Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 2: New York

Today’s post continues our 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 herehere and here.
UPDATED, February 2, 2022, to include additional information and a link to an earlier post about Bonniwell brother-in-law Philip Moss.
UPDATED, May 22, 2022, to correct Charles Bonniwell’s birth year (should be 1806)

Following their father’s death and burial in Montréal, Lower Canada, on October 18, 1832, the Bonniwell family was at a crossroads. Their original plan to patent land in Lower Canada had to be abandoned. As eldest son Charles Bonniwell recalled;

[…] the family received letters from the brothers who had located in New York [George and William] to come there without delay, and so [we] lost no time in taking the trip by way of Lake Champlain and Whitehall. I went to work in New York [City] where my brothers had employment at the navy yard.1

Whitehall, New York state’s port of entry at the south end of Lake Champlain, was an important waypoint for the Bonniwells, as it would also be for Jonathan M. Clark and other future Mequon neighbors. For more on that, including a handsome lithograph of Whitehall as it appeared c. 1828-1829, see How’d they get here? – JMC, the Bonniwells, and Whitehall, NY

As it turns out, Charles Bonniwell’s statement, “[we] lost no time in taking the trip by way of Lake Champlain and Whitehall,” may be a bit of a generalization. While I have not had a chance to collect or examine copies of the actual naturalization documents for all the Bonniwell boys, the modern index cards for those papers indicate that at the time of father William T. B. Bonniwell’s death the family was already dispersed at several locations. They would eventually reunite and migrate to Wisconsin Territory in 1839.

Where’s Alfred?

Many aspects of the lives of the Bonniwell family in New York are not well documented, including the activities of young Alfred T. Bonniwell. Alfred was only six and a half years old when his father died in Montréal in October, 1832. According to his naturalization papers (filed in Milwaukee on April 6, 1849, and summarized on this modern index card), we know Alfred entered the United States at Whitehall, New York, sometime in November, 1832.

This index card—and Alfred’s 1849 final citizenship document that it summarizes—are the only two official records that I have located that document Alfred’s years in New York state. Without some of the Bonniwell family papers cited in The Bonniwells, and the newspaper articles featuring Charles’s recollections, much of Alfred’s—and his family’s—life from 1832 to 1839 would be a complete mystery.

Based on brother Charles’s recollections, and other documents we have, we can assume that when Alfred came to the U.S. he was accompanied by his mother and several of his siblings, including brothers Charles (27), James (21), and Walter (age 8), and sister Eleanor (18). But not brother Henry (age about 14); more on Henry’s wanderings, below. But my understanding of which Bonniwell migrated via which port, to which destination, and what they did after arrival, is not completely clear. In fact, the family did not all travel together from Montréal to New York, via Whitehall, in November, 1832. Let’s look at the documents for more information…

The Bonniwells cross the border

Let’s see what we can find out about each Bonniwell’s date and port of entry into the United States. Bear in mind that these index cards of the Bonniwell’s 1830s and ’40s naturalization papers are not the original documents; the originals may contain more information. Or not. Sometimes even citizenship papers can have blank spots where we would expect to find important facts. With that in mind, here are all the index cards for Bonniwell family naturalization papers that I have been able to locate to date:

William T. Bonniwell, born 1809

According to this index, William entered the U.S via “New York” (city? state?) in June, 1832, three months before his father’s death in Montréal. But page 99 of The Bonniwells states that he “came to New York in 1831 and along with his brother, George, worked as a shipwright.” We also know that William married in New York city on April 3, 1832, five months before the rest of his family’s arrival—and father’s death—in Montreal. All of this suggests that the index card immigration date is not correct. William finally obtained his citizenship in Milwaukee on July 3, 1841. I have not yet located copies of his first or second naturalization papers.

James Bonniwell, born 1811

This online index shows that James Bonniwell began his citizenship process by filing first papers in Ulster County, New York, on October 4, 1836. He was living in the town of Esopus, apparently with his mother and several brothers, including George (see George’s index information, below).

James Bonniwell completed his naturalization in New York City on April 9, 1839. Neither index card records the place or date of his entry into the U.S., nor do James’s first and second naturalization papers (copies of which are in my files). We know from Charles Bonniwell’s later statements that James was with the family in Montréal in October, 1832. It seems likely that he accompanied Alfred and the other members of the family as they traveled down Lake Champlain and entered the U.S. at Whitehall in November, 1832.

