The Year Was 1871

As the year opened in Europe, the city of Paris was under siege and defeat was approaching for the French in the Franco-Prussian War. The siege ended January 28, ten days after the formation of the German Empire, with the King of Prussia becoming the first German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I. The German government later that year became embroiled in a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in what was known as Kulturkampf.

In the United States, U.S. Grant was President, and was in fact re-elected in November. In April, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. Formed in 1866, in the wake of the Civil War, the Klan had been terrorizing blacks, carpetbaggers (Northerners who went south during Reconstruction, typically for personal gain), and scalawags (Southerners who supported Reconstruction efforts). The legislation did not expand on civil rights, but rather allowed the government more power to act against these types of terrorist organizations.
In New York City, the reign of William Marcy Tweed was ending as the “Boss” of New York’s Tammany Hall political machine. As Commissioner of Public Works for the city, he and his cronies fleeced the city and controlled city contracts.  Exposed by the newspapers, and targeted by Thomas Nast, Tweed was arrested in New York on October 27.Chicago panoramic map

Following a Midwest summer drought and a September in which less than an inch of rain fell, dry southwest winds blew into the area with temperatures for the first week in October in Chicago ranging for the most part in the 70s and 80s. These dry conditions made the city of Chicago, a city built largely of wood, ripe for disaster. The first week had already seen many serious fires, and on Sunday, October 8, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 began in the barn behind Patrick O’Leary’s home at 137 (now 558 West) De Koven Street. The fire burned an area four and three-quarter miles long and around a mile wide, including the city’s central business district and nearly 100,000 people were let homeless.

The Chicago fire was actually one of four fires that were sparked that night near Lake Michigan. Fires in Peshtigo, Wisconsin; Holland, Michigan; and Manistee, Michigan, also flared and spread quickly due to high winds. It is estimated that the Peshtigo fire killed as many as 2,500 people ranking it as the deadliest fire in U.S. history.

10 thoughts on “The Year Was 1871

  1. Hi Juliana,
    I just looked at the link to the Ku Klux Klan Act and was wondering if there is any info out there about what happened to Japenese women who married American men befor, during and after WWII who lived in the South.
    My in laws went through a lot because of the Jim Crow Laws in South Carolina and in Mississippi in the 1950’s. They married in S.C. but found out that Miss. would not accept that marriage and they had to get remarried and on top
    of that they had to adopt their own infant son all because of the Jim Crow Laws!
    Thanks, Beth

  2. My Greatgrandfather,Patrick Hogan, died family history says, as the result of the Manistee MI. fire in 1871. I have had no success in finding anything definite on his death. Does anybody know if the records exist or were they burned too???

  3. Janet Corcillo
    Have you sent to the county for a death record? Also, the Michigan State Library has a large collection of News Papers on microfilm.

  4. Regarding the Great Chicago Fire and the other fires occuring the same night in the Great Lakes area…I saw a documentary years ago in which scientists speculated that a meteorite entered the earth’s atmosphere and shattered, creating fireballs that landed in various parts of the Great Lakes area, causing horrific fires in that region that night. It’s a pretty fascinating theory. If you go to the Michigan County Histories site and do a proximity search on the words fire and 1871, you can find lots of records containing accounts of survivors of those horrible natural disasters.

  5. Very Interesting!
    This got me to thinking that may be it was the drought that caused my Great-Grandfather Richard Leo HYNES, to leave a farm valued at $3,200 in 1870 in Talkington, Sangamon, Illinois, to end up in Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie, Iowa, as a laborer, never owning any property, becoming a widower and having to foster our his 5 living children in 1876.

  6. I was named after my Grandmother, who born in 1863, lived in Pennsylvania and was Pennsylvania Dutch. I had often wondered where the Kaiser in her name/my orginated. Now I see that the first German leader was Kaiser . So I can surmise from that that she was named after him. Correct???

  7. Regarding the Great Chicago Fire of 1871: My ancestor was a carpenter and builder of houses in Otsego County,NY, and a very short mention of him in his local paper in 1872 stated that he had just returned from Chicago, but did not mentiond why he had been there. There were no relatives there. I have always assumed that perhaps he had been in Chicago helping to rebuild. How accurate do you suppose that assumption is?

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