Early Election Returns!

Really early returns, from Mequon’s first election in 1840.

In an earlier post, I outlined some of the key moments in the settlement and changing political boundaries of early Washington/Ozaukee county. Originally attached to Milwaukee County for all civil and judicial matters, old Washington County got it’s civil independence by act of the Territorial Legislature on February 19, 1840. And sometime later that year the first election to chose county officers was held at the Mequon home of Taylor Heavilon.

The 1840 judges of election were Jonathan M. Clark, Levi Ostrander and Taylor Heavilon. The clerks were Benjamin Bettys and E. N. Danforth. The first county officers elected were:

  • County Commissioners: Reuben Wells, Levi Ostrander and Barton Salisbury
  • Register of Deeds: Taylor Heavilon
  • Treasurer: George Bonniwell
  • Collector: V. R. Pettis
  • Assessor: Peter Turck and William T. Burdick
  • Coroner: Peter Turck
  • Constable: T. J. Holmes

The first county assessor and coroner was Mary Turck Clark’s father Peter Turck, by all accounts a man of many passions and enthusiasms. Since his arrival in Wisconsin in August, 1837 he farmed, built and operated the area’s first sawmill, and vigorously preached the gospel of full-immersion baptism. In July, 1840, Peter Turck served as the Assistant Marshal for the decennial federal census, collecting census information for all of Washington County. (His census data was officially certified by neighbor Barton Salisbury and son-in-law Jonathan M. Clark.) In later years Turck would serve the community as a lawyer, real estate agent and territorial legislator.

A total of thirty-four men voted in that first county election, comprising most, if not all, the eligible voters in the county. They were (alphabetical order):

John Armstrong

B.[Benjamin] Bettys

Charles Bonniwell

G. [George] Bonniwell

H. [Henry] V. Bonniwell

W. [William] T. Bonniwell

Nelson Bounst

Datus Cowan

E. N. Danforth

Isham Day

Samuel Drake

J. R. Eastman

James  Fox

T. Gardinier

T. [Taylor] Heavilon

C. Higgins

Jesse Hubbard

George Manley

S. McEvony

J. McMelon

Levi Ostrander

V. R. Pettis

Barton Salisbury

J. G. Southwell

S. Stevens

D. [Daniel] Strickland

Peter Turck

A. D. Weisner

Reuben Wells

T. Weston

L. W. Wetherbee

John Willet

Timothy Wooden

William Worth

Interestingly, Jonathan M. Clark is not recorded as a voter on the first poll list of Washington County. He was there, he served as one of the judges of election, but he appears not to have voted. Is this another clue in the mystery of Where Was JMC Born? Stay tuned…

I’ve not seen primary sources for this 1840 election, and I’m not sure what records may still exist. If any readers are familiar with the county archives or the local historical society holdings, I’d love to know what sources remain from this era. Please contact me if you can share any information. 

With no primary sources at hand, this post borrows heavily from the “History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin,” compiled and published by the Western Historical Company, Chicago, in 1881. It’s the earliest and longest published history for Washington and Ozaukee counties that I’ve seen, and once you’ve spent some time with it you’ll realize that its contents provided source material for large portions of many later histories of this area. Free pdf and e-book copies of this book are available online. Highly recommended if you have an interest in this area.

Post revised November 8, 2016, to clarify the names of two voters. After consulting the 1840 federal census for both, and the BLM/GLO land patents for B. Bettys, there should not be confusion between settlers Benjamin Bettys and V. R. Pettis.

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2 thoughts on “Early Election Returns!

  1. Pingback: 1840 Election Updates | Clark House Historian

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