Campbell Family

Robert Camp­bell

Irish Begin­nings (1804–1822)

Robert Campbell (1804-1879) © Campbell House Foundation 2004

Robert Camp­bell (1804–1879)
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

Robert Camp­bell was born on Feb­ru­ary 12, 1804 at Agha­lane, his fam­ily home in Plumbridge, County Tyrone in present day North­ern Ire­land. It’s fit­ting that Robert was born just a few months before Lewis and Clark began their jour­ney to explore Louisiana Pur­chase, as his life would become inti­mately con­nected with the territory.

Robert’s father Hugh Camp­bell (not to be con­fused with Robert’s brother or son, both also named Hugh Camp­bell) built Agha­lane in 1786. Above the front door Hugh placed two stone plaques, one inscribed with his name and the year “1786″, the other marked with the coats of arms of the Dukes of Argyle, indi­cat­ing that the Camp­bells of Agha­lane, who had arrived from Scot­land a few gen­er­a­tions ear­lier, claimed kin­ship with their dis­tin­guished name­sakes, the Camp­bells of Argyle. The house still stands, and is pre­served as a museum in the Ulster Amer­i­can Folk Park in Castle­town, North­ern Ireland.

After his first wife died, the father Hugh Camp­bell mar­ried Eliz­a­beth Buchanan (cousin to Pres­i­dent James Buchanan) in about 1792. Robert was the youngest child of his father’s sec­ond marriage–which meant he stood to inherit very lit­tle or no prop­erty from his fam­ily. This fact was prob­a­bly the biggest fac­tor in Robert’s deci­sion to fol­low his older brother Hugh to Amer­ica to seek his own fortune.

Ire­land to Amer­ica (1822–1823)

Robert Campbell's birthplace, Aghalane House, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. © Campbell House Foundation 2004

Robert Campbell’s birth­place, Agha­lane House, County Tyrone, North­ern Ire­land.
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

Robert sailed from Ire­land in August 1822 at the age of 18, aboard the Cli­max. He stayed briefly with his older brother, Hugh, in Mil­ton, North Carolina.

Hugh had stud­ied for a med­ical career in Edin­burgh before com­ing to Amer­ica in 1818 at the age of 21. Hugh’s first few years were spent in Mil­ton, North Car­olina and Rich­mond, Vir­ginia with David Kyle (also of County Tyrone) who intro­duced Hugh to the mer­can­tile trade. Hugh later moved north to Philadel­phia to pur­sue a mer­can­tile busi­ness of his own. Hugh mar­ried David Kyle’s daugh­ter, Mary, in 1828. This rela­tion­ship would later prove very impor­tant for Robert.

While the first months that Robert spent in Mil­ton and Rich­mond were ben­e­fi­cial for his career, they were bad for his health, result­ing in a severe lung infec­tion. Deter­mined to pre­serve his health, Robert headed out west where the air was better.

St. Louis and the Fur Trade (1824–1835)

Robert left Vir­ginia in Jan­u­ary 1824 arriv­ing in St. Louis by river. Dur­ing the 1820s the rise of the steam­boat and St. Louis’ loca­tion at the con­flu­ence of the Mis­sis­sippi and Mis­souri rivers made the city a rapidly grow­ing com­mer­cial cen­ter. Robert quickly found work as a clerk for fel­low Irish­man and busi­ness­man John O’Fallon. Although Robert had no for­mal school­ing, he could read and write and was very artic­u­late, impor­tant qual­i­ties in a good clerk.

Robert Campbell Buckskin Coat © Campbell House Foundation 2004

Robert Campbell’s Buck­skin Coat
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

Although his career was going well, his health had not improved. Robert was pale and sub­ject to hem­or­rhages of the lungs, reg­u­larly cough­ing up blood. He saw Dr. Ben­jamin Far­rar, who advised him, say­ing: “Young man, your symp­toms are con­sump­tive, and I advise you to go to the Rocky Moun­tains. I have before sent two or three young men there in your con­di­tion, and they came back restored to health and as hearty as bucks.”

Robert fol­lowed Dr. Farrar’s advice and in Octo­ber 1825 Robert was hired by Jede­diah Smith to work as a clerk for his recently formed part­ner­ship with William Ash­ley. The Smith– Ash­ley part­ner­ship was finan­cially backed by John O’Fallon. On Novem­ber 1, 1825 Robert left St. Louis with Smith and 68 other men for the jour­ney west to trade in the Rocky Moun­tains. Smith was lead­ing the group over­land to sup­ply trap­pers and traders in what would become the first of the leg­endary Rocky Moun­tain rendezvous.

