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People on the Grand Excursion



Never before and never since has such a large collection of prominent people visited Rock Island or Davenport. The same probably can be said for most other stops on the 1854 Grand Excursion. Further, it is unlikely that such an occurrence will ever be repeated in the future.

Our research, which utilized newspaper and other contemporary accounts in addition to registers signed in Chicago and on three of the boats, suggests that a total of nine hundred to one thousand people participated in the Grand Excursion. Over six hundred were on the two trains from Chicago to Rock Island. However, a number of them, perhaps one third, chose not to continue on the boats; most returning to Chicago and others going downriver to St. Louis on the steamboat McGee. The boats also had between 600 and 700 passengers, obviously including people who had arrived earlier at Rock Island in addition to people from the Rock Island area.

Geographic distribution of Easterners who signed the
Grand Excursion register in Chicago, June 5, 1854

Where were they from?

Well over half of the Grand Excursion guests came from the state of New York, and about twenty percent from New York City. It was clearly an eastern affair, the South having no representation that we know of. Rail connection did not yet exist between the North and the South and, in these pre-civil war days, the two were quite separate in economy and politics. However, only part of the “East” is found on this list. New York, Connecticut, and western Massachusetts are well represented, but very few people came from elsewhere in the East. Of the four largest cities in the country at the time, only New York had a large representation. Boston sent only eleven, Philadelphia one, and Baltimore none.

The locational base of the organizers and their personal and professional geographic networks help to explain this pattern. Both Farnam and Sheffield were living in New Haven in 1854, accounting for the relatively large party from that city, and the offices of the Rock Island Railroad were in New York City. Also, New York City housed a substantial proportion of the nation’s powerful people, a principal target for invitations. In addition, Farnam had grown up in upstate New York, and had worked as an engineer on the Erie Canal, which connected Albany to Lake Erie near Buffalo along the Mohawk Corridor. The main rail route to the west was aligned along this corridor, connecting at Albany to New York City and Boston. Both Farnam and Sheffield had come to know many people involved in canal and rail enterprises located in these areas. Indeed, large numbers of guests came from the cities aligned between Albany and Buffalo. Buffalo was the home to President Fillmore who no doubt brought along a number of his groupies. Particularly interesting is the large contingent from Utica and Rome, neighbors along the Mohawk Corridor.

President Millard Fillmore

Who were the Excursionists?

Well over one hundred politicians were in attendance, including one President (Millard Fillmore, 1850-53), two other presidential candidates (John Parker Hale, 1852, and Samuel J. Tilden, 1876), three U. S. Postmasters General, three U. S. senators, eight governors (including Illinois Governor Joel Aldrich Matteson, 1853-57), four lieutenant governors, fourteen members of state legislatures, and as many as ten mayors. Also included were numerous judges and local politicians, and people who held government appointments at various levels, including military positions.
Fifty-nine journalists were there, eight from Illinois and two from Ohio. The remaining fifty came from the East. Nine newspapers in New York City were represented, as were three from Albany, and two each from Buffalo, Utica, Poughkeepsie, New Haven, Boston and Springfield (Mass.). Some of the journalists were prominent editors and/or founders of their newspapers and a few became famous for later endeavors. Clergy on the trip included several people with college or university affiliations (including Harvey Curtis who became President of Knox College in Illinois, 1858-62), and some who rose to higher positions in the church hierarchies. An eclectic group of writers and artists added to the variety of people on the Excursion, as did a small group of prominent academics from Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth.

Many of the guests were affiliated with railroads. In general, it was successful politicians and businessmen who invested in railroads and became their officers. Several played roles in building railroads in the East and the West. These included Presidents of the Chicago and Rock Island, Henry Farnam, and John A. Dix and John Bloomfiled Jervis of New York. William Walcott of Utica and Thomas Clark Durant of New York both had towns named after them on the Mississippi and Missouri line just west of Davenport that would later be part of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad. Henry Farnam’s infant son, who later became a professor at Yale and also wrote his father’s memoirs, was along for the ride.

Almost one third of the guests were female. A relatively small proportion of politicians and journalists brought along spouses (all wives), well under twenty percent. For them, this perhaps was a fairly routine affair, just one of many “business” trips. In contrast, over thirty-seven percent of the Business/Professional people brought wives. Many of these folks were merchants, bankers, or doctors whose professional scope was largely local, or perhaps regional. Because a visit to the west on a first class excursion was an opportunity of a lifetime, more of them made this a family affair. Railroad affiliates (officers, directors), clergy, and academics were in the middle of these two extremes, about thirty percent bringing wives.

A Sampling of People Associated with the Building of the Rock Island Railroad and the 1854 Grand Excursion
(* indicates the person went on the Grand Excursion)

Charles Atkinson—born 1808; a founder of Moline (1843); member of the board of directors of the Rock Island and LaSalle Railroad (1848), and later the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad (1850); worked to route the railroad through Moline rather than along the Rock River Valley; lobbied for a U. S. Arsenal to be located on Rock Island (1861-1862).


