A Bonniwell Bonus: Views of Ramsgate and Chatham, England

UPDATED, Oct. 4, 2021, with a few minor edits and to add an additional footnote.

I’m still working on some longer posts; they should be ready soon. Meanwhile, I thought you might enjoy two lovely images, beginning with this nineteenth-century print, a view that would have been very familiar to a surprising number of our early Mequon immigrants:

Daniell, William, artist, Ramsgate, from William Daniell and Richard Ayton,  A voyage round Great Britain, vol. VII, 1823, aquatint and some etching with hand-colouring. © The Trustees of the British Museum, non-commercial use permitted with (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. Click to open larger image in new window.1


The British Museum describes today’s aquatint as a…

Coastal view at Ramsgate from a cliff plateau, crowded with figures behind a wooden fence at right; dockyard with boats below in foreground at left, harbour beyond

Ramsgate, Kent County, sits atop the cliffs of England’s east coast. The town and its port are located east of the cathedral city of Canterbury and north of the busy port at Dover. Ramsgate occupies the southern edge of a broad but short peninsula that projects into the English Channel. So although county Kent is about as far east as you can go in the south of England, the view in this print actually looks to the southwest.

Ramsgate has a long history that includes a visit from St. Augustine, participation in the Confederation of Cinque Ports and, more recently, the evacuation of Dunkirk. If you want to know more, this Wikipedia article is a nice place to start. And in the 1830s, the piers of Ramsgate may have been the last bit of England seen by some of Mequon’s earliest immigrant pioneers.

The Mequon connection

Over the last several months, our blog has been posting a number of “How’d they get here?” posts. Today’s post could have been another in that series or, even better, perhaps we should start a series called “Where’d they come from?” Because it turns out that Ramsgate was the likely port of departure for several Mequon families, most notably the William and Eleanor (Hills) Bonniwell family, their eight surviving children, and several of their spouses.

The Bonniwells

Most of Mequon’s pioneering Bonniwell family were born at or near Chatham, a small ship-building town on the River Medway in Kent county, about halfway between London and Ramsgate. The Bonniwell family has substantial roots in Chatham and Kent. Descendant George Bonniwell devotes a full chapter of his book, The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, to the family’s Chatham years.

Ascribed to artist Henry Dawe, after J. M. W. Turner, Moonlight on the Medway at Chatham, from series Liber Studiorum, Mezzotint and etching, 1813-1823, © The Trustees of the British Museum, non-commercial use permitted with (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. Click to open larger image in new window.

Several of the young Bonniwells married spouses from the Chatham area. Son Charles Bonniwell married Sophia Elizabeth Munn (at Chatham?) about 1828. In 1832, after migrating to America, son William T. Bonniwell married a Chatham woman, Catherine Whitehead, in New York City. His brother George married another English woman, Tamar Baisden in Kingston, New York in 1839. It’s not clear if Tamar was from Chatham or not. Bonniwell daughter Eleanor married Chatham native Philip Moss in New York in 1833.

Not all the Bonniwells married English spouses. Son James Bonniwell married Pennsylvania-born Phoebe Capes, in New York in 1836. James’s brother Henry Bonniwell married Nova Scotia native Catherine Reeves in New York City in 1839. Brother Walter Bonniwell first married Eleanor “Ellen” Bailey, a New Yorker, in 1845. Five years later, Walter and Ellen had separated, and Walter married a woman from Northamptonshire, England, Annie Coles.

The Turck family

Early Mequon settler and entrepreneur Peter Turck and his first wife, Rachael (Gay) Turck were the parents of eight children. Both Turck parents, and all but one of their children, were born in New York state. (Their youngest, son Benjamin, was born in Wisconsin in 1839.) The Turck’s eldest child, daughter Mary Turck, married Vermonter (or Canadian?) Jonathan M. Clark in 1840; Mary and Jonathan were the builders of Mequon’s historic Clark house and farm.

Interestingly, two—or possibly three—of Mary’s siblings married Chatham or Kent natives. Mary’s sister Sarah married the youngest Bonniwell brother, Chatham native Alfred Bonniwell, in Washington (later Ozaukee) county, Wisconsin—probably in or near Mequon—in 1851.

