Alexander McGregor

Our Town Founder, Alexander MacGregor


The Clan MacGregor was born of royal Scottish decent.  The original home of the Clan MacGregor was in an historic and picturesque part of Scotland near Glasgow, Stirling and Loch Lomond.  This clan claims descent from Griogar, third son of King Alpin, who ascended the Celtic Scottish Throne about 787 A. D.  They were an untamable and war-like tribe.  Trouble was always with them.

About 1200 A. D., Alexander II found his throne threatened by another clan, so he gathered his army, fought the battle and won, and then the leaders and chiefs were rewarded by grants of land which included lands of the rival clans.  Of course, this led to more trouble, which followed them through the centuries of getting their land taken away, they fought back to get it, and finally they fell under the bans of King and Parliament.

In 1563, an Act of Forfeiture was passed in Parliament against the Chief of the Clan MacGregor.  Other Acts were passed against the unfortunate clan, and in 1603 they were commanded to change their name under pain of death.  They were prohibited from carrying arms, and no more than four were permitted to meet together.  This Act led to the adoption of various names, such as Cunningham, Dougall, Gordon, Drummond, Graham, Grant, Murray, Ramsay, Stewart, and others, but they were all, if in secret, members of the Clan MacGregor.

Other severe enactments followed, yet the MacGregors remained loyal to the Stuart dynasty.  When Charles II came to the throne, one of the first Acts of his first Parliament was to repeal the Acts of 1633 against the Clan MacGregor.  The MacGregors were not allowed for long the benefits of this Act of Repeal, for in 1693, under William of Orange, the original Act was put back in force, and was in effect until as late as 1775.

Then, in that memorable year 1775, Parliament passed a bill to restore the name, rights, and immunities of the Clan MacGregor with a single dissenting vote.  Thereupon, a gathering of the clan was called and 856 clansmen acknowledged John Murray, afterwards Sir John MacGregor, as the true and proper chieftain of Clan Alpin or MacGregor.  It is no wonder that so many immigrated to the new colonies across the Atlantic.  Many settled in New Jersey, New York, and the Carolinas.


John MacGregor, born in 1731, was in persecution for 44 years in Scotland until 1775; he married Anne Wood in 1750.  John and Anne had seven children, and three of their sons – William, James, John -- left Scotland to come to the newly-formed republic, the United States of America, to try their fortunes and they landed in 1785 in New York City.  Some time later, their youngest brother Alexander followed them and joined John in the mercantile business in the city.  These Scots, and especially Clan MacGregor, were in favor of these colonies that had thrown off the yoke of England and were happy to get away from England’s rule and persecution after 200 years.

These four young men were all in their 20s and eager for adventure.  William and James did not like city life, and found country so much like the hills of their native Scotland, that they invested in a tract of land comprising about 2,000 acres around Saratoga (Mt. McGregor), New York.  William and James married sisters Charlotte and Elizabeth, respectively.  These families were very close, and both had a large number of children.  From Elizabeth and James MacGregor, Sr., our town’s founder, Alexander MacGregor, was born May 23, 1804 in Wilson Junction, New York, on his father’s farm.


At about age 28 years old, Alexander moved out on his own westward in 1832 to the village which had sprung up about Fort Dearborn, called Chicago, the same year the Black Hawk War had ended. Alexander was one of the young men drawn to this place, and he, in company with Richard B. Allen, set out on their adventurous journey in 1832 (Note:  The U. S. government didn’t open up settlement in the West until 1833).  Alexander’s friend, Thomas T. Sherwood, a noted hotel proprietor, hence well acquainted with the westward movement and speculations ensuring from it.  The advice Sherman gave is contained in a most-interesting letter found in an old scrapbook made by Mrs. Alexander (Ann) MacGregor, which may be examined during a visit to the McGregor Historical Museum.  In 1830 Chicago was laid out with population was fewer than 100 persons; in 1833 Chicago, it was incorporated with a population of 550; and for the next ten years its growth was phenomenal.

Alexander and his partners, possibly with financier Charles Butler, formed “Land Company No. 1”, which bought a large tract of land from the government to divide into lots for speculation.  Very little is known about this company, and there is no mention of it in the histories of Chicago or Cook County, and no mention of Alexander MacGregor.  Eloise MacGregor, granddaughter of Alexander MacGregor much later writes, “The part my grandfather had of the Land Company No. 1 was the portion where later stood the building called the Wigwam where Abraham Lincoln was nominated for president of the United States and which still later was replaced by the hotel called the Tremont House.  The streets platted by his company were named for members of the Land Company, but no name except Butler St. has survived.  I had a map of about that period but do not know where it is now.”

On this Land Company No. 1 tract was a stone quarry of a peculiar composition which proved an asset to the land company, for they sold stone for the foundations of the first buildings being put up in Chicago.  Alexander saw the big need of lumber and thought is more profitable than stone, so he sold his share of this quarry for $300 and invested that money in a tract of timber.  This tract was conveniently positioned along the banks of the Calumet River, flowing in the southern end of Lake Michigan.  Alexander employed a large number of men and ox teams, built a log house and barn, cut timber and make it into rafts, and then floated it all up the lake shore to Chicago for needed buildings.  Alexander’s lumber was used for the first wharves in Chicago, so his investment proved to be a good one.

Against good advice not to leave Chicago, Alexander got the westward movement bug again in 1834.  He only made it 30 miles west when another opportunity came up to invest along side John Warne, a new acquaintance and later long-time friend, into the newly-opened government lands near what is today the city of Aurora.  Alexander’s new claim was very large at 2 ½ miles east and west, and then 1 ½ miles north and south, being 2,400 acres all in dense timber land.  He worked hard and built good log buildings for her workmen and stock, and he enclosed the whole tract with a five-rail fence.  And when he was done with all of the improvements, Alexander offered the lad for sale in 160-acre tracts at $150 to $200 each.  His friend Warne helped Alexander survey the tracts, and even bought a number of the quarter sections himself.  Warne said of Alexander, “He was always very honorable in all of his dealings.”


