Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 1: England to Canada

Today’s post is another installment in our new series about the life of Alfred Bonniwell, youngest son of Mequon’s Bonniwell family, and brother-in-law of Jonathan and Mary (Turck) Clark. If you missed them, our first installments are here and here. Although I—and others—have written quite a bit about the Bonniwells in Mequon, Alfred and his family have remained something of a mystery. It’s time to try and fix that. So for the next few posts our focus will be on Alfred Bonniwell, his life and descendants, as described in contemporary documents.

Alfred Bonniwell’s earliest record

The earliest record of Alfred Bonniwell that I have seen is an index of his 1826 baptism.1 It includes this information:

Name: Alfred Febbett Bonniwell
Christening Date: 7 May 1826
Christening Place: St. Mary’s, Chatham, Kent, England
Father’s Name: William Bonniwell
Mother’s Name Eleanor Bonniwell

St. Mary’s Church, Chatham, Kent. Photo copyright ©2008 David Anstiss; licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License, lightly cropped for this blog. Source. Click to open larger image in new window.

Other, later, records indicate that Alfred was born on April 1, 1826. A baptism in the following month or so—such as on May 7th, 1826—would be pretty typical for Anglican parish baptisms of the period. So the date, as well as the names of the parents, are consistent with what we already knew about Mequon’s Alfred Bonniwell.

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Bonniwell Bonus: the Chatham dockyards

I’m gotten a good bit of research done on my Alfred and Sarah (Turck) Bonniwell project this week, but time (and focus) to write and edit posts has been at a premium. So while I’m still writing and editing, here’s a historic Bonniwell-related image for your enjoyment.

Chatham Dockyards, c. 1763-1789

Mitchell, Thomas (1735-1790), Chatham; view from a height over a dockyard with man-of-war being repaired at centre, a building with a clocktower at right and another building at right, brush drawing in grey wash, with watercolor, over graphite. Copyright, Trustees of the British Museum, (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license). Click to open larger image in new window.

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Alfred Bonniwell project

UPDATED 16 July 2022, to correct typo in Alfred’s death year. Correct year is 1895.

At last month’s annual meeting of the Friends of the Jonathan Clark House, assistant director Nina Look mentioned that she had some sort of research project coming later this year, involving the youngest Bonniwell brother, Alfred T. Bonniwell (1826-1895). I’m not quite sure what Nina’s project will focus on, but Alfred is, perhaps, the least-known Bonniwell, and deserves further study.

As a Bonniwell brother, Alfred plays his part in the establishment of one of Mequon’s first cleared and populated areas, the Bonniwell Settlement. The Clark house—and Clark family—played an important role in the early decades of this settlement, and the history of the Clark family is intimately tied up with their neighbors, the Bonniwells. How intimately?

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Sewing for the family

Updated February 22, 2022 to fix a few minor typos, and to add a link to a brief history of American samplers, with an illustrated list of 73 of the 137 American samplers in the Textile Collection of the National Museum of American History.

In addition to raising and educating her children, a 19th-century farm wife like Mary Turck Clark had many other responsibilities, including planning and tending a farm garden, preserving its produce, preparing daily meals for the family and hired hands, and keeping the farm house clean and organized. And Mary, like many women of her era, probably made some or all of her own and her family’s clothes.

The sewing arts

Like most girls of her era, Mary Turck (born in New York, 1821) probably learned the craft of needlework from her mother and, perhaps, as part of her school education. When a young girl like Mary mastered some of the many practical and decorative sewing stitches, she might demonstrate her proficiency by making a sampler.

A sampler might feature simple examples of sewn letters, numbers and perhaps a popular saying or Bible verse. But many samplers were more complex and artistic. An accomplished embroiderer might produce an elaborate sampler featuring detailed images and texts, as in this 1829 sampler from Connecticut.

Thompson, Mariette (1817-1851), [Sampler with family register], 1829. Yale Art Gallery, public domain. Click to open larger image in new window.

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What did you do on Sunday?

Updated Feb. 14, 2022 to add the qualifier “English-speaking” to the second paragraph.

Did you watch the Big Game? Go out to eat? Maybe you had to put in a shift at work? Or did you just take a break and relax at home, gearing up for another week on the job? Perhaps you went to church on Sunday.

In Jonathan and Mary Clark’s era, many of their Mequon neighbors would honor the Sabbath by refraining from all work and worshiping privately at home with their families, or gathering with small groups of neighbors to pray and hear the Word. Beginning in the early-1840s, the English-speaking Protestant Christians living near the Clark House—including many members of the Clark, Bonniwell and Turck families—gathered at the new, one-room, Bonniwell School to worship together at Sunday services; these were often led by their neighbor, the farmer and evangelical Methodist preacher Rev. James W. Woodworth.

Rev. Woodworth has concerns…

We have talked about Rev. Woodworth previously and, as we have seen before, he was constantly concerned about the state of his neighbors’ souls. It seems that even though the nation was still riding the wave of several decades of the religious revival now known as the Second Great Awakening, the settlers of the young Wisconsin territory and state were not always very good at “keeping the Sabbath holy.” In his diary entry for August 10, 1855, the reverend lamented:

Aug. 10. The holy Sabbath in this place is most shamefully dese­crated. Hunting, fishing, playing at nine-pins, gambling and other guilty pleasures on this holy day of the Lord. I hope in God that­ he will overturn the kingdom of darkness, and leave them so comfort­less that they may gnaw their tongues for pain, till they return from- their evil ways to God, and do works meet for repentance.

Woodworth, James W., My path and the way the Lord led me, Milwaukee, 1878, p. 79.

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How’d they get here? – JMC, the Bonniwells, and Whitehall, NY

We’ve mentioned Whitehall, New York, on several occasions. Located just east of the south end of Lake Champlain, the town of Whitehall has long claimed to be the “Birthplace of the U.S. Navy.” More importantly for our story, in 1823 Whitehall became the northern terminus of the Champlain Canal, connecting the Hudson River and the Erie Canal to Lake Champlain and points further north.1

Port of Entry

More importantly for our story, Whitehall served as an international port of entry for immigrants coming to New York and New England from Canada and overseas via the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain. In the early 1830s, these immigrants included Jonathan M. Clark, who came from Lower Canada in April, 1831,2 and the entire Bonniwell family, who arrived the following year.3

What did our immigrants of 1831 and ’32 see just before they stepped ashore in the United States? The hustle and bustle of a major harbor and center of commerce such as New York, Boston or Philadelphia? Er, no. Instead, this is what greeted our intrepid newcomers:

Whitehall, Lake Champlain

Milbert, Jacques Gerard, Amerique Septentrionale – Etat de New-York. N. 21, pl. 1…White Hall, Lake Champlain, Lithograph by Bichebois and Adam, Paris, 1828–1829. Yale Art Gallery, Mabel Brady Garvan Collection. Public Domain. Click to open larger image in new window.

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Winter fun, 1868

Updated Feb. 11, 2022, with information about Milwaukee’s “original Ice Bear,” Henry Kroeger (see comments, below).

The 24th Winter Olympic Games are now under way in Beijing, with a dizzying profusion of modern sliding and gliding winter sports. Of course, outdoor winter games and sports pre-date the modern Olympics by hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Among the oldest and most popular of these is ice skating.

Homer, Winslow, “Winter” — A Skating Scene, from Harper’s Weekly, January 25, 1868. Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Ray Austrian Collection, gift of Beatrice L. Austrian, Caryl A. Austrian and James A. Austrian. Public domain, CC0. Click to open larger image in new window

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