The Bonniwell Bible’s provenance or, Who Owned It & When?


Provenance is an important concept for historians, collectors and museums. It refers to the chain of ownership of any collectible item, including manuscripts, artworks, official documents or, in our case, a family Bible. Establishing the provenance of an item—such as the Bonniwell Bible—from its creation to the present day is important for several reasons:

  • By studying this Bible as an artifact, a book published on paper, we are establishing its history and authenticity as a Bible, published in London, England, by Christopher Barker, in the Geneva translation, including copious notes, helps and other additions, probably during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and, more specifically, circa 1580-1603.
  • By studying the inscriptions in this Bible, we can also try and establish who owned the book, and when they owned it. The more we know about this, the more confident we can be about the historical and genealogical information found in the Bible’s many inscriptions.

Who owned it first?

That’s still a bit of a mystery. On the one hand, we do have a solid—though perhaps not unbroken—history of Bonniwell family inscriptions in this Bible, beginning in 1697 and continuing through the early 1900s. First-person family recollections record the Bible’s direct descent from that time until the present day. And we know that this Bible was first in the possession of a related branch of the Bonniwell family and then owned by “our” Bonniwells no later than 1795:

Bonniwell Bible, detail, showing inscription by William Bonniwell, 1798, and ligature WBonniwell, 1795. photo credit: Kendalyne Gentile, 2022.

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Back to School, 1831: JMC in Stanstead?

In an earlier post I wrote: I’m still on the hunt for the elusive parents and kin of Jonathan M. Clark. Based on what we know so far, we are looking in the area of Derby, Orleans County, Vermont and its northern neighbor Stanstead Township, Lower Canada, circa 1800-1830 or so.

Well, the hunt continues, and today I thought I’d share with you another Back to School tidbit, a “hot tip” that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while. The tip—and its source—comes from Clark-Turck family descendant and Clark House Museum supporter Liz Hickman1, who kindly gave me a copy of this fascinating book:

Kathleen H. Brown’s comprehensively researched and encyclopedic Schooling in the Clearings: Stanstead 1800-1850 is devoted to the early history of public and private education in Quebec’s Eastern Townships and, in particular, Stanstead Township. That might seem like a highly specialized corner of North American history on which to focus, and I suppose it is. But Ms. Brown’s heroic labors in the archives are now a readable and invaluable resource for those of us trying to learn more about the early settlers in the Eastern Townships and their children including, possibly, the earliest record of Jonathan M. Clark known to date.2

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Memorial Day, 2022

Lest We Forget

A new edition of our annual Memorial Day post. Previous versions published in 2020 and 2021.

UPDATED: May 30, 2022 to correct a few typos and minor errors.

Graves of Unknown Union Soldiers, Memphis National Cemetery, photo by Clayton B. Fraser, (Library of Congress), public domain. Memphis National Cemetery is the final resting place of Mequon’s Watson Peter Woodworth, and almost 14,000 of his Union Army comrades.

Today is the day our nation officially observes Memorial Day. For many Americans, Memorial Day represents “the first day of summer,” and is traditionally celebrated with trips to the lake, picnics, parades, and sales on cars, appliances, and other consumer goods.

But for many of us, Memorial Day remains rooted in its origins as Decoration Day. The first national observance was in 1868, when retired general John A. Logan, commander and chief of the Grand Army of the Republic—the Union veterans’ organization—issued his General Order Number 11, designating May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

On this Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to remember what this day truly represents.

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A (new) Bonniwell Gold Rush timeline

Continuing our look at old and new evidence about the Bonniwell family’s trip west to the gold fields of California. If you’re keeping track, this is also part 9 of our series documenting the life of Clark family neighbor (and in-law) Alfred T. Bonniwell and his family.

We closed our previous post, Gold! – The Bonniwells go west…but when? and who?, with a surprising news item from page 2 of the Saturday, April 7, 1849, edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel and Gazette:

FOR CALIFORNIA.—Henry V. Bonniwell, Geo B. Bonniwell, Alfred Bonniwell, Joseph Loomis, and Richard Taylor from Mequon, Washington county, are to leave to-day for California. They proceed to Fort Independence, to fit out.

