How’d they get here? – JMC to Ft.Howard, 1833.

Our series of “How’d they get here?” posts is written to illustrate the nuts and bolts of how our early Mequon pioneers travelled from their original homes or ports of arrival in North America to the newly opened federal lands in Wisconsin Territory, circa 1830-1850. Today’s post looks at how Jonathan M. Clark may have made the trip west to Wisconsin in October, 1833. And, in the process, we correct an important, but incorrect, date in the JMC timeline.

Jonathan M. Clark heads west

Back in June, 2016, I outlined what we knew about Jonathan Clark’s 1833 enlistment in the army and subsequent journey to Green Bay:

After enlisting in the Army in Utica, New York, on September 19 and confirming his enlistment on September 28, 1833, Jonathan was sent to one of the Army’s “general depots.” I’ve not yet established which one he went to; the most likely places were the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri, or Kentucky’s  Newport Barracks, on the south side of the Ohio River, across from Cincinnati. It’s possible that Jonathan may have reported to another “depot,” perhaps Ft. Niagara, New York, which was the home base of JMC’s recruiter, Capt. Clitz.

In any case, less than a month later Jonathan arrived at Fort Howard, Michigan [later Wisconsin] Territory. Fort Howard was the headquarters of the army’s Fifth Regiment, with easy water access via Lake Michigan to Ft. Dearborn, Chicago and, via the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, to Forts Winnebago and Crawford.

Perkins, Reed, “Pvt. Clark, reporting for duty”, Clark House Historian, June 3, 2016, lightly revised and updated.

Now that we know more about early transportation routes from New York to Wisconsin it seems unlikely that JMC reported to either the Jefferson Barracks or the Newport Barracks before arriving at Fort Howard. Yes, it would have been relatively easy to travel from Utica, New York, to either the Jefferson or Newport barracks via the Erie Canal to Lake Erie, and then the Ohio canals and Ohio river. But Fort Howard was one of the army’s northernmost posts. If JMC had been shipped to one of the main personnel depots in Kentucky or Missouri, the northward trip from either place to Green Bay and Ft. Howard would have been needlessly long and difficult.

Fort Niagara

I now suspect that Jonathan Clark mustered in to service at Fort Niagara, New York.2

Map detail, showing western New York state, including Ft. Niagara, the Erie Canal, and Buffalo, from Poussin, Guillaume-Tell, Travaux d’ameliorations interieures projetes ou executes par le Gouvernement General des Etats-Unis d’Amerique, de 1824 a 1831 … Atlas. Paris, Anselin, Libraire, pour l’art militaire, les sciences et les arts, […],1834. Imprimerie de Lachevardiere, rue du Colombier, No. 30. Credit, David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, non-commercial use permitted under Creative Commons license. Click image to open larger image in new window.1

Jonathan Clark’s regiment, the U.S. 5th Infantry, had long maintained a presence at historic Ft. Niagara, New York, where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario. In 1833, the 5th regiment’s Capt. John Clitz was stationed there on detached duty for the army’s recruiting service. It would be most logical and efficient for Capt. Clitz’s upstate New York recruits to travel west on the Erie Canal to Lockport or Buffalo and then make the short trip to Ft. Niagara for training and final duty assignments.

Once the new recruits were ready for duty, the quickest way to get them to Green Bay and Fort Howard would be a modern steamboat for a quick run via the Great Lakes route, a ship like…

Steamboat Michigan

The October 28, 1833 issue of the New York, New York Spectator reprinted this news item, announcing the arrival and imminent departure of a grand, new Great Lakes steamer:

From the Buffalo Journal of Oct. 16.

STEAMBOAT MICHIGAN, Capt. Blake, master, and Battell, engineer, arrived in our harbor yesterday at 12 o’clock. She is beyond dispute, the most splendid boat on the Lake. Her deck 156 feet—breadth of hull 29 feet—entire breadth 56 feet—depth of hold 11 feet. Two fine low pressure engines from the factory of the Detroit Iron Company of 40 inch cylinder. On deck, ladies’ cabin, containing 16 berths, dressing room, washing room, &c. well arranged and elegantly furnished. In main cabin, six pleasant state-rooms, on either hand of the prettiest arranged bar we ever saw, containing 3 berths each and 48 general berths, together with a well arranged wash room at the foot of starboard stair-case. In steerage cabin, 48 berths. She is of 500 tons burthen, ship-rigged, owned by the Lake Michigan Steamboat Company, built by Fairbanks Church, under the direction of O Newberry, Esquire, one of her principal owners, and fitted by Statts, of this city. Barker & Holt, agents and owners at this end of the line. Cost sixty-five thousand dollars.

Her stern is ornamented by the coat of arms of Michigan, a medallion supported by an eagle on each side, the centre a tree, bearing the motto at head “E Pluribus unum,” and at foot “Tandem fit Surculus Arbor”—the twig at length becomes a tree.

Wait – we’ve got a picture of this ship!

