The final territorial census, with a few notes on changing township names & boundaries in old Washington County
Wisconsin officially enumerated its final territorial census on December 1, 1847. Six short months later, on May 30, 1848, Wisconsin was admitted to the Union as the 30th state. The individual schedules for Wisconsin’s 1847 territorial census still exist for most counties. Unfortunately, the schedules for old Washington county are not among them.
The surviving schedules of the 1847 Wisconsin territorial census are available for researchers on two microfilms:
- Brown County to Sheboygan County: FHS film 1,293,921.
- Walworth County to Winnebago county: FHS film 1,293,922. This is also available online as DGS film 5,706,935. The one surviving Washington county schedule page (see below) is image 114 of 1361.
The first of the two 1847 census microfilms has not yet been digitized. So if you’d like to view the 1847 census schedules—for, say, Brown or Milwaukee counties—you will need to wait until the Wisconsin Historical Society library and archives in Madison are once again open for business. Or, if you live in Wisconsin, you should be able to request and view WHS microfilms at your local library or nearby Wisconsin Historical Society Area Research Center, once they are up and running again.
All that remains of the 1847 Washington county census is this page with the official tally for each category in each district:
The totals for each census category are listed in the first column as the “Towns, Precincts, or Districts” visited: Erin, Richfield, Germantown, Mequon, Hartford, Polk, Jakson (sic, Jackson), Grafton, Westbend (sic, West Bend), Clarence, Fridonia (sic, Fredonia), Port Washington, Addison, and Northbend.
Along with a minor misspelling or two, you’ll notice that some of the old town names have changed over time; exactly where are the towns of Clarence and North Bend? Some town boundaries also changed over the years. Changes such as these are one reason why being able to follow the evolution of town boundaries and names can be very useful when locating a specific person or place over time.
To do this, it’s always useful to start with the Town and Range coordinates. For reference, here’s a later map of Washington and Ozaukee Counties with their modern town names, and (if you look at the left and top borders of the map) the Town and Range numbers:
If you’re not familiar with the rectangular survey system, it’s really just a grid system. If you click on and zoom in on the map above, you’ll see there are four roughly symmetrical horizontal rows of Towns (T9, T10, T11 and T12) measured north of a reference baseline. The town numbers get larger as you go further north.
And there are five roughly symmetrical vertical columns of Range numbers (R18, R19, R20, R21, R22), measured east of a principal meridian. the range numbers get larger as you go east.
Each town is further divided into 36 numbered Sections, like so:
Each section is a square, 1 mile on each side; a typical township would thus cover 36 square miles. Of course, if your section or township is partly underwater, some of those square sections will be purely hypothetical (see the towns of Grafton and Port Washington, for example).
So, in the so-called public land states of the USA, if you know the town-range coordinates and section number you can locate any town in any era (and with a little more information, you can locate any specific parcel in any section; more on that in another post.)
It’s important to note that the surveyor’s town and range lines are not always exactly contiguous with the named towns. Compare, for example, the towns of Barton and West Bend with the indicated town and range lines on the map above. This is not unusual in many U.S. counties.
So for example, the town of Erin is T9, R18 (or more precisely, T9-North, R18-East), and Port Washington is T11-N, R22-E. The town of Mequon is a special case; it comprises all of T9-N, R21E and the not-under-ther-waters-of-Lake-Michigan sections of T9-N, R22E.
With all that in mind, here’s an overview that explains the evolution of the boundaries of the Washington and Ozaukee county towns and their names, up through 1881:
In the early days of white settlement in old Washington/Ozaukee county there were a smaller number of named towns, some of them larger than their modern counterparts and comprising the territory of several current towns. As the population grew, these older, larger, towns were divided and renamed over time. Two now-obsolete town names on the Wisconsin 1847 territorial census are the towns of Clarence and North Bend. North Bend was eventually called Kewaskum. And Clarence existed for a very brief time, eventually being named Farmington.
The next census for our Washington county settlers would be the Federal Population Census of 1850. Here at Clark House Historian, we have already covered the 1850 census in some detail. Click the links for a deep look at the Clark family at the middle of the 19th-century:
- The Clark Family in 1850, part 1
- The Clark Family in 1850, part 2
- The Clark Family in 1850, part 3
- The Clark Family in 1850 – part 4
- History Mystery! – No. 4
- O!…Canada? History Mystery! No. 3
And stay tuned, more maps and censuses coming soon…
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