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Early Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin
Presettlement to 1861

 
 
This introduction is condensed  from a draft of an unpublished history of the western townships of Fond du Lac County. The census tables and examples, therefore, focus on the western end of the county and may not reflect the early settlement patterns and different landscape of the eastern townships. Joseph Schafer's landmark history, The Winnebago-Horicon Basin: A Type Study in Western History, Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1937, is an excellent resource on those issues.
 

There are many charms in Western Prairie life for those who are lovers of nature and of reflective minds, that can never be effaced, and particularly to the early settlers of this country. The variety of its scenery; its vast expanse of undulatory prairie and woodlands and oak openings; its ledges of limestone, their fissures and grottoes; its crystal lakes and streams; its bubbling springs and rivulets; its Eden of flowers and waving grass; its abundance of wild game; the fertility of its soil; all conspire to make the thoughtful pioneer feel that there had been prepared a new paradise or Eden for his inheritance. In this spontaneous garden of beauty the first settlers made their locations.

Issac Orvis, 1879(1)

To the geographers, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, belongs to the province known as the eastern ridges and lowlands, bordering Lake Michigan to the east and the central plains and western uplands to the west. This extensive geographic region runs 200 miles from northeast to southwest, encompassing Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Bay.

Topographically, the entire area can be described as two broad, overlapping planes each sloping gently upward to the west. Created by tilted layers of limestone, at their westernmost end both planes terminate in an abrupt step down. Viewed from the west, these steps form dramatic ridges rising as much as 200 feet (the western step) and 400 feet (the eastern step) above the adjacent landscapes. Bracketed by these ridges, much of the westernmost plane represents a modest lowland that contains the waters of Green Bay, Lake Winnebago, the Rock River, and the Madison lakes. The easternmost plane slopes gently from its crest just east of Lake Winnebago until it disappears under the waters of Lake Michigan. (2)

This basic topography is responsible for the "variety of scenery" described by early settlers like Oakfield's Issac Orvis. Fond du Lac County spans both ridges. The dramatic eastern ridge known locally as the "Ledge" is located within its borders, and the crest of the western ridge lies just outside the county to the west. Cupped between them, the county is a broad plain of fertile soils and glacial drumlins that contains extensive wetlands as well as the headwaters of the Rock River, flowing south, and the Grand River, Fond du Lac River, and Silver Creek, all flowing north into the Fox River drainage system.

To the botanists, the county also encompasses a remarkable variety of vegetation. The tension zone, a narrow transitional border running from Polk County in northwestern Wisconsin to Milwaukee County in southeastern Wisconsin and splitting the state into two broad floristic provinces, bisects the county. North and east, the landscape was originally dominated by forests of northern hardwoods. South and west, the land was dominated by prairies and oak openings. In Fond du Lac county, the westernmost towns of Ripon, Rosendale, Metomen, Springvale, Alto, Waupun, and Oakfield fall into the prairie province. East of these towns the county was predominantly forested, with southern forests of oak and hickory blending into northern forests of maple and beech. (3) For Issac Orvis, an early settler in the prairie area of Oakfield south and west of Fond du Lac, the landscape therefore was an "Eden of flowers and waving grass" waiting only for the plow to make its deep, black soils productive. For his fellow county residents in the towns of Taycheedah and Calumet north and east of Fond du Lac, the landscape waited to be cleared and logged.

This was land eminently well suited for agriculture, but with the exception of the area around Lake Winnebago not for the development of industries. As one of the original founders of Ripon, D. P. Mapes, observed in later years, "we were on no navigable waters…and our little stream, although beautiful, was small for a water-power." (4)

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As late as 1827, however, the county was a candidate for neither agriculture nor industry. As described by the historian, William Raney, the region that is now Wisconsin, although a part of the United States since 1783 and of the Michigan Territory since 1818, belonged to another nation:

Apart from small bits of land used as the sites of Forts Howard and Crawford, and what had been occupied by French Canadian settlers long before and secured to them by European treaties, Wisconsin was in 1827 still legally the property of the Indians. (5)

In 1783, the United States and the Indian nations in the region paid little attention to each other. As early as the War of 1812, however, this relationship began to change:

The United States government dealt only with those Indian tribes near enough to the settlements to cause trouble or impede the advance of the white frontier. During the generation between the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, Wisconsin was in the zone of contact between the two races. The federal government exercised control partly military and partly civil. An irregular line of garrisoned forts, established at various times, swept across Wisconsin and Iowa to the Missouri River and back across Arkansas and Louisiana. Along this frontier of some fifteen hundred miles a part of the regular army maintained peace and respect for the United States. Fort Howard at Green Bay and Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien were established in 1816, and Fort Winnebago was added at Portage in 1828. Each of these forts usually had between one and two hundred soldiers. (6)

Boundaries between tribal lands were not well defined. Tribes traditionally crossed and hunted each other’s areas, occasionally leading to conflicts. A conference was held in 1825 at Prairie du Chien, hosted by Lewis Cass and William Clark, precisely to quell disputes among the tribes and to set limits to their lands.

