Mary Turck Clark

CLARK, Mary TURCK portrait

Mary Turck Clark. Photograph courtesy Liz Hickman.

It is a commonplace of genealogical and historical research that women and their stories are the “forgotten fifty percent.” In most North American societies it was, and in many places remains, the custom that upon marriage the woman took her husband’s surname. Some documents that recorded marriages, births and deaths might include a place for the woman’s surname, and sometimes the names of her parents, but this information was often left blank. After a generation or two, the woman’s name and those of her parents and grandparents would be completely forgotten, even by her closest descendants.

But Mary Turck Clark is an exception. We know quite a bit about Mary, (most of ) her siblings, her parents Peter Turck and Rachel Gay, and many of their ancestors. Her father, Peter Turck (or sometimes Turk), was born in Kinderhook, Columbia Co., New York. He was descended from a long line of Dutch-American settlers, going back to Paulus Jacobzen Turk, who was born in The Hague about 1635, and died in New York City in 1703.

Mary Turck’s mother, Rachel Gay Turck, was born in Coxsackie, Greene Co., New York. Rachel Gay came from mixed Anglo- and Dutch-American stock with deep roots in New York state.

Mary Turck Clark was the oldest of eight or nine siblings. Seven of the children came with their parents to Wisconsin in August, 1837, another was born later, in Mequon. Most of Mary’s siblings lived into adulthood and remained in the Washington and Ozaukee counties area or nearby.

Mary Turck was born in New York, possibly in Greene or Columbia county on, we believe, May 4, 1820. She was seventeen when she arrived in Wisconsin. Years later, Mary’s younger sister, Elizabeth Turck Maxon recalled

Our first school teacher was my sister Mary, aged seventeen. The term opened in the summer of 1839, and the school was the attic chamber of my father’s log house. The pupils numbered four in addition to my brothers and sisters. The first schoolhouse was built in 1843 in Washington [later Ozaukee] county. 

Elizabeth Turck Maxon, autobiographical letter to the Old Settler’s Club of Washington County, Wisconsin, February, 1907. Reprinted in Washington County Past and Present, Vol. I. (1912). Elizabeth Turck Maxon’s memory appears to be a bit off. In 1839, Mary Turck would have been about 19 years old, not 17. The “first schoolhouse” is presumably the Bonniwell School, on the nearby property of William Bonniwell. The date of its construction needs further research. In his book The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, George Bonniwell gives 1840 as the date of the log-construction Bonniwell School, rather than 1843.

Mary Turck married Jonathan M. Clark on March 15, 1840. The family grew and prospered. Their eldest child, Caroline was born about 1841. The youngest of their eight children, Jennie, was born about 1857. The 1850 federal census lists Jonathan as a farmer, owning land valued at $5,000.

Jonathan Clark died on September 20 or 29, 1857 of unknown causes. Mary outlived Jonathan and two of their eight children, dying in Milwaukee on June 28, 1881. She is buried next to Jonathan and their children Henry, Teresa and Josie at Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee.

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