James Fergus moved to Moline with relative ease that spring of 1844, for he had few material possessions—a chest of fine tools, his personal belongings, some town lots in Sabula "and a good deal of general knowledge." [James Fergus to brother in Scotland (Robert of Andrew), February 20, 1876, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.] Employed by Sears as a millwright that first year, Fergus soon demonstrated his worth and became a partner in the foundry. By November 1847, they invited Nathan B. Buford to join the company, and the three became equals in the Moline Foundry. Fergus considered himself to be doing well and on the way to prosperity. [Agreement between Sears, Buford and Fergus found in Box 13 F. 15, FP, UM. Porter Sargent to James Fergus, December 22, 1847, Box 9 F. 50, FP, UM.]


         Young Fergus remained a confirmed bachelor during these years of training, travel and hard labor. Much too busy working, studying and saving money, he had neither time nor funds to court, and avoided social activities. For example, while visiting Buffalo, some of his Scottish friends suggested he call on a family which included three "very estimable young ladies with a view to matrimony. To avoid this Mr. Fergus told his friends that would be impossible as he already had a squaw out West!" [Fergus sketch, MHSL.]


         This attitude underwent a sudden and drastic change, however, when he met Pamelia Dillin, "A very charming young woman of Scotch descent," at the George Stephens home in Moline during the 1844 Christmas season. Pamelia, born to William and Mahalah Dillin in Watertown, New York, June 22, 1824, had only recently moved to adjoining Henry County, Illinois. "The gentle dignified young girl charmed him at once and their friendship ripened into love." They were married March 16, 1845, just three months after first meeting. Typical of the ambitious Scot, "there was no honeymoon. The next morning found James Fergus busy in his foundry," and the pair settled into the routine of daily life in the small river town of about 350 people. [Ibid. Also, Sketch by Mrs. Hazel (Fergus) Bubar of Pamelia Dillin's family, n.d., Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM.  Johnathan Huntoon to James Fergus, February 24, 1875, Box 6 F. 45, FP, UM.]


         Within five years the union produced two daughters and a son, three-fourths of their four children. Mary Agnes, born April 11, 1846, and Francis Luella, arriving November 23, 1848, and Andrew, July 3, 1850, brought increased pleasure and responsibility to the young businessman. [See family tree in appendix. Supplied by Mrs. Hazel (Fergus) Bubar and her son Andrew. Mrs. Bubar is the daughter-in-law of James Fergus; Andrew is his grandson.]


         Consequently, these became busy years and James, doubling his normally strenuous efforts, immersed himself in the foundry, staying in the plant "late and early working on plans to improve his products. His wife complained that he was not giving attention enough to his home and children." [Fergus Sketch, MHSL] The Business prospered:


We soon had 40 workmen and strong opposition. We made everything. I kept our own books double entry, superintended everything over 16 [hours] a day and ate little. . . . This business, working in iron was new to me. Pattern making, moulding, finishing, black smithing had all to be learned. [James Fergus to brother in Scotland, February 20, 1876, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         D. B. Sears sold his interest to Buford of Rock Island, to which they transferred the foundry. By this time Fergus' health had deteriorated due to excessive work: ". . . too close attention to the foundry business had brought on indigestion and nervous complaints that threatened me with softening of the brain." In addition, he was becoming "quite bald and growing gray." [James Fergus to Dr. E. A. Wood, December 25, 1896, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. James Fergus to father, July 17, 1853, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM. James Fergus to N. Rice, August 15, 1889, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. The exact nature of his illness is unknown. However, the symptoms suggest an ulcer and possibly severe emotional tension, necessitating a change of employment.]


         Failing health added to increasing friction with Buford over business policy led Fergus, late in 1852, to sell his interest. Buford purchased the share and James emerged from the foundry business with approximately $9000 after eight years of overpowering effort. [N. B. Buford to James Fergus, December 14, 1852, Box 1 F. 62, FP, UM. James Fergus to N. B. Buford, December 29, 1852, Box 1 F. 62, FP, UM. D. B. Sears to James Fergus, February 9, 1853, Box 9 F. 56, FP, UM.]