The southeastern and southwestern corners of present Wisconsin with adjacent parts of Illinois were assigned to certain Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi. The rest of southern Wisconsin was recognized as belonging to the Winnebago, whose irregularly shaped holdings touched the Mississippi north of Prairie du Chien and stretched northeast to Lake Winnebago and north to the Black River. (7)

As of 1825, therefore, Fond du Lac County officially belonged to the Winnebago nation. Winnebago villages existed in the towns of Metomen, Waupun, and Lamartine in the west and in Taycheedah, Marshfield, and Auburn in the east, and only Indian trails existed as transportation routes across the county. (8)

By 1827, however, serious crises were developing one hundred miles to the south between the lead miners in the Galena and Mineral Point areas and the Winnebago. Miners had begun moving into the area as early as 1822 and over the next several years began creating considerable anxiety among the Indian tribes. Late in 1826, the tribes began demanding payments from the miners, and in March of 1827 a French-Canadian family was killed 12 miles north of Prairie du Chien on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River. In June, two miners were killed by Red Bird and two other Winnebago. The same day four keel boaters were killed on the Mississippi by Winnebago and Sauk attacks.

In response to these attacks and at the urging of Governor Cass, General Henry Atkinson led 500 regular soldiers north from the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and pursued Red Bird up the Wisconsin River. On September 3, Red Bird surrendered. One of the terms of surrender was that the miners would have the rights to their mines until a new treaty was signed.

The new treaty was concluded in July of 1929, with the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi ceding their claim to lands along the Mississippi and the Winnebago surrendering their lands south of the Wisconsin west of a line from Portage to Madison and southward to Illinois. As a result, the lead mining region became the legal property of the United States.

Conflicts between Indian and white continued to erupt over the next several years, perhaps the best known of which led to the Black Hawk War in 1832 with tribes of Fox and Sauk. On April 6, 1832, Black Hawk crossed the Mississippi from Iowa with a band of 400 men and 600 women and children in an attempt to reclaim their land at the mouth of the Rock River, land they had been driven from the previous year by soldiers and militia acting on behalf of Illinois settlers squatting on lands that did not belong to the United States. Regardless of legalities, the crossing was regarded as an act of war by the settlers, and they enlisted in large numbers to repel what they regarded as an invasion. Among their numbers was a young captain named Abraham Lincoln.

Forced inexorably up the Rock River by the settlers’ militia, and failing to receive support from either other Indian tribes or the British, Black Hawk decided to abandon his efforts and return to Iowa. He initiated an attempt to negotiate with a company led by Major Stillman, but Stillman’s militia attacked Black Hawk’s negotiators, who were under a white flag of truce. The militia continued on to attack the entire band, and while Black Hawk repulsed the attack the incident made further fighting inevitable.

Led by General Atkinson, the militia slowly pushed the Indians northward into Wisconsin and through the area that is now Madison. At the battle of Wisconsin Heights on the Wisconsin River on July 21, Black Hawk held the army at bay until he could get his band safely across the river. Again, Black Hawk made an attempt to negotiate, but there were no interpreters in the militia’s camp, and the Americans failed to recognize his surrender.

Borrowing canoes and rafts from the Winnebago, a portion of Black Hawk’s band made their escape down the Wisconsin, hoping to cross the Mississippi near Prairie du Chien. However, the military garrison stationed there saw them and captured or shot most of the group.

The remaining members of Black Hawk’s band made their escape attempt westward by land, many of the wounded, children, and elderly dying of hunger and injuries along the way. Reaching the Mississippi, they were confronted by a United States naval steamboat, the Warrior, which opened fire on the Indians despite the fact that Black Hawk’s people were again under a flag of truce in a final effort to surrender. When the Warrior ran out of munitions and fuel, General Atkinson’s infantry joined the fight, driving the Indians into the river. Now called the massacre of the Bad Axe, the battle lasted three hours and killed 150 Indians outright and drowned an equal number.