This April 7, 1849, announcement raises a number of questions, and complicates—if not contradicts—our understanding of the Bonniwell family’s better-known overland trek to California in 1850. I think I have figured out what happened, and the easiest way to explain full story of the Bonniwells and their trip West to the gold fields is by making a timeline of our new evidence. And before we do that, we need to remind ourselves that…

There was more than one way to get to California

When “gold fever” first hit the nation in 1848-1849, traveling to California via wagon trail from one of the major departure points—such as Ft. Independence, Missouri, at the head of the Oregon Trail—was the least expensive but most treacherous option for would-be gold seekers. On the one hand, the overland route was the shortest, about 3,000 miles from the eastern states, but it was fraught with dangers that included bad “roads,” lack of food and water, a whole spectrum of diseases and illnesses, as well as potential attacks by Native Americans or wild animals. Whatever their reason, it appears that sometime during the first stage of their journey, between April and September, 1849, our lads decided to skip the overland route and try something safer and faster, if more expensive:

The Panama Shortcut

“For California, Via Chagres,” advertisement for USMS Steamship Co., New Orleans Daily Crescent, Wednesday, 12 Sept 1849, p 3 (tinted, sharpened). As always, click each image to open larger copy in new windows.1

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Gold! – The Bonniwells go west…but when? and who?

UPDATED, May 27, 2022 with a few minor edits for clarity.

Today, in part 8 of our series documenting the life of Clark family neighbor (and in-law) Alfred T. Bonniwell and his large extended family, we begin a fresh look at some documentary evidence that complicates and enriches our understanding of how the national “Gold Fever” that began in 1848 shaped the years around 1848-1851 in the lives of Bonniwells and some of their Mequon neighbors.

Gold, Placerville [formerly Hangtown], El Dorado County, California, Smithsonian Institution, NMNH-79-9911 (public domain, CC0). Click to open larger image in new window.

Our current knowledge of the Bonniwell family’s California adventures is nicely summarized by George B. Bonniwell at the start of chapter 12 of his book, The Bonniwells: 1000 Years.1

In January, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California. By 1849, the gold rush was on. The Bonniwells couldn’t resist an­other adventure. William Bonniwell, as Captain, led a wagon train of six wagons and 16 men, including Charles, James, Henry, George, Alfred and young William who was only 14 at the time. They started from Milwaukee on April 12, 1850, headed down into Illinois, through Iowa, joined the Oregon Trail in Ne­braska, proceeded through Wyoming, into Idaho, down into Nevada and finally to Sacramento, California and the gold region. After four months enduring sick­ness, hostile Indians, more sickness, mountains, desert, more sickness, lack of water, starvation, etc., they finally made it to their destination in California on August 11, 1850.

Then, after “remaining anywhere from two to four years, they returned to the ‘Bonniwell Settlement.’ It is believed that they returned by the Isthmus of Panama (although some thought that they returned home around Cape Horn.”2

The whole story reads like a tale from a movie script or Western novel, but it’s not. It is, indeed, a true story. But what do we really know about the Bonniwells’ epic trek, and how do we know it? Well, we’ve got some outstanding contemporary sources; some are well-known and some are newly-discovered. Let’s start with what we know.

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Help the Historian! – MS “History Mystery” solved!

On Monday, I mentioned how I’ve been reading a lot of interesting documents lately, including some very cool and very old Clark House related manuscripts, and I was puzzled by this bit of manuscript marginalia, found in an old religious book, a real History Mystery:

I noted that this handwriting may (or may not) be a variation on the English writing style known as Secretary hand. I was stumped, and asked you readers to Help the Historian! with this mysterious passage. And although I didn’t have any prizes to award—except eternal fame and glory throughout our vast Clark House Historian readership—I hoped someone would step forward and claim their virtual laurel wreath. Well, the week is over, and the winner is…

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Clark House News: Summer Hours & more!

