The “E” is silent – as in “Clarke”

A “New” Jonathan M. Clark Document, a New Line of Inquiry, and a Friendly Reminder…

Take a look at the following name as written by a professional U.S. land office clerk in three different places on land patent no. 19687, from 1848:

Patent No. 19687, Jonathan M. Clark(e)? #1
Patent No. 19687, Jonathan M. Clark(e)? #2
Patent No. 19687, Jonathan M. Clark(e)? #3

What to you think? Jonathan M. Clark or Clarke? Is that a silent “e” at the end of “Clark,” or just a looping flourish? Whoever indexed this document at the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office website1 thought it was Clarke. Is it a big deal? No. Given that the GLO has been digitizing and indexing hundreds of thousands of pages of maps, survey notes and patent documents for the last decade or two, we can’t expect that the indexers can cross-reference each name on each patent and check for consistent spelling. And besides, 19th-century spelling is notoriously capricious anyway.

On the other hand, maybe the indexer could have looked at the end of the document and compared the “K” in “Clark” to the “K” at the end of this signature, representing our eleventh President:

Yep, that is the secretarial signature for then-President James K. Polk, who did not employ a silent “e” at the end of his famous name. So what do we make of all this?

To me, it looks like our clerk has a good, generally readable, professional “hand,” but he also likes to add little curlicues at the end of certain final letters, notably “K,” (and also Jonathan’s middle initial, “M”). So it’s not unreasonable that the modern indexer of this patent listed Jonathan’s last name as Clarke. (On the other hand, I can’t figure out how the indexer came up with “Barnes,” for first name of the other man on the patent, Mary Turck Clark’s first cousin, Barnet Clow.) Here’s the online index:

Jonathan M. Clark and Barnet Clow, U.S. land patent no. 19687, 1848. BLM/GLO online index.

And here is a scan of the original document. See for yourself:

CLOW, Barnet assignee of Jonathan M. CLARKE (CLARK) land patent no. 19687, 1848. via Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office record search at Click to open larger image in new window

I’ve been doing local history and genealogical research for about 15 years, and volunteering for the Jonathan Clark House since 2012. I have a pretty good sense of the relevant original and derivative sources, a variety of more-or-less accurate authored narratives, and other documents and artifacts that are available to help our Clark House research.

I also like to think I’m pretty good at using a variety of online search strategies to ferret out information hidden in poorly or inadequately indexed databases. But in this case I made a classic rookie mistake: for too long, I forgot to search a common alternative surname spelling: Clarke. (My chagrin deepens when I realized that I first saw, and saved a copy, of this Clark & Clow patent back in 2012. That’s a reminder to revisit your sources on a regular basis.)

So whether you’re staying safe at home and searching online, or looking forward to when we again are able to go and visit archives and historical societies to find those unique bits information that can solve mysteries and fill in the blanks of research, don’t forget to check variant spellings. If you do, you might bump into interesting discoveries, like Jonathan Clark and Barnet Clow’s patent no. 19687.

Finding a new document is always fun. But if you’re lucky, the new document leads to new questions and ultimately a more rounded and accurate picture of your subject. This patent tells us that Jonathan M. Clark did not own only his two familiar 80-acre parcels—160 acres in total— in Section 3 of the Town of Mequon that comprised the historic Clark farm, including the still extant Jonathan Clark House. It also shows that prior to March 1, 1848, Jonathan owned at least another 160 acres—the northeast quarter—of Section 14, Town 10 North, Range 19 East, then and now known as the Town of Polk, Washington County, Wisconsin2. This was news to me.

So it looks like I misjudged Jonathan. Yes, he was a hard-working, successful farmer, but he also appears to have been—at least in part—a land investor or speculator. This new information has sent me into the Washington and Ozaukee county land records, and it turns out that Jonathan, Barney Clow, and some of the other relatives and neighbors were busy “buying low and selling high(er)” throughout the 1840s and beyond. I’ll have more on this in a forthcoming post.


