The Journal of Hugh Campbell: Intro

Hugh Camp­bell, cir­ca 1870

This week we’re going to try some­thing new and we hope you like it.  We are for­tu­nate enough to have a copy of Hugh Camp­bel­l’s jour­nal that he wrote dur­ing his voy­age from his small vil­lage of Plumbridge, Coun­ty Tyrone to the Unit­ed States back in 1818.  (Just to clar­i­fy, this Hugh is Robert Camp­bel­l’s old­er broth­er, not his son.)  This doc­u­ment is unique in that Hugh kept metic­u­lous notes through­out his trip, even down to list­ing his coor­di­nates for each entry so you can essen­tial­ly plot his path across the Atlantic.

With his dry wit and gift for sto­ry­telling, Hugh record­ed the pre­vail­ing feel­ings of fear and lone­li­ness on board (“I believe there is no peri­od that emi­grants feel more sor­row than com­menc­ing a wide sea voy­age.”); embar­rass­ing mishaps (naive­ly being tricked out of his pas­sage on one ship); dai­ly life in the con­fines of a ship; his won­der at the sights of the new coun­try; the birth of life­long friend­ships that emerged from shared drudgery; and the hum­bling expe­ri­ence of liv­ing as a stranger in a coun­try that was often hos­tile to the Irish.  No doubt, Hugh elo­quent­ly cap­tured what the vast major­i­ty of Irish were feel­ing as they left their fam­i­ly homes for new lives in the Unit­ed States.

To share this amaz­ing sto­ry — one, we might add, that often reads stranger than fic­tion — we are going to seri­al­ize it, pub­lish­ing an entry or two every Fri­day.  We will also include nec­es­sary foot­notes, pho­tos and images to make the sto­ry as acces­si­ble to mod­ern eyes as possible.

To bring you up to speed before Fri­day, today we are shar­ing a biog­ra­phy of Hugh so you can put this jour­nal in the con­text of his life nar­ra­tive.  Tomor­row’s blog entry will fea­ture the mem­o­ran­dum Hugh includ­ed with the jour­nal when he sent it back to Ire­land for his fam­i­ly to read.  The jour­nal entries and appro­pri­ate notes and images will begin on Friday.

We hope you enjoy fol­low­ing along and read­ing this as much as we enjoy shar­ing this with you.  This doc­u­ment is just one of the many trea­sures we have in our muse­um, and we hope to share more great finds like this.  As always, if you have any ques­tions about Hugh’s jour­nal or the Camp­bells in gen­er­al, please do not hes­i­tate to con­tact us through our main web­site at

And with­out fur­ther ado, Hugh Camp­bel­l’s story.….….…..

Hugh Camp­bell has been con­signed to rel­a­tive obscu­ri­ty in local his­to­ry books, usu­al­ly over­shad­owed by the wild adven­tures and wealth of his younger broth­er Robert.  Though shar­ing Robert’s busi­ness acu­men, integri­ty and work eth­ic, Hugh has been cast as the bor­ing, upright and sanc­ti­mo­nious elder broth­er.  This char­ac­ter­i­za­tion is an unfor­tu­nate over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of a thought­ful and com­plex man who was the true patri­arch of a sprawl­ing fam­i­ly sep­a­rat­ed by the Atlantic.

Born in 1797 in Coun­ty Tyrone, Ire­land, Hugh was the third child and sec­ond son in his fam­i­ly.  Three more chil­dren fol­lowed, and Robert was the youngest.  After Hugh’s father died in 1810, his will divid­ed the three fam­i­ly farms among four sons.  Though Hugh was giv­en the prized Augh­a­lane estate, he had to share it with younger broth­er James, and he was also charged with sup­port­ing the fam­i­ly and pay­ing off his father’s debts.  Hugh was thir­teen years old.  Hugh tried med­ical school in Edin­burgh but dropped out after a year due in part to his ten­den­cy to faint in the dis­sec­tion room.  With few oth­er options, he left Ire­land in 1818 for Amer­i­ca.  Robert fol­lowed him four years later.

Hugh Camp­bell, cir­ca 1840

After arriv­ing in the Unit­ed States, Hugh lived most of his life on the east coast, liv­ing in North Car­oli­na, Vir­ginia, and ulti­mate­ly set­tling in Philadel­phia.  Even­tu­al­ly becom­ing a pros­per­ous mer­chant in his own right, Hugh mar­ried Mary Kyle, the daugh­ter of his busi­ness part­ner, David Kyle.  (Mary was a cousin to Vir­ginia Kyle, who would lat­er mar­ry Robert Camp­bell in 1841.)  In 1859, Hugh and Mary left Philadel­phia amd moved to St. Louis into a house on the cor­ner of Wash­ing­ton Avenue and 16th Street, just steps away from Robert’s home.  Hugh and Mary had no chil­dren of their own, but they enjoyed a close rela­tion­ship with their nieces and nephews.  (This ear­li­er blog entry speaks vol­umes about Hugh and Mary’s love for Robert and Vir­gini­a’s chil­dren.)  In fact the chil­dren called Hugh and Mary’s home “the oth­er house.”  In St. Louis, the broth­ers con­tin­ued their busi­ness pur­suits togeth­er in the bur­geon­ing dry goods busi­ness in the back­drop of the Civ­il War.

Hugh was active in the elite social and polit­i­cal land­scape of the city, and he was appoint­ed by Pres­i­dent Lin­coln to adjust claims against the mil­i­tary in the West.  Through­out his life, he remit­ted mon­ey to his fam­i­ly in Ire­land to ensure their com­fort.  Hugh took care of the ten­ants on his fam­i­ly’s prop­er­ty by send­ing them cloth­ing, cash, flax seed and seed pota­toes.  When the pota­to crops failed dur­ing the Great Famine, he sent food.  Hugh was equal­ly gen­er­ous with Irish who emi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States.  Because of his char­i­ty and assis­tance to fel­low coun­try­men, it is no sur­prise he was greet­ed with a hero’s wel­come when he returned to Ire­land on four sep­a­rate occa­sions to visit.

Hugh died just six weeks after Robert, on Decem­ber 4, 1879.  His amaz­ing trip across the Atlantic pro­vid­ed the expe­ri­ences he recounts in the pro­ceed­ing pages.  The doc­u­men­t’s val­ue is twofold.  First, it pro­vides a detailed, first-per­son account of the Irish immi­gra­tion expe­ri­ence in the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry.  Sec­ond, this diary proves that Hugh was not only an elo­quent and intro­spec­tive young man, but he was indeed just as dar­ing and brave as Robert.  And if it were not for Hugh tak­ing these expe­ri­ences with unflap­pable tenac­i­ty and good humor, we might nev­er have heard the name Robert Campbell.