Robert spent the bulk of the next 10 years liv­ing and work­ing in the west for a num­ber of dif­fer­ent part­ner­ships and fur com­pa­nies, cul­mi­nat­ing in the cre­ation of his own com­pany. In 1832 Robert part­nered with William Sub­lette to form Sub­lette and Camp­bell. Ini­tially Sub­lette and Camp­bell con­cen­trated on trad­ing with Indi­ans along the Mis­souri River, build­ing numer­ous forts as trad­ing cen­ters. Fort William near the Junc­tion of the Mis­souri and Yel­low­stone rivers was their most impor­tant. Built under Robert’s direc­tion in 1833 the fort was named after Sublette.

Between 1832 and 1836, Robert wrote a series of fas­ci­nat­ing let­ters to his brother Hugh detail­ing his expe­ri­ences in the west — from build­ing a fort at the junc­tion of the Mis­souri and Yel­low­stone rivers to Indian mythol­ogy. A selec­tion of these let­ters was pub­lished in 1836 in the Philadel­phia news­pa­per “The National Atlas and Tues­day Morning”.

Robert’s suc­cess­ful career in the fur trade can be attrib­uted to not only his strong char­ac­ter and reli­able nature but also his friend­ships with influ­en­tial busi­ness­men, gov­ern­ment offi­cials and Indian chiefs. It was his career in the fur trade that estab­lished his rep­u­ta­tion and paved the way to becom­ing a suc­cess­ful businessman.

Even though Robert went on to be suc­cess­ful in a wide vari­ety of busi­nesses, amass­ing a large for­tune, he is most famous for his early career in the fur trade. Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing recounted Robert’s exploits in the book “The Adven­tures of Cap­tain Bon­neville” as one of the heroes of the 1832 Bat­tle of Pierre’s Hole. In that bat­tle, Robert was instru­men­tal in repelling a group of attack­ing Black­feet Indi­ans and brought his friend and part­ner Sub­lette to safety after he was wounded. Later in his life, Robert recounted his expe­ri­ences in the Rocky Moun­tains as a young man in a nar­ra­tive. As a result of his time in the moun­tains, Robert could count among his friends Kit Car­son, Jim Bridger and numer­ous Indi­ans, includ­ing the Crow chief Rot­ten Belly.

Robert’s direct involve­ment with fur trade was wind­ing down by the spring of 1835. Upon return­ing to St. Louis he came down with a fever, recu­per­at­ing at Sublette’s St. Louis farm Sul­phur Springs. Later that year, Robert met Vir­ginia Jane Kyle, his sister-in-law Mary’s first cousin.

Busi­ness and Fam­ily Life in St. Louis (1835–1879)

In Sep­tem­ber of 1836, Robert and Sub­lette estab­lished a whole­sale and retail dry goods busi­ness in St. Louis. The busi­ness, also called Sub­lette and Camp­bell, was located at 7 North Main (First) Street. Today, the area is part of the Arch grounds.

(Top) Advertisement from the 1851 St. Louis Directory for Robert Campbell's dry goods business. (Bottom) Robert Campbell did business in this building at 119 North Main in St. Louis from 1854-1870 © Campbell House Foundation 2004

(Top) Adver­tise­ment from the 1851 St. Louis Direc­tory for Robert Campbell’s dry goods busi­ness. (Bot­tom) Robert Camp­bell did busi­ness in this build­ing at 119 North Main in St. Louis from 1854–1870
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

In the spring of 1842 Robert and Sub­lette found it nec­es­sary to dis­solve their part­ner­ship due to hard eco­nomic times. Robert pur­chased the goods and fur­nish­ings from the part­ner­ship and their store on Main Street was divided into two units, one of which Robert occu­pied. Even­tu­ally, when the econ­omy recov­ered, Robert’s busi­ness became ‘R. Camp­bell and Com­pany.’ It sold dry goods and Indian goods.

Robert’s mer­can­tile busi­ness improved in 1848. At this time, a rel­a­tive William Camp­bell became a junior part­ner and the com­pany became R. & W. Camp­bell. They sup­plied west­ern bound trav­el­ers with sup­plies and goods needed for the long trek. They were also known as com­mis­sion mer­chants, ship­ping goods to new stores that were open­ing on the grow­ing fron­tier. Robert was pres­i­dent of the Mer­chants National Bank and the First Bank of Mis­souri in 1843.

