Monday: Map Day!

Wisconsin Territory, 1836— ready for its 1st census.

The vast Wisconsin Territory originally included all the current states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, and that part of the Dakotas east of the Missouri River. The Wisconsin Territory officially existed from July 3, 1836 until the current—and smaller—State of Wisconsin was established on May 29, 1848. The history of the territory prior to statehood, and especially before mid-1836, is complicated. For more information you might begin with this overview. Here’s an outline map of the territory:

[Map of Wisconsin Territory, April 20, 1836] original from Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Historical Collections, 11, this image from Wisconsin Historical Collections, 13:248.

Section 4 of the April 20, 1836 act of Congress that created the Wisconsin Territory, required that

Previously to the first election, the governor of the Territory shall cause the census or enumeration of the inhabitants of the several counties in the territory to be taken or made by the sheriffs of said counties, respectively, and returns thereof made by the said sheriffs, to the governor.

Act of Congress, April 20, 1836, quoted in Wisconsin Historical Collections, 13:247.

With such a large expanse of land, and relatively small number of white inhabitants, the Wisconsin Territory of 1836 was divided into only a few counties. Two of these, Dubuque and Des Moines counties, lay to the west of the Mississippi river and comprised the Iowa District of the Wisconsin Territory. (Both were enumerated in the 1836 territorial census, but I’ll let Iowa history fans follow up on those counties.) Here a map of the 1836 Wisconsin Territory counties lying east of the Mississippi River:

[Map of Wisconsin Territory, 1836, showing the counties east of the Mississippi River] in Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Historical Collections, 13:248.

Of the six 1836 counties that comprised all of modern Wisconsin (and beyond), four were home to substantial populations of white settlers and were officially enumerated in July, 1836, namely:

  • Milwaukee county, in the southeast corner of the territory; population 2,893
  • Iowa county, in the southwest, home of the lead mining district around Mineral Point; population 5,234
  • Brown county, north of Milwaukee county, including Fort Howard at Green Bay; population 2,706
  • Crawford county, stretching westward from Brown Co. to the Mississippi River; population 850

The two northernmost counties, Michilimackinac and Chippewa, were sparsely populated (with white settlers, that is), and it appears that no census was taken there.

We know that Jonathan M. Clark served as a member of the 5th Regiment, U.S. Army, and lived in Wisconsin from—at the latest—his arrival at Fort Howard on October 20, 1833 until his enlistment expired near there on September 19, 1836. He should be counted on the first territorial census, taken in the summer of 1836. Was he? And was he in Wisconsin Territory for the second territorial census of 1838? That’s coming up next at Clark House Historian. See you then.


By the way, today’s map, and much of my information about the 1836 census, comes from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wisconsin Historical Collections (1855–1915), 13: 247-270. If you haven’t used them before, the Wisconsin Historical Collections are

20 volumes of pioneer memoirs, archival records, original journals, explorers’ narratives, interviews, and other eyewitness accounts of Wisconsin’s past gathered between 1855-1915. The volumes contain 1,000 articles printed on more than 11,000 pages, often accompanied by illustrations or maps. They are the single most comprehensive record of life in Wisconsin during the colonial era.

Within the collection are copies of more than 600 original handwritten documents not only from the Society’s holdings, but also from archives in Washington D.C., New York, Montreal, and Paris. They take up almost 3,000 pages in volumes 16-20. They are arranged in chronological order and annotated with explanatory notes. Foreign documents have been translated into English.

Resource description, Wisconsin Historical Collections (1855-1915),

And for all of us that research online or live far from a large (and open!) research collection, the WHS has digitized the complete Wisconsin Historical Collections and made them available online, free of charge to everyone.

So if you are at all interested in the history of Wisconsin—or you just want to support one of the nation’s greatest collections of historical and genealogical archives and materials—take a moment to click this link and join the WHS. (And don’t forget to support your local history sites and historical societies, such as the Jonathan Clark House Museum, the Ozaukee County Historical Society or the Mequon-Thiensville Historical Society. As is the case for so many individuals and businesses, the current pandemic has had a serious effect on the finances of many educational and cultural organizations. If you are in a position to give them a little extra help this year, it will be greatly appreciated.