This section is from the book "Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: A Guide To Correct Writing", by Thos. E. Hill. Also available from Amazon: Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: The How-To-Do-Everything Book Of Victorian America.
Chicago, ILL., June 1,1873. Dear Parents:
Having been the rounds among our relatives here,
You have heard so much of the city that I must give you a brief sketch of its history.
The first white man ever known to have set foot on the spot where Chicago now stands, was a French Missionary, from Canada, named Pierre Jacques Marquette, who, with two others, having been on a missionary tour in the southern part of Illinois, when homeward bound was detained at this place in the fall of 1673, in consequence of the severe cold, until the following spring. That was two hundred years ago.
The first settler that came here was Point-au-Sable, a St. Domingo negro, who, in 1796, commenced a few improvements - seventy-seven years since. Au-Sable soon afterwards removed to Peoria, Ill., his improvements passing into the hands of one Le Mai, a Frenchman, who traded considerably with the Indians. The first permanent settler here was John Kinzie, who came over from St. Joseph, Michigan, and commenced his improvements in 1804 - sixty-nine years ago. Mr. Kinzie was, indeed, what Romulus was to Rome, the founder of the city. There was a fort built that year, a blockhouse made of logs, a few rods southwest of what is now known as Rush street bridge. Mr. Kinzie had a house near the south end of the bridge, which bridge, of course, had no existence in those days. An employe of Mr. Kinzie, named Ouilmette, a Frenchman, had a cabin a little west of Mr. Kinzie; and a little further west was the log cottage of one Burns, a discharged soldier. South of the fort, on the South Side, a Mr. Lee had a farm, in the low swamp lands, where now stands the heart of the business center of the city, and his cabin was a half mile or so down the river.
For a quarter of a century the growth of the village was remarkably slow, as shown by the fact that in 1830 there were but twelve houses in the village, with three suburban residences on Madison street, the entire population, whites, half-breeds and negroes, making about one hundred. That was forty years ago.
I should have told you that Chicago has a river, which is doubtless the cause of the wonderful commercial growth of the place of late years, which, at the time of its discovery, was two hundred feet wide, and twenty feet deep, with banks so steep that vessels could come up to the water's edge and receive their lading. A half mile or more from the mouth of the river, the stream divides: that portion north of the stream being known as the North Side; that between the forks, the West Side; and that south of the river, the South Side.
At that time, the North Side was covered with a dense forest of black walnut and other trees, in which were bears, wolves, foxes, wild cats, deer and other game in great abundance; while the South Side, now the business center, was a low, swampy piece of ground, being the resort of wild geese and ducks. Where the court house stands, was a pond, which was navigable for small boats. On the banks of the river, among the sedgy grass, grew a wild onion, which the Indians called Chikago, and hence the name of the city.
On a summer day, in 1831, the first vessel unloaded goods at the mouth of the river. In 1832, the first frame house was built, by Geo. W. Dole, and stood on the southeast corner of Dearborn and South Water streets. At an election for township trustees in 1833, - just forty-one years since - there were twenty-eight voters. In 1840, there were less than 5,000 people in the place. Thus you see this city, now the fifth in the order of the population in the United States, has grown from 5,000 to 300,000 in thirty-three years.
It is needless for me to describe the wonderfully rapid up-building of the city since the fire. You have heard all about it. What I want to tell you more especially is concerning our relatives. Uncles John, William and James, you recollect perhaps, all came here in 1836. They worked that summer for different parties, and until the next spring, when, in the summer of 1837, each of the men they had labored for failed. Uncle John had due him $150. Fortunately, as he thought, he was able to settle the claim at fifty cents on the dollar, and with $75 he left the place in disgust, and went to work for a farmer in Dupage County, a little distance west of Chicago. Uncle William could not get a cent. He even proposed to take $50 for the $175 that were due him, but cash could not possibly be obtained. He finally settled his claim by taking six acres of swampy land on the South Side, which he vainly tried to sell for several years that he might leave the city; but, unable to do so, he continued to work in Chicago. Uncle James took fifteen acres in the settlement of his claim, which he also found it impossible to sell, his experience being about the same as that of uncle William. Well, now the luck begins to come in. Uncle William got independent of his land by and by, but at last sold an acre for money enough to put up one of the most elegant residences you ever beheld. He sold afterwards another acre for money with which he bought a farm three miles from the court house, that is now worth $500,000. With two acres more, he got money enough to put up five business blocks, from which he gets a revenue, each year, sufficient to buy several farms.
Uncle James' experience is almost exactly similar to uncle William's. He has sold small portions of his land at various times, re-investing his money in real estate, until he is worth to-day about $2,000,000. Uncle William is said to be worth about the same amount. Uncle John came in from the country a few years ago, and, in various capacities, is working for his brothers around the city, being to-day a poor man; but will, I presume, be just as rich in eternity as uncles James and William.
All have interesting families of intelligent children, among whom I have almost terminated one of the most delightful visits I ever made. Such in brief is the history of Chicago, and a sketch of two of its sample rich men, who were made wealthy in spite of themselves.
In my next I will describe the parks and boulevards about the city. Till then, adieu.
Your Affectionate Daughter,