But Alexander didn’t have the western fever out of his system yet, so he sold his latest investment and decided he would head toward the Mississippi River to the “port of entry” for the northern part of the Iowa country, in what was called the “Minnesota Territory”, specifically the old French town of Prairie du Chien.  Alexander passed up Galena and Dubuque, so we know mining didn’t interest him.  As soon as he arrived in 1835 in Prairie du Chien, where he lived for 12 years and in its vicinity for the remainder of his life, Alexander became active in the affairs of the village.  He had gained much experience, was well thought of, and had connected with some of the influential men of the time, so he felt he had much to share toward the development of Prairie du Chien.

When the fever was high for land speculation around the historic Indian rendezvous area in 1836 and 1836, locals and outsiders tried to enrich themselves, by any means, legal or illegal, to attract settlers and their money into real estate deals.  Of course, Alexander dealt fairly and squarely with the settlers, as evidenced in some notebooks and diaries found at the McGregor Historical Museum, and some of his dealings were with well-known early French families.  Two of these were men were James M. Lockwood and Thomas B. Burnett., both lawyers who owned land in Iowa directly across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien., and with whom Alexander formed business relationships.

In 1836, a group of immigrants wanted to cross the river at Prairie du Chien, so they procured a flat boat from Ft. Crawford, and Alexander was involved in helping to prepare the boat for the crossing.  It was at that time that he realized the need for a ferry between Prairie du Chien and McGregor, Iowa.  It was in 1837 through his association with Lockwood and Burnett that Alexander was able to buy part of Basil Giard’s Spanish Claim No. 1, initially naming it “The Ferry Property”, and later platting the village of MacGregor and calling it “MacGregor’s Landing”.

Giard died in 1817, leaving as heirs his two daughters and a granddaughter, who all three married French residents of Prairie du Chien:  daughter Mary married Tunis Bell; daughter Lizette, Francis Chenevert, and granddaughter Felicite, Paul Dussaume.  All of Giard’s heirs deeded their shares to Lockwood and Burnett, either individually or in partnership as late as 1837.  Alexander then bought into part of Burnett’s interest, and the two retained in partnership 160 acres in the southeast corner of the grant called The Ferry Property.  These two men continued to buy up land to protect their ferry from competition, naming it Burnett’s Hollow, today known as Horn’s Hollow, and “South MacGregor” by the local folks who live in Horn’s Hollow.

James King, the first ferryman, settled in McGregor in 1841, and occupying one of the cabins on the Iowa west side, he and had charge of the first ferry.  He also bought some government land south of The Ferry Property.  King lived to be 62 years old, and his 1872 obituary in the North Iowa Ties called him “McGregor’s oldest citizen and first white occupant of the ground on which the city was built . . . He was a quiet, much esteemed citizen and a favorite pioneer.”

Solomon Wadsworth came to work for Alexander in 1849, and took up a small claim near the Pictured Rocks ravine (below, slightly north of the main Pike’s Peak observation decks) and worked on the ferry MacGregor established from the mouth of the Wisconsin River to the landing on the Iowa west side. Still later Wadsworth took up a claim on the Basil Giard tract and he built the first home in what became North McGregor.

Samuel B. Olmsted purchased a tract of government land in about 1842, which adjoined Alexander’s land on the south side.  In addition to being one of Alexander’s first ferrymen, he also explored for him the land along both sides of the river to locate ideal locations for ferry and road expansions to guide pioneers westward deeper into Iowa and points beyond.  In 1848, the two men proposed:  1) a road on the west side to eight miles below the Coulee de Sioux; 2) also one on the east side of the Mississippi; and, 3) one on the south bank of the Wisconsin for a distance of about five miles.  Note, the Coulee de Sioux is today’s Main Street in McGregor heading up the street from the riverfront, turning right at 4th Street at the library, continuing left on Kinney Street, right on Center Street, and left on up the to the Pleasant Grove Cemetery out to Business Highway 18 to Giard (about 8 miles below Coulee de Sioux).

In 1843, Alexander married Ann Gardner and they settled in the frontier village and military post of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Four years later in 1847, they moved to MacGregor’s Landing and occupied a log cabin at the foot of Main Street built by Alexander in 1840. Later Alexander built a brick home at the end of Main Street that Ann MacGregor lived in up until she died in 1890; she was a McGregor resident for 43 years.  Sadly, this historic home was razed in 1930 – 1931 to accommodate the new highway heading north to Marquette (c. 1920 changed name from North McGregor).

Alexander and Ann MacGregor had four sons:  1) Chester, who died as an infant; 2) Gregor, born in 1845; 3) Gardner, born 1848 after their move to MacGregor’s Landing; and, 4) an infant son in 1850, who died at childbirth.  Alexander MacGregor died at the age of 54 on December 12, 1858.  He and his last infant were buried in their family cemetery atop the bluff behind Alexander’s Main Street home (see Property No. 1 on this tour), which today is part of McGregor Heights.  In 1859 Alexander’s legal feud with James MacGregor Jr. was settled in court by a judge.  Ann MacGregor was unhappy with the outcome because the Supreme Court ruled and gave Alexander’s brother James ownership of the plot of land on which their hilltop family cemetery rested.  So Ann moved her husband’s and infant son’s bodies to the family plot in the Evergreen Cemetery in Prairie du Chien, where all six Alexander MacGregor family members rest at peace today.