When fired, the oxidized metal in the lustre solution is reduced to its original metallic form. When gold was used as the lustre metal on a light colored background it took on a pink sheen, as seen in the pieces here.

Sugar bowl and Creamer
Lustre was often combined with transfer printing. The design was first engraved on a copper plate to which a warmed printing ink would be applied. The plate would be wiped leaving ink only within the engraved lines. Next the copper plate was pressed evenly into strong tissue paper, picking up a mirror image of the design. The tissue paper was then applied directly to glazed pottery or porcelain transferring the design to the piece. Next the object, with tissue still attached, was submerged in cold water to harden the ink and wash the paper away. Hand-applied enamel colors might then be applied before finally being fired in a kiln.

Detail of Transfer Print

Nearly all fine china goods used in the United States during the early nineteenth century were imported from England. Mrs. Clarke might have received a tea service like this as a wedding gift upon her marriage to Henry Brown Clarke in 1827 and it is likely that the Clarkes owned at least one piece of lustreware when they set up house in Waterville, New York. This tea service will go on display in the study later this month. Be sure to look for it on your next visit to Clarke House Museum.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Carpenter and the Maid

The Clarkes contracted John Campbell Rue as finish carpenter while constructing their stately Chicago home. Rue was born in Bath, Stuben County, New York March 23, 1809. He was the son of Joseph (c.1781-1820) of Albany New York and Mary Katherine Campbell Rue (b.1785) . John Campbell had a sister Adeline (c.1807- before 1810), and brother Schuyler (b.1816).

John Campbell Rue came to Illinois with his friend Ira Minard (1809-1876) in 1834. Rue considered buying property in Elgin and St. Charles, Illinois. He is recorded as fencing a farm in Elgin, possibly Sections 27 and 28 of Plato Township, Kane County that he is shown as owning in 1860. Rue decided to settle in Chicago a few months later, plying his trade as carpenter and builder. He is credited with helping to construct the town’s first breakwater. He is also said to have built Chicago's first newspaper office for his friend John Wentworth (1815-1888), editor, publisher, and later owner of the Chicago Democrat

The Clarke family had brought a domestic, Elizabeth “Betsey” Saunders, with them on their trip from New York. Betsy was born in Petersburg, Rensselaer County, New York in 1802. She was a distant cousin of the Clarkes and may have been hired for the family relation. She is mentioned in Mrs. Clarke’s November 1835 letter and would have been 33 years old when the family moved to Chicago. Betsy and John met during the construction of Clarke House, enjoyed a very brief courtship, and were married September 23, 1836

The Rue family claimed that John was never paid for his work on Clarke House, and worse, accused by the Clarkes of being a thief. Betsy's obituary from the January 5, 1895 edition of the Elgin Advocate states "In 1837 Mr. Clarke was among the many who were financially embarrassed and Rue on demanding his due was told that he didn't deserve anything, as he had entered his (Clarke's) home and robbed him of one of his jewels." Whether or not this is true, Betsy promptly left the employ of the Clarke family after her marriage to Rue and the couple took up residence on the 100 block of, coincidentally, Clark Street. The Rues had five children, three sons and two daughters: Mary (c.1837), Franklin (c.1838), Marcus (c.1840), John Ira (c.1843), and Anna Maria "Annie" (c.1845). 

Two of their sons, Marcus and John Ira, served in Company K of the 59th Illinois Infantry during the Civil War. They enlisted as privates September 1, 1861 and were mustered in September 6th to the 9th Regiment Infantry Missouri Volunteers (renamed Company K of the 59th Illinois Infantry Regiment in 1862). Marcus was born c.1840 in Chicago. At the time of his enlistment Marcus was 23 years old with light hair and blue eyes, standing 5'6" tall. He listed his occupation as carpenter. During his three-year term in service Marcus was engaged in Pea Ridge, the Siege of Corinth, Battle of Perryville, Stone's River (Murfreesboro), the Tullahoma Campaign, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge (Chattanooga), the Atlanta Campaign, Buzzard's Root Gap, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, Peachtree Creek, and Jonesborough. He mustered out September 17, 1864.

John Ira Rue was born 1843 in Chicago. He was 18 years of age upon enlistment with light hair and dark eyes, standing 5'-6" tall. He also gave his occupation as carpenter. John Ira was engaged in the Battle of Pea Ridge, the Siege of Corinth, and took wounds at Perryville, Kentucky which rendered him a patient at the  Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington D.C., renamed St. Elizabeth's Hospital in 1916. He lived out the rest of his life as a patient there until his death November 29, 1916. He was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Government Hospital for the Insane established 1855.The Hospital's early mission, as defined by its founder, the leading mental health reformer Dorothea Dix, was to provide the "most humane care and enlightened curative treatment of the insane of the Army, Navy, and District of Columbia."

The family lived in Chicago until the spring of 1887, relocating to Elgin where Rue continued the carpentry trade. He passed away at his home at 78 N. Crystal Street in Elgin, Illinois June 11, 1892. His funeral was held at 1p.m. on Monday June 13, 1892. He was buried in the family plot, Section 23, Lot 38 of the Plato Center Cemetery.
Elgin, Illinois around the time the Rue family relocated.

Upon his death, John Campbell Rue had an estimated $15,000 of real estate in Cook and Kane Counties. An attorney, a Mr. Ranstead, was appointed Executor of the Will. The heirs named to Rue's estate were wife Elizabeth, son John Ira, and grandaughter Emily W. Liddell (Annie's daughter).

Betsy lived three more years. She took sick December 9, 1894 and remained bed-ridden before dying January 30, 1895. She passed away at the home of her nephew, Ezra Rue (son of John's brother Schuyler), 120 N. Crystal Street, where she had lived, presumably, since John's death. Her funeral was held at 11 o'clock on Wednesday January 2, 1895. She is buried beside John in the family plot at Plato Center Cemetery.

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