In 1859 Robert’s brother Hugh and his wife Mary moved to St. Louis, result­ing in the strength­en­ing of their busi­ness rela­tion­ship. Hugh and Mary had no chil­dren of their own and spent a great deal of time with Robert’s fam­ily. Hugh and Mary had a res­i­dence on Wash­ing­ton Avenue and in 1875 moved to a house at 2728 Pine Street.

Real Estate

Besides the store and bank­ing inter­ests, Robert invested in and made a good part of his for­tune through real estate. Robert began to invest in rental prop­erty in the 1840s. He is one of the indi­vid­u­als respon­si­ble for the cre­ation of Kansas City, Mis­souri, a result of a large devel­op­ment of rental prop­er­ties in the early 1840s. Robert later sold his prop­erty and busi­ness in Kansas City to his nephew John Camp­bell, includ­ing a New Mex­ico freight­ing busi­ness and “the first large brick ware­house ever built in Kansas City.”

In St. Louis he owned com­mer­cial prop­erty on the river­front and was one time land­lord to Henry Shaw and gun maker Samuel Hawken. In St. Louis County Robert owned a farm near Creve Coeur Lake that the Camp­bell fam­ily used as a “coun­try place.”

Mil­i­tary and Indian Affairs

Dur­ing the United States war with Mex­ico, Robert was a key fig­ure in rais­ing funds and troops and for his efforts was made a Colonel in the Mis­souri Mili­tia. Dur­ing the Civil War, Robert was a key sup­plier of goods and trans­porta­tion to the army in the Mis­sis­sippi valley.

Even though Robert had retired from the west in the mid 1830s, he remained involved with Indian nego­ti­a­tions. He accom­pa­nied Jesuit priest and mis­sion­ary Fr. Pierre DeSmet west in 1851 for the Fort Laramie Coun­cil. Robert was con­tracted to pro­vide the Indian goods. His friend, United States Pres­i­dent Ulysses S. Grant, appointed him and nine other men to an Indian Com­mis­sion in 1869 to help nego­ti­ate an end to the inad­e­quate treaty sys­tem and help allo­cate land among the var­i­ous tribes–the begin­ning of the Indian Reser­va­tion sys­tem. But because of bureau­cratic gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, the orig­i­nal com­mis­sion­ers, includ­ing Robert, resigned protest­ing Indian mis­treat­ment in 1873.

Steam­boats, Gold­mines, Cat­tle and the South­ern Hotel

As part of his grow­ing net­work of busi­nesses, Robert quickly rec­og­nized the impor­tance of steam­boats. In the 1840s he began to buy steam­boats to trans­port his mer­chant goods upriver to sell and trans­port west­ern goods, such as buf­falo hides, down­river to St. Louis. Steam­boats run­ning the Mis­sis­sippi between St. Louis and New Orleans also did a prof­itable pas­sen­ger and freight busi­ness. Some of Robert’s notable steam­boats include the Robert Camp­bell Jr. and the A.B. Cham­bers. Mark Twain’s first job as a river pilot was aboard Robert’s A.B. Cham­bers in 1859.

The Southern Hotel, 1877 © Campbell House Foundation 2004

The South­ern Hotel, 1877
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

As Robert grew older, his diver­si­fi­ca­tion in busi­ness became greater. By the 1860s and 70s he owned gold­mines in New Mex­ico and was pay­ing to drive cat­tle herds from the south­ern plains to the rail­heads. Robert also owned the largest hotel in St. Louis, the South­ern Hotel, until it burned down in 1877.

Robert’s health began to fail in early 1879. He went east to the seashore in the sum­mer and returned to St. Louis in the fall. He died at home on Octo­ber 16, 1879. His brother and life­long busi­ness part­ner Hugh died just a few months later in Decem­ber 1879. At the time of his death, Robert Camp­bell was con­sid­ered one of the wealth­i­est men in the state, leav­ing an estate of $2 mil­lion (val­ued at more than $35 mil­lion today) in cash alone.

Robert was highly respected and active in both the polit­i­cal and social cir­cles of Amer­i­can soci­ety dur­ing the mid-Victorian era. From the Grand Tetons to the par­lors of Philadel­phia, Robert expe­ri­enced Amer­ica dur­ing one of its most dynamic peri­ods of his­tory. Robert’s story is that of an immi­grant who comes to the United States to seek his for­tune, and suc­ceeds in help­ing to build the eco­nomic foun­da­tion of a great Amer­i­can city.