         After selling the foundry, Fergus cast about for new business potential. By early March 1853 he bought half interest in the paper mill of L. W. Wheelock for $6250. In addition, Fergus assumed half of Wheelock's $4000 debt to N. B. Buford and C. N. Smedly. [Agreement between L. W. Wheelock and James Fergus, March 4, 1853, Box 13 F. 15, FP, UM.]


         Fergus soon discovered, however, that he could not remain in this occupation, for "the doctors told me . . . to keep away from business if I did not want to die or go insane. So wealth is not always happiness." Therefore, armed with three letters of recommendation, he left in mid-July 1853 for a tour of eastern mills and foundries. [James Fergus to Wilbur F. Sanders, about 1892, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. Fergus carried recommendations from: N. B. Buford, Box 1 F. 62; R. Graham, Box 5 F. 13; and William A. Nourse, Box 8 F. 50, all FP, UM.] James observed businesses in Chicago, New York, Boston, Springfield, New Haven, Conn., Patterson, N.J., and Lawrence; he toured the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. [James to Pamelia Fergus, letters of July 12, 1853, Chicago; July 22, New York; July 26, Boston; August 31, New York; August 16, Springfield, Mass. All in Box 17 F. 15, FP, UM.] During the six-week trip he wrote often and urged Pamelia to do the same. His greatest anxiety was about the children, though he informed her where his legal papers had been stored in case of an emergency. Unable to find a business or location that attracted him, Fergus returned to Moline early in August and sold his interest in the paper mill for approximately $9000. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, July 1853, Box 21 F. 3, FP, UM. James Fergus to person unknown, January 30, 1854, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. Fergus indicated to this person he would take $8888.50 for his interest.] By January 1854 he had moved his family to St. Anthony Falls, Minnesota Territory, a Mississippi River village about 300 miles above Moline. [James Fergus to father, January 6, 1854, Box 11, F. 55, FP, UM.]


         Before casting his lot with the Minnesota frontier, Fergus refused several offers of business partnership and declined suggestions as to where he might locate. [Before choosing Minnesota, Fergus refused several business offers, including: W. C. Bradford, Memphis, Tenn., who urged Fergus to join his foundry (Bradford to Fergus, February 2, 1854, Box 1 F. 48, FP, UM); Robert T. Millis offered James his Muscatine foundry for $6,500 (Millis to Fergus, September 21, 1854, Box 6 F. 45, FP, UM); Edward Hoch urged him to settle in Iowa (Hoch to Fergus, January 15, 1854, Box 6 F. 45, FP, UM); and Porter Sargent wanted him to return to Savanna, Illinois (Sargent to Fergus, January 21 and 14, 1853, and June 24, 1861, Box 9 F. 32, FP, UM).] Distant frontiers beckoned. In fact, he and friend George Stephens thought of moving to California but did not go; instead James transferred his family to the head of navigation on the Mississippi River. [Thomas Roseborough to James Fergus, February 24, 1854, Box 9 F. 50, FP, UM.]


         Fergus' move up the Mississippi marked the end of a very successful period of his life. It had been a time of training, experience and gaining self confidence, all spiced with travel. His citizenship papers tucked safely in a trunk, he spoke with more authority. And he did speak, for during his Moline days he developed more liberal beliefs, mainly because of the break from strict Presbyterian dogma, a process begun in Scotland, nurtured in Quaker settlements, and broadened by French Canadian Catholics, whom his father viewed as the personification of evil.