Eight years earlier, in 1843, Mary’s sister Adama/Adamy Turck married Alfred Whitehead. Alfred was the brother of Henry Whitehead, a Methodist evangelist and the first Methodist licensed to preach in Chicago. All the Whiteheads were from Chatham.

One possible, but not certain, Chatham connection: were Adamy Turck’s Chatham-born Whitehead in-laws related to Chatham-born Catherine Whitehead, the wife of William T. Bonniwell? I don’t know, yet. It would be interesting to find out.

And Mary (Turck) Clark’s brother James B. Turck, married Englishwoman Sarah Ann/Anne Ashby in Milwaukee in 1856. I haven’t confirmed this yet, but I believe this is the same Sarah Ann Ashby that was baptized in Ramsgate parish, Kent, in late 1833 or early 1834.

And just to be complete: one other Turck married an English immigrant. Mary’s brother, Joseph R. Turck, married Englishwoman Mary Ann Dickson/Dixon in New Orleans in 1857. We don’t know exactly where in England Ms. Dickson/Dixon was born.

Ramsgate, Chatham and Kent – what’s the big deal?

We know this: the late-1830s and early ’40s were a period of rapid white immigration in southeast Wisconsin. Starting in 1836, there was an initial wave of speculation and settlement by Yankees and New Yorkers as well as some Irish and German immigrants. As the 1840s arrived, large numbers of Europeans, mainly from the German lands, but also from Ireland and elsewhere, rushed to establish homes and farms in and around Milwaukee County.

Why, then, did Mequon—an obscure rural town north of Milwaukee—attract so many folks from Chatham and Ramsgate, two small seafaring towns in the east of England? One answer, of course, is the Bonniwell family. There were, after all, a lot of Bonniwells, some already married and—for a variety of reasons—they were ready to leave their English home and eventually establish themselves on newly-opened U.S. government land in Mequon.

But what about the Whiteheads and Sarah Ann Ashby? Is is purely coincidental that these Chatham natives wound up in Mequon, Wisconsin, too? It could be; genealogy and migration history are full of unlikely coincidences.

Or, could this be an example of cluster migration and/or family reunification at work? Cluster migration and the related idea of family reunification immigration were common throughout most of U.S. history, especially in the 19th- and 20th-centuries.2 In either case we look for clusters of family members and/or unrelated individuals that migrate together—or sequentially—from one particular location to another. Sometimes whole towns migrated together. (Mequon, in fact, is home to a classic example of what you might call “whole-village” cluster migration: the Pomeranian German Lutherans of the Freistadt Colony.)

Did these Bonniwell and Whitehead and Ashby (and other?) Chatham and Ramsgate families make conscious decisions to leave their homes in Kent, England in the 1830s and ’40s and migrate to the same ultimate location in Wisconsin? If so why? And why did they choose to come to Mequon?3

More mysteries…

I’ll be back soon with (quite a bit!) on one of the Clark children.



  1. If you’d like to know more about William Daniell and Richard Ayton’s multi-volume, lavishly illustrated, A voyage round Great Britain, you might enjoy this blog feature from the University of Glasgow Libraries’ Special Collections department.

  2. Until recently, genealogists used to sometimes refer to these phenomena as chain migration. That term now has unfortunate political connotations that are not usually relevant to genealogists and historians, so cluster migration and family reunification are becoming the more accurate and preferred terms.

  3. They came from England to Mequon, or if not there, Milwaukee. I’m still working on Sarah Ann Ashby’s history, but it appears that she was born and/or baptized in Ramsgate, and at some point may have moved to London, where she found work as a seamstress. She may have come to America in 1852, sailing from Glasgow to New York. How she came to be in Wisconsin, and how she met James B. Turck is still unknown.

2 thoughts on “A Bonniwell Bonus: Views of Ramsgate and Chatham, England

  1. Pingback: Bonniwell Bonus: the Chatham dockyards | Clark House Historian

  2. Pingback: Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 1: England to Canada | Clark House Historian

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