JMC: Man of Mystery

NOTE: this 2016 post has been re-posted and updated on November 28, 2020, as Happy 208th Birthday, Jonathan! Please click the link to read the updated version. There are many corrections and additions to the original post that you don’t want to miss.

CLARK, Jonathan M portrait

Jonathan M. Clark. Photograph courtesy Liz Hickman.

There he is. Jonathan M. Clark, builder and first owner of the handsome stone home that is now the  Jonathan Clark House Museum in Mequon, Wisconsin. He was probably born in Vermont, possibly on November 28, 1812, and he died in September, 1857. Before coming to Mequon, he served in the United States Army at Fort Howard from 1833 to 1836. He married Mary Turck, eldest child of Mequon pioneer Peter Turck, on March 15, 1840. They had a large family. We even have a photograph of JMC as an adult. In some ways, we know quite a bit about Jonathan M. Clark.

But in many important ways we know very little about Jonathan. Where, exactly, was he born and when? Who were his parents? Did he have siblings? What did he do for the first two decades of his life? What did he do during the four years between his discharge from the army in 1836 until his appearance on the earliest Mequon records in 1840? What kind of dwelling did he and his family live in before the 1848 Clark House was completed? We haven’t found evidence to answer these—and many other—questions yet.

And then there are questions, major and minor, for which we have vague or conflicting evidence. If he was born in Vermont, why did he jump through all the bureaucratic hoops to become an American citizen (again?) in 1855? How did he really spell his middle name? Were he and Mary wed in Mequon or Milwaukee? Did he and Mary have one son and seven or eight (or nine?) daughters? What kind of farm did the Clarks have? Was it successful? Did JMC die on September 20 or 29, 1857? Where did he die, and from what cause? What happened to Mary and the children? These questions—with their incomplete or conflicting answers—open windows onto some aspects of American and local history that I hope you will find interesting.