Mary Turck Clark—updated

The original version of this post was the second-ever post on Clark House Historian. It represented what we knew at the time about Mary Turck, the daughter of Peter Turck and Rachael Gay, wife of Jonathan M. Clark, and mother of the eight Clark family children. The original April, 2016, post was pretty accurate, but we have learned a lot more about Mary and her Turck and Clark families in the meantime. So here is a revised version of that post with errors corrected and ambiguities clarified—where possible.

Please note that there are many more facts about Mary and her Clark and Turck families that I’ve written about in the past almost-5 years that are not linked to in this post. If you are looking for more information about Mary, I highly recommend using the blog’s SEARCH function and our new INDEX. And if you still can’t find the info you want, please ask me! Just use the Leave a Reply box, below, or the CONTACT link, above.

Mary Turck Clark: Mequon Pioneer

CLARK, Mary TURCK portrait

Mary Turck Clark. Photograph courtesy Liz Hickman. Click to open larger image in new window.

It is a commonplace of genealogical and historical research that women and their stories are the “forgotten fifty percent.” In most North American societies it was—and in many places remains—the custom that upon marriage the woman takes her husband’s surname. Some documents that record marriages, births and deaths might include a place for the woman’s original surname, and sometimes the names of her parents, but this information was often left blank. So after a generation or two, the woman’s name and family stories—and those of her parents and grandparents—would be completely forgotten, even by her closest descendants.

Mary’s parents and grandparents

But Mary Turck Clark is an exception. We know quite a bit about Mary, her siblings, her parents Peter Turck and Rachael Gay, and many of their ancestors. Her father, Peter Turck (also Turk or, rarely, Durk), was born in Kinderhook, Columbia Co., New York in 1798. He was descended from a long line of Dutch-American settlers, going back to Paulus Jacobzen Turk, who was born in The Hague about 1635, and died in New York City in 1703.

Mary Turck’s mother—Peter Turck’s first wife—Rachael (or Rachel) Gay, was born in Coxsackie, Greene Co., New York, in 1798. she died in Mequon in 1841 (or possibly 1844; records are poor, and I’m still trying to confirm her death date). Rachael Gay came from mixed Anglo- and Dutch-American families that also had deep roots in New York state. Her parents were Barnet Gay (1766-1848) and Eytje (or Ada /Ida) Groom (1774-1846). Rachael Gay’s grandparents were from the large and well-established Hudson River valley Gay, Groom, Briggs, and Van Loan (Van Loon) families. Some of these relatives also migrated to Washington/Ozaukee county in the 1840s and ’50s.

Mary Turck, big sister

Mary Turck Clark was the oldest of eight siblings. Seven of the Turck children1 came with their parents to Wisconsin in August, 1837. The youngest Turck child, Benjamin, was born in Mequon in 1839. All of Mary’s siblings lived into adulthood and married. Some remained near Mequon, living in Washington, Ozaukee and Milwaukee counties. Others relocated to Chicago (Adamy, Rachel, James) or New Orleans (Joseph). Brother Benjamin Turck briefly moved to farm in Minnesota before returning to the life of a sawyer in Washington county.

Mary Turck was born in Athens, Greene Co., New York, probably on May 3, 1821. She was sixteen years old when she arrived in Wisconsin in August, 1837. Decades later, Mary’s younger sister Elizabeth recalled:

Our first school teacher was my sister Mary, aged seventeen. The term opened in the summer of 1839, and the school was the attic chamber of my father’s log house. The pupils numbered four in addition to my brothers and sisters. The first schoolhouse was built in 1843 in Washington [later Ozaukee] county. 

Elizabeth Turck Maxon, autobiographical letter to the Old Settler’s Club of Washington County, Wisconsin, February, 1907. Reprinted in Washington County Past and Present, Vol. I. (1912).

One minor correction to sister Elizabeth’s 70-years-past recollection: in the summer of 1839 Mary Turck would have just turned 18 years old. The “first schoolhouse…built in 1843” is the “Bonniwell School,” on nearby property that originally belonged to William Bonniwell.2

Mary and Jonathan

Mary Turck married Jonathan M. Clark on March 15, 1840. The family grew and prospered. Their eldest child, Caroline was born November 7, 1840. The youngest of their eight children, Jennie, was born May 25, 1857. For more on the Jonathan M. and Mary Turck Clark family, a good place to start is Meet the Children (part 1). The 1850 federal census lists Jonathan as a farmer, owning land valued at $5,000.

Jonathan Clark died on September 20, 1857, of unknown causes. Mary and her family continued to work the Mequon farm through 1860 or so. She moved to Milwaukee with the children in 1861 or 1862.

Mary outlived Jonathan and two of their eight children, dying in Milwaukee on June 28, 1881. She is buried next to husband Jonathan M. Clark and their children Henry M. Clark, Teresa Clark Craig, and Josie M. Clark at Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee.



  1. The children of Peter Turck and Rachael Gay—and their spouses—were:
    • Mary Turck (1821-1881), married Jonathan M. Clark
    • Joseph Robert Turck (1823-1902), married Mary Ann Dixon (Dickson)
    • Adama (Adamy) Turck (1825-1908), married Alfred Whitehead
    • Elizabeth Turck (1828-1913), married Densmore W. Maxon
    • Rachel Gay Turck (1830-1918), married John G. Dietz
    • James Byron Turck (1833-1913), married first Sarah Ann Ashby, then Maria (Thompson) Bastedo
    • Sarah Turck (1835-1877), married Alfred T. Bonniwell
    • Benjamin Turck (1839-1926), married Martha A. (Farrington) Rix

  2. The date of the Bonniwell School’s first log building appears to be 1843-44. On pages 70-71 of his book The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, George Bonniwell gives 1840 as the date of the first Bonniwell School. But the hand-written minutes of the Nov. 15, 1843 meeting of Mequon’s School District No. 1 and subsequent minutes and land records show that construction of the Bonniwell School was approved in late 1843, and the building was erected sometime afterwards, in late 1843 or early 1844.

    My current opinion is that Mary Turck was at least one of the first persons to teach others in the Mequon area, from summer, 1839. She may have stopped teaching once she married Jonathan M. Clark in March, 1840, or once her first child was born in November of that year. Other sources suggest organized schooling in Mequon beginning in 1839 and 1842, and The Bonniwells: 1000 Years (page 71) mentions Tamar [Mrs. George] Bonniwell, William Worth and Edward Janssen as “pioneer teachers of this school.”