Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 7: landowner, 1845

When the extended Bonniwell family arrived in Wisconsin Territory in May, 1839, youngest son Alfred T. Bonniwell was not quite two months past his 13th birthday, and his brother Walter was only two years older. Because of their youth, neither Alfred nor Walter were able join their mother and brothers as they purchased government land and established what became known as Mequon’s Bonniwell Settlement.1

That changed for Alfred on June 7, 1845, when his mother, Eleanor (Hills Bonniwell) Hyde, gave him the eastern 80 acres of her original federal land patent.

Hyde, Eleanor (grantor) to A. T. Bonniwell (grantee), deed for 80 acres, June 7, 1845. See note 2 for source and details. Click to open larger image in new window.

Alfred would buy and sell several other properties in the 1850s and ’60s, but he held on to this parcel until his death, fifty years later. Let’s see what he got…

Eleanor Hyde to A T Bonniwell

The top line of the deed reads: Eleanor Hyde to A T Bonniwell. And yes, that’s T as in Tibbett, Alfred’s middle name. Don’t be fooled by the curlicue on top of the T, that’s only decorative. (It fooled the Ozaukee county indexer for Deed Book E, who recorded the Grantee as “A P Bonniwell.”) The deed then begins with the usual formalities (but with a notable lack of commas and periods):

This Indenture made this seventh day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty five between Eleanor Hyde of the County of Washington in the Territory of Wisconsin of the one part and Alfred T Bonniwell of the same County and Territory of the other part Witnesses that the said Eleanor Hyde for and in consideration of the natural love and affection which she has unto the said Alfred T Bonniwell her son has given granted aliened released and confirmed and by these presents does give grand alien release and confirm unto the said Alfred T Bonniwell his heirs and assigns all that certain Piece or parcel of land […]

I’ve seen quite a few 19th-century land deeds, and I cannot remember seeing another deed in which someone was given land with no money—not even a single symbolic dollar—changing hands. And it’s also very rare, at least in my experience, to find such personal sentiments as “in consideration of the natural love and affection which she has unto the said Alfred T Bonniwell her son” in a deed.

All that certain Piece or parcel of land

Next, the deed describes the location and size of the property that Alfred received from his mother.

[…] all that certain Piece or parcel of land lying and being in the County of Washington and Territory of Wisconsin aforesaid particularly known and designated as the East half of the North East quarter of Section Number Nine (9) in Township No Nine (9) in Range No twenty one East containing Eighty Acres of Land according to the Government Survey […]

Government land

The details of how and when Eleanor Hyde and her adult children purchased and patented their government land between 1839 and the early-1840s is interesting and complicated, and may provide us with some insights into the Bonniwell family’s relationships and finances. As our series of Alfred T. Bonniwell documents proceeds, I may pause and take a bit of a detour to map out the early days of the Bonniwell family’s land purchases in Mequon. For the moment, we’ll just sketch the broad outlines of how Alfred came to have his 80-acre gift from Eleanor.

On May 31, 1839, Eleanor Hyde and her adult sons James, William T., Charles and George, with son-in-law Philip Moss, went to the federal land office in Milwaukee and purchased parcels of land from the government of the United States at the price of $1.25 per acre.3 The Bonniwell and Hyde lands were all situated in Sections 9 and 10 of Town 9 North, Range 21 East, in what would become the Town of Mequon; Philip Moss originally patented two adjacent parcels in nearby Sections 4 and 5.

None of the family’s parcels were smaller than 80 acres. Eleanor Hyde purchased two parcels in Section 9. The smaller parcel comprised the Southwest quarter of Sec. 9, 160 acres in all. Eleanor divided this parcel into two 80-acre parcels, and the patents for these two 80-acre sites were officially assigned by Eleanor to her sons George Bonniwell and Henry Vinall Boniwell.

Eleanor kept the largest parcel for herself, the entire North half of Section 9, totaling 320 acres. It appears that she eventually built her house on the eastern end of her land, in the part that she would give to her son Alfred in 1845.

Alfred’s parcel

To give you a sense of where Alfred’s 1845 parcel was located, where it came from, and its relationship to some of the other Bonniwell properties—and the Jonathan M. Clark farm—let’s look at this map from 1873-74. This map dates from the later days of the Bonniwell presence in Mequon; by this time, only Charles and Alfred still owned land in the Bonniwell Settlement.

Map of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin 1873-4, detail of sections 3, 4, 9, 10 with annotations showing select Bonniwell and Clark lands as of 1873-74. See note 4 for source and details. Click to open larger image in new window.

The annotations in red, blue and green have been added to call your attention to:

• The former Jonathan Clark property, the southwest quarter of Sec. 3, now farmed by the Doyle family. The former Clark farm is outlined in dark green, and the green arrow points to the historic Clark House itself. The north-south “Plank Road” is now Cedarburg Road, and the east-west road just south of the Clark House is today’s Bonniwell Road

• Eleanor Hyde’s original 320 acres, the north half of Sec. 9, are outlined with a broken-line red rectangle.

• Alfred Bonniwell’s 80-acre farm, given to him by Eleanor in 1845, is outlined with a solid red rectangle. The red arrow points to the (original?) location of the property’s farm house. More on that, below.

• Charles Bonniwell’s 80-acre farm is outlined with a solid blue rectangle

• William T. Bonniwell’s former farm occupied the 160 acres immediately east of Alfred’s farm. In 1873-74 the W. T. Bonniwell land was owned by L. Kopp.

• The building and grounds known since 1843 as the “Bonniwell School” were still owned and operated the county school district. It occupied a small parcel that was once the northwest corner of W. T. Bonniwell’s land. The Clark and Bonniwell children all attended school here, in the original one-room log cabin schoolhouse.

