RBOH – Social Calls by Canoe, 1833

Another in our occasional series of Random Bits of History, illustrating life as experienced by the early Mequon settlers and their contemporaries. Today’s RBOH is an example of how strong early Wisconsin women could be, and how they used that strength to maintain community and social relationships across the vast distances between military posts.

Jonathan M Clark served with the U.S. Army’s 5th Regiment of Infantry at Fort Howard, Green Bay, Wisconsin Territory, from 1833-1836. The Fifth Regiment was responsible for four major outposts in the Old Northwest: Ft. Dearborn (Chicago), Ft. Howard (Green Bay), Ft. Winnebago (at the Fox and Wisconsin river portage) and Ft. Crawford (at Prairie du Chien).

We expect a soldier’s life on the frontier to be spartan and difficult, and in many ways is was. Generally speaking, enlisted men like JMC were unmarried and lived in together in the post’s barracks. But quite a few of the regiment’s officers were married, and brought their spouses—and children—to live with them on post or, occasionally, in homes in the adjacent village. As “officer’s ladies,” these women often lived separate lives from the civilian women of nearby settlements, such as Green Bay. So they formed their own bonds to provide mutual aid, comfort, society and entertainment while living in some of the army’s most isolated outposts.

And they did not let their social bonds break, even when friends were transferred to other forts. Here are some examples from about 1833:

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Erie Canal – the Woodworth family, 1835 (part 2)

Continuing our look at the influence of the Erie Canal on the lives of Mequon pioneers such as Jonathan M. Clark and the Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck family (here and here), and the Bonniwell family (here). Today’s post continues our look at the first of two migrations of brother Ephraim and James Woodworth from Nova Scotia to their eventual home in Mequon. This post will make more sense if you read Part 1 first. The Woodworths were among many immigrants from Nova Scotia—including the Strickland, Loomer, Bigelow and West families—that came to Mequon and other parts of old Washington/Ozaukee county, Wisconsin Territory, during the early decades of settlement. 

Setting the scene: Eastern Canada and the Northeast United States, c. 1835

Here’s an annotated version of the map we featured in Part 1. As always, be sure to click the map to open a larger, high-resolution version in a new window. (If you’d like to see an enlarged, zoomable version of the original map, just click here.) Today’s annotated map illustrates the Woodworths’ 1835 trip as recorded in James W. Woodworth’s published diary.1 Later in this post we have another—more detailed— map to show the brothers’ wanderings in Ohio.

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RBOH – Walter Bonniwell’s first marriage

UPDATED: February 25, 2021. See notes, below, for details.

Introducing RBOH – Random Bits of History!

I have so much information to organize and share with fellow Clark House researchers and blog readers, and it doesn’t always fit into a one of our longer, regular blog posts. So today we begin an occasional series where I publish random bits and pieces of Mequon related history. With RBOH, I plan to write shorter posts that present new information or unknown documents, and try to solve mysteries or confirm existing, but undocumented, facts. Let me know if you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests.

Walter Bonniwell’s first marriage documented!

Regular readers know that I often refer to George B. Bonniwell’s excellent history of Mequon’s early and influential pioneer family—and Clark House neighbors, friends, and in-laws—the Bonniwells. Like any work of history or genealogy, George’s book, The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, printed in 1999, has a few omissions and blank spots. But research has not stopped since his book was printed, and today we present three documents that give information about one of those missing bits of history, the marriage of Walter Bonniwell (1824-1884) and his first wife, Eleanor “Ellen” Bailey (c. 1827 to ????). In the process we’ll run into another key early settler—and man of many trades—Jonathan M. Clark’s father-in-law, Peter Turck.

Marriage License – January 18, 1845

The couple’s handwritten marriage license is image number 1211 in the Milwaukee Public Library’s collection of Milwaukee County Marriage Certificates. It reads:

Territory of Wisconsin }
Washington County }
License is hereby given to

Walter Bonniwell and Ellen
Bailey to Unite in Marriage according
to Law
Given under my hand this 18th day of January. A.D. 1845
{SL} Peter Turck Justice of the Peace

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Erie Canal – the Woodworth family, 1835 (part 1)

We’ve been looking at the influence of the Erie Canal on the early lives of both Jonathan M. Clark and the Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck family (here and here), and the Bonniwell family (here), I thought I’d share more stories of Mequon settlers that used the canal to make their way westward to the wilds of the Wisconsin Territory in the 1830s and ’40s. Today’s focus is on immigrants from Nova Scotia, particularly the Woodworth brothers, Ephraim and James.

We’re going to need a bigger map!

We’ve had numerous occasions to quote from the memoirs of early Mequon pioneer—and Turck and Clark family friend—James W. Woodworth. Unlike many pioneers who came west, bought land, and never returned home, James W. Woodworth and various members of his family made the round-trip journey between Nova Scotia to the newly opened lands of the midwestern U.S. several times in the 1830s and ’40s. Descriptions of three separate trips can be found in Rev. Woodworth’s book, and they give additional color and detail to our understanding of what immigration to “the West” was like in that era. But to give you a proper feel for the hardiness of these 19th-century migrants, we’re going to need a bigger map!

