The Bonniwells & Co. and the 1850 census–part 4: “in” Wisconsin!

In our last post, we discovered that none of our Bonniwell gold rush expedition members could be found on the surviving population schedules for the 1850 federal census in California.1 Does that mean they were not to be found anywhere on the national 1850 enumeration? Well, no. It turns out that while the Bonniwell men and their companions were physically present in California, they managed to be enumerated in…Wisconsin?

Currier & Ives. Home Sweet Home, c. 1874. New York: Published by Currier & Ives. Library of Congress.

There’s no place like home

You might think that once every ten years, when the census enumerator came to call, he or she would simply speak to a responsible adult at each address and write down the information for all of the “inhabitants” of each household. And that is pretty much how it was done.2

Naturally, there could be complications. What if some members of the household were away, perhaps working the fields, or at the mill? Maybe someone had to go to town, or farther away, on business. What about a child that is out of town at school or college? Or… what if the head of household had gone prospecting in the wilds of California’s gold district?

In theory, this was not a problem. Box 3 on the 1850 population schedule instructs the enumerator to enter “The Name of every Person whose usual place of abode on the first day of June, 1850, was in this family.”

But as we established in The Bonniwells Go West and our revised Bonniwell Gold Rush timeline, the members of the 1849 and 1850 Bonniwell expeditions were all in California—or en route there—on June 1, 1850. This included brothers Henry and Alfred Bonniwell, along with neighbors P.M. Johnson, Richard Taylor and Mr. [Francis?] Twentamon, members of the initial 1849 land-and-sea “advance party” of the Bonniwell expedition. The second group, the overland trekkers of 1850, led by “Captain” William T. Bonniwell, Sr., included his son William, Jr., his brothers George and Charles Bonniwell, and about 8 or 10 other Wisconsin men, including recent Scottish immigrant Peter Rattery.

(Almost) all the Bonniwells, in Mequon, 1850

Today’s discussion is focused on data recorded as part of the Seventh Census of the United States, 1850; National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, 1009 rolls. The census schedules for Washington County, Wisconsin Territory are on roll 1008. The schedules for “Mignon” [sic, Mequon], begin with census page 201a. Let’s begin with the Bonniwell families, as enumerated in Mequon in October, 1850. Note that enumerator J.I. Loomis spelled the family surname consistently—yet incorrectly—as Bonewell.

Pages 203a and 203b: James Bonniwell and family

The census record of the James Bonniwell family begins on page 203a, lines 36 and 37, with the enumeration of James Bonniwell and wife Phebe (Capes) Bonniwell, followed by their five eldest children. The listing for the family concludes on lines 1 and 2 of the following page 203b, with information for youngest sons Roderick and Frederick.

Page 203b: Bonniwell families–James (concluded), Charles, Henry, George and sister Eleanor Moss

This 1850 enumeration of James and Phebe (Capes) Bonniwell and their seven children agrees with what we know of this family from other records. And it appears to be another piece of evidence suggesting that—contrary to family legend—James Bonniwell did not go to California with his brothers in 1849 or 1850.3

Almost all the other Bonniwell families, including their actually-in-California heads of households, occupy much of the rest of the page. The Charles Bonniwell family is recorded on lines 18-26, and includes Charles, wife Sophia (Munn) and their seven children.

The family of Henry and Catherine (Reeves) Bonniwell follows on lines 27 to 31. The two year old boy on line 31 is enumerated as “F.” This would be son Frazer, who will later disappear during the Civil War. Also in the Henry Bonniwell household, on lines 32 and 33, is an 18 year old woman named Elisa Tyler, born in Nova Scotia and what may be her infant daughter, Josephine. I have no additional information on these two Tylers at this time. (Given that Henry Bonniwell’s wife, Catherine, was also a native of Nova Scotia, I wonder if, perhaps, Elisa and Catherine might be sisters, or otherwise related.)

Two other Bonniwell families follow the Henry Bonniwell household. Philip and Eleanor (Bonniwell) Moss occupy lines 34 and 35, and George Bonniwell and wife Tamer (Baisden) are recorded on lines 36 and 37.

Page 201a: “Mother Bonniwell” and… where are sons Alfred and Walter?

Bonniwell family matriarch Eleanor (neé Hills) Bonniwell Hyde is enumerated as “Eloner Hide” on line 24, along with one Andrew Towsend, a fifteen year old lad, born in New York, on line 25. Presumably Andrew was Mrs. Hyde’s live-in hired man; the census does not record his occupation.

By this time, Mother Bonniwell very likely needed assistance. She was now 65 years old (not 46, as enumerated here), and her children had grown and left home. All but Alfred, the youngest of her children, had married. (Next-youngest son Walter married Eleanor “Ellen” Bailey in 1845. Their young family moved to Hancock County, northern Illinois, and were enumerated there in 1850.)

