Back to School, 1839!

Daniel Strickland hires “the first teacher

There are a number of conflicting claims to the title of “first teacher” in Mequon. One of the first was Mary Turck Clark. She led classes for her siblings and four neighbor children in the loft of her father’s cabin in the summer of 1839.

The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, relates a number of other “firsts” for area schools and teachers. Among them is the story of how the school committee1 hired its first teacher, led by Daniel Strickland (father of Sarah A. Strickland Clark).

In the sprit of our previous Back To School salute to education, here is that tale:

E. H. Janssen was the first [public school] teacher; he taught a grammar school in 1839. The following account of an early examination of Janssen, by one of the School Commissioners, is given by an old settler2:

The first School Commissioners were Daniel Strickland, Henry V. Bonniwell and Levi Ostrander. Strickland, soon after his appointment, assumed the responsibility of examining Mr. Janssen, who had applied for one of the schools. Thinking to be rigid with the pedagogue, Strickland approached him with an air of self importance, and put the following arithmetical problem: “Now, sir, suppose that I were to sell you one hundred bushels of wheat at 75 cents a bushel, how much money would you have to pay me?” “$75,” promptly answered Janssen. “Good enough, you are a smart fellow to answer a question like that so readily.” Strickland then scratched his head, and as he could think of no more difficult problems in mathematics, concluded to try some other branch, and, accordingly, switched off on to geography. A happy thought struck him; he had, during his younger days, experienced considerable of ocean life3, and, while on one of his extended voyages, had been wrecked on the island of Madagascar4. Here then was where he would corner Janssen. With all the assurance imaginable, he approached the anxious candidate, for something in his looks warned the aspirant that some great question was about to be propounded. “Well, sir,” said Strickland, “perhaps you can tell me where the Island of Madagascar is located?” This was a puzzler, and might have sealed Janssen’s doom, but for the kindly assistance of a friend who stood near, who had heard Strickland relate his adventure on this island. He whispered the location to Janssen, who at once replied, “Off the coast of Africa.” That was enough; Strickland grasped him by the hand and exclaimed, “You are the smartest man I ever met, you can have the school right off!” This was, the relator claims, the first school examination in the county.

History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […] Illustrated. Western Historical Co., Chicago, 1881, page 457.

The selection of Edward H. Janssen as school teacher was the cause for much joy among the area’s other German immigrants, and they decided festivities were in order:

The day was celebrated by the Germans who had settled in Mequon and vicinity. They had seen the thing done once or twice, and concluded to attempt a hilarious demonstration of love of their new country in true American style. Sufficient money was raised to get a keg of Owen’s best ale or beer from Milwaukee, and to hire a fiddler, who lived across the river. The celebration came off at Opitz’s Tavern. The services were entirely in the German tongue, and consisted in the reading of the Declaration and patriotic speeches. The dancing commenced in Opitz’s big room, early in the day, and was kept up until the musician was exhausted. Among those present on that occasion were Fred W. Horn, of Cedarburg; C. Miller, of West Bend, and Adolph Zimmerman.

History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […] Illustrated. Western Historical Co., Chicago, 1881, page 457.

Best wishes for a safe, healthy and productive school year to all our teachers, administrators, students—and their families.


  1. Readers with sharp memories will note the discrepancies between today’s story of the 1839 “school committee” of Daniel Strickland, Henry V. Bonniwell and Levi Ostrander, and the committee meeting of 1842, led by “moderator” Jonathan M. Clark and recorded by “clerk” Peter Turck.

    Perhaps someone has already sorted the various stories, anecdotes and documents to make a really accurate and informative history of schools and schooling in early Mequon and Washington/Ozaukee county. (Nina? anything like that at the OCHS?)

    Meanwhile, the Janssen story is highly plausible, and very entertaining, especially for those of us that have spent some time in or around public education (or anything else run by committee, for that matter).

  2. Who was the “old settler” that told this tale to the editors of the History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties? It had to have been someone that arrived in old Washington county around 1839 (if he was at the meeting), and was in the area as the History was being compiled and published in 1881. Of course, it’s possible the story was a favorite in local lore, and the “old settler” knew it well, but had not been at the event.