Vir­ginia Campbell

The full story can­not be told with­out includ­ing Vir­ginia Jane Kyle Camp­bell. Vir­ginia Kyle was born on Jan­u­ary 25, 1822 to Hazlett Kyle and Lucy Ann Win­ston Kyle. Like Robert, Virginia’s father was an immi­grant from County Tyrone, Ire­land and his fam­ily had a farm near the Campbells.

Youth and Courtship

Virginia Kyle Campbell (1822-1882) © Campbell House Foundation 2004

Vir­ginia Kyle Camp­bell (1822–1882)
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

Lucy was wid­owed when Vir­ginia was 11 and David Kyle, her uncle, became Virginia’s legal guardian. Shortly after her father’s death, Vir­ginia and her older sis­ter Eleanor attended the Freeman’s Fin­ish­ing School for young women in Philadel­phia where they fre­quently vis­ited their cousin, Mary Kyle Camp­bell (mar­ried to Robert’s older brother Hugh).

Robert went east to Philadel­phia on busi­ness in the fall of 1835. Dur­ing his visit he suf­fered a relapse of fever and was con­fined to his brother Hugh’s home under a doctor’s care. It was on this visit that he met Vir­ginia Jane Kyle for the first time–Robert was 31 and Vir­ginia was 13.

Robert and Virginia’s friend­ship con­tin­ued after he returned to St. Louis and they began a long courtship that was com­prised mostly of cor­re­spon­dence. Nei­ther Hugh nor Sub­lette were very happy with Robert’s inter­est in the young Vir­ginia. Hugh wrote Sub­lette that Vir­ginia was “too gay and friv­o­lous” and she already been “four times courted and twice engaged.” But Robert per­sisted in woo­ing her and asked Virginia’s mother for per­mis­sion to marry her daugh­ter when she was 16. Lucy informed Robert that she would give her con­sent when Vir­ginia reached the age of 18.

Lucy wrote to Robert in early 1841 and reminded him that she had con­sented to his mar­riage pro­posal when Vir­ginia turned 18 (which was in 1840) but she was opposed to them being mar­ried in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia at David Kyle’s home. She pre­ferred that they come to Raleigh, North Car­olina to hold the wed­ding in her home. In one of Robert’s let­ters to Vir­ginia writ­ten in antic­i­pa­tion of their mar­riage, he said: “Rec­ol­lect you will soon be my coun­selor and advi­sor and it may be – man­ager – that of course I will not acknowl­edge and I feel con­fi­dent you will make, ‘my yoke easy’ and my life happy.”

Mar­riage and Fam­ily Life

Virginia and Robert Campbell lived in this house (center) at 203 South Fifth St. from 1847 until 1854- the year they bought the Campbell House. © Campbell House Foundation 2004

Vir­ginia and Robert Camp­bell lived in this house (cen­ter) at 203 South Fifth St. from 1847 until 1854– the year they bought the Camp­bell House.
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

On Feb­ru­ary 25, 1841 Robert and Vir­ginia were mar­ried at her mother’s home in Raleigh. They hon­ey­mooned at brother Hugh’s home in Philadel­phia before set­tling in St. Louis. Ini­tially the Camp­bells took a suite of rooms in the fash­ion­able new Planters House Hotel, just south of the old Court House.

Between 1842 and 1854 the Camp­bells lived in two dif­fer­ent attached row houses on South 5th Street (now South Broad­way) where Busch Sta­dium stands today. In Novem­ber 1854 Robert and Vir­ginia pur­chased the house at 20 Lucas Place (the Camp­bell House Museum). Vir­ginia had her first child in May 1842. There were 12 more live births over the next 22 years and per­haps as many as 6 mis­car­riages and still­births in the same period.

Extended Fam­ily

Vir­ginia was very close to her mother Lucy and sis­ter Eleanor. Shortly after the Camp­bells moved to their new large house on Lucas Place her mother moved in. Lucy did not care for Virginia’s sister’s hus­band William Otey and and from her let­ters was dis­tressed about their mar­riage. Otey was a slave trader and an alco­holic. Lucy wanted to free her few slaves but feared for them because of Otey. This may account for Lucy’s deci­sion to move in with her daugh­ter Vir­ginia and her fam­ily. Lucy lived with the Camp­bells until she died in 1883, out­liv­ing both Robert and Vir­ginia. Virginia’s sis­ter, Eleanor Kyle Otey, also lived with the Camp­bells on and off between the 1850s and 90s. It has been recently dis­cov­ered that Vir­ginia did own three slaves. It appears that when she mar­ried Robert she received the slaves from her father’s estate, maybe as a dowry. How­ever, shortly after their mar­riage, she freed the slaves at around the same time her mother freed her slaves.