George Bonniwell, born 1813

George Bonniwell had come to the U.S. earlier, arriving in New York City on March 10, 1830; the full story is found on pages 54-55 of The Bonniwells. According to this online index, George Bonniwell declared his intention to become a citizen in Ulster county, New York, on October 4, 1836. At the time, he and his brother James were both living in the Hudson River town of Esopus, most likely at their mother’s home, and they both filed “first papers” in Ulster County on the same day. I have not yet located copies of George’s first or second naturalization papers. Presumably, his first papers (at least) are on file in Ulster county.

Henry V. Bonniwell, born 1818

Henry V. Bonniwell completed his naturalization process in Milwaukee on July 3, 1841. According to this index card, he entered the United States ini May, 1833, at Youngstown, New York. Youngstown is a village in Niagara County, New York, far away from Whitehall and Lake Champlain. Youngstown is on the Niagara River, upstream and just south of Fort Niagara and the junction of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. What was Henry doing so far from the rest of the family?

While living in Chatham, [Henry] became acquainted with a Dr. Hugh Fraser. At the age of 12 (1830), Henry left his home and went with his medical friend, who was in the army, to various garrisons in Canada (Montreal, Fort George and Niagara) until 1833.2

Walter Bonniwell, born 1824

Walter entered the U.S. at “Champlain,” in October, 1832. Champlain is surely synonymous with Whitehall. This index card strongly suggests that Walter, at age 8, entered the country at the same time and place as his younger brother Alfred. Both were, we assume, escorted by their mother, Eleanor (Hills) Bonniwell. Walter made his naturalization declaration (“first papers”) at Washington (later Ozaukee) County District Court, March 15, 1847. I have not yet located any other naturalization documents for Walter.3

What about Charles and Philip? and Eleanor?

Look as I may, I haven’t found even an index card for any naturalization documents for Charles Bonniwell (b. 1805 1806) or his brother-in-law, Philip Moss (b. 1809). Why? I can only speculate. On the one hand, not all documents survive, nor have all surviving documents been properly indexed. Not all indexes or documents have been filmed and put online. And, in Charles’s case, misspelling his surname could be the problem. I can’t tell you how many different ways the Bonniwell name has been spelled in the 19th century and mis-indexed since then: Bunnell, Bonnell, Bonewell, Boneywell, and such are found in many, many documents and indexes. It makes searching—even with creative use of wildcards— very hit-and-miss.

For what it’s worth, Charles’s 1900 federal census gives his immigration year as 1840 [sic], and indicates he had been a naturalized citizen for 60 years (i.e., since 1840). So it’s possible that Charles completed his naturalization process after arriving in Wisconsin in 1839, perhaps at the Washington/Ozaukee or Milwaukee county, district, or probate courts.

And as for Philip Moss (b. 1809)? I haven’t a clue where his citizenship papers can be found. As a lawyer specializing in probate cases, Philip Moss left a pretty substantial paper trail over the course of his life. But his citizenship papers are not among the documents that I’ve been able to find. The Bonniwells, page 127, states that he “came to New York in 1833.” Philip Moss was unmarried when he arrived. He met Eleanor Bonniwell sometime after she came to New York. I believe Eleanor entered the U.S. in November, 1832, via Whitehall, with her mother and brothers. On November 24, 1835, three years after she entered the U.S., Eleanor Bonniwell and Philip Moss were married at New York City’s Trinity Church.4

In Meet the Neighbors – Philip Moss (1809-1890), I transcribed a biographical sketch of Moss, published in 1881, that includes this information:

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.

For more details of Philip Moss’s life, click the above link first, and then use the blog’s SEARCH function and query “Philip Moss.”

New York City and State, 1832 – 1839

The documentary record for the Bonniwell’s time in New York is sparse. In Chapter 9 of his family history, The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, George Bonniwell presents the most comprehensive information available about the family’s years in New York, from their arrival in 1832 until their migration to Wisconsin Territory in early 1839.5 George was able to trace many of their comings and goings, including mother Eleanor (Hills) Bonniwell’s land purchase and sale in Ulster County and her marriage to Capt. Christopher Hyde. But many documents remain elusive, and sometimes the information we do have raises unexpected questions about the Bonniwell timeline.

To Wisconsin and citizenship

As the indexes show, many Alfred’s older brothers began the process of becoming a U.S. citizen during their years in New York state. James completed the process in New York. As a minor child, Alfred would not be eligible for citizenship until he came of age. He was in Wisconsin when that happened, and he completed the naturalization process a mere five days after his twenty-third birthday.

