1840 Election Updates

The previous post on the first election in old Washington County relied heavily on the 1881 History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties. It’s a useful book, and it’s possible that the  author(s) or editor(s) that prepared it for publication spent some time with the historical documents that still existed at that time, or at least talked to some of the older settlers who had personal memories of the events. Still, I like to have primary or more contemporary secondary sources whenever available, so I went looking and found a few. In the process, I’ve cleared up some dates and details surrounding the first election and the early organization of the county.

For authoritative information on the legal formation of the county and early elections, let me recommend Laws of the Territory of Wisconsin: Passed at Madison by the Legislative Assembly. At its August Session, 1840, and its Annual Session, 1840-’41. With an Appendix, “published by authority” at Madison, W. T. [Wisconsin Territory] in 1841. The copy belonging to the Archives Division of the Wisconsin Historical Society can be found online as a free pdf.  Here are a few relevant items from that source:

No. 40. An Act to organise the County of Washington, and for other purposes.

Sec. 1. That the county of Washington shall be organised for county purposes from and after the fourth Monday of September next [i.e. as of September 22, 1840] […]

Sec. 2. The first election for county officers in said county of Washington, shall be held on the second Monday of October next [i.e. October 12, 1840], at the house of Taylor Heavilon, in said county in the manner now provided for holding general elections […]

Section 6 repeals any earlier acts that established or located the county seat. The following section provides for establishing the county seat by vote of the qualified electors, namely:

Sec. 7. […] every white male inhabitant, who, at the time of the passage of this act, was a resident of the county, and is of the age of twenty-one years, shall be entitled to cast his vote for such place or point as he may choose, for the seat of justice.

Of course, Wisconsin Territory was not yet a state and the residents were not eligible to vote for presidential electors. Still, compared to modern voter regulations, the qualifications for voting were pretty easy to meet, at least if you were white, male and over the age of 21.

After additional sections devoted to adjusting the boundaries of Washington, Calumet and Brown counties (as discussed in this earlier post), the Act concludes with:

Sec. 17. This act to take effect and be in force on and after the first day of September, 1840. Approved, August 13th, 1840.

As was customary at the time, the contents of the act were published in the local newspapers, including the first page of the Milwaukee Sentinel dated Tuesday, September 14, 1840.

Six months later, the Territorial Legislature felt it necessary to revisit the issue of where county business was to be held, and passed this brief Act:

No. 41. An Act relating to the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Washington.

Sec. 1. That the county commissioners of Washington county may hold their sessions at the house of William T. Bonniwell in said county, any law of this territory to the contrary notwithstanding.

Sec. 2. This act shall take effect from and after its passage. Approved, February 19th, 1841.

The upcoming 1840 election and voting locations were announced in the Milwaukee papers in September, 1840, including identical announcements on the first pages of the September 9, 1840 issue of the Milwaukee Sentinel and the September 26, 1840 issue of the Milwaukee Advertiser. The notices, published “by order of the board, L. Blossom, Jr. Clerk” begin:


NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN, that the Board of County Commissioners of Milwaukee county, at their last April session, ordered the Polls of Election in the several towns, to be opened at the following places, and the following named persons were appointed judges of any election for civil officers ordered to be held in their respective precincts, viz: […]

After listing all the other Milwaukee County precincts, the announcement concludes:

Washington—Town and County. At the house of Taylor Havilon and Wm. Worth, Taylor Havilon and John Western, were appointed Judges of Election of said precinct.

Keen-eyed readers will note that the surname of election judge Taylor H. is spelled differently in different sources. These 1840 newspaper announcements give Havilon. The  1881 county history uses Heavilon, and the June 1, 1840 federal census, enumerated by Peter Turck, lists him as Tailor Heviland. All five of his U. S. land patents in Washington County (1840, 1840, 1843, 1843, 1844) record his name as Taylor Heavilon.

1840 was a busy year for the residents of the newly independent Washington County, and for Jonathan and Mary Clark. More to come…




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