*Hiram Bersie—died 1859; part owner with McMaster and Washburn of War Eagle mills in Galena (1849); captained the Golden Era during the 1854 Grand Excursion; $300 raised by the passengers on the Golden Era to present Bersie with an inscribed silver pitcher.

*George Bancroft—1800-1891; wrote a ten volume History of the United States (1834-1874); served as Secretary of the Navy (1845-1846) when he established the U.S. Naval Academy; also served as Minister to Great Britain (1846-1849) and Minister to Prussia/Germany (1867-1874); one of the first New England Transcendentalists.

     http://www.2020site.org/literature/george_bancroft.html (portrait)

     http://www.picturehistory.com/find/p/3762/mcms.html (portrait)

*Francis P. Blair, Jr.—1821-1875; practiced law in St. Louis; served as Missouri state legislator (1852-56 and 1870) and in U. S. House of Representative (1857-1859, June 1860, and 1861-1862); through his political influence and military service helped to keep Missouri in the Union during the Civil War; served in United States Senate (1871-1873).

     http://www.lafayettesquare.org/gallery/historicalphotos/blair.html (portrait)

*Francis P. Blair, Sr.—1791-1876; journalist and politician in Kentucky and Maryland; founded the Congressional Globe which later became the Congressional Record; one of the founders of the Republican Party and presided over its first national convention in 1856.

     http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/templates/display.search.cfm?ID=663 (portrait)

*Col. Joseph B. Danforth—born 1819; came from Vermont to Rock Island in 1851; bought half interest in the Rock Island Republican in 1852 and the remaining half in 1853; appointed United States Custodian for the Island of Rock Island (1853); a good Democrat he renamed the paper the Argus in 1855; sold his interest in the paper to accept the appointment as purser in the United States Navy (1857); purchased back his interests in the Argus (1859).


*Charles A. Dana—1819-1897; a member for five years of Brook Farm Association (1841-1847) a community established by the New England Transcendentalists; editor of the New York Tribune (1847-1862); served as an observer (1863-1864) for the Union Army, then as Assistant Secretary of War (1864-1865); editor (1868-1897) and part owner of the New York Sun.

     http://www.picturehistory.com/find/p/15076/mcms.html (portrait)

     http://www.state.nh.us/nhdhr/warheroes/danac.html (portrait)

*Thomas C. Durant—1820-1885; a founder of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad (1853), an extension of the Rock Island across Iowa; a vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad, which completed a transcontinental rail link with the Central Pacific (1869).

      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/tcrr/peopleevents/p_durant.html (portrait)

*Henry Farnam—1803-1883; a self-taught engineer who had worked on the Erie Canal, he became the chief engineer of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad (1850), then its President (1854-1863); designed and superintended the construction of the first railroad bridge over the Mississippi River from Rock Island into Iowa (1856); a major benefactor of Yale College.


*Mary Abigail Fillmore—1832-1854; was hostess at the White House for her father President Millard Fillmore during her mother’s (Abigail Power Fillmore) illness; well known on the Grand Excursion for her horse back ride up the bluff in Trempealeau, Wis. (then Montoville).

     http://www.picturehistory.com/find/p/15650/mcms.html (portrait)

*Millard Fillmore—1800-1874; the thirteenth President of United States for just over two and a half years (became president after Zachary Taylor became ill and died in July 1850); as president he promoted river navigation interests and Congress authorized the Western Rivers Improvement act at his request (1852); Fillmore and his Cabinet assisted in fighting the fire at the Library of Congress (1851); he and his daughter Mary Abigail were the subject of much attention on the Grand Excursion.

     http://famousamericans.net/millardfillmore/ (portrait)

     http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/mf13.html (portrait)

* Elbridge T. Gerry—1837-1927; studied law then admitted to the New York Bar in 1860; was an adviser to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; one of the founding members of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (1875).

      http://www.picturehistory.com/find/p/15705/mcms.html (portrait)

      http://www.nyspcc.org/beta_history/catalyst.htm (portrait)

Willis A. Gorman—1816-1876; territorial governor of Minnesota (1853-1857) during the Grand Excursion; welcomed the excursionists at a ball and reception the evening of their visit in St. Paul; served in Civil War with 1st Minnesota Regiment.


     http://firstmn.phpwebhosting.com/SearchResults.php3?ID=1238 (portrait)

*Judge James Grant—1812-1891; resided in Davenport (beginning in 1838); served as judge in that district and later as a member of the Iowa state legislature where he served as Speaker of the House of Representatives; first president of the Rock Island and La Salle Railroad (1848), later the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad (1851) which he served as vice-president.


*Montraville Green—captained the Sparhawk during the 1854 Grand Excursion; $260 raised by passengers to obtain an appropriate gift of gratitude.