  1. By the way, the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office record search website is an amazingly useful, well-organized, and free-of-charge tool for anyone to use. If you haven’t been there, it’s well worth a visit. You can search by various combinations of state, county, names of patent recipients, or precise township and section designations. Most of the patents have been scanned and are free to view and download, and most locations can be mapped to show the location of the exact parcel, or at least the general location, of the patent. Note the site only covers the so-called federal land states, and not the original 13 Colonies and the states that were derived from them. Those land records are kept at the state and county level in their original locations. See our blog sidebar (to the right, under More Info) for the BLM/GLO – federal land records link.
  2. Although I was surprised to learn that Jonathan Clark was investing in other land (in addition to his Mequon farm), I was not surprised that he chose to invest in land in the Town of Polk, Washington County. A number of his in-laws and cousins chose to settle in or near the Town of Polk, most notably Mary Turck Clark’s sister Elizabeth Turck and her husband Densmore W. Maxon. Maxon is an important figure in the surveying and settlement of Washington and Ozaukee counties, and in the early history of the State of Wisconsin. We will have much more to say about him and his wife Elizabeth Turck Maxon in future posts.

6 thoughts on “The “E” is silent – as in “Clarke”

  1. Reed, thorough work as usual! I think it is ‘just’ a loop, not an ‘e’ but could also possibly be an extra letter. One question: on the form with Barnet Clow, what is the word after his name, XXXX ‘of’ Jonathan M. Clark[e]? And how is Barnet related to Mary? Is this acreage near the other land owned by Jonathan?
    Thanks from your cousin, Liz


    • Hi Liz! Glad you enjoyed the post. I think the curlicues are decorative, too. Although in the 19th-century it wouldn’t matter much if it was a silent-E. In that era spelling varied widely, even for family names. For example, Barnet Clow’s surname is found on other Wisconsin documents variously as CLOW or CLOUGH, and back in his Dutch- speaking home of Greene Co., New York, as CLOW, CLOUGH, CLAW, KLAUW, and KLAW. But it’s all the same family and surname.

      The mystery word on the patent is “Assignee.” So that line reads “Barnet Clow, Assignee of Jonathan M. Clark.” This is a common designation on federal land patents. Essentially, it means that someone (in this case JMC) got to the parcel first and, temporarily, had rights to the land. Then, before receiving the final government paperwork, he decides to “assign” his patent to someone else, in this case Barnet Clow. Big land investor-speculators like William A. Prentiss made a fortune by going to newly-opened federal lands, getting to the land office (with cash in hand) before almost everyone else, going through the preliminary steps to buy many, many parcels from the government, and then—before receiving the official patent and title to the parcels—”assigning” the patents/parcels to other final purchasers. Sometimes there would be a mortgage involved between the the original buyer and the assignee, sometimes the assignee would pay a higher price to the first purchaser to get the parcel assigned to them. This is how JMC got the patent for his second 80-acre parcel that comprises half the historic Clark farm in Mequon; he was the Assignee of William A. Prentiss on that 1843 patent.

      Barnet “Barney” Clow is Mary Turck Clark’s first cousin. He is the son of Comfort Gay and her husband Richard Clow of Athens, Greene Co., New York. Comfort was the older sister of Mary’s mother Rachael (Gay) Turck, wife of Peter Turck. Comfort Gay and Richard Clow had 14 children in all, several of whom migrated to Washington County, Wisconsin in the early years of settlement.

      Barney bought and sold a number of parcels of land in old Washington Co. in the 1840s and very early 1850s. A few were adjacent to the historic Clark farm in Section 3, Town of Mequon (T9N-R21E). Most of his other parcels—including the parcel discussed in this post—appear to be in the Town of Polk (T10N-R19E), not far to the west of Mequon. I’m working on a series of posts about JMC and Barney and their land deals. It’s very interesting as a snapshot of how “Yankees” came west to Wisconsin, “bought low and sold high(er)” and what they did after that. (It may take me a while, though. Many of the relevant land records are available online, but most are not indexed, and so I’m searching through many digital images of manuscript indexes and deed book entries.) Spoiler alert: Barney suffered some personal loss in the late 1840s, caught the “gold fever” and went West to California, did some mining and then made his fortune ranching near Lake Tahoe. Stay tuned!


  2. Pingback: Updates, Corrections and other Miscellany… | Clark House Historian

  3. Pingback: Monday: Map Day! | Clark House Historian

Comments are closed.