Eastern Canada and the Northeast United States, c. 1835

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Erie Canal – the Bonniwell Family 1832-39

Inspired by our earlier looks at the influence of the Erie Canal on the early lives of both Jonathan M. Clark and the Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck family (here and here), I thought I’d share more stories of Mequon settlers that used the canal to make their way westward to the wilds of the Wisconsin Territory in the 1830s and ’40s. Today’s focus is on the Bonniwell family.

England to Montréal to New York

Originally from Chatham, Kent Co., England, the William T. B. and Eleanor (Hills) Bonniwell family came to Lower Canada by ship, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean and up the St. Lawrence River to Montréal. Shortly after arrival in 1832, family patriarch William T. B Bonniwell died there of cholera.

Following her husband’s untimely death, Eleanor (Hills) Bonniwell, decided to leave Montréal and take her children south to New York City, via the Richelieu River, Lake Champlain and the new Champlain Canal connecting Whitehall, New York, to the Hudson River. Two of her sons, George and William Bonniwell, had already located and found work in New York City.

After living for a bit in New York City, Eleanor moved upriver to the town of Esopus, Ulster County, on the west bank of the Hudson River. Sometime around 1835 Eleanor Bonniwell married a second time. Her new husband was a widower, Captain Christopher Hyde, of the town of Hyde Park, just across the river in Dutchess County.

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Erie Canal – Macedon, New York

As a follow up to our look at the Erie Canal and our Turck and Clark families, I’ve been researching and writing about some other early Mequon settlers and their migrations to Mequon from Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, New England and New York. It’s taking longer than I expected.

Until those posts are ready, here’s a photo of one of the historic Erie Canal locks, near Macedon, Wayne County, New York. Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck lived nearby from sometime around 1828 until they went west to Buffalo, New York to begin their steamship journey to Milwaukee in July or August, 1837. A large number of other early Mequon immigrants, including the Bonniwell and Woodworth families, also would have passed through this lock (or its predecessor) on their way their new homes in Wisconsin.

Historic Erie Canal Lock No. 60, near Macedon, Wayne Co., New York, looking to the west. Photo by Reed Perkins, 2011. Click to open larger image in new window.

This is the expanded, second version of this lock. When it was built in 1821, as part of the original canal, it was Lock 71. As a nearby marker explains:

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Monday: Map Day! – The Erie Canal

Turck, Gay & Clark in the early years of the Erie Canal

New York state’s Erie Canal was one of the wonders of the modern world when it first opened to the public in 1825. The original 362 miles of canals and locks connected the Hudson River at Albany, in the east, with Lake Erie at Buffalo, in the west. This made a faster, more economical connection between the goods and markets of the eastern states and Atlantic seaboard and the newly opened lands, crops, and timber products of the nation’s newest states and territories.

Another important part of the New York state canal system was the Champlain Canal. It was built at the same time as the Erie Canal and connected Canada and western New England—via Lake Champlain—to New York and the world. Today’s map shows the course of both the Erie Canal and the Champlain Canal, and their rise and fall, as they existed in in the early 1830s. In the 1820s and ’30s, these two canals made possible the westward migration of many of Mequon’s early settlers, including—among others—the Turck, Bonniwell, Woodworth, Strickland, and Loomer families, and the young Jonathan M. Clark. Let’s begin by looking at the whole map, and then zoom in on some particular Clark, Turck and Gay family details:

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Turck, Turk…Durk?

Spelling variations in old records

Durk, Peter [Turck], baptismal record, 1798, detail. “Peter” starts the left column, father “Jacob A. Durk” is at the top of the center column (source). Click to open larger image in new window.

In a previous post, reader Laura Rexroth asked: Why did they spell Peter Turck’s name incorrectly [i.e., Durk] when he was baptized? That’s a great question, and super relevant to successful historical and genealogical research. So let’s talk about the Turck family surname and, by extension, the whole issue of spelling in earlier times and documents.

There are two main issues to keep in mind:
• variations in spelling that existed at the time the source material was created, and
• subsequent misreadings, including incorrect transcription or indexing of sources

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Clark House News

The Friends of the Jonathan Clark House February newsletter is here! Many thanks to all the volunteers, donors, and Clark House board members for their continuing work “to collect, preserve and share the history of the Jonathan Clark House and the early settlers of Mequon Thiensville.”

Once again, Clark House executive director Nina Look has done a wonderful job leading the work of the museum, coordinating the volunteers, and putting together an informative and generously-illustrated newsletter. Just click on this image of the first page to open your own downloadable pdf in a new window:

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CHH Reader Challenge – results!

At the end of last month, while working on some longer posts about the Turcks and Clarks, I had some fun creating the first Clark House Historian Reader Challenge: where you get to be the historian!, and today we have the results. The original challenge went something like this:

Here’s an excerpt of a document that will be part of an upcoming post. Can you read and transcribe it? (Ignore the squiggles in the top right corner, they belong to another record on the same page.)

The original CHH Reader Challenge #1. Click to open larger image in new window.

And I gave y’all a hint, the full page from which this record was excerpted. And as a second hint, I suggested that a look at my discussion of Kurrent handwriting might be helpful.

So what is this a record of, and what does it say?

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