Sarah's Chess Journal

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The History and The Culture of Chess

Hiram Kennicott

September 2006


 Hiram Kennicott was one of the participants in the 1st American Chess Congress of 1857

At that tournament he played Paul Morphy in only one (casual) game that's been preserved:

[Event "New York"]
[Site "New York"]
[Date "1857.??.??"]
[EventDate "1857.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[Result "0-1"]
[White "Kennicott"]
[Black "Morphy"]
[ECO "C44"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Bc5 5. Ng5 Nh6 
6. Nxf7 Nxf7 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7 8. Qh5+ g6 9. Qxc5 d6 
10. Qb5 Re8 11. O-O Rxe4 12. Qd5+ Re6 13. Bg5 Qe8 14. f4
Kg7 15. f5 gxf5 16. Qxf5 Rg6 17. Bf6+ Kg8 18. Qf4 Bh3 
19. Bg5 Qe3+ 20. Qxe3 dxe3 21. gxh3 Rxg5+ 22. Kh1 e2 
23. Re1 Nd4 24. Na3 Re8 0-1
(view game here)

It should be remembered that each of the contestants in the Chess Congress held an established reputation worthy enough to recommend him as one of the best America had produced. Hiram Kennicott was elected as of the four vice-presidents of the Congress. In the tournament itself, he lost in the first round to Benjamin Raphael. In their closely-contested 6 game mini-match, Kennicott won the 1st and 4th games; Raphael won the 2nd, 5th and 6th games. The 3rd game was drawn.

There's not a lot known about Hiram Kennicott himself.

He was born around 1810 in Albion, New York and had 13 brothers and sisters, many of whom became prominent lawyers or physicians. In the early 1830's his entire family moved piecemeal to Illinois. Hiram himself moved to Illinois in 1834. He settled in Vernon Township of Lake County (so named because the original settlers - Captain Daniel Wright and his family - came from Mt. Vernon) where he built a cabin on the Des Plaines River. Vernon Township was close to the towns of Libertyville and Half Day. Kennicott built a saw mill and grist mill by the Luther Bridge on the Des Plaines River at a place later known as Vincent's mills and opened stores eventually in both Libertyville and Half Day.

"The first stock of Goods [General store] ever opened in Lake County was opened at this place by Hiram Kennicott in June 1836, in a building which stood near the present site of the District School house."
[Historical and Statistical Sketches of Lake County, State of Illinois, by Elijah M. Haines, 1852.]

Hiram Kennicott had studied law before migrating west. Because of his training, he became the first Justice of the Peace in Lake County. In that capacity, he performed the first wedding in 1834, that of Capt. Wright's daughter, Carolina, to William Wigham, another pioneer of the county who owned a vast farm.

Kennicott's hard work paid off and by the late 1830's he owned  a huge 1000 acre, 200 cow dairy farm at Elmhurst and Willow Roads. He captured the Chicago market where he sent his milk and butter. One report says he lived in "Grand Style" with his mansion, named The Folly along with servants as well as tutors and  governesses for his children.
           The first courthouse
         destroyed by a fire in 1875                                                                                                                John Kennicott

By 1836 his parents and several younger siblings moved to Illinois from New York. Over the course of the years Hiram and his wife produced  a dozen children. His older brother, John, had already moved there at some point between 1832 and 1836. John started off as a teacher, earned his medical degree and became an itinerant doctor. He also became a noted horticulturalist. His Chicago home, The Grove*, originally a large cabin, noted "for its view, its rare and beautiful flowers and its sweeps of fruit trees and berry bushes," eventually evolved into a manor and then an environmental center called, the Grove National Historic Site.

William Henry Kennicott, another brother, became Chicago's first dentist in 1834 when he opened his office at Eagle's Tavern. The youngest brother, Jonathan, who, although he received a medical degree, practiced dentistry with him for a while before practicing medicine. Other brothers included James, an attorney; Levi, a doctor; Alonzo and Joseph, farmers.

When the financial crash and depression of 1837 hit, Hiram lost his farm. He moved his family to New Orleans (ironically, Paul Morphy was born that year in New Orleans) where he stayed until 1843. He returned to Illinois and acquired 960 acres. The subscription list to the Book of the First American Chess Congress gives Hiram Kennicott as being from Chicago (or perhaps from the Chicago Chess Club).   The 1860 census shows him living in Cook, Illinois.

                                                          Silver Cliff 1882

The 1880 census gives his residence as Ula, Custer county, Colorado. Actually, he  lived in Silver Cliff, a small mining town that sprung up between the Sangre de Cristo Mts. and the Wet Mts. in 1878 when silver was discovered there. In June of 1880,  5,040 people lived in Silver Cliff making it the state's third largest city - just behind Denver and Leadville. The 1880 census shows 14 persons in the Kennicott household with 70 year old Hiram as the patriarch.

One of the residents listed in the census was Frank Langdon Kennicott. There is a residence listed on the National Register of Historic Places called the Kennicott Cabin (or the Comstock Cabin) located at 63161 Hwy 69. It was designed and built by Frank Langdon Kennicott circa 1850-1874 and significant as an extant example of settlement architecture. The cabin was the dwelling on the Frank Kennicott Ranch,  a 1020 acre working cattle ranch in the Wet Mountain Valley.

*This is the original cabin that Dr. John Kennicott would replace with the manor called The Grove










The Kennicotts were the embodiment of the American spirit. They were hard-working, educated, entrepreneurs and pioneers. Wherever they went, they contributed to the community and to society in general.
Hiram Kennicott's name became a footnote in the history of American chess but his life left a footprint in everyplace he dwelled.

 Sarah's Chess Journal




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