Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 3: Wisconsin, 1840

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 hereherehere and here. And for more on how the Bonniwells got from New York to Wisconsin in 1839, see Erie Canal – the Bonniwell Family 1832-39 , complete with a handsome, annotated map.

Alfred enters the public record

In our previous posts, we have discussed the lack of specific records documenting Alfred Bonniwell’s life after his baptism in Chatham, Kent, England in 1826, through his migration to Canada and his years in New York.1 That began to change once the family arrived in Wisconsin. Today I’d like to add to our knowledge of Alfred and his family by investigating an essential census schedule that provides important information about their first year in Wisconsin.

1836 & 1838 – Wisconsin’s first territorial censuses

The Bonniwells were still in New York at the time of Wisconsin’s first two territorial censuses in 1836 and 1838, but other notable Mequon pioneers were enumerated as they claimed and cleared land for new farms. If you missed our discussions of these early censuses, you can catch up by reading:
Census Records for the In-Between Years: 1836, locating Jonathan Clark’s unit as they cut the Military Road along the Fox River, and
Census Records for the In-Between Years: 1838, the first census for the original Washington county.

1840 – Federal decennial census

The 1840 federal decennial census2 is the first census that records members of the Bonniwell family in Wisconsin. It was enumerated in “Wiskansin Territory, Washington County, June 1, 1840.” 1840 United States Federal Census [database on-line], Washington, Wisconsin Territory; Roll: 580; Page: 123; Hyde and Bonniwell households; Family History Library Film: 0034498. Image annotated, lightly tinted, and cropped. Click to open larger image in new window.

The three Bonniwell families officially living in Mequon as of June 1, 1840, are highlighted by the red rectangle. They were:
• Mrs. Hyde + family
• Wm. T. Bonniwell
• George Bonniwell
Let’s take a closer look at each.

Mrs. Hyde + family

There were five persons in Eleanor (Hills) Bonniwell Hyde’s household in June, 1840, three males and two females. I feel confident in identifying three of them:
• male aged 10-14, circled in blue: this must be her son, Alfred Bonniwell, age 14
• male, aged 15-19: most likely his brother Walter Bonniwell, age 16
• female, aged 50-59: can only be “Mrs. Hyde,” aka mother Eleanor herself, age 55

I am less sure about the other two members of Mrs. Hyde’s household:
• one male, aged 20-29
• one female, aged 15-19

I wonder if these two might be Eleanor’s very newly married son Henry V. Bonniwell (age 21) and his bride, Catherine Rebecca (Reeves) Bonniwell (age 19). They married in New York City on September 17, 1839, and must have made a beeline to get back to Wisconsin before the Great Lakes froze for the winter and were closed to ship traffic. (Either that, or they had to wait in New York until spring, 1840, for the lakes to thaw and ship traffic to resume so they could return to Wisconsin.) Their ages are correct and, as newlyweds with no children—and Eleanor Hyde’s next youngest children after Alfred and Walter—it makes perfect sense that they would begin their lives in Mequon as part of Eleanor’s household.

William T. Bonniwell family

Second-eldest son William T. Bonniwell’s family is enumerated on the line below his mother, Mrs. Hyde. There are four members of this household in 1840, two males and two females, and I feel pretty confident in identifying them as:
• one male, under age 5: son William T. Bonniwell, jr. (not quite 4 years old)
• one male, aged 30-39: head of family William T. Bonniwell, sr. (age 31)
• one female, aged 5-9: daughter Eleanor C. Bonniwell (age 7)
• one female, aged 30-39: Catherine (Whitehead) Bonniwell (age 33), wife of William T., sr., and mother of both children

George Bonniwell family

George Bonniwell’s family is enumerated on the line following William’s. I feel confident in identifying both members of this small household:
• one male, aged 20-29: must be head of family George Bonniwell (age 26), and
• one female, aged 15-19: has to be his wife Tamer E. (Baisden) Bonniwell (age 17)
George and Tamer were also newlyweds. They were married on April 27, 1839, in Kingston, Ulster County, New York, not far from their mother’s home. We believe that the Bonniwell migration from New York to Wisconsin began sometime shortly after their marriage.

Where’s the rest of the family?

We’ve identified—with a reasonable certainty—all of the Bonniwells that were enumerated on the 1840 federal census for Washington county, Wisconsin territory. But where are the others? Where are Charles, James, and Eleanor Bonniwell and their spouses and children? Good questions. Let’s see what we know, and what we don’t.