In 1845 Eleanor had deeded 80 acres of her Mequon land to Alfred, but she was allowed to remain in her home there as long as she lived. In 1850, with Alfred (and most of his brothers) off in the California gold fields, Eleanor was alone and would have needed a good deal of assistance to manage her large farm.

The Jesse Hubbard and Peter Turck families

Two important neighbor families are recorded on page 201a. Lines 15 through 22 list the members of the Jesse Hubbard household. Jesse Hubbard owned the quarter-section of land just west of the Jonathan Clark farm. Head of household Jesse Hubbard is listed on line 15, followed by his wife Mary (Conn) Hubbard and children Simon, Jeremiah, “Pyantha” [sic, Diantha] and Alfred T (who may have been named in honor of Alfred T. Bonniwell).

Also living with the Hubbards was Jesse Hubbard’s sister Sarah Parish and her four year old daughter Tamar (probably named in honor of George Bonniwell’s wife, Tamer Baisden). Sarah Parish was the wife of Daniel Parish, who had deserted her in 1846, gone to California sometime afterward, and met a tragic end there. The other person in the house was a seventeen year old young farmer from New York named A. Westcoat. I suspect he was a live-in hired man as well. The Hubbard farm lay between the Jonathan Clark farm (to the east), and Eleanor Bonniwell Hyde’s land (to the west). Just south of Mrs. Hyde’s land was part of Peter Turck’s property.

Peter Turck was one of Mequon’s first white settlers. He and his first wife Rachael (Gay) Turck raised a large family; Mary (Turck) Clark was their eldest child. Rachael (Gay) Turck died in the early 1840s and on May 14, 1848, Peter Turck married again, to a young immigrant named Christina Kohler (Kaehler? Koehler?). Their family is enumerated on lines 26-30 of page 201a. On September 30, 1850, when this census page was recorded, Peter and Christina (Kohler) Turck’s home included their infant daughter Lucinda, and Peter Turck’s two youngest children from his first marriage, daughter Sarah and son Benjamin.5

Pages 230b and 231a: “Captain” William Bonniwell & family—in Grafton

Not all of the members of the Bonniwell gold rush party came from Mequon. Several of them, including “Captain” William T. Bonniwell, and his son, William T., junior, lived in the neighboring town of Grafton.4 The census schedule images for Grafton are available on the same National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, roll 1008. The William Bonniwell family is recorded on roll 1008, pages 230b and 231a. Wagon train “captain” William T. Bonniwell—in reality, already prospecting in the gold region of California—is enumerated on the final line of Grafton’s page 230b.

By the way, it’s clear from this 1850 schedule that William T Bonniwell was doing well in life; the census records his “value of real estate owned” at $10,000.

The rest of the William T. Bonniwell family follows on page 231a, beginning with wife Catherine (Whitehead) Bonniwell:

Making sense of it all

So what do we make of all this? We know, from a variety of other documents, that four adult, married, Bonniwell “heads of household” were in California while the 1850 federal census was still being enumerated there, namely:

  • Expedition “Captain” William T. Bonniwell, Sr. (b. 1809)
  • Charles Bonniwell (b. 1806)
  • George Bonniwell (b. 1813)
  • Henry Bonniwell (b.1818)

With them were two younger, unmarried Bonniwell lads:

  • William T. Bonniwell, Jr. (b. 1836)
  • Alfred T. Bonniwell (b. 1826)

None of these six appear on the surviving 1850 population schedules for California. All of these Bonniwell men—except young Alfred T. Bonniwell—were officially enumerated as residents of their Wisconsin homes, along with the rest of their at-home-in-Wisconsin Bonniwell families.

In theory, they should not have been counted in Wisconsin; on the official enumeration date of June 1, 1850, these men were either in California, or at Chimney Rock, in the future Nebraska Territory. Yet it appears that in October, 1850, Washington County enumerator J.I. Loomis recognized that these men were, for all intents and purposes, regularly “domiciled” in Mequon and Grafton and enumerated them that way.

What about Alfred?

Why wasn’t Alfred enumerated as a Mequon resident, like the other Bonniwell men? I have a theory.

Bonniwell brothers William T. (Sr.), Charles, George and Henry all left wives in Mequon when they ventured to California. Beginning in 1849/1850 and lasting for the next few years, Sophia (Mrs. Charles) Bonniwell, Catherine (Mrs.William) Bonniwell, Tamer (Mrs. George) Bonniwell and Catherine (Mrs. Henry) Bonniwell had sole charge of their farms and homes. Sophia and the two Catherines had children to raise and provide for as well.6

I believe these women, as de facto heads of their households, made sure that their husbands were counted by the Washington County enumerator. Likewise, Catherine (Whitehead) Bonniwell insured that her son, William T. (Jr.), was also enumerated. But young Alfred was unmarried and did not leave a spouse behind to manage his affairs or speak for him on the 1850 census.