The 1833 steamboat Michigan was built and based in Detroit. I believe it is the same steamboat Michigan that featured prominently in the 1837 aquatint we examined in our post How’d they get here? – Great Lakes ships, circa 1837:

Bennett, William J., after a sketch by Frederick K. Grain, City of Detroit, Michigan. Taken from the Canada shore near the Ferry, detail, steamboat Michigan. Click to open larger image in new window.

Yes, there are a few discrepancies between the description of the ship in the 1833 news item, and in the 1837 print. But I have looked at a variety of sources and I’m reasonably sure that the 1833 Michigan was still afloat and in business in 1837, and that there was not another ship sailing under the same name at that time, either.

If that’s the case, and the pictured steamboat is the one-and-only steamboat Michigan sailing the Great Lakes in 1833…

Is this the ship that took JMC to Ft. Howard?

The (reprinted) October 16, 1833, Buffalo Journal news item concludes with this tantalizing bit of information:

The Michigan was immediately chartered for Green Bay, and leaves with passengers, and about two hundred United States’ troops, at two o’clock, P.M., today.3

Could this charter include Jonathan M. Clark among the 200 U.S. soldiers heading toward their new posts in “the West”? Let’s look at a timeline based on the article, and what we know from 5th regiment documents:

  • the original news item was dated October 16, 1833
  • the ship arrived in Buffalo, from Detroit, “yesterday” (i.e., Oct. 15), 12 o’clock (presumably noon)
  • the ship is due to depart “today” (i.e., Oct. 16) at 2:00 p.m.

Based on my 2016 reading of the hand-written information recorded in the 5th Regiment’s October, 1833, “Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments,” I believed Jonathan M. Clark reported for duty at Ft. Howard on October 20, 1833 (i.e., only four days after the Michigan departed Buffalo).Even in the newest, fastest steamboat of the era, a Great Lakes trip from Buffalo, New York, to Fort Howard, Green Bay, was simply not possible in four days. The trip usually took at least a week or so and, depending on weather and other conditions, often twice that long. So what’s up?

Back to the source

Let’s take a closer look at the army report that documents JMC’s arrival at Ft. Howard, paying particular attention to the way the clerk formed his numerals 2 and 3:

Pvt. Jonathan M. Clark (no. 12) reports to Ft. Howard, Michigan Territory, Oct. 30, 1833. Annotated detail from NARA, Washington, D.C.; Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments, June 1821 – December 1916; Microfilm Serial: M665; Roll: 54 Military Year : 1832-1842. Return for October, 1833, verso. Accessed online at Click for larger image in a new window.

The date in the red box is the date Jonathan M. Clark and 12 other recruits arrived at Ft. Howard. I originally transcribed this as “20th Oct. 1833.” But that is not correct. Examine the handwritten numerals 2 and 3 in the blue boxes. And look at the date in the blue circle: “20th Oct. 1833.” Compare those 2s and 3s with the numerals in the red box.

After a close look we now can say: the correct date for JMC’s arrival at Ft. Howard was 30th Oct. 1833.

October 20th vs 30th – what’s the big deal?

First of all, as a basic principle, it’s nice to get the facts right. I mis-read the digit back in 2016, and now I get to correct the record.

And more importantly for this “How’d they get there?” post, if JMC and the other 12 “Recruits joined from General Depot” arrived on October 30th, that means that it’s highly likely that they were among the two hundred “U.S. Troops” heading for Green Bay on the chartered steamboat Michigan, the same boat illustrated in the 1837 print.

What did Jonathan think?

Put yourself in JMC’s boots: It’s autumn, 1833. You are Jonathan M. Clark, a 22-year-old farmer, born and raised somewhere in northern Vermont or nearby Lower Canada. You’ve been farming in Utica, New York for, perhaps, a year or two. You may have traveled on modest lake ships or canal boats to get from your original home up north to the Utica area.

For some reason—perhaps a desire to serve your country, or a sense of adventure, or just to earn some steady income—you enlist in the U.S. Army. And after a few weeks of drilling and training at Ft. Niagara, you get aboard the shiniest, fastest, newest steamer on the Great Lakes for a fourteen-day voyage to your new army home. Even if you and your fellow soldiers had to sleep in steerage, the trip on the Michigan must have been memorable.

And then you arrive at Ft. Howard. The contrasts between the bustling canal city of Utica, the expanding port at Buffalo and the sleek steamboat voyage on the Michigan, and the new rigors of army life on the farthest parts of the Northwest frontier are hard to imagine.



  1. For more information about, and a high-quality reproduction of, this beautiful map—and a discussion of how it illustrates the westward migrations of Jonathan Clark, the Turck and Gay families—please read our February, 2021, post: Monday: Map Day! – The Erie Canal

  2. I suspect this is correct, but I don’t have any documentation to back that up. At some point, after NARA is fully open for research, I would love to make a visit to the National Archives in DC. NARA’s online finding guides suggest that records for the 5th Infantry circa 1833-1836 may still exist. If so, I’d like to know how JMC got to Ft. Howard, how he earned his promotion(s) from private to sergeant and, if we were really lucky, where he went at the end of his term of enlistment.

  3. The reprinted Buffalo Journal article about the steamboat Michigan appeared in longer and shorter versions in several eastern newspapers in late-October, 1833, all of which I accessed via