The Clark Family in 1850 – part 4

Beyond Names, Dates & Birthplaces

Previously—and, yes, it’s been a while—we looked at the Jonathan Clark family as enumerated on the population schedule of the 1850 U. S. Federal Census. If you missed those posts, here are the links for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Take a look at those, and you’ll learn some key facts about the Clarks: the names and ages of each person in the household, and where each was born. That’s important information, but not all. In 1850, the census bureau wanted to know more, and if we look carefully we can discover some interesting things about the family:

“United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 12 April 2016), J M Clark, Mequon, Washington, Wisconsin, United States; citing family 1120, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

How successful were Jonathan and Mary as farmers? We can’t tell exactly what they grew in 1850, or how productive the farm was, even though in 1850 those details—and many others—were collected on six additional federal census schedules. Sadly, after that data was aggregated at the local, county, state and national levels and published by the U. S. Census Bureau, those non-population schedules were destroyed. But we can see on our 1850 population schedule (line 6, cols. 7, 8) that Jonathan M. Clark, farmer, owns real estate valued at $5,000. That’s real money for the mid-1800s. The land, a total of 160 acres, originally patented by Jonathan at $1.25 per acre (80 acres in 1839 and 80 more in 1843), was now worth either $31.25 per acre for just the land or —more likely— the value of the handsome stone house and barn (no longer extant) are included in his “value of real estate owned,” which would lower the per-acre value of the land somewhat. Either way, by 1850 Jonathan and Mary had already achieved a substantial return on investment.

View looking northwest toward the Jonathan Clark House (left) and barn (right, no longer standing). Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, 1988.

Jonathan certainly benefitted by arriving with the first groups of settlers in old Washington County, and purchasing land directly from the federal government at a very low price. But he and Mary were real settlers, not land speculators. They must have worked hard in their first decade together, clearing the land, building the stone house and barn, and working the farm, to have realized such substantial gains. Scanning the 1850 census pages shows that Jonathan is one of the most successful farmers in the Town of Mequon, owning real estate worth more than that of other early settlers, including most of the Bonniwell family, neighbor Jesse Hubbard, and even his father-in-law, Peter Turck. (One notable exception is merchant William T. Bonniwell, who owned real estate—including another, even grander, stone house—valued at $10,000.)

The Clarks were also able to hire an extra hand for the farm, John Buck. This must have been an essential expenditure, otherwise Jonathan—and the 16-year-old Arthur Clark—would have been the only adult males to work Clark farm’s 160 acres. And Mary Clark had her hands full, raising five children of her own, feeding and clothing a household of eight, and attending to her full complement of exhausting daily domestic and farm chores.

Also on this census, we find the two oldest Clark children, Caroline (age 9) and Henry (7), attended school in the past year. Schools were an early priority in old Washington/Ozaukee county. The Ozaukee County Historical Society holds the original minutes from the first meeting of the public school committee for the town of Mequon, November 15, 1843, led by Jonathan M. Clark, his father-in-law Peter Turck, and neighbor William T. Bonniwell. Even earlier, in the summer of 1839, nineteen-year-old Mary Turck—not yet married to Jonathan Clark—taught Mequon’s first classes in the attic of her father Peter Turck’s log house.

According to the official U.S. Census report for Wisconsin (click here for a pdf), there were still not any colleges or “academies” in old Washington county, but there were 70 public schools with 70 teachers and a total of 2,894 pupils; an average—if all the children were in attendance—of about 41 students per teacher. The schools were funded that year by $2,589 in county taxes and $1,340 from “other sources,” for a total annual county school budget of $3,929. Eagle-eyed contemporary taxpayers will note that’s an expenditure of approximately $1.52 per pupil for the year 1849-50.

That ends our look at the Clark family on the 1850 census. But, as always, questions remain. For one, who was the Clark’s hired man, John Buck? The 1850 census says he was a 30-year-old laborer, born in Germany. From where in “Germany” and when did he immigrate? Did he have family in America? Where did he go after 1850? I don’t know. I’ve looked far and wide for a 30-year-old German in America, born around 1820, named John, Jack, Joh., Johann, Johannes, or Hans, surnamed Buck, Back, Beck, Peck, Bach and so on. There are historical records suggesting several possible candidates that might be the same John Buck that was living with the Clarks in 1850. But which one is he?. Did he die? Move on? Go back to Germany? I’m not sure. Perhaps one of our readers knows? If so, please comment or contact me.

And the final, most intriguing mystery from the Clark family’s 1850 census remains: who was Arthur Clark?

Arthur Clark. In 1850 he was 16 years old, 22 years younger than Jonathan M. Clark. Like Jonathan, he was born in Vermont. He didn’t attend school (probably too old), he can read and write, and he is not deaf, mute, blind or developmentally impaired. He has no occupation listed on the 1850 census, though it’s likely he helped on the farm.

So who is Arthur? Is he related? Jonathan’s brother? cousin? Is he a link to solving the puzzle of who Jonathan Clark’s parents were, and where they came from? Or yet another random “Clark” from New England? To find out, look for our next History Mystery! here at Clark House Historian.