*Daniel Smith Harris—1808-1893; settled in Galena (early 1820’s) where he discovered a major lead source, which formed the basis of a successful family business that helped to support their riverboat enterprises through hard times; had been a riverboat captain for twenty-five years when he captained the War Eagle on the 1854 Grand Excursion; passengers passed a resolution of gratitude and a committee was to confer with other excursionists to decide upon an appropriate expression of appreciation; a famous and highly respected riverboat captain, Harris retired to Galena at age 53 after his steamboat the Grey Eagle struck the railroad bridge at Rock Island (May 1861).




*John Frederick Kensett—1816-1872; a famous landscape painter of the Hudson River School; after experiencing the Mississippi River for the first time on the 1854 Grand Excursion, Kensett created an oil painting of the bluffs entitled Upper Mississippi and a pencil sketch of Lake Pepin; a founder of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (1870). To view the painting Upper Mississippi go to http://www.slam.org/ click on Exhibitions, then American Summer, then Things to See, then click on the painting by Along the River

      http://famousamericans.net/johnfrederickkensett/ (portrait)


James Lendabarker—engineer on the first train on the Rock Island Railroad, which ran from Chicago to Joliet and back on October 10, 1852; six new coaches pulled by the “Rocket” engine made the one-way trip in two hours; Lendabarker had been an engineer on a Great Lakes boat.

*Joel A. Matteson—1808-1873; settled in Kendall County, IL (1833); moved to Joliet (1838) and became a contractor on the Illinois & Michigan Canal; became a State Senator (1842); involved in the building of railroads, especially by his support after he was elected governor (1853-1856).

     http://www.rootsweb.com/~ilhistor/governors/matteson.html (portrait)

*D. B. Morehouse—1807-1869; set a record with a time of 6 days and 15 hours on the steamboat Iowa in 1840 for the round trip between Galena and St. Louis, a record which stood until 1845; captained the Galena during the 1854 Grand Excursion; passengers passed a resolution to obtain an appropriate gift of thanks for the captain and pilot; retired in Galena.


*Le Grand Morehouse—died around 1890; owned and captained the Lady Franklin during the 1854 Grand Excursion; in her reporting Catherine Sedgwick praised Morehouse for his courtesy; The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts has in its collection an engraved silver pitcher dedicated to Morehouse from the passengers.


*William C. Redfield—1789–1857; saddler, meteorologist, and geologist; curiosity about steam navigation lead to river (Hudson River) and railroad business (Hartford and New Haven) interests; in 1823 he plotted a possible railroad route connection between the Hudson and Mississippi Rivers of which the portion between Chicago and Rock Island essentially became the route of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad; was a founding member and first president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1848).


*William Schouler—1814-1872; represented the Cincinnati Gazette on the Grand Excursion; later was editor of the Boston Atlas (1847-1853); became Massachusetts State Adjutant General (1860-1866); gained notoriety for telling President Lincoln about Mrs. Bixby losing all five of her sons in the Civil War, after which Lincoln wrote a famous letter to her; Schouler authored a two-volume history of Massachusetts in the Civil War.



*Catherine Maria Sedgwick—1789-1867; a prominent author whose first novel, published anonymously (1822), was A New England Tale; wrote several other novels through the 1850s; an active social reformer with an interest in improving conditions in prisons and tenements.


      http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap3/sedgwick.html (portraits)

Joseph E. Sheffield—1793-1882; involved in many business ventures, including the railroad between New Haven and New York; joined Henry Farnam in building the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad (1850); in spite of his central role in the development of the railroad, he did not attend the Grand Excursion; pursued philanthropy after his retirement (1856), including substantial gifts to Yale College.


*Benjamin Silliman—1779-1864; first professor of chemistry and natural history at Yale University (1802-1853); his mineralogy and geology collections were instrumental in the establishment of the Peabody Museum at Yale; studied a meteorite that fell to the earth in 1807 and determined that its chemical composition was made of materials found on earth; founder and editor of the American Journal of Science and Arts (1818-1846); first president of the Association of American Geologists (later to become the AAAS--see Redfield).

     http://www.peabody.yale.edu/people/whoswho/SillimanB.html (portrait)


*Samuel J. Tilden—1814-1886; studied law at New York University and was admitted to the bar in 1841; became a successful corporate lawyer specializing in reorganizing and refinancing railroads; New York State Assembly (1846); New York State Democratic Party Chairman (1866); Governor of New York (1874); Democratic nominee in 1876 presidential election when he won more popular votes than Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican) but lost the election by one electoral vote; gave a large portion of his estate, which was merged with other gifts, to establish the New York Public Library (1895).

     http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_J._Tilden (portrait)

*Thurlow Weed—1797-1882; in 1830 founded and became editor of the Albany Evening Journal which he ran for 35 years; became a leader in the Whig Party (helped elect U. S. Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor) and in 1855 became a dominate force in the Republican Party; an envoy/emissary to England and France to keep these countries for getting involved in the Civil War; along with others, Weed left the Grand Excursion at Rock Island to travel down river to St. Louis.

     http://www.tulane.edu/~latner/Weed.html (portrait)

     http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/templates/display.search.cfm?ID=40 (portrait)

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