Category Archives: This Week in History

Thanksgiving… on Christmas?

Harpers Thanksgiving cropped

“Who said anything about Thanksgiving Dinner?” Harper’s Weekly: November 26, 1881 (click to enlarge).

Last week we posted about the bizarre timing of early American Thanksgiving celebrations (i.e. sitting down to a turkey feast in June or July) and how, even into the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was no standard date to celebrate the holiday in the United States.

Until Lincoln issued his national proclamation in 1863, it was the responsibility of governors to determine the date of Thanksgiving in their respective states. We did some combing back through Missouri’s history and matched up MO’s Thanksgiving dates with significant dates in the lives of the Campbells. Here’s what we came up with – the date of that year’s Thanksgiving day is listed, followed by a note about what the Campbells had going on that week.

November 29, 1844 (Last Thursday in November): Robert Campbell Jr. died two days earlier on November 27 of the measles. He was two years and eight months old.

December 25, 1845 (yep. They had Thanksgiving on Christmas): The Campbells were living in their first St. Louis home by this point, an attached row house downtown. Today Ballpark Village sits in its place.

December 3, 1846 (First Thursday in December): Well, at least it wasn’t on Christmas day this year.

November 25, 1847 (Last Thursday in November): Virginia gave birth to Hugh Campbell, the third child to be given the name after the deaths of his two older brothers, ten days earlier on November 15. Hugh would be one of just three of the family’s children to see adulthood, managing the family estate after his parents’ deaths and dying at age 84 in 1931.


“The Great Fire of 1849”

1849 (Missouri records show no Thanksgiving proclamation issued this year, so either the Governor or the state archivists dropped the ball. Our best guess is that it was observed on the last Thursday of the month): The Campbells weren’t even in St. Louis that November. 1849 was a bad year to be in the city, there was a enormous fire that wiped out most of downtown (Robert and Virginia’s home escaped, but his office near the riverfront did not) as well as a terrible cholera epidemic (caused by unsanitary drinking water) that killed their eldest son James. The Campbells packed up and headed to Philadelphia for several months to escape, and Virginia gave birth to their daughter Mary in September of that year.

November 20, 1853 (Last Thursday in November): Hazlett Campbell was born three days later on November 23.


Hazlett Campbell (1853-1856). Another son named Hazlett would be born in 1858 and lived until 1938.

November 20, 1856 (Third Thursday in November): The same Hazlett Campbell dies on  his third birthday, three days after Thanksgiving on November 23.

December 31, 1857 (New Year’s Eve, Last Thursday in December): Grab your party hats and noisemakers, smooch that special someone, and shovel in a couple forkfulls of turkey and dressing to ring in the New Year.

November 26, 1863 (Last Thursday in November): Abraham Lincoln’s national Thanksgiving proclamation. Following his lead, Presidents would annually proclaim Thanksgiving dates until Congress passed a law in 1941. (read more about that in last week’s post)

As you can see, Thanksgivings were a mix of happy and sad times at the Campbell House (and often at wildly different times of the year). The family was rejoicing over births and concurrently celebrating other holidays like Christmas and the New Year. But they were also dealing with the deaths of their children, disease, and the dangerous conditions of city living in the 19th century. Count clean water, safe conditions and healthy children among your list of “things I’m thankful for” when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year!


“Thanksgiving Dinner” Harper’s Weekly: December 5, 1857 (click to enlarge). Thanksgiving was on New Year’s Eve in Missouri this year.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Campbell House First Opens 70 Years Ago!

Seventy years ago today the opening of the Campbell House Museum was reported with lavish full-color (it was 1943) photo story in the Post-Dispatch. Here it is:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday, February 28, 1943


“A picture of life as it was lived in St. Louis a century ago is afforded visitors to the Campbell House, situated at 1508 Locust street, which through the efforts of the Campbell House Foundation, has been restored to its original elegance and opened to the public. The house was built in 1851 by Robert Campbell, who made  a fortune as a fur trader, and in it were entertained many visiting celebrities of the day, including General Grant.


After the death of the last of the three Campbell sons, none of whom  married, the house was inherited by Yale University. The Campbell House Foundation, a group of interested citizens who wanted to preserve the house as a landmark, started raising funds for the purpose. Stix, Baer and Fuller Company purchased the house for the Foundation, and funds contributed were used to restore it. The original furnishings and authentic decorations have served completely to restore both the appearance and the character of the house.”


Today of course 70 years of research has revealed that Robert Campbell did not build the house (he and his family moved in three years later) and the “original elegance” referred to in the article was really just a 2oth century conception of a mid-19th century interior (just as an example, all that bright white woodwork would have never worked in a coal soot filled house). Click the images to read the original captions and enjoy a look back at the first revelation of a real St. Louis treasure.

Make 2013 your date to visit Campbell House, be it for the first or the tenth time, there is always something new and interesting to learn from our superlative docents and students. Find our hours and more info here



Tagged ,

This Week in History: February 21

This week we have a letter to Virginia from her mother, Lucy Kyle. Lucy was a Quaker and an abolitionist, and this note features some discussion about how Robert helped transport the three slaves she received from her husband’s estate to freedom.  (It looks like a lot of text; it is. Lucy has a rambling, chatty style of writing and she was not fond of paragraphs or wasting a bit of blank paper…..see the images of the original below the transcription.)