Vir­ginia the Socialite

Like other fam­i­lies on Lucas Place, Robert and Vir­ginia enter­tained on a lav­ish scale. One party in par­tic­u­lar was remem­bered by Lucas Place res­i­dent Lucy Sem­ple Ames in a let­ter from Octo­ber 10, 1874. “Last night I attended a mag­nif­i­cent din­ner given by Mr. Robert Camp­bell for Pres­i­dent and Mrs. Grant and Gen­eral Sherman–the hand­somest pri­vate offi­cer I ever saw– ladies in full ball cos­tume and I pre­sume the din­ner must have cost over a thou­sand dollars.”

Virginia Campbell

Vir­ginia Camp­bell in her later years
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

The year before Vir­ginia held a for­mal din­ner and recep­tion for the Pres­i­dent, his entourage, and their close friends while Robert was delayed in Philadel­phia on business.

“After the President’s [Ulysses S. Grant] return from Caron­delet, he and his fam­ily and suite accepted an invi­ta­tion to a pri­vate din­ner party at Mrs. Robert Campbell’s res­i­dence, No. 1508 Lucas Place. About fif­teen guests, all inti­mate acquain­tances of the Pres­i­dent or his fam­ily, were seated at the board. Among them were Gen. Har­ney, Hon. Henry T. Blow, Col. Thos. T. Gantt, Capt. James B. Eads and oth­ers. The Pres­i­dent expressed his regrets at the unavoid­able absence of Hon. Robert Camp­bell, at New York…

[There] was a young folks’ recep­tion, given by Mr. Hugh Camp­bell to Miss Nel­lie Grant…Maher’s Band did the musi­cal part of the enter­tain­ment. Fifty-five ladies and sixty gen­tle­men par­tic­i­pated in the activ­i­ties. Among those noticed in the par­lors were: Miss Brown, daugh­ter of the mayor; Miss Ben­ton, the Misses Eads, Fil­ley, Har­ney: Messrs. Charles Knapp, Bryan Clemens, Crickard, Jew­ett, Col. Vin­cent Mar­maduke and others…

About mid­night the full Arse­nal Band…drew up in line in front of No. 1508, and ser­e­naded the Pres­i­dent for an hour…the Pres­i­dent came out upon the bal­cony and bowed, with Mrs. Camp­bell lean­ing on his right arm…The Pres­i­dent on appear­ing remarked to the lady [Mrs. Camp­bell] with him, ‘This is very tire­some to me – hav­ing to go through it so often.’ The lady replied, ‘Yes, Gen­eral, it must be; but it is to please the peo­ple, who honor you.’ ”

(from the “St. Louis Daily Globe”, Tues­day Morn­ing, April 22, 1873)

Vir­ginia was a leader in his­toric preser­va­tion. Between 1879 and 1882 she was a Vice Regent of the Mount Ver­non Ladies Asso­ci­a­tion. This orga­ni­za­tion of wealthy ladies had saved and pre­served George Washington’s house and estate Mount Ver­non. Vir­ginia served as their rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Mis­souri. Virginia’s sons hon­ored their mother’s inter­est in Mount Ver­non after she died by donat­ing a pair of Chippendale-style mahogany stands once owned by Wash­ing­ton and by recre­at­ing Washington’s deer park on the Mount Ver­non estate.

From all of the avail­able evi­dence, Vir­ginia Camp­bell was an impor­tant part­ner in Robert Campbell’s busi­ness and social life and she was able to chal­lenge the tra­di­tional role of women of her class through­out her life. In other ways she ful­filled the tra­di­tional role assigned her by soci­ety, includ­ing man­ag­ing a large house­hold and staff.

In many ways Vir­ginia was unusual for a 19th cen­tury upper mid­dle class woman. She had a strong inter­est in national and civic affairs. She often trav­eled alone with her chil­dren, which chal­lenged the social con­ven­tions of her class. She inde­pen­dently sup­ported many phil­an­thropic causes, includ­ing Fr. DeSmet’s Indian mis­sions in the West.