         Reading, Bible study and questioning his elders convinced Fergus that he could not accept the tenets of Christianity or any other religion as practiced. He came to feel that man needed no belief save that of "trying to do good to others." Like Thomas Paine, he considered this to be man's highest duty and he found it "impossible for me [any] longer to adhere to the beliefs of my fathers." Instead, he became a confirmed agnostic, turning to science, nature and rational thinking. [James Fergus to William Fergus, August 28, 1891, Box 3 F. 32, FP, UM.]


         During the Moline years Fergus nurtured his liberal attitude by subscribing to and reading "Free Thought magazines and papers and joining a debating society that held meetings once a week in the town hall." [Fergus Sketch, MHSL.] He maintained this pattern on through the years, strengthening, refining and publicly broadcasting it, especially when unable to do physical work later in life.


         Of course, Fergus' 1844 move to Moline produced more than just business prosperity and altered religious beliefs. James met and married Pamelia Dillin, who remained his life-long companion and confidant. The union endured for over forty years and begat four children, three of whom—Agnes, Luella and Andrew—were born in Moline. Lillie did not arrive until December 28, 1857, after they had settled in Little Falls. Thus, the Fergus family moved up river to sparsely-settled Minnesota Territory. Surrounded by a family and equipped with new beliefs and adequate finances, James set his face to the north, ready to confront the future. He soon, however, found himself caught in the inextricable grip of a nation-wide financial depression. Fergus shared the fate of countless frontier businessmen.

Family Group Sheet


Name:                     James FERGUS, GGG Grandfather


Birth:                      8 OCT 1813             Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     25 JUN 1902            Armells, Fergus, MT Age: 88

Occupation:              Rancher, Foundries, Freethinker

Anst File#:               154P-J2T

Father:                     Andrew FERGUS (1780-1862)

Mother:                   Agnes BULLOCH (1780-1830)

Marriage:                 16 MAR 1845          Moline, Rock Island, IL


Spouse:                   Pamelia DILLIN, GGG Grandmother


Birth:                      22 JUN 1824            Pamelia Township, Jefferson, NY

Death:                     6 OCT 1887             Helena, Lewis & Clark, MT Age: 63

Anst File#:               154P-5F7

Father:                     William Thomas DILLIN (1798-1845)

Mother:                   Mahala Jane BELLOWS Mahalah (1804-1870)




1 F:                        Mary Agnes FERGUS, GGG Aunt

Birth:                      11 APR 1846           Moline, Rock Island, IL

Death:                     29 JAN 1920            Hilger, Fergus, MT Age: 73

Anst File#:               154P-570

Spouse:                   Robert Stavely HAMILTON

Marriage:                 23 MAR 1864          Rock Island, IL


2 F:                        Frances Luella FERGUS Luella, GG Grandmother

Birth:                      23 NOV 1848           Moline, Rock Island, IL

Death:                     26 FEB 1931            Helena, Lewis & Clark, MT Age: 82

Anst File#:               154P-JL5

Spouse:                   Stephen Collins GILPATRICK, GG Grandfather

Marriage:                 1 JAN 1867              Prickly Pear Valley, Helena, Lewis & Clark, MT


3 M:                       Andrew FERGUS, GGG Uncle

Birth:                      2 JUL 1850              Moline, Rock Island, IL

Death:                     18 JUL 1928            Lewistown, Fergus, MT Age: 78

Anst File#:               154P-JR6

Spouse:                   Hazel AKELEY

Marriage:                 1 AUG 1909             Steilacoom, Pierce, WA


4 F:                        Lillie B. FERGUS, GGG Aunt

Birth:                      28 DEC 1857           Little Falls, Morrison, MN

Death:                     6 FEB 1930              Forest Grove, Washington, OR Age: 72

Anst File#:               154P-JQ0

Spouse:                   Frank H. MAURY

Marriage:                 2 SEP 1876              Helena, Lewis & Clark, MT

Spouse:                   Scott SPARKS

Marriage:                 1919                       Forest Grove, Dilly, OR


Family Group Sheet added in 2005 by James R. Dangel.