Meet the Neighbors – Philip Moss (1809-1890)

The Bonniwell Brother-In-Law

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The portrait is from A. T. Andreas’s History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, vol. 1, p. 481, Western Historical Publishing, Chicago. (1881). Volume 2, page 1601, of the same book includes this biographical sketch (I have added a few paragraph breaks for ease of reading):

PHILLIP MOSS was born August 3, 1809, at Chatham, Kent County, England, being apprenticed, when a youth, to Wigram & Green, who owned the shipyard, Blackwell, London. He was educated at the common school and business college, emigrating to New York, and arriving in that city August 10, 1833. New York was not then blessed with gas, oil lamps lighting up her streets. Mr. Moss went at once to Albany, where he was employed by Corbit & Kinyon.

In November, 1835, he married Miss Eleanor M. Bonniwell, who died, September 8. 1850, after a short illness. Upon the death of Mr. Corbit, who had become sole proprietor of the shipyard, Mr. Moss conducted the business himself. He came to the Territory of Wisconsin May 27, 1842, having experienced a heavy gale between the Manitou Islands and Chicago, and laying three days in the harbor of the latter place; settled on one hundred and sixty acres of timber land at Mequon, sixteen miles north Milwaukee. Here he cleared seventy acres, built a frame house, and in 1845 was elected Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, and Poor-Master for Washington County, now Ozaukee. During the same year the County Farm was purchased from the Government. This is still situated in Washington County.

Mr. Moss was appointed one of the Commissioners for the division of the Grafton Water Power; filled the office of Assessor of the Town of Grafton in 1849; appointed Commissioner for the appraisal of lands and buildings for the first Lake Shore Railway, which was never completed. Mr. Moss fitted up the first court-house, for the late Judge Miller, at Grafton. While acting as a juryman before that Judge, October 14, 1852, the report of a pistol shot was heard, and diagonally across Wisconsin street John Lace, the victim of Mary Ann Wheeler, lay weltering in his life blood.

He built several frame houses in the Bonniwell Settlement; and in the Winter of 1853 sub-contracted for the building of the “three-and after” clipper, “Badger State;’ of four hundred and ninety-one tons; also the schooners “Emma” and “Emily,” and the United States dredge, all of which were constructed on the south side of the Menomonee River. The “Bonniwell Settlement” was one of the many towns [sic] which received a severe blow upon the collapse of the La Crosse & Milwaukee Railway Company. Mr. Moss superintended the building of the schooners ‘Norway,” “Fred Hill” and “Undine”in 1854, and in 1856, the fine “three-master,” “Hans Crocker,” said to be the finest of that day. The owners were Messrs. Hibbard and James Steward. She was wrecked near Kenosha about five years ago.

Mr. Moss went to Detroit in the Summer of 1863, laying down and putting in frame the large three-and-after, “H. P. Bridge”; also superintended the rebuilding of the schooners “Live Yankee,” “Perseverance”, “Northern Bell,” “Nightingale,” and the buoys for the Government, to be placed on Lake Superior. After an absence of about sixteen months he returned to Milwaukee.

On July 1, 1858, Mr. Moss married his second wife, Miss Helen M. Upham, teacher of the First Ward School, this city. After a lingering illness, she died of consumption, October 22, 1875.

Friend of the family

This 1881 biographical sketch focuses on Moss’s varied and productive public life. On a more personal level, Philip Moss appears to have also been a trusted friend and advisor of Mary Clark and the Clark and Turck families. In the 1870s and 1880s he served as administrator or guardian for several members of the Clark and Turck families in Milwaukee county probate court proceedings. I’ll have more to say about those cases in future posts.

Typically, local history biographies such as this were written by the subject himself, or were the product of an interview between the subject and the book’s editorial staff. These sketches can be biased and selective, and it’s usually wise to treat such biographies with at least a bit of skepticism. Fortunately, I have found other sources that confirm many of the essential birth, marriage, migration, and death facts in this biographical sketch. Many of the other details are unique to this 1881 source, but seem to fit with what we know of Philip Moss’s life and character.

Naturally, this 1881 piece only covers some of Philip Moss’s life story; other notable events must be missing. One of those is outlined by George B. Bonniwell in his The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, when in 1855 Philip Moss “traveled back to England and kept a daily diary of the entire trip.”1


Philip Moss lived another nine years after the publication of this sketch. He died in Milwaukee on June 19, 1890 and left a considerable estate. Page 2 of the June 26, 1890 edition of the Milwaukee Journal noted:

Philip Moss’ Will Filed for Probate.

The will of Philip Moss was filed for
probate today. It devises an estate of
$45,000, divided among relatives. The
will is dated March 1, 1983 [sic, 1883], and names
George A. Young as executor.

Philip Moss’s will is available online in Wisconsin, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1800-1987 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2015.2 The will makes it clear that Moss had no (surviving) children.3

Philip Moss was buried in Forest Home Cemetery, alongside both of his wives, Eleanor “Ellen” M. (Bonniwell) Moss and Helen M.(Upham) Moss.

Stay safe. Be well. See you next time.



  1. For details of Philip Moss’s 1855 trip to England, see The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, pages 127-128.  If you’d like a copy of this unique, handsome, and generously-illustrated hardcover book, George B. Bonniwell still has some for sale at $30 each. If you’re interested, send me a message via the blog’s Contact form, and I can put you in touch with the author.

  2. has mis-indexed both of Moss’s Milwaukee County probate court files under the name “Phillip Moss,” but the files are clearly those of the Bonniwell settlement’s Philip Moss. The initial filing was made in 1883 and the final settlement of the estate was made in 1900. Both files should be consulted for more information.

  3. Did Philip Moss have children with either of his wives? I have not seen any evidence of children on the documents to which I’ve had access, including federal decennial census records for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. Philip Moss’s probate file states there were no living children at the time of his death, but there were a number of Moss family legatees.

    Philip Moss’s next of kin included his niece Kate (Katie) Moss; “my brother’s wife” Alice Moss (wife of William Moss); two nieces Louisa Moss and Mary Ann Moss residing in Gravesend, Kent Co., England; brother William Moss of Milwaukee; brother Robert B. Moss (father of Louisa and Mary Ann Moss) of Gravesend, Kent Co., England; Florence Moss, daughter of William Moss; Harry (mis-transcribed in one place as “Mary”) Moss, son of William Moss; and Matilda Moss, daughter of William Moss.

    The will and several codicils distribute his estate among the family members, primarily the nieces and nephew. Niece Katie A. Moss received “all my library, pictures and photographs.”

2 thoughts on “Meet the Neighbors – Philip Moss (1809-1890)

  1. Pingback: Sewing for the family | Clark House Historian

  2. Pingback: Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 2: New York | Clark House Historian

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