Vir­ginia died on Jan­u­ary 30, 1882. She died just a few years after her hus­band and also like him died at home after a short ill­ness. She was 60 years old. The estate was divided among their three sur­viv­ing sons, Hugh, Hazlett, and James. By all accounts Robert and Vir­ginia had a very happy mar­riage. Their sur­viv­ing let­ters indi­cate that they sup­ported each other in their respec­tive roles with a great love for each other and their children.

Camp­bell Children

Unidentified Campbell son © Campbell House Foundation 2004

Uniden­ti­fied Camp­bell son
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

Between 1842 to 1864 Robert and Vir­ginia had 13 chil­dren and, sadly, much of their time was spent mourn­ing the loss of 10. Despite the love and care Robert and Vir­ginia pro­vided their fam­ily there was lit­tle that could be done to shield the chil­dren from dis­ease and the health con­di­tions preva­lent in the 19th Century.

The Camp­bells lost four chil­dren in the 1840s, three in the 1850s, and three in the 1860s, all of them between infancy and age seven. Vir­ginia had her last two chil­dren at age 40 and 42-both died in infancy. The last child, John, was born with a birth defect and only lived two weeks. Out of 13 chil­dren only two were girls and nei­ther reached their sec­ond birth­day. Gen­er­ally there were never more than three or four chil­dren liv­ing at any one time dur­ing this 22-year period. From Jan­u­ary 1862 to June 1862 five chil­dren lived at 20 Lucas Place: Hugh, Hazlett, James, Robert Jr., and George. All the chil­dren except one are buried with their par­ents in Belle­fontaine Ceme­tery in north St. Louis. Son Robert (1844–1847) is most likely buried in Philadel­phia, as the fam­ily was away for the sum­mer at the time of his death. There is lit­tle doc­u­men­ta­tion or infor­ma­tion per­tain­ing to the 10 chil­dren that died young. There are por­traits of four young chil­dren in the Camp­bell col­lec­tion and a few ref­er­ences in fam­ily correspondence.

Children’s Health

In an era when the mor­tal­ity rate among chil­dren was much higher than today, there was lit­tle that could be done to pro­tect the Camp­bell chil­dren from dis­eases such as diph­the­ria, measles, cholera, encephali­tis, and scar­let fever (one cause of death is recorded as “sum­mer com­plaint”). How­ever, it was unusual that more than 75 per­cent of the Campbell’s chil­dren died in childhood.

This may be explained by look­ing at the family’s grow­ing for­tune. The Camp­bells’ money exposed their chil­dren to con­di­tions that most peo­ple of the mid-19th Cen­tury avoided. The worst of these con­di­tions was the drink­ing water.

The major­ity of St. Louisians got their water from cis­terns or even wells, how­ever the wealthy could afford indoor plumb­ing. The water for the plumb­ing sys­tem came straight from the Mis­sis­sippi, unfil­tered or treated and was much dirt­ier than the cis­tern water. The Camp­bell chil­dren that died of water-borne dis­eases like diph­the­ria and cholera prob­a­bly con­tracted the dis­ease from the dirty tap water.

Dirty water was only part of the expla­na­tion for so many deaths. The plumb­ing the water flowed through was made of lead, result­ing in chil­dren born with birth defects like spina bifida. The par­ents’ money also exposed the chil­dren to the best med­ical care, which was often lethal. Sick chil­dren treated by doc­tors were bled and dosed with mer­cury salts.

Note on Names

In exam­in­ing the fam­ily geneal­ogy, it is inter­est­ing to note sev­eral things. First, the Camp­bells’ chil­dren were named after fam­ily mem­bers. Hazlett Kyle was Virginia’s father, Hugh was the name of Robert’s father and brother, Lucy Ann was Virginia’s mother, and Mary was Virginia’s cousin and the children’s aunt, James Alexan­der was Robert’s brother. Names were also used again after a child died-there were two Hughs, two Hazletts, two James Alexan­ders, and three Roberts.

As young chil­dren, the three sur­viv­ing Camp­bell boys did not attend a pub­lic school but were tutored at home by their mother. When they were teenagers they attended Smith Acad­emy, a prepara­tory school that was part of Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity. Both insti­tu­tions were just up the street from the Camp­bell house. A num­ber of the boy’s school­books are pre­served in the museum col­lec­tion. After Smith Acad­emy, all the boys attended uni­ver­sity, how­ever, none of them ever uti­lized their edu­ca­tion in a career. Nei­ther Hugh, Hazlett nor James ever worked for any length of time, liv­ing their entire lives off of their parent’s estate.

