Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 6: U.S. Citizen, 1849

Today’s post in our Bonniwell document series1 focuses on one important item, Alfred T. Bonniwell’s Petition for Naturalization as a United States citizen, completed in Milwaukee, at the U.S. District Court for the District of Wisconsin, November 6, 1849.

Bonniwell, Alfred, Petition for Naturalization 6 Nov 1849; for full citation see note 2, below. Click to open larger image in new window.

This petition was the final step in a relatively simple citizenship process whose basic outlines had not changed much since the early days of the republic. Alfred T. Bonniwell’s 1849 citizenship petition follows a form typical of such documents, but has a few extra bits of information that are particular to his immigration story. Let’s take a closer look.

Be It Remembered…

Alfred’s 1849 Petition for Citizenship was, after all, an official government document, and it required the applicant to provide certain information as part of the naturalization process. The petition begins with the “where, when, and who” of the subject at hand:

BE IT REMEMBERED, That at a District Court of the United States, for the District of Wisconsin, in the United States of America, on the sixth day of November in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty nine held at Milwaukee, before the Judge thereof, Alfred T. Bonniwell a native of England exhibited a petition praying to be admitted to become a Citizen of the United States; and it appearing to the said Court that he had declared on oath, before the District Court for the District of Wisconsin on the sixth day of April A. D. 1849; that it was bona-fide his intention to become a Citizen of the United States, and to renounce forever all allegiance or fidelity to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State, or Sovereignty whatsoever, and particularly to Victoria Queen of Great Britain + Ireland of whom he was at that time a subject […]

Two trips…

It’s worth noting that citizenship applicants of Alfred Bonniwell’s time and place usually had to make two trips to the District Court in Milwaukee, spaced at least three years apart, in order to complete the citizenship process. Alfred seems to have compressed the timeline into about seven months. This is probably because he qualified for an expedited process under U.S. 4 Stat 69 of May 26, 1824, in which “alien” minors could be naturalized upon reaching 21 years of age, if they had lived in the U.S. for five years.3

On April 6, 1849, Alfred appeared before the court and swore an oath declaring his intention to become a citizen. Then he returned to the same court on November 6, 1849, to complete the process by renouncing his previous allegiance Queen Victoria and taking the oath to support the Constitution of the United States.

Two witnesses…

November 6 was when he also required the assistance of two witnesses. These needed to be (male) U.S. citizens, ready to testify to Alfred’s length of residence in the nation and the state of Wisconsin, and attest to his good moral character and fidelity to the principles and good order of the United States.

[…] and the said Alfred T Bonniwell having on his solemn oath declared and also made proof thereof by competent testimony of James Bonniwell and Joseph B. Loomer Citizens of the United States, that he had resided one year and upwards in the State of Wisconsin, and within the United States of America upwards of five years immediately preceding his application […]

Alfred’s witnesses were his older brother James Bonniwell4 and their Mequon neighbor Joseph B. Loomer.5

Where are Alfred’s “First Papers”?

Today’s document—Alfred’s final Petition for Naturalization—completed his citizenship process. Genealogists sometimes refer to these petitions as “second papers.” The copy of the petition that we see here today was retained by the District Court and eventually bound in a large volume of similar completed “second papers” as the official government record of Alfred’s new status as a United States citizen. Alfred probably received a copy of this document—or something like it—for his own records; that copy is now lost.

In theory, there should be another, earlier, document, officially known as a “Declaration of Intention,” but commonly referred to as “First Papers.” Where are Alfred’s first papers? He probably submitted them on April 6, 1849, just after his 23rd birthday. Where is that document now? More on that in a moment. But first I have some questions about the chronology of Alfred’s life as outlined in this 1849 petition.

Checking the math…

In our November, 1849 petition, Alfred states

[…] that he had resided one year and upwards in the State of Wisconsin, and within the United States of America upwards of five years immediately preceding his application; having come into the country three years before he arrived at the age of twenty one […]

Well, that’s interesting. The first part of this is correct, but the bit after the semicolon is a mess. We need to take a closer look at some dates.

When he went to Milwaukee’s District Court on April 6, 1849, Alfred was 23 years and 5 days old. To the best of our knowledge, he had been in the U.S, with his mother and extended family, since November, 1832, when he was about six-and-a-half years old, a total of about 17 years. According to Charles Bonniwell, the Bonniwell family—including Alfred—had been in Mequon (consistently?) since the family’s trip westward via the Erie Canal and Great Lakes in the spring of 1839. Alfred was 13 years old when he arrived in Wisconsin Territory in 1839.