Eleanor’s land… and house

Alfred was 19 years old when his mother gave him his 80 acres; Eleanor had reached the respectable age of 60. Along the way, she had survived a trans-Atlantic crossing, the sudden death of her husband, and then led her large and growing family from the established comforts of New York state to the wilderness of Wisconsin Territory. It would not surprise us if, by 1845, Eleanor was looking ahead to her youngest child’s future, and her old age and eventual demise.

So Eleanor gave Alfred 80 acres of land, “in consideration of the natural love and affection which she has unto the said Alfred T Bonniwell her son,” and she gave Alfred her house, too. But with one provison:

[…] containing Eighty Acres of Land according to the Government Survey excepting and reserving unto the said Eleanor Hyde the use and control of the said premises for and during her natural life. To have and to hold the said premises as above described subject to the above reservation with the appurtenances thereunto belonging unto the said Alfred T Bonniwell his heirs and assign to his and their proper use and behoof5 forever. […]

In other words, Alfred is nineteen years old, and now has a farm, a house, and all the “appurtenances” which, we assume, would include any barns or other outbuildings and all the gear—and livestock?—that goes with them.

This kind of clause, giving the home and farm to one of the adult sons and allowing the widowed mother to remain in her old house for the rest of her days, is not unusual in 19th-century wills. But it is unique, I think, among the deeds that I’ve read. And I think it demonstrates the kind of pragmatic forward-thinking that made the Bonniwells important in the development of Mequon and early Washington and Ozaukee counties.

Signed, sealed and witnessed

The deed closes with the usual phrases:

[…] In testimony whereof I the said Eleanor Hyde have hereunto set my hand and seal the day and year first above written. Sealed and delivered in presence of
{ Jesse Hubbard jr}
Harvey G Turner }

Eleanor Hyde signed with “her mark” — an “X”—and a handwritten {L.S.} for her “legal seal.” Signing with a mark is not unusual in this period, but indicates that Eleanor could not write and, very likely, could not read.

The witnesses were Clark and Bonniwell neighbor Jesse Hubbard, jr., and Harvey G Turner, notary public. Harvey Turner further attested that Eleanor, the Grantor, “acknowledged that she executed the above Deed freely and voluntarily for the uses and purposes therein mentioned.”

Interestingly, though not unusually, some years passed before the deed was officially recorded by the county’s Register of Deeds:

Received for Record April 18, 1849 at 8 o clock A M
E H Janssen Register by Chas H Miller Deputy

For what it’s worth, Alfred registered his deed 12 days after filing his “first papers” for citizenship. It’s starting to look like April, 1849, was a busy month for Alfred T. Bonniwell.

Coming up…

I’ve been reading some very old documents lately, and I’ve got a History Mystery to decipher. And then: more Alfred Bonniwell documents and…more History Mysteries to solve!

See you next time.



  1. Walter Bonniwell may or may not have ever owned land in Mequon. He married twice, and we know that the adult Walter—and spouse(s)—spent a few scattered years in the Bonniwell Settlement from the 1840s to the mid-’50s. The story of Walter’s two families, and his many jobs and homes in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, can be found in chapter 22 of George B. Bonniwell’s book The Bonniwells: 1000 Years.

    The Bonniwells is particularly informative about the history of Walter, his second wife, Annie Coles, and their children. Since the book was published, in 1999, more documents have surfaced that shed light on Walter’s first wife, Eleanor “Ellen” Bailey, and their children. I’ll share the information that I have in a future blog post.

  2. Hyde, Eleanor (grantor) to A. T. Bonniwell (grantee), deed for 80 acres, sec. 9, T9N, R21E, Washington (later Ozaukee) county, Wisconsin Territory, June 7, 1845, from Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, Deed Book E, p. 327 (1845), FHS Film #008548335, via Unrelated information has been cropped from bottom of image.

    This deed was, presumably, first recorded in the Washington county deed books in 1845. When Ozaukee county was created from Washington county, in 1853, Washington county retained all the original deed books, including those that described property in the newly created Ozaukee county. Of course, Ozaukee county needed an unbroken paper record of landownership for lands in its jurisdiction, so the Washington county land records, circa late-1830s to 1853, had to be hand copied into new Ozaukee county deed books.

    I have access to online images of the Ozaukee deed books, but not the Washington county originals. (Those have been microfilmed, I believe, but I am not able to view them online.) As always, it’s possible that errors might have crept in during the 1853 copying process; the only way to know would be to view the original. Anyway, this Ozaukee copy is an official county document, seems to be accurate, and should serve for our purposes.

  3. I’m actually not 100% sure that Eleanor Hyde and her adult sons James, William T., Charles and George, with son-in-law Philip Moss, all made the trip to Milwaukee to buy land on the appointed day at the federal land office. It’s possible that only a few members of the family went to the land office on May 31, 1839, purchasing their own land and serving as agents to purchase land for other family members. It’s possible that the federal laws governing these sales required their presence, but I’m not expert enough in the details of 1830s and ’40s land sale regulations to be certain.

  4. Today’s annotated detail map is adapted from Map of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin 1873-4 / drawn, compiled and published by G.V. Nash & M.G. Tucker ; engraved & printed by J. Knauber & Co. ; colored and mounted by E.M. Harney. University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeAmerican Geographical Society Digital Map Collection. Full copyright notice here, presented in this post as a public domain item and/or under fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Click map to go to the UWM collection and open larger image in new window.

    For more historic and bibliographic information about this important map, see our April 12, 2021, post Monday: Map Day! 1874 map of Washington and Ozaukee Counties.

  5. “Behoof” is a noun, now archaic, meaning benefit or advantage. I had to look it up, too.

One thought on “Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 7: landowner, 1845

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

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