Happy 208th Birthday, Jonathan!

November 28, 2020, is the 208th anniversary of the birth of Jonathan M. Clark. To celebrate, I’m reposting a revised, expanded and annotated version of one of my first Clark House Historian posts. Since this was first published, on April 20, 2016, we have learned much more about the lives of Jonathan Clark, Mary Turck Clark, their family and their neighbors. Please check out the footnotes and click on the links for some of this newer, more accurate, information.

Happy Birthday, Jonathan! (and thanks to Nina Look for the timely reminder).

JMC: Man of Mystery

CLARK, Jonathan M portrait

Jonathan M. Clark. Photograph courtesy Liz Hickman.

There he is. Jonathan M. Clark, builder and first owner of the handsome stone home that is now the  Jonathan Clark House Museum in Mequon, Wisconsin. He was probably born in Vermont—or Lower Canada—probably on November 28, 1812, and he died on September 20, 1857. Before coming to Mequon, he served in the United States Army at Fort Howard from 1833 to 1836. He married Mary Turck, eldest child of Mequon pioneer Peter Turck, on March 15, 1840. They had a large family. We even have a photograph of JMC as an adult (above). In some ways, we know quite a bit about Jonathan M. Clark.

But in many important ways we know very little about Jonathan. Where, exactly, was he born and when? Who were his parents? Did he have siblings? What did he do for the first two decades of his life? What did he do during the four three years between his discharge from the army in 1836 until his appearance on the earliest Mequon records in 1840 1839?1 What kind of dwelling did he and his family live in before the 1848 Clark House was completed? We haven’t found evidence to answer all of these—and many other—questions yet, but follow the links in this post for updates on many of these questions.

And then there are questions, major and minor, for which we have vague or conflicting evidence. If he was born in Vermont, why did he jump through all the bureaucratic hoops to become an American citizen (again?) in 1855? How did he really spell his middle name? Were he and Mary wed in Mequon or Milwaukee?2 Did he and Mary have one son and seven or eight (or nine?) daughters?3 What kind of farm did the Clarks have?4 Was it successful?5 Did JMC die on September 20 or 29, 1857?6 Where did he die, and from what cause?7 What happened to Mary and the children?8 These questions—with their incomplete or conflicting answers—open windows onto some aspects of American and local history that I hope you will find interesting.


Notes and updates:

  1. When I originally wrote this post in 2016, the earliest record of JMC in the Milwaukee county/Washington county area that I had located were his manuscript marriage license and newspaper marriage announcement from March, 1840. Since then, I have found digitized images of the U.S. land tract books from the Milwaukee land office. Volume 61 indexes land sales in the town of Mequon, and shows that Jonathan was in the area no later than 1839. The federal government offered Mequon Township (town 9-North, 21-East) for sale beginning March 4, 1839. Jonathan M. Clark bought his first tract in the town, (west 1/2 of southeast 1/4, of section 3) on December 12, 1839. He would receive federal patent number 6547 for this first half of what would become the Clark’s Mequon farm, on March 3, 1843. These federal tract books are really interesting and full of early information on the area’s first settlers and land owners; I’ll be posting much more on these in the future.

  2. The “where were Jonathan M. Clark and Mary Turck married” question is, essentially, solved. All sources indicate that they were married “at Washington” [county] and not Milwaukee, although in early 1840, their marriage was recorded in Milwaukee county. This was because Washington county was still “attached” to Milwaukee county for civil purposes until September 22, 1840. So Jonathan and Mary were wed in Washington county. The exact location is not known, but it seems likely that they were either married on Jonathan’s brand new farm in section 3, or possibly at the bride’s family home, the Peter Turck farm, in nearby sections 9 and 10.

  3. The Clark children comprised one son, Henry, and seven daughters: Caroline, Persie, Josie, Theresa, Jennie, Elizabeth (Libbie), and Laura. For more details, see this post on the Clark “Family Record” and also enter “The Clark Family in” into this blog’s Search box and check out all the posts for the 1850 and 1860 censuses.

  4. For preliminary thoughts on Mequon farms—including the Clark farm—and what they grew, see here and here for information from the 1850 census. For a nice look at the now-demolished Clark barn, go here. For more Washington/Ozaukee county’s production of hops, click here.

  5. Yes, Jonathan and Mary Clark were some of the most successful farmers in Mequon, from at least the late-1840s through at least 1860. See the links in footnote 4 for details in the Clark’s 1850 census schedules, and this post about Mary Clark’s 1860 census information.

  6. Mystery solved. JMC died on September 20, 1857. “Sept. 29, Sabbath” is a typo in Rev. Woodworth’s book. See this link for details.

  7. I’m still looking into the cause of JMC’s death. The 1850 and 1860 federal census mortality schedules, and the Forest Home Cemetery burial registers show that infectious and/or chronic diseases were frequent causes of adult deaths in this era. Farmer’s also suffered accidents while farming or while constructing barns and other buildings. We really don’t yet know what killed Jonathan M. Clark. Rev. Woodworth’s diary records he died “in” (i.e., at home?), with at least some advanced warning of his declining condition. We do know JMC was initially buried in “the Cedarburg Cemetery.” In the fall of 1878, his remains, along with those of children Josie and Henry, were transferred from Cedarburg to the new Clark family plot at Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, where they were reinterred on November 16, 1878.

  8. I’ve been working on a series of posts about the lives of Mary and the children after Jonathan’s death in 1857. For starters, click here and here. And there’s a post with a nice map of the Clark’s early-1860s Milwaukee neighborhood, here.

And by the way, the Jonathan Clark House museum, and the research and interpretation we do into the lives of the Clarks and their community, doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes years of planning and ongoing, dedicated work by countless volunteers—board members, friends, docents, our young historians, and more—as well as the financial support of individuals, businesses, foundations, and local government to bring this house and its history back to life, enriching our community now and for years to come.

Here’s a flashback to November, 2012, when some of the museum’s earliest supporters gathered to wish JMC a Happy 200th Birthday:

Courtesy Clark House director Nina Look. Click to open larger image in new window.

What an awesome cake. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.

It’s been a difficult year for us all, and your support this year is more important than ever. If you would like to help the historic Jonathan Clark House museum and its educational mission, click here for information on how to volunteer, donate, and join the Friends of the Clark House. Your support would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!