After their mother died in 1882, each one of the boys took a suite of rooms in the house to use as their own. Hugh took the back three rooms on the third floor. Hazlett used his parent’s old bed­rooms on the sec­ond floor and James took the front three rooms on the third floor. James, Hugh, and Hazlett all used their parent’s house as their pri­mary res­i­dence until they died. None of the three mar­ried or had children.

Hugh Camp­bell

Hugh was the old­est of Robert and Virginia’s sur­viv­ing chil­dren. The year he was born must have been a dif­fi­cult one for his par­ents. They lost a son in July and a daugh­ter in Sep­tem­ber. Hugh’s birth on Novem­ber 15, 1847 must have been a sad joy for them. Just a few years later dur­ing cholera epi­demic of 1849 Hugh almost died-Robert described his con­di­tion as being “on the very verge of the grave.”

Hugh Campbell (1847-1931) © Campbell House Foundation 2004

Hugh Camp­bell (1847–1931)
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

After suf­fi­cient tutor­ing from his mother, Hugh enrolled at Smith Acad­emy where he was a stu­dent from 1859 to 1863. Hugh must have been deter­mined to fol­low in his father’s foot­steps, because he con­vinced his par­ents to let him spend the sum­mer of 1863 at Ft. Laramie (Robert had built the fort 30 years ear­lier as a young man). Hugh spent the sum­mer under the care of some of his father’s busi­ness asso­ciates and saw the moun­tains, shot ante­lope and met scores of Indi­ans, includ­ing his father’s good friend, an Ara­paho named Friday.

He attended Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity from 1864 to 1867, grad­u­at­ing in 1867 with a law degree, although he never prac­ticed. The Camp­bells’ grand tour of Europe began shortly after his grad­u­a­tion. Robert, Vir­ginia, Hugh, Hazlett, James and a ser­vant saw Europe from Ire­land to Italy dur­ing an 11 month trip.

As a younger man Hugh was known as the life of the party. He had a good singing voice, could play the piano and enter­tained on a lav­ish scale equal to that of his mother. After the death of his par­ents and his younger brother James, Hugh spent his life man­ag­ing the estate and car­ing for his younger brother, Hazlett.

Hugh was very fond of chil­dren and shared his home and gar­den with neigh­bor­hood chil­dren. He also sup­plied Christ­mas din­ner for a local boys’ home.

As he got older Hugh exchanged his friends in high soci­ety for new friends in the neighborhood-the chil­dren. He gave them pop­corn and candy (In 1905, Hugh spent $1,500 at the Busy Bee Candy Company-that year candy cost 25¢ per pound). Each year he spon­sored a lav­ish Thanks­giv­ing din­ner includ­ing wait­ers and a string band for the Father Dunne’s News­boys’ Home. Hugh per­sis­tently refused to have his name asso­ci­ated with any of his gifts, but if pressed insisted on being known as “Mr. Mur­phy.” He even per­mit­ted one neigh­bor­hood girl to use the par­lor piano to prac­tice her lessons.

Hugh became known for his phil­an­thropy, con­tribut­ing to all the churches in the neighborhood-Presbyterian, Catholic, Epis­co­pal, Methodist and Jew­ish. He was ecu­meni­cal with his money. In 1925 Hugh suf­fered a hip injury when he tripped on the stairs at the back door. He became more reclu­sive in the last years of his life. He died on August 9, 1931 at the age of 83. His cause of death was listed as heart disease.

In his obit­u­ar­ies, Hugh was remem­bered as the son of his famous father, as a mil­lion­aire, for his gen­eros­ity to char­i­ties and chil­dren, but most of all for his reclu­sive­ness– prac­ti­cally no one but house­hold ser­vants had been seen enter­ing or leav­ing the house for 20 years.

Hazlett Kyle Campbell

Hazlett Kyle Camp­bell was born Feb­ru­ary 2, 1858. Only two years older than brother James, the two boys were very close and prob­a­bly shared the upper third floor bed­room and were in the same class at Smith Acad­emy. Hazlett and James were 4th class­men (fresh­men) in 1872 and grad­u­ated as first class­men in 1875–76. Hazlett and James were in an advanced class in 1876–77 at Smith Acad­emy. Between 1878 and 1879 Hazlett was a clerk at Brook­mire and Rankin, whole­sale grocers.

