Today we have a surprise addition to our survey of Alfred T. Bonniwell documents. It’s a recent discovery, a very cool 1849 petition to Congress asking for a new postal road from Grafton to Waukesha, via Mequon. It’s signed by many of old Washington county’s most civic-minded men, including Grafton postmaster P.M. Johnson, Jonathan M. Clark, Peter Turck, and almost all of the Bonniwell men. It’s of interest to us, in part as an example of the citizen petition process in the early days of Wisconsin statehood, and more specifically as a record of “who was here?” in Washington county in a non-census year.
A growing county needs a new mail route
Petition of Phineas M. Johnson and others to U.S. Congress. [1849-02-06]. /documents/D275080, page 1, detail, salutation, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library. Public domain.1, 5
Citizen petitions have been a part of American governance since early days. Check out our 2021 RBOH: Wisconsin Citizen Petitions for more information on a newly digitized collection of early Wisconsin territorial and state petitions, including a searchable database of petition images. Citizens could also petition the federal government for assistance; our petition is addressed To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress Assembled, and looks like this:
Petition of Phineas M. Johnson and others to U.S. Congress. [1849-02-06]. /documents/D275080, page 1, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library. Public domain.
Transcribed, this reads:
We, the undersigned citizens of the county of Washington and State of Wisconsin, respectfully represent, that the establishment of a mail route from the village of Grafton, in said county, to the village of Waukesha, in Waukesha county is required for the accommodation of several thousand citizens residing on said route; We therefore earnestly request your attention to the subject. The route passes thro’ Mequon, the most densely populated township in this county, the inhabitants of which are dependant for their mail facilities upon a route from five to nine miles distant. It also passes through Germantown, one of the first settled townships in the county, whose populous neighborhoods now suffer great inconvenience for the want of mail facilities. The proposed route crosses the Milwaukee and Fond du Lac route at Menominee Falls, and passes the whole distance through a well settled and prosperous district.
Your petitioners believe the from five to seven thousand inhabitants would be accommodated by the establishment of this route; and that it would increase the revenues of the Department
Your fellow citizens…
Petition of Phineas M. Johnson and others to U.S. Congress. [1849-02-06]. /documents/D275080, page 1, detail showing signatures of Phineas M Johnson and William T. Bonniwell, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library. Public domain.
The petition appears to have been drafted by Grafton postmaster Phineas M. Johnson. The text of the petition concludes with the complimentary close Your fellow citizens, followed by the signatures of Johnson, early county administrator William T. Bonniwell2 and, in two columns, those of 54 other civic-minded Washington county men. I’ll have more to say about some of these men and their families in future posts but, for today, I’d like to simply list their names as transcribed by the editors of the Lincoln Papers, and (in italics) I’ll add a few quick spelling corrections and pertinent notes for future reference and investigation.
Signatures, left column
John A. Brown
John H Parcel
E D Lord
Chs W Bonniwell— one of two Charles Bonniwell signatures on this petition, presumably father and son. I suspect this is son Charlea Bonniwell, Jr. (1830-1892).
[signatures continue on attached white page]
Henry V. Bonniwell — Henry Vinall Bonniwell (1818-1896), member of the 1849 Bonniwell land-sea gold rush expedition
Jesse Hubbard — (1812-1898), early Mequon settler, Jonathan & Mary (Turck) Clark’s next door neighbor (just west of the Clark house), a county commissioner in 1843
Peter Rattrey— (1818-circa 1851?) probably the Mr. Rattery that was part of the Bonniwell’s 1850 gold rush expedition. He was also present at the first meeting of the Bonniwell District school committee in 1843.
John W [Moore?] — or perhaps, John W. Hood? I’m not at all sure about the surname
Peter Turk —Peter Turck (1798-1872), very early Mequon settler, man of many trades, Jonathan M. Clark’s father-in-law
Harvey G. Turner
Eugene S, Turner
William. O. Brien
P. K. Hadley
B H Moores — supervisor for Town of Grafton, 1846-1847 (see 1881 History of Washington & Ozaukee Counties, p 321)
George P. Goulding
Signatures, right column
The right column of signatures follows the close, “Your fellow citizens,“ and begins with:
Phineas M Johnson — (1808-1876) merchant, postmaster of Grafton and, with William T. Bonniwell, co-organizer of the 1849 and 1850 Bonniwell gold rush expeditions and
William T, Bonniwell—(1809-1874) merchant, early Washington county commissioner and “captain” of the 1850 Bonniwell gold rush expedition. W. T. Bonniwell’s signature is followed by those of:
Hiram Stilwell— possibly one of the two young relatives of early pioneer Barton Salisbury, aka “young Stillwell and Salisbury”? (see 1881 History of Washington & Ozaukee Counties, p. 546) 4
Theodore R Taylor — could this be a relative of the otherwise unknown “Richard Taylor” from the 1849 gold rush expedition?