More Clark House news has arrived from our executive director, Dana Hansen. Starting this month—May, 2022—the Jonathan Clark House Museum, at the corner of Bonniwell and Cedarburg Roads in Mequon, Wisconsin, will be open for tours on the first Friday and second Saturday of each month, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

If I read my calendar correctly, that means you can just drop in this Friday, May 6, or next Saturday, May 14, between 11 and 2, and enjoy a tour of the historic home of Mequon’s pioneer Clark family. Other open days will follow on first Fridays and second Saturdays throughout the summer. If you have a group of 6 or more, please call ahead. More info on Clark House tours can be found at this link. Questions? Give us a call at 262-618-2051 or send us an e-mail at

History Mystery! update…

Did you see our CHH History Mystery! post on Monday? Have you been working on your transcription of our early English manuscript text? Are you stumped? Do you still want to win eternal fame and glory throughout the Clark House Historian readership? Here’s an update to that initial post, with two more clues to help you solve our handwriting puzzle:

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Help the Historian! – a manuscript “History Mystery”

I’ve been reading a lot of interesting documents lately, including some very cool and very old Clark House related manuscripts. (More details on these exciting documents coming later this spring or early summer.) We’ve looked at many old manuscripts here at Clark House Historian, and I think I’m pretty good at deciphering most older English handwriting from about 1700 until the present and, with help, I can even figure out many German scripts from the late 18th- through the 19th-century.

But then there’s this, a real Clark House Historian History Mystery:

That’s the handwriting of a literate English-speaking man or woman of a certain era. I’ve seen handwriting like this before in old Cornwall parish records of my Perkins family. In my (limited) experience I’ve seen this style of writing on documents dating from the later-1600s through the early 1700s, perhaps as late as 1750 or so. But I’m not an expert on Early Modern English or English orthography, and it’s possible that this hand was in use as early as the 1500s. It may (or may not) be a variation on the English writing style known as Secretary hand.

For some reason, this writing style remains very difficult for me to read. I’ve spent enough time with examples of this hand—and the many spelling conventions of the era—that I’m not completely lost, but there is a lot here that I don’t understand. So I’m asking you readers to take a crack at it, and Help the Historian! with this mysterious passage.

Along the way, I recommend you click on each image to open it in a new, larger window. You’ll get the best, enlargeable, view of each mystery text and my annotations. Here are your clues:

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Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 4: Wisconsin territorial census, 1842

Continuing on with our series of Alfred Bonniwell documents, today’s post looks at one of two censuses that (probably) record Alfred Bonniwell in Wisconsin Territory between the federal decennial censuses of 1840 and 1850. If you need to catch up, our previous installments are herehereherehere and here.
UPDATED May 22, 2022, to correct Charles Bonniwell, Sr.’s birth year to 1806

The Wisconsin territorial census of 1842

For background on the 1842 Wisconsin territorial census, its enumeration in old Washington/Ozaukee county, and its relation to the Clark, Turck and Bonniwell families and their neighbors, you’ll want to read Census Records for the In-Between Years: 1842.1

The official enumeration date for this census was June 1, 1842; the enumeration of old Washington county—still attached to Milwaukee County for legal purposes—was done by Levi Ostrander and officially completed on July 1, 1842. Here’s page 65 of that census. The extended Bonniwell family—and some of their notable neighbors—are circled in red.2

Full source details in note 2, below. Click to open larger image in new window.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these families and try and understand which Bonniwells were living where, in Mequon, in mid-summer, 1842…

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How’d they get here? – JMC, the Bonniwells, and Whitehall, NY

We’ve mentioned Whitehall, New York, on several occasions. Located just east of the south end of Lake Champlain, the town of Whitehall has long claimed to be the “Birthplace of the U.S. Navy.” More importantly for our story, in 1823 Whitehall became the northern terminus of the Champlain Canal, connecting the Hudson River and the Erie Canal to Lake Champlain and points further north.1

Port of Entry

More importantly for our story, Whitehall served as an international port of entry for immigrants coming to New York and New England from Canada and overseas via the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain. In the early 1830s, these immigrants included Jonathan M. Clark, who came from Lower Canada in April, 1831,2 and the entire Bonniwell family, who arrived the following year.3

What did our immigrants of 1831 and ’32 see just before they stepped ashore in the United States? The hustle and bustle of a major harbor and center of commerce such as New York, Boston or Philadelphia? Er, no. Instead, this is what greeted our intrepid newcomers:

Whitehall, Lake Champlain

Milbert, Jacques Gerard, Amerique Septentrionale – Etat de New-York. N. 21, pl. 1…White Hall, Lake Champlain, Lithograph by Bichebois and Adam, Paris, 1828–1829. Yale Art Gallery, Mabel Brady Garvan Collection. Public Domain. Click to open larger image in new window.

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