So when Alfred’s 1849 petition states that he came “into the country three years before he arrived at the age of twenty one,” something is not right. Alfred turned 21 on April 1, 1847. “Three years prior” to that would be sometime in 1844. But as far as we know, Alfred was in Mequon from Spring, 1839, through sometime in 1849 or 1850. Perhaps the inserted sentence in the 1849 Petition should say “having come into the country at least three years before he arrived at the age of twenty one“? Or is it some other inconsequential error? I’m not sure.

What about Whitehall?

As we sort this out, let’s take another look at that index card for Alfred’s 1849 naturalization paper:

We originally looked at this typed index card in Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 2: New York as part of a larger discussion of the migrations of the members of the Bonniwell family and their various entries into the U.S. via Lake Champlain and Whitehall, New York. This card appears to be, in part, the correct index card for today’s main document, Alfred’s Petition for Naturalization. (It was created many years after the fact, perhaps as part of a WPA project during the 1930s.)

But the card’s April 6, 1846 date is correct for Alfred’s first papers, and the two witnesses are the same as those listed on Alfred’s second papers, from November 6, 1849, and the volume and petition file number—Vol. “A” (aka Vol. 1) number 5—agree with the location of today’s image of the 1849 final petitions. Very odd.

Furthermore, that final petition—Alfred’s “second papers”—dated November 6, 1849, does not include the date or place of Alfred’s entry into the United States, but that information is on the index card. How?

Well, those bits of information typically do appear on “first papers” of this era, for example, on Jonathan M. Clark’s first papers of March 10, 1848:

Jonathan M. Clark, Declaration of Intent, U.S. District Court, Milwaukee, Wisconsin Territory, 10 March 1848. Image courtesy Milwaukee Historical Society, lightly tinted and cropped. Click to open larger image in new window.

So it looks like our typed index card may actually be a strange combination of information from Alfred T. Bonniwell’s first and second papers, the currently-missing Declaration of Intent and our present Petition for Naturalization. And since original documents often have much more information on them than shows up on their index cards, I’m very interested in finding Alfred’s first papers.6

Citizen Bonniwell

Alfred T. Bonniwell took the oath and became a U.S. citizen on November 6, 1849. His life during the following year or two was eventful…and its chronology is confusing. We’ll try and sort out those 1849-1850 events over the next few posts.

Coming up: more Alfred T. Bonniwell documents, including land purchases (plural!), tales from the Gold Rush, and a—very special—surprise edition of “Help the Historian.”

See you soon.



  1. Need to catch up? The previous installments in this series can be found herehereherehere, here, here, and here. And for more on the 1836-1847 Wisconsin territorial censuses, see the first part of Census Records for the In-Between Years: 1842.

  2. Bonniwell, Alfred, petition for naturalization 6 Nov 1849 in “Wisconsin, Milwaukee Petitions for Naturalization, 1848-1991,” database with images, FamilySearch (25 July 2019), vol 1, no 1-453, 1848-1894 > image 4 of 230; citing Naturalization Petition and Record, 9/1/1848 – 5/9/1991, NAID 7267811. Records of District courts of the United States, 1685-2009, RG 21. National Archives at Chicago, Illinois.

  3. For details of the specific statutes governing U.S. immigration and citizenship requirements from 1790 to the present day, NARA has an informative pdf table, here.

  4. James Bonniwell filed his first papers in Ulster County, New York on October 4, 1836, and completed his citizenship process in New York City on April 9, 1839. See Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 2: New York for details.

  5. Stephen B. Loomer was one of the earliest white settlers in Mequon. The large Loomer family emigrated from Nova Scotia to Milwaukee and then Mequon in the later-1830s. Other early Nova Scotia emigrants to Mequon included the Strickland and Woodworth families. I have written about some of the Loomers in earlier posts, but the family was very large, and I have not yet straightened out their complex relationships. And just to make things more complicated, there were—possibly—two Stephen Loomers that lived in Mequon in the early days. One of (or the one-and-only of?) these men may have been the brother-in-law of Rev. Woodworth.

    According to the modern index card for his final papers, Stephen Loomer was born 1813, and his “country of birth or allegiance” was Nova Scotia. He completed his naturalization as a U.S. citizen at the 3rd Judicial District Court, Territory of Wisconsin, on June 16, 1842. Mequon pioneer Isham Day served as his character witness.

  6. For many years, the location of Jonathan M. Clark’s first papers were also a mystery. I was able to locate them in the collections of the Milwaukee Historical Society in 2016, with the gracious assistance of MHS archivist Kevin Abing and his assistant Steve Schaffer. I think it very possible that Alfred Bonniwell’s Declaration of Intention may be kept there as well. One more item for the Clark House Historian “to do” list…

2 thoughts on “Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 6: U.S. Citizen, 1849

  1. Pingback: Monday: Map Day! – To the gold fields, 1849 & ’50 | Clark House Historian

  2. Pingback: JMC & the neighbors petition Congress, 1849 | Clark House Historian

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