Barnard, P. McEvoy —surname possibly also spelled McEvony? and/or related to early settler Samuel McEvony, below?
[signatures continue on attached white page]
Jno Cottingham —“Jno “usually an abbreviation for John
A J Mathews
M. Salisbury — possibly one of the two young relatives of early pioneer Barton Salisbury, aka “young Stillwell and Salisbury”? (see 1881 History of Washington & Ozaukee Counties, p. 546)
George Bonniwell — presumably George Bonniwell (1813-1897), chronicler of the 1850 Bonniwell overland expedition
James Bonniwell — (1811-1893), the Bonniwell brother who appears to have remained in Mequon during the Bonniwell gold rush trek
Alfred T. Bonniwell — (1826-1895) the youngest of the Bonniwell brothers, and a member of the 1849 Bonniwell land-and-sea gold rush voyage
Philip Moss — (1809-1890) husband of Bonniwell sister Eleanor; remained in Mequon during the gold rush
Thomas Munn — is this the same Mr. Munn/Mun/Man that participated in the Bonniwell’s 1850 overland gold rush trek? Is he related to Charles Bonniwell’s wife, Sophia Elizabeth (Munn) Bonniwell (1809-1894)?
Charles Bonniwell — one of two Charles Bonniwell signatures on this petition, presumably father and son. I suspect this is father Charlea Bonniwell, Sr. (1806-1905).
Patk Raddy — i.e., Patrick Raddy (possibly also spelled Ruddy?)
Samuel McEvony —(1805-1890) early Mequon settler, married Waity Ann Connely in 1842, James Bonniwell, J.P. officiating
J. M. Clark —our own Jonathan M. Clark (1812-1857) who, with wife Mary (Turck) Clark, built the Clark House and farm.
Albert Clark —who’s this? A relative? (it’s not Arthur Clark, is it?), or some other unrelated Clark? Needs investigation.
B Bettys — Benjamin Bettys, early settler, present on first Washington county poll list (1840). Not to be confused with another early settler, Van Renselaer “V. R.” Pettis.
Wm H. [?] — I believe this is early settler Willliam H Bunce, possibly related to Clark neighbor S. Bunce or early county voter Nelson Bounst
Clark Westcott —the surname Westcott or Wescott appears in several early area records. Is this man related to the Stephen Wescott that was elected school supervisor in 1846?
A few more details
The petition is not dated, but docketing annotations on the document’s
reverse side second page5 show that it was received by Congress no later than February 6, 1849, when it was referred to the appropriate congressional committee.
Petition of Phineas M. Johnson and others to U.S. Congress. [1849-02-06]. /documents/D275080, page 2, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library. Public domain.
Transcribed3, this reads:
Petition of Citizens of Washington County Wisconsin for the establishment of a Mail Route from Grafton in Washington Co. to Waukesha in Waukesha Co.
February 6 1849 Referred to the Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads.
It bears noting that February 6th was a mere two months before Alfred T. Bonniwell was naturalized as an American citizen and then —accompanied by brothers Henry V. Bonniwell and George B. Bonniwell, and neighbors Joseph Loomis and Richard Taylor—immediately departed for Fort Independence and the California gold fields.
There’s much more we could discover and discuss about this citizen petition. But I’m way behind in several other writing projects and I shouldn’t wander too much farther afield. So now that the petition is here and available for further study, I’m going to leave it for the moment.
- I’d like to give a big tip of the stovepipe hat to the hardworking archivists at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and in particular their director of research, Brian K. Mitchell, PhD. Thank you for your timely assistance, and for sharing the high-quality transcriptions and digital images of the Lincoln Papers with us—for free—via the web.
FYI, there is a lot to see at their main website, https://presidentlincoln.illinois.gov/ , and the digitized Lincoln Papers are searchable at https://papersofabrahamlincoln.org/
- For the record, I have made tacet corrections to the Bonniwell surname throughout the petition transcriptions and discussions here.
- In the docketing information, the indication “30th” certainly refers to the 30th U.S. Congress, which met from March 4, 1847, to March 4, 1849. Whig Abraham Lincoln represented Illinois’ seventh congressional district in the 30th congress.
And the word “Darling,” at the bottom of the docketing information most likely refers to Mason C. Darling, a democrat and the first representative for the new State of Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district. Presumably, Lincoln and Darling served on the Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads, and that is probably why this petition is
archivedcataloged with the Lincoln Papers (see note 5, below, for an update).
- UPDATED, March 27, 2023, to include annotation for signer “H. Stilwell.”
- UPDATED, March 27, 2023, to include and correct some bibliographic information. I omitted a useful source citation that is found on the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library source page, namely:
Handwritten Document Signed, 2 page(s), Box 232, RG 233: Library of Congress Collection: Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, 30th Congress, 1847-1849, Library of Congress Collection
I’ve updated the information in the body of this post accordingly.
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