Raleigh  February 25th 1842
My dear Virginia,
I regretted very much that I had not time to write you by Caroline and still more that I had nothing pretty to send you.  I sent about a hundred messages by her.  I told her she was to take a week to deliver them all.  The cause of my being so busy was to prepare Ben & Linda for their removal. I could not let them go from under my hands without being well clothed and well fixed, and they had all their little arrangements to make after we received Mr. Campbell’s last letters.  They had to sell off all their furniture and old things, which was as valuable to them as ours is to us.  Say to Mr. Campbell this was the principle reason why I could not get them off sooner.  And then I had two or three letters to write about them which was obliged to be written.  Did Caroline tell you I wrote two letters after nine o’clock?  My dear Virginia you certainly have one of the best husbands in the world and I now think more of him than ever for his kindness in taking charge of them from Baltimore to Wheeling etc.  I have not heard from them yet but expect sister Mary [Lucy’s older sister and wife to Thomas Terrell] will write soon after their arrival.  My mind is relieved of a great burden since they have left and I do rejoice that they are in a country where they can enjoy religious & civil liberty and I have placed them among those who I know will befriend them in case of necessity.  It really did my heart good to hear Mr. Litchford tell how happy they all were on the road.  He says it was remarked by many of the passengers that they were the happiest coloured family they had ever seen, I received your  letter of the 13th inst. this morning I am glad to hear you were  so happy and contented with your friends during Mr. C’s absence,  though I always knew that you are perfectly at home anywhere, you are very different from me in this respect, I hope I shall hear of your boarding in some retired pleasant boarding house and that you will not remain at the Planters hotel, Raleigh seems to be in the greatest state of excitement I have ever known in,  revivals of religion in the different churches, the temperance cause is still going ahead, the 22 inst. was celebrated by the  temperance society and a more glorious day Raleigh never saw.   300 members marched in procession through the town, had a meeting in the morning, one in the afternoon and at night, I attended in the afternoon and at night heard many interesting addresses,  one from Mr. McQueen with his experience, the good that this  society is doing even in this little town no tongue can tell,  there is a temperance paper published here, several marriages on  corpet, James McPheeters is expected with his bride, the 5th of  March, they are to be married at six in the morning proceed directly to  Petersburg remain there one day and then on to Raleigh

Dr. McKee & Susan battle are to be married Tuesday week and report says +  I have no doubt but it is true, that Emma Snow and Mr. Peter Hines are to be married on the 15th of March it is said that he  has only been courting her one week I had it from good authority,  he is cousin or uncle of Susan Hines, he is said to be a first  rate man in every respect very pious very wealth has settled  $50,000 on his little son about five years old is a young widower lives down the country somewhere but spends a great deal of his  time in Raleigh. Susan Hines’ father has bought Edmond Freemans  house, Susan + her sister + Susan Polk + Mordacai and others were confirmed a week or two since. Sister Elizabeth is  still in Richmond. Mother’s health is very delicate and feeble she has been very sick is getting a little better, in consequence of which it is uncertain when she will visit us.  I must write a  few lines to Mr. C. so will conclude.
As ever your affectionate mother,
L A  Kyle

My dear Son,
I assure you that your last letter from Baltimore afforded me the greatest pleasure.  Your kindness and attention to Ben, Linda & Robert will ever be remembered with gratitude, I am sorry that you do not seem to understand my letters instead of me not understanding you, I think I thanked you for your good advice to me in regard to Eleanor and yet you say that you offended me, I  think this was a wrong interpretation, and what you said about brothers + sisters I laughed  heartily and took it as a joke and returned it in the same  spirit. You need not be afraid to write to me on that score for I can read your heart in your letters, and perhaps I am not so dull of apprehension as you think, however I am very willing to  try the test of a more personal acquaintance and hope to do so yet, I  think I shall be the gainer and you the loser, Mr. Campbell. Will you do me the favour to inform me of the exact amount of Ben, Linda & Roberts expenses from Baltimore to Mount Pleasant.  Mr. Litchford’s accounts as rendered to Mr. McKimmon for the whole expense of journey and his $2 per day for six days amounted to $136.  I handed it to Mr. McKimmon exactly half of the whole, $68 being as near my part as I could well come at.
Your sincere friend + mother LA Kyle

Mr. Campbell the reason I sent  you Via money was there cold be no checks yet on the north, and  I thought that would pass at your par in Baltimore in preference  to N.C. but I have heard since that Via money was at a large  discount.  Did you have to lose much on it.  I am going to write you a long letter entirely on business some of these days.  Virginia I want you to tell Caroline that I keep my room in private.  I do not allow anyone to come into it except little Virginia, only on a visit.  It is a pleasure and amusement to me to attend to V. and my own room.   You must tell them all three they must try to do all that I told them.  I think if you are strict with little Hasz or put him with someone who will attend to him that he will be more valuable than Simeon.  Simeon has contracted many bad faults.  Caroline’s greatest faults are slothfulness & slovenny.