Alfred was only 13 when the family sailed from Buffalo to Milwaukee to begin a new life in Wisconsin Territory. For more on that trip, including a handsome, annotated map and a summary of some of more significant events of the Bonniwell family’s time in New York, take a look at Erie Canal – the Bonniwell Family 1832-39.

We’ll have more on Alfred’s citizenship papers, and many other documents of his life in Wisconsin Territory, next time. See you then.



  1. Charles Bonniwell, from a Milwaukee Sentinel profile published April 23, 1899, and reprinted in Bonniwell, George. The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, [n.p.], 1999, p. 58. Copies of the book are available from the Jonathan Clark House Museum or directly from the author. For more information, send me a note via the blog’s Contact link and I’ll forward it to George Bonniwell.

  2. The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, p. 55.

  3. Walter’s actual actual application for citizenship, the document represented by this index card, is reproduced on page 134 of The Bonniwells. Even though the modern card is filed with index cards for records made in Ozaukee County, the pre-1853 date of March 15, 1847—on the card and on the document image itself—lets us know that it was made at the District Court of Washington County, Wisconsin Territory. Confused? see our post Where are we?

  4. The marriage of Philip Moss and Eleanor Bonniwell is indexed at: “New York Marriages, 1686-1980”, database, FamilySearch ( : 21 January 2020), Elenor M. Bonniwell in entry for Philip Moss, 1835.

  5. Both author George Bonniwell and I have examined the Bonniwell migration to Wisconsin in spring, 1839, and there are several things that still need sorting. It would be interesting to confirm the comings and goings of the adult Bonniwell children, including brother-in-law Philip Moss and his family, and determine where everyone really was, circa 1839 to 1845 or so. Some of this information can be found in various chapters of The Bonniwells: 1000 Years. Collating and understanding those dates and events might also effect our understanding of the Bonniwell’s Mequon land purchases and patents, and the role of the various Bonniwells in the earliest days of Mequon’s white settlement.

    Previously (and see The Bonniwells, page 67), Charles Bonniwell gave this roster of Bonniwell family that went to Wisconsin:

    In the spring [1839], we started west by way of Albany and the Erie Canal. The party consisted of my mother, Mr. & Mrs. Moss, my brothers James, William, Henry, George, Alfred and Walter Bonniwell, my wife and child and myself. When we reached Buf­falo, we found that the steamer Illinois, under command of Capt. Blake, was waiting for a trip and we took passage for Milwaukee. We had rough weather on Lake Huron and ran under the lea of Mackinaw Island for shelter.

    And here are some questions that I’d like answered:

    • Before the family migration in 1839, Charles, William T., and James Bonniwell were already married and all had children. Charles’s “passenger list” does not mention any spouses (except for his wife and sister Eleanor’s husband, “Mr. Moss”) nor any other children besides one “child” of his four children. Is that a memory slip, or did some of the spouses and young children remain in New York until the family was settled in Wisconsin?

    • How early in spring, 1839, was the Bonniwell’s voyage to Wisconsin Territory? For some reason, I had “early-April,” 1839, in my head. Yet George Bonniwell married Tamar Baisden in Kingston, Ulster Co., New York on April 27, 1839. So if Charles’s family “passenger list” is correct, the family could not have departed for Buffalo until later on April 27, 1839, at the earliest, and they probably could not reach Buffalo until May 1st, at the very earliest.

    • Did some of the Bonniwells come to Wisconsin in early 1839, and then return to jobs and family in New York for a while before permanently resettling in Mequon? The Bonniwells, page 127, mentions that Philip Moss and his wife Eleanor (Bonniwell) Moss did just this, returning to their home in Albany, New York, after the 1839 family migration. They returned to Mequon permanently in May, 1842.

    • Apparently, Henry Bonniwell went to Wisconsin with his family and then returned to New York to get married. The New York Herald of September 24, 1839, announced the marriage, on “Tuesday evening, 17th inst., by the Rev. Mr. Manning, Mr. Henry V. Bonniwell, of Chatham, Eng., to Miss Catherine Rebecca Reeves, of Dartmouth, N.S.[Nova Scotia].” What we still don’t know is when newlyweds Henry and Rebecca left New York to join the family at the Bonniwell Settlement in Mequon. There are clues that need following: the federal land patent for Henry’s Mequon land was issued in 1840, and his naturalization papers were filed in Wisconsin in 1841. So Henry may not have lingered in New York state for too long after returning there sometime in mid-1839.