The Campbell House story
Open the door to the Campbell House story as 18 year old Robert Campbell takes you on a tour of his family home.
Welcome to the Campbell House
Hello I’m Robert Campbell, I’m 18 years of age and it’s the year 1822. This is my home, in the townland of Aughalane, near the Plumb Bridge about 12 miles from Strabane, County Tyrone in Ireland.
In a few weeks time I’m leaving for America – how am I going to tell my dear mother? They’re all away to the market today, and I’m just having a quiet look around the house, for it might be years before I see it again. Come with me and I’ll tell you something about it.
Plaque and date stone
My father Hugh built this house in 1784 and he was so proud of it. He made sure to thatch it with the best quality flax and put in the latest style windows.
Even though he died when I was only six, I’ll always remember him saying to us ‘never forget who you are’.
He often told us that our ancestors came from Scotland to this part of the country well over a hundred years ago.
He had this plaque above the door specially carved to show that we were from the same family as the Duke of Argyll.
Now we’re in the hallway and there’s not much room for anything in here. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve banged my head on this low beam in the past few years – I keep forgetting that I’m now over 6 foot tall.
We can’t take the beam down because it’s holding up the huge chimney breast in the kitchen next door.
And there’s the spyhole in the wooden partition, that I used to peep through as a child when my father was talking to the neighbours in the kitchen.
This is the kitchen; it’s always warm in here for this is where all the cooking and baking is done. Everybody eats here too and in the harvest time we have a large boon of workers to feed in here.
We always need lots of extra help to pull the flax, cut the oats, and gather the potatoes.
Earlier in the year they’re cutting and drying the turf, which we use in all the fireplaces in our house.
We use the big chimney to smoke the large sides of bacon from the pigs we slaughter now and then.
And this is Nancy Divine’s place. She’s our young servant girl and helps my mother and sisters with all the work round the house.
She milks the cows, lights the fires, does the washing, gets the dinner ready, washes the dishes, and does the churning.
She’s very good too at spinning the flax for the weaver. I’ll miss her.
I tried to teach her to read but she said she had no call for it – you only needed the 'larning' if you were going to ‘Amerikay' as she called it.
Our Dining Room
Here’s our dining room, we don’t use it every day, usually just on Sundays and special days.
My mother is very proud of this room and her best crockery and cutlery. I can remember the parties at Christmas and New Year and the weddings of my half-sisters.
We always use it when my mother has our Buchanan relatives over from Omagh about 14 miles away.
As children we were usually only allowed in here to practise our writing, so we could lean on the big table.
Education was very important in our family, even for the girls.
We always have a fire in the parlour on Sundays and some evenings too especially if we’re expecting visitors. It always gets a special clean up when the minister is coming – it must have worked, for my half-sister married one.
Hamilton, the Landlord sometimes comes too – my family always makes sure to keep on good terms with him. What I’ll remember most, is our evenings by the fireside, with everyone sitting around, reading out loud from newspapers and books.
Then my mother insists we all discuss what we’ve heard. The girls usually have their sewing with them too, maybe a sampler, or embroidery, I think they call it.
Here’s my mother’s room. My father’s been dead for nearly 12 years now. She must have been about 40 years of age when he died. He left the home farm and the house to my two brothers, Hugh and James Alexander.
In his will he gave her this room and the parlour next door while she’s living, so she‘ll not have to leave the house when James marries. She says he also left her a certain amount of flax, potatoes and loads of turf from the farm every year.
So that’s the downstairs part, now we’ll go upstairs
This is the girls’ room. My father had 7 daughters, 5 with his first wife, Catherine Denny, and 2 with my mother, Elizabeth Buchanan.
There are 3 girls left here now, Margery, my half-sister, getting married at last in the summer, and Anne and Elizabeth have still to marry.
Anne is nearly 30 now and Elizabeth’s 23. It’s an expensive business, getting married, for they all expect to get their own fortune or dowry, so they can find a husband suitable for a family of our standing in the community.
This used to be my parents’ room – I was born here, like all my brothers and sisters. My father never got over the death of his oldest son John at the age of 21.
Just 3 years after this, he died too in 1810. He divided up his property between his other four sons.
My oldest brother Andrew got the Letterbrat house and farm about half a mile away – he’s just got married a couple of months ago – my mother hopes he’ll settle down now.
Hugh and James Alexander got this house and farm between them and James still lives here runs the farm.
Letter from Aughalane to America
Letter from Aughalane to America
Let me tell you about my brother Hugh. He’s in America now. First of all he went to Scotland a few years ago to become a doctor, but it didn’t work out. Then nearly four years ago, in 1818, he went to America and he sent us back a journal that he kept about his voyage across the Atlantic on the ship Phoenix.
It’s full of good advice about the journey. After he landed in New York, he travelled down to Richmond in Virginia and has a job in a store there. He sends us home long letters, and he’s always telling us how hard he’s working and how much money he has saved up.
That’s our Hugh – the serious one.
Here’s my wee room, I’m the youngest. I suppose I should count myself lucky that our father didn’t leave all his property to one son as some people do, but divided it up among the four of us.
There was nearly 500 acres altogether but much of it is rented from Hamilton, the landlord. It’s not much when it’s divided over four of us and some of the land is mountain. There’s a fair amount of debt to be paid off as well. I don’t even get mine until I’m 24, that’s six long years to wait.
Andrew’s living on his own farm now he’s married, Hugh’s in America, and me, I’ll end up working here for James Alexander and my mother, trying to pay the debt off the farm. The prices in the market these last few years aren’t good at all, at this rate we’ll never get back on our feet. Hugh says there’s great opportunities in America for a young man, but you have to work hard.
Emigrating is nothing new in our family. My brother’s already there and two of my uncles, my mother’s brothers, Thomas and Alexander Buchanan went to Pennsylvania years ago when she was young.
Thomas got on very well and became a General and bought an estate somewhere in Pennsylvania. If I do half as well when I go there, I’ll be very well pleased.
Now we’ll head back across the landing and down the stairs to the front door. You can see that the landing’s nearly empty now, but when I was younger, there were so many of us in the house that there were a couple of beds here too.
The big chimney from the kitchen fire below helps to keep us warm.
Be careful on the stairs!
Glenelly River, County Tyrone
Now it’s time to say goodbye. Below us among the trees is the Glenelly River, it’s full of salmon and trout.
I can see the thatched cottages of our neighbours, some of them are our tenants. By the summer their little fields will be green with potatoes and some will be yellow with corn.
It’s a lovely sight when the flax crop flowers at the end of July and the fields turn blue. Then they’ll harvest it all, and pay their rents on time, if it’s a good year. And next year it’ll start all over again.
But by that time I’ll be away in America...
...but I will write often, I promise.
Robert in America
Robert Campbell did emigrate to the United States in 1822, as he planned, and after two years he had travelled on to St Louis, Missouri. He then became a beaver trapper and trader in the Rocky Mountains and built the first Fort Laramie in 1833.
By 1836, beaver hats were no longer popular and Robert settled down as a storekeeper in St. Louis, supplying other trappers and pioneer settlers as they set out on the Oregon Trail.
He prospered and later became a property owner, bank president, hotel owner, and Indian Commissioner.
His home in St Louis, Missouri which he bought in 1854 is now the Campbell House Museum. Image copyright: The Trustees of the Campbell House Museum
For more information view our Collections Highlight Tour: The Campbell Story and read about Robert Campbell and the Plains Indians.