The only known image of Hazlett Campbell, ca. 1871 © Campbell House Foundation 2004

The only known image of Hazlett Camp­bell, ca. 1871
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

Wil­son Aull, a friend of Hazlett’s, lived next door to the Campbell’s until 1877. He attended school with Hazlett. They played together and often attended dances together. Accord­ing to Aull, as a youth Hazlett was inter­ested in horses and base­ball. His father gave him a horse and buggy and they often went out to watch the Browns play. For a short time Hazlett worked as a sales­man for a local gro­cery com­pany. Aull believed Hazlett became increas­ingly pecu­liar between 1878–86. He felt it grew worse fol­low­ing the death of his mother in 1882 and even more severe fol­low­ing the death of James in 1890.

Today Hazlett would prob­a­bly be diag­nosed as suf­fer­ing from manic depres­sion and schiz­o­phre­nia, both of which were prac­ti­cally unknown to the med­ical com­mu­nity dur­ing his life­time and so untreat­able. After James’s death, Hugh took Hazlett to med­ical spe­cial­ists through­out Europe but his efforts proved futile. Today med­ical sci­ence has sug­gested that schiz­o­phre­nia may be caused by lead poi­son­ing in the womb and early childhood-which is very plau­si­ble in Hazlett’s case con­sid­er­ing the amount of lead he and his mother were exposed to (pri­mar­ily lead plumb­ing and paint).

Dur­ing the present restora­tion of the museum some large med­i­cine bot­tles were dis­cov­ered. One of the bot­tles still has its label, which very clearly reads “cocaine.” It is thought that Hazlett was being dosed with cocaine in an attempt to con­trol his mood swings.

Hugh later referred to Hazlett as “very ner­vous and not well” and a physi­cian described his con­di­tion as “men­tal retreat from life” that lasted a half a cen­tury. He suf­fered from a par­a­lytic stroke in 1924 that left him speech­less and ser­vants recalled that he required “care like a small child.” His lack of phys­i­cal activ­ity prob­a­bly led to the devel­op­ment of a weak heart, one of the causes of his death.

When Hugh died in 1931 Hazlett was declared of unsound mind. The house and all of its con­tents were main­tained, includ­ing the ser­vants, and a doc­tor vis­ited daily. Hazlett, the last Camp­bell, died on March 27, 1938, at age 80. With his death the scram­ble for the Camp­bell estate began, even­tu­ally lead­ing to the cre­ation of the Camp­bell House Museum.

James Alexan­der Campbell

James Alexan­der, born March 16, 1860, attended Yale Uni­ver­sity from 1879 to 1882, but left before com­mence­ment because of Virginia’s death.

James A. Campbell (1860-1890) with his pet dogs, painted by renowned artist  Jules Lefebvre in Paris 1890 © Campbell House Foundation 2004

James A. Camp­bell (1860–1890) with his pet dogs, painted by renowned artist
Jules Lefeb­vre in Paris 1890
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2004

He roomed with a man named Asa Palmer French their sopho­more through senior year. James stayed at Yale in the Grad­u­ate Depart­ment in non-professional stud­ies for one year. He was a mem­ber of Delta Kappa, Eta Phi, Psi Upsilon and the influ­en­tial Skull and Bones Soci­ety. Tall (6 feet 1 inch), hand­some and intel­li­gent, James seemed to be his par­ents’ and broth­ers’ favorite.

He trav­eled, pre­sum­ably with his broth­ers, in July of 1883 to Nor­way, Swe­den, Rus­sia, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Pales­tine and Egypt and returned the sum­mer of 1885 to St. Louis. In the fall of 1885 he entered law school at Har­vard in Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts where he rented a house. James grad­u­ated with hon­ors in the spring of 1888 and returned home to St. Louis for the summer.

In the fall, the three sons went to Europe main­tain­ing a res­i­dence in Paris on the exclu­sive Place Ven­dome. They trav­eled the con­ti­nent, with a short visit to Lon­don, vis­it­ing art gal­leries and other places of inter­est. It was in Paris that James, with his two dogs, began pos­ing for the por­trait by Jules LeFebvre.

In Jan­u­ary 1890 James caught a flu virus. He died at his Paris apart­ment on July 13 of a severe attack of pneu­mo­nia and lung con­ges­tion. His broth­ers returned to St. Louis with his body. He was buried in the fam­ily plot on August 28, 1890. Of the 15 mem­bers of the imme­di­ate Camp­bell fam­ily only Hugh and Hazlett were left.