Monday, March 5, 2012

My Only Early Chicagoan

Chicago will be celebrating its 175th Birthday this year. Such a grand milestone made me wonder if any of my family tree members were present for the actual incorporation. In fact, there was one Chicagoan whose his name was Silas Bowman Cobb and I am his third great grand niece.
Silas Bowman Cobb was born in Montpelier, Vermont on January 23, 1812.  His father was a prosperous businessman whose partner introduced young Silas Bowman to the idea of going west. Oliver Goss had just returned from the small town of Chicago and was organizing a group to go west and to create a settlement. Silas Bowman’s imagination was sparked.

Silas Bowman decided to go west against his father’s wishes, joined the Oliver Goss party and traveled to Albany, New York via wagon. In Albany Silas Bowman parted with Oliver Goss and traveled onward via the Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York. Along the way, a thief stole much of his money leaving him with a mere seven dollars. He explained his situation to the captain of the schooner, “Atlanta,” who then agreed to take him to Chicago for a fee of four dollars. He bought food for the journey with his remaining funds. As things would go, the journey took longer than expected and young Silas Bowman ran up a small bill.

The “Atlanta” reached Chicago on May 29, 1833. There was no harbor so passengers disembarked and were rowed to shore. Silas Bowman was held aboard ship due to his debt of three dollars.  A kind person took pity on the young man and paid his bill allowing Silas Bowman to disembark. On June 1, 1833, Silas Bowman Cobb finally set foot in Chicago.

What did Chicago look like in 1833?  It is reported that there were not more than 50 white inhabitants and only a few soldiers in Fort Dearborn. The Kinzies, pioneer settlers, lived in a log home north of the river along with huts of Indians and half-breeds. The town clung to the river and no one lived near Madison Street for it was the prairie.                                                   

Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, “Silas Bowman Cobb,” The University of Chicago Biographical Sketches, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1922), 145-170.

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