As far as we know, before Alfred left for California in 1849 he had been living with his mother, Eleanor Hyde. Why didn’t Eleanor report Alfred as a member of her household on the 1850 census? We really don’t know. Perhaps she was uncertain whether Alfred planned to return, or whether it was appropriate to list the absent Alfred as a member of her Mequon household.

And the others…

The Bonniwells—William T. (senior & junior), Charles, George, and Henry—were not the only members of their expedition that were in California in 1850 but enumerated in Wisconsin. I’ve found several other members of the Bonniwell party that were enumerated in Mequon or Grafton in 1850, along with some little-known information about their lives (and one mysterious disappearance) during and after the gold rush.

Also, we need to take a look at the achievements of the spouses of these absent miners. These women showed they had the skill, strength and determination to successfully manage their farms and raise their families as—at least temporarily—”single mothers” in early Washington County, Wisconsin. That’s a story we should not overlook.

I think you’ll be interested. See you soon with details.



  1. This post will make a lot more sense if you read parts 1, 2 and 3 first:
    The Bonniwells & Co. and the 1850 census (part 1) and
    Monday: Map Day! — the Bonniwells & Co. and the 1850 census (part 2)
    The Bonniwells & Co. and the 1850 (and ’52) census – part 3

  2. The seventh decennial federal population census was officially enumerated for all persons living in the United States on June 1, 1850. For the first time, all (free) persons were to be listed in the census schedules by their full names. But as we discussed previously, while the actual enumeration of the 1850 census should have begun in every enumeration district on June 1, 1850, it didn’t always do so. And it usually took weeks—or even months—to complete the enumeration of some districts. Yet according to Census Bureau rules, whenever the government enumerator did show up at your abode, the census forms were supposed to record the location and personal information for each free person in every household as of June 1, 1850. And while free persons—including free persons of color—were to be enumerated individually by name, enslaved Black Americans were not named; they were enumerated only by age, sex (male or female), and the various racial categories of the day (usually “Black,” “Negro,” or “mulatto”).

    If you missed it, our deep dive into the Clark family and farm and the 1850 census includes these posts:
    The Clark Family in 1850, part 1
    The Clark Family in 1850, part 2
    The Clark Family in 1850, part 3
    The Clark Family in 1850, part 4
    Harvest Time: 1850, part 1 and
    Harvest Time: 1850, part 2

    Naturally, these posts contain a lot of information about the Clark family in 1850, but they also discuss various aspects of how the 1850 census was enumerated and what sort of information was collected on the various non-population census schedules.

  3. In an earlier post, The Bonniwells Go West, I observed that one man—elsewhere said to be a member of the 1850 expedition—was not present in George Bonniwell’s diary at all, namely brother James Bonniwell (b. 1811). Page 107 of George Bonniwell’s generally very reliable family history, The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, states that James was part of the Bonniwell gold rush trek, but I do not have any other sources for that assertion.

    Did James actually make the trek to California? My current speculation is that he did not. Perhaps he remained behind on purpose. Did James remain in Mequon so that there would be at least one adult, male, Bonniwell available to respond to emergencies or, if needed, to sign legal documents or approve land transactions? It would make sense, but is only a theory at this time.

  4. This Grafton schedule raises some interesting questions about the William T. Bonniwell residence(s) circa 1850. We know from many early records that the William T. Bonniwell home in early Washington (later Ozaukee) County was a center for county business. For a while, it was authorized by the territorial legislature as the official location for official county business and public meetings. It seems clear that these meetings took place at the large Bonniwell house on Sec. 10 of the Town of Mequon.

    But for at least some years around 1850, the William T. Bonniwell family appears to have lived in Grafton. Where exactly was the W. T. Bonniwell home in Grafton and what years did they live there? I’m curious.

  5. Sarah Turck would marry young Alfred T. Bonniwell a little over a year later, on December, 1851.

    And speaking of persons appearing to live in two places at once: Ten years later, on the 1860 census, Sarah’s younger brother Benjamin Turck was enumerated on the 1860 census twice. Once, as part of the Peter Turck household in Milwaukee, and a few weeks later as a member of the Mary (Turck) Clark household in Mequon. (I’ll have much more to say about what this might imply in a future post).

  6. George and Tamer (Baisden) Bonniwell did not begin their family until after George returned from California.

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