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Civil War Veteran and Photographer Writes His Wife about the Devastating Chicago Fire
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I suppose you have ere long this heard of the destruction of the city of Chicago. 20,000 houses burned and 200 to 300,000,000 dollars loss  It was the biggest fire on record  Gid Hornish lost about 75 dollars by Insurance Companies breaking up since the great Chicago fire. The Company I am insured in, has gone up the spout.

[GREAT CHICAGO FIRE]. THOMAS BLAIR WILSON. Autograph Letter Signed, to his wife Mary R. Wilson, October 20, 1871, Washington, Illinois. 4 pp., 5 x 8 in.

Inventory #24481       ON HOLD

Complete Transcript

                 Washington Ill. Friday Oct. 20 1871

Mary

            My dear little wife  Your letter bearing the sad intelligence of your Fathers decease was recd. to-day  it came through in two days. It is very much to be regretted that you had not started down to Mo. in Sept. instead of Oct. If you had went when you wanted to viz. the beginning of Sept. all would have been well  at least you would have had the intense satisfaction of seeing your father alive & well. It appears so strange to me you did not start down sooner when you <2> was aware of your fathers being ill but I presume of course you was almost tired to death yourself when you arrived at Warrensburg.[1] It is certainly very sad that you failed to get there in time to see him after going so far. It will completely mar the pleasure of your visit. I feel so sorry that poor little darling [bright?] did not get to see her Grand Pa after talking so much about it and going so far. It makes me very sorrowful when I think of the tragical beginning of your long looked for visit. Poor man if he could only have lived to have seen you all before being taken away it would have been a great satisfaction but I hope he has gone to join his loved ones <3> in heaven where there is no sickness nor sorrow. Poor [bright?] I would like awful well to see her little sweet darling child. She had set her heart on seeing her Grandpa and it would be a terrible shock & disappointment to her. Mary I wrote you a letter one week ago last night & mailed it last Friday. it must be in Warrensburg  I also have sent you three or four papers. Mary if you can get things as cheap down there as you can at home get what things you want and make them up. Myrtle will need a new cloak also Furs shoes &c. and yourself a new dress & Cloak  I will send you the money by B. C. order when you want <4> it. I will try to send 20 to $30 more whenever you need it. You spent almost the half of what I gave you in Fl. so you would only have about $20 left. Business has been awful dull since you went away. One week ago to-day I made about 15 dollars and last week I made $25. Last Monday I made $7.50 and it has been awful dull ever since but I hope it will get better soon. How do you like Mo. Would you like to live there do you think? Write soon Yours &c.

                                                                        Blair

I have a nasty headache to-day & night.

[In upper margin:] Isreal Zinser[2] has sold out his interest in the Drug Store and is going to move up to Plainfield where his father-in-law resides. [Robt?] Heiple bought him out. I am attending Sunday School since you went away. I have been there two Sundays and they wanted me to take charge of a Bible class already. I thought I would rather be excused  Mr. Kent is an Instructor  I like him well  There is from 15 to 20 persons in class. I suppose you have ere long this heard of the destruction of the city of Chicago. 20,000 houses burned and 200 to 300,000,000 dollars loss  It was the biggest fire on record  Gid Hornish[3] lost about 75 dollars by Insurance Companies breaking up since the great Chicago fire.

The Company I am insured in, has gone up the spout.

Historical Background

The Great Chicago Fire began about 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 8, and burned until early Tuesday, October 10. It killed as many as 300 people and destroyed more than three square miles of Chicago. The destruction left more than 100,000 people homeless.

The fire destroyed 17,500 buildings and $222 million in property, about one-third of the city’s value. Although about half of the destroyed property was covered by insurance, the fire also effectively destroyed many insurance companies, either driven into bankruptcy when the fire destroyed their offices or by the large claims filed by fire victims.

Chicago was quick to rebuild, though the city developed more stringent fire codes and building regulations and one of the best fire departments in the nation. Between 1871 and 1891, more than $316 million went into the construction of new buildings.

Thomas Blair Wilson (1839-1881) was born in Pennsylvania. In 1861, he was working as a clerk in Farmington in Fulton County, Illinois. He joined Company M of the 11th Illinois Cavalry as a private on March 15, 1865, and traveled from Cairo, Illinois, to Memphis, Tennessee, by steamer with his regiment. He mustered out on September 30, 1865. In 1870, he was a photographer in Washington, Illinois, and lived with his wife Mary and daughter Myrtle. He died in Chicago at the age of 42.

Mary R. Broughton Wilson (b. 1841) was born in Indiana. She married Thomas Blair Wilson in June 1867 in Fulton County, Illinois. Their daughter Myrtle was born in 1868, and their son Frank was born in 1876.

Condition

Very Good


[1] Warrensburg, Missouri, is fifty iles east of Kansas City.

[2] Israel Zinser (b. 1845) was a druggist in Washington, Illinois, in 1870.

[3] Gideon Hornish (1839-1895) was a grocer in Washington, Illinois.


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