Back to School, 1842!

I hope you liked our recent re-post of Back to School, 1839! And since I’m still working on a number of new but not-yet-ready projects, I thought you might also enjoy a revised and expanded version of a related post that was first published September 2, 2020.

It’s “Back to School” time for many of us, so I thought you might be interested in this transcription of the earliest known school records of old Washington/Ozaukee county prior to 1845, published on page 328 of the History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […] Illustrated. Western Historical Co., Chicago, 1881:

Click to open a larger image in a new window, and see which of the early settler families had school age children, that is, children between the ages of 4 and 16, in 1842 and 1843. (Current Washington and Ozaukee county readers: do you have any kin listed in this summary of early school censuses? Let us hear from you via the Leave a Reply box, below.)

School District No. 1, aka “The Bonniwell School”

The site of Mequon’s original, one-room, log cabin, District No. 1 school is only a short walk west along Bonniwell Road from the Jonathan M. Clark House. Considering that the families of Charles, James and William Bonniwell accounted for seven of the twenty school-age children in the district in March, 1842, and that the school was built on land donated by William T. Bonniwell, it’s no surprise that the school was known as the “Bonniwell School” throughout its long existence and several buildings.

Who were the first students?

Peter Turck’s family had four school children in District No. 1 in March, 1842. These were probably Mary (Turck) Clark’s siblings Elizabeth (born 1825), Rachel Gay (b. 1830), James Byron (b. 1833), and Sarah (b. 1835). Mary’s siblings, Joseph R. (b. 1823) and Adama/Adamy (b. 1825) may have been too old to attend the new school; Joseph was already 19 and Adama/Adamy was 17 in 1842. Mary’s youngest brother, Benjamin Turck (b. 1839), was probably too young to be included on the school census that spring.

We took a close look at Mequon’s Bonniwell families as enumerated on the 1840 federal census in our post Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 3: Wisconsin, 1840. Combining that rather limited information with what we know of the family’s genealogy, we can make a few surmises about the Bonniwell family school pupils in 1842:

  • the Charles Bonniwell family had 4 children enrolled. These were, most likely, Charles W., Jr., (b. 1830), Eliza (b. 1831), Ellen (or “Nellie,” b. 1833) and Mary Ann (b. 1834)
  • the William Bonniwell family had two young scholars, probably Eleanor C. (b. 1832) and William T., Jr., (b. 1836)
  • and the James Bonniwell family was surely represented by their eldest child, five-year-old George Capes Bonniwell (b. 1837).

I (still) know next to nothing about the other three families listed on this Mequon, District No. 1, 1842 school census, those of Thomas Gilson, Michael Bellen and Michael Mattel. (Looks like I need to find out more about these early Clark neighbors.)

What about the Clarks?

It’s not a mistake that the children of Jonathan Clark are absent from this census. Jonathan M. Clark and Mary Turck had only married on March 15, 1840, and their first child, Caroline Mary, did not celebrate her second birthday until November 7, 1842.

And Mequon’s “other Clark family,” Cyrus Clark and his wife Sarah (Strickland) Clark, were not counted on this school census either. No surprise, as they had just married in March, 1841. And—more to the point—they were out west in March, 1842. Their first child, Albert Byron Clark, was born in Potosi, Grant Co., Wisconsin Territory, on March 29 of that year.

The family of Daniel Strickland—Sarah (Strickland) Clark’s father and one of the county’s earliest white settlers—is also listed in these early school censuses. The Stricklands were enumerated on the earliest school census for “Jefferson District, No. 1,” i.e., the future town of Grafton. In March, 1843, Daniel Strickland had three more-or-less school-aged children, Mary J. (b. 1824), George Warren (b. ~1830), and Thomas A. Strickland (b. 1834). The youngest Strickland child, Abigail, was not quite four years old in March, 1843, so she is not probably not enumerated on the school census.

Only a beginning

That is what we know—from just one published source—about the earliest days of schooling in old Washington/Ozaukee county. The Jonathan Clark House museum has, on loan from the Ozaukee County Historical Society, the original minutes of the school committee for Mequon school district no. 1, dated November 15, 1843. The meeting was held at the nearby home of William T. Bonniwell. Jonathan M. Clark served as moderator and his father-in-law, Peter Turck, was clerk for the meeting. The meeting minutes are quite interesting, and well worth a future post.

One thought on “Back to School, 1842!

  1. Pingback: Back to School, 1831: JMC in Stanstead? | Clark House Historian

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