Watertown Native was honored as Chicago's First Printer!
(Read his Bio Below)
John Calhoun was born Watertown, Jefferson, NY
on April 14, 1808, the fourth child of early settlers
Chauncey Calhoun and Sarah Edwards Paddock. As a
child John attended district schools only during a
portion of the winter months. At the age of 16 he
began a four-year printer?s apprenticeship at the
Watertown Freeman and within two years managed the
business office. After brief stints in Albany, Troy,
and Oswego, he founded the Watertown Eagle on
September 11, 1832. This endeavor was partially
financed by his father in an effort to discourage John
from moving to New Orleans.
On May 31, 1832 in Watertown John married Pamelia
Caroline Hathaway, who was born in Hounsfield,
Jefferson, NY on March 20, 1811, the daughter of James
Hathaway and Lucinda Reed. John and Pamelia fell in
love while attending Sunday school at the Universalist
On September 21, 1833 John set out from Sackets Harbor
aboard a steam packet for Chicago. He carried his
small hand printing press and was accompanied by two
apprentices, Beckford and Pratt. The steamboat was
twice driven back by severe storms. Due to
seasickness John was put ashore at Lake Erie about 12
miles from Elyria, OH and he completed his journey to
At the time of his October 16 arrival Chicago had
fewer than 900 residents. There in an unfinished
building at the corner of Clark and South Water
Streets on November 26, 1833 John issued the village?s
first newspaper, the Chicago Democrat. The printing
was accomplished without either apprentice, both of
whom had quit Chicago. It was John who printed the
papers of incorporation of the city of Chicago.
Pamelia joined him in July 1834 and assisted him
greatly in his work. Just three years later they
issued their last edition. The paper was later
absorbed by the Chicago Tribune.
John?s early editorials are cited often in "A
Compendium of the Early History of Chicago to the year
1835, when the Indians left," published in 2000. He
wrote of Chicago?s rapid growth spurt, of highway
improvements, early shipping and trade, the harbor
construction of 1834, as well as descriptions of the
terrain and wildlife including the presence of
passenger pigeons and wild rice that are now long
vanished from the region. In this respect he can be
counted among the earliest historians of Chicago.
As a reporter and Chicago pioneer, John was in a
unique position to observe interactions between whites
and Indians. He was present during payment of an
Indian annuity that occurred on October 28, 1834 as
part of the treaty of a year earlier (September 26,
1833) with the Chippewa, Ottawa and Pottawatomie
Indians. By this treaty the Indians ceded their
remaining land in northern Illinois and Wisconsin,
about twenty million acres, and were removed further
west. He recorded his observations of this frightening
and tragic scene twenty years later in the 1854 Annual
Review of Chicago:
About $30,000 worth of goods were to be distributed.
They assembled to the number of about 4,000. The
distribution took place by piling the whole quantity
in a heap upon the prairie on the west side of the
river near the corner of Randolph and Canal streets.
The Indians were made to sit down upon the grass in a
circle around the pile of goods?their squaws sitting
behind them. The half-breeds and traders were
appointed to distribute such articles as they saw fit,
and then returned to the pile to replenish. Shortly
the Indians began to show an anxiety not to be
overlooked in the distribution and at first got on
their knees, vociferating all the time in right lusty
Indian gibberish. Then they rose on one foot, and soon
all were standing, and they began to contract the
circle until they finally made a rush for the pile. I
saw then a manner of dispersing a mob that I never saw
exemplified before nor since. The crowd was so great
around the pile of goods that those who were back from
them could not get to them and the outsiders at once
commenced hurling whatever missiles they could get
hold of, literally filling the air and causing them to
fall in the center where the crowd was most dense.
These, to save a broken head, rushed away, leaving a
space for those who had hurled the missiles to rush in
for a share of the spoils.
Indians were killed at every distribution. It was
concluded in the History of Cook County (source of the
above quote) that ?the Indians were fleeced by the
whites of nearly all they obtained at this treaty.?
John Calhoun served as assessor, Cook County treasurer
and collector (1837-1841) and alderman in Chicago
(1841-42) as well as an early clerk of Fire Engine
Company No. 1. The Chicago Historical Society has
preserved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of
?canal scrip,? an early version of city currency. The
earliest surviving sample of the scrip, dated August
1, 1839, includes a beautifully drawn vignette of a
sash frame-engine steamboat, and is endorsed by John
Calhoun. Joseph Kirkland in his Story of Chicago
quipped that Chicago old timers were likely to recall
canal scrip as an item ?which they were once so eager
to get hold of and, a little later, to get rid of.?
Up to 1845 John Calhoun was engaged in the hardware
business with Ira B. Eddy at the northwest corner of
Lake and Dearborn Streets. Afterwards (until 1849) he
formed a partnership with Joseph Matteson who worked
as proprietor of Matteson House. The Illinois Central
Railroad Company then employed him in real estate
matters, obtaining rights of way and other
negotiations. In 1854 he briefly went to Georgia to
manage a bank. John died in Chicago of consumption on
February 20, 1859. His father-in-law James Hathaway
died at John?s Chicago home a few weeks later.
On September 7, 1888, Chicago?s Calhoun school
received a portrait of its namesake painted by William
Coggeswell, whose portrait of Lincoln hung at the time
in the White House. Coggeswell painted the portrait
using old photographs. John was described as tall,
with black eyes, black hair and black whiskers. Two
Chicago streets were named after him.
After John died Pamelia lived for some time at Twelfth
Street near Lake Michigan. She preserved John?s
account book from 1833-1841, ultimately donating it to
the Chicago Historical Society. Named an honorary
member of the Historical Society, Pamelia died on
August 14, 1889 at the home of her nephew Frank C. S.
Calhoun in Oak Park, Cook, IL. Her funeral was held
at St. Paul?s Universalist church in Chicago, where
she had arranged for the dedication of a memorial
window in honor of John. While a Watertown history
indicates she was buried at Rose Hill cemetery, they
have no record of her.
During the 1890s a detailed history of John?s work was
written by another Watertown native and newspaper
editor who removed to Chicago?--Byron D. Adsit.
Because John?s brother Chauncey married Pamelia Adsit,
and when she died, he married her sister Margaret, it
is compelling to believe that Byron was closely
related to John by marriage. However, it appears that
he was actually a son of Stephen Adsit of South
Rutland, Jefferson, NY, and therefore a distant cousin
of Pamelia and Margaret.
In December 1940 a bronze plaque was dedicated at the
southwest corner of Clark Street and Wacker Drive,
Chicago, in honor of John Calhoun, Chicago?s first
(Son) Lewis Waite Smith Calhoun born in
Chicago on May 21, 1836, died April 14, 1837. His
death was recorded in the Chicago American.
(Child) Infant Calhoun born and died after
April 1837. (Not all sources list this second child,
and there is no proof he or she ever existed).
---Roberta Calhoun Eagan
(John's oldest brother Ebenezer was her ancestor).