Philip and Eleanor (Bonniwell) Moss

After helping the extended Bonniwell family settle in to their new homes in the Wisconsin wilderness, Philip Moss and his wife Eleanor (Bonniwell) Moss returned to their home in the Town of Greenbush, Rensselaer county, New York, on east bank of the Hudson River across from the city of Albany. 1840 United States Federal Census [database on-line]; Greenbush, Rensselaer County, New York; Roll: 332; Page: 141; Philip Moss household; Family History Library Film: 0017204. Image annotated, lightly tinted, and cropped. Click to open larger image in new window.

This 1840 census recorded the family of Philip Moss, consisting of one white male, ages 30-39, and one white female, ages 15-19. The male is certainly Philip Moss, just two months shy of his 31st birthday. And the woman must be his wife, Eleanor (Bonniwell) Moss, even though her correct age was 24 and she should have been enumerated as aged 20-29.

Still missing: Charles and James

Where were Bonniwell sons Charles and James in June, 1840? We know they came from New York to Milwaukee and Mequon with the rest of the Bonniwell family in spring, 1839. We know some of them bought federal land in 1839 (more on that, later). But I have not been able to find them on the 1840 federal census in any state or territory. While this is not what we’d prefer, it’s not terribly surprising. It’s possible that the Charles and James Bonniwell families may not have had their own houses to call home yet. Either young family may have temporarily lived with others in the area; Peter Turck, for one, was known to have helped several newcomers in this way. And since the 1840 census only lists the name of one “head of family” per household, in many cases we’ll never know for sure exactly who was living with whom when the census was enumerated.

Can you find the missing Bonniwells?

If Charles and James and their families are to be found on the 1840 federal census, they should look something like this:

Charles Bonniwell family, 1840
• one male, aged 10-14 son Charles, jr. (age ~10)
• one male, aged 30-39: head of family Charles (age 35)
• three females, aged 5-9: i.e., daughters Elisa (9), Ellen (7), and Mary Ann (5)
• one female, aged 30-39: Charles’s wife, Sophia (age 30)

James Bonniwell family, 1840
• one male, aged less than 5: son George Capes Bonniwell (age 3)
• one male, aged 20-29: head of family James Bonniwell (age 29)
• one female, aged 20-29: James’s wife Phebe (Capes) Bonniwell (age 26).

Phebe would deliver her family’s second child, Josephine Bonniwell, on October 13, 1840. Josephine died at an unknown date, sometime after the federal census was enumerated in Mequon on October 2, 1850.3

As you search these “head of family” censuses, also keep in mind that many people whose birth year ends in a 5 or a 0 (zero) were sometimes enumerated in the next higher or lower age range, by accident or on purpose. It all depends on how precise the enumerator was when using birthdates to calculate ages as they relate to the official census date of June 1, 1840. And, of course, the enumerator’s calculations depended on the accuracy of the birth years or dates given to him by family members; many birth dates or person’s ages were approximate, or even unknown, to the family members that gave that information to the census enumerator.

Who is Ellen Bonniwell?

Several generations of Mequon’s Bonniwell family are filled with girls and women named or called Eleanor (with various spellings), Ellen or Helen. It can get confusing. The Ellen Bonniwell (born in Canada, about 1833) mentioned above is a bit of a mystery. She is not listed as a member of Charles and Sophia (Munn) Bonniwell’s family in The Bonniwells: 1000 Years. But she appears in the family’s 1850 federal census as a 17 year old girl, born in Canada, and enumerated between known Bonniwell daughters Elisa (age 19, born in England) and Maryann (age 15, born in New York). Was Ellen a daughter of Charles and Sophia Bonniwell? Some other relative? Someone officially or informally adopted into the family? These questions need more work…

Next time: more censuses!

See you soon.



  1. Alfred and his family should have been enumerated on the 1835 New York State census. Sadly, all of the state’s copies of that census were destroyed in the disastrous 1911 fire at the New York State Library.

  2. The 1840 federal decennial census is a cornerstone document for Mequon and early Washington/Ozaukee county research. I have spent many hours using it for historical and genealogical research. Here at Clark House Historian, have spent quite a bit of time referring to this key document—enumerated, by the way, by Alfred Bonniwell’s future father-in-law, Peter Turck—and yet I’ve never done a complete look at it. I’ll have to do that soon, but meanwhile, for an introduction to the document and its relation to the Clark family, take a look at History Mystery! No. 1 (of many)

  3. Bonniwell, George. The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, [n.p.], 1999, page 111, says Josephine “died in infancy.” This appears to be incorrect. If you are interested, copies of the book are available from the Jonathan Clark House Museum or from the author. For more information, send me a note via the blog’s Contact link and I’ll forward it to George Bonniwell.