  3. Daniel Strickland was, in fact, an experienced seaman. He was born November 24, 1790, in Beverly, Essex Co., Massachusetts. Not yet 14 years old, he was issued a New England Seaman’s Protection Certificate on July 24, 1804.

    A scan of the original ship’s list of officers and crew for an October 19, 1805, voyage on the Schooner Rachel, seventy-one tons, sailing from Beverly, Massachusetts, to the West Indies has been posted on by member grannacherryholmes. Daniel’s rank for the voyage was Boy; he was born and residing in Beverly; height, four feet seven (and a half?) inches; complexion dark; age thirteen years, and a “subject” of the United States. Also on the crew was Allen Strickland, age 40, presumably Daniel’s father.

    Strickland descendants Steven Clark Van Slyke and Lynette Thompson cite him as a sea captain (Lynette and Steve: any details? ship names?) But by the time Daniel Strickland emigrated to the United States with his family, on November 2, 1835, he listed his (future?) occupation as “farmer.”

  4. This story is the only source I’ve found that mentions Daniel Strickland being shipwrecked on Madagascar. Steve and Lynette, do you know more?

5 thoughts on “Back to School, 1839!

  1. No, Reed, I at least have no information as to ships that Daniel Strickland may have captained or served aboard. Nor do I have any more information regarding the Madagascar shipwreck. You’ve given us new mysteries to solve.

    We do know that when Daniel brought the family from Nova Scotia to Mequon in 1835 that they sailed aboard the sailing vessel “The Three Sisters”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gotta love those “History Mystery” tidbits!

      When you follow up on this—as I suspect you will—you’ll find that the newspapers of the era covered the comings and goings of ships and their captains in some detail. So if you can find names of Daniel Strickland’s ships, you may be able to reconstruct some of his voyages and cargoes.

      He was just a paid passenger on the “Three Sisters,” so that’s probably a dead end. But at least part of his earliest service was aboard the schooner “Rachel” out of Beverly, Essex Co., Mass. I did some quick searches at for keywords like “ship,” “Rachel,” and “Beverly,” in a date range of 1804-has 1835 and found a number of shipping announcements. (Another research rabbit hole to fall into!)

      It looks like some of the info on Dan. Strickland and his early years at sea came from the library and archives at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry Reed, but I don’t have any other information on ships that Daniel “captained” or on the Madagascar incident but that gives us some direction for our next search. I’m working with a newspaper librarian tomorrow, so this is good timing ! We will, of course, follow up with you.

    An interesting new finding is Cyrus’s father, Kellogg Clark, was named after his paternal grandmother, whose maiden name was Kellogg. WC Kellogg ‘s family came from a small town less than 30 miles from Southwick, Massachusetts. WC Kellogg was none other than the founder of Kellogg cereals! This will take me back to the woman that helped provide info to connect Cyrus and Kellogg. Can’t wait to learn more about this!

    Thanks for the mention of the Mystic Seaport Museum. Sure sounds like a place that may lead us to more on Daniel!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the interesting update, Lynette.

      I’ve never been to the Mystic Seaport Museum, but they are one of the top mariners’ museums in the country and appear to have some significant research resources, too. Good luck.

      And I’ve also discovered two related databases (one free, one paid) that will interest you, Steve and anyone researching seafaring ancestors: ($) has a database called “Salem and Beverly, Massachusetts, Crew Lists and shipping Articles, 1797-1934.” It is searchable by the sailor’s name and produces images of original U.S. customs and port documents listing crew members from that era as found on NARA microfilms. The document images are very good, but not downloadable. For that, go to: (free) has the same database with the same title as part of a larger collection of “Massachusetts, Essex County, seamen’s records: crew lists and shipping articles for Beverly and Salem, 1797-1934.” Also indexed and searchable, and the images are downloadable, too.

      For Daniel Strickland, and other sea-going Stricklands, I recommend using a wildcard search like St*land. This will get you results for Strickland, Stickland and other similar mis-indexings and misspellings. I’d also try St*lund, too. I found results for several Daniel Strickland sailings, mostly from his youth. Happy searching!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Mary Turck Clark—updated | Clark House Historian

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