Of Black Hawk’s original band of 1000 men, women, and children, only 150 remained alive to return to Iowa.

Within a year, two additional treaties were signed. In September, 1832, the Winnebago signed away the remainder of their lands south of the Fox and Wisconsin. A year later, the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi relinquished the rest of southern Wisconsin east of the Rock River and adjoining Illinois.

With the conclusion of those two treaties, all of Wisconsin south of the Fox and Wisconsin belonged to the United States.

Wasting little time, contracts were let immediately by the federal government to survey the lands that had been ceded by the Indians, and by the end of 1833 a significant part of the survey of southeastern Wisconsin had been completed. By an Act of Congress approved on June 26, 1834, two new land districts were created. East of a line from the northern boundary of Illinois to the Wisconsin River between ranges 8 and 9 was the Green Bay Land district; west of it was the Wisconsin Land district. Most of southeastern Wisconsin thus became available to settlers and land speculators. For the land in the Green Bay district, notice went out that all surveyed lands were for sale by the government of the United States, the sale to take place in 1835. (9)

Lands not disposed of immediately by this sale, including virtually all of the county of Fond du Lac, became available for subsequent purchase at the price of $1.25 an acre. (10)

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Prior to 1835, the county was a trackless frontier. The closest transportation route was the river "road" immediately to the north, comprised of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers running from Green Bay through Portage and down to Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi. The first land route to supplement the network of Indian trails was the Wisconsin military road completed in 1835 from Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien to Fond du Lac. The highway was completed to Fort Howard in Green Bay in 1838.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the first land sales in Fond du Lac County were lands bordering the navigable Lake Winnebago. Prominent in these first sales was James Doty, former federal judge for the Michigan Territory and road commissioner for the military road. According to Doty biographer, Alice Smith, "Doty saw vast possibilities in Fond du Lac, and when the lands came into market, he and a collaborator were on hand to corner the highly desirable location." (11) Late in 1835 Doty and George McWilliams purchased 3,705 acres in the area where the Fond du Lac River flows into Lake Winnebago. (12)

Doty subsequently formed a joint stock association, the Fond du Lac Company, to buy and sell land in the area. The association developed the original plat for the "town" of Fond du Lac in 1836, and Doty was instrumental in attracting investors. (13)

By the spring of 1836 the first permanent settlers, Colwert and Edward Pier, had arrived, after forming a relationship with Doty’s company. Colwert’s wife, Fanna, joined her husband on June 6.

Historian Raney summarizes the first years of land sales in the county as initially dominated by speculators and dampened by the depression of the late 1830s:

After a negligible beginning in the fall of 1834, sales for the year 1835 were 217,000 acres and for the next year, 646,000 acres. It is said, however, that three-fourths of the sales of the first two years were made to speculators. Then the panic caused light sales for two years, after which progress was resumed. A high point of 700,000 acres was reached in 1846, and almost as much was sold the next year. Emphatically, Wisconsin was the area most favored by homeseekers from the East in the late 1840’s. (14)

Importantly, sales in the 1840’s reflected purchases by families interested in living on the land. As evidence, Raney reports that the population of Wisconsin increased from 46,000 in 1842 to 155,000 in 1846. By 1850, it had reached 305,000. (15) And while many of the sales continued to be in the area of the thriving community of Fond du Lac, increasingly they were turning to the rest of the county and the immediate area.

Water proved to be an attraction, both for its potential as a medium of transportation and as a source of power. Villages like Berlin and Princeton founded just north and west of Fond du Lac were located along the Fox River for that reason. The prospects for successful farming, however, were the major draw as Yankees relocated from New York, Pennsylvania, and New England.

Despite their lack of navigable waters and limited water power, the areas of new focus were the soon-to-be prairie townships in Fond du Lac County. These areas were and are dominated by deep rich prairie soils and by many natural springs, a few of them generating adequate water flow to provide a modest but reliable source of power. The western and southern townships of the county also boasted the transportation route offered by the military road between Fond du Lac and Portage, although as numerous early observers noted that road was often little more than marker posts driven into the prairie sod.

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The general prospects, and initial challenges, facing these early farm families in the prairie townships were severe. General descriptions of the first years on the true frontier that was western Fond du Lac County are numerous in the early stories and histories. Life for these families in the wilderness of western Fond du Lac county was of necessity dominated initially by thoughts of shelter and food. A portrait of that early focus is sketched in the 1880 History of Fond du Lac County:

The first important business of the pioneer settler, upon his arrival in Fond du Lac County was to build a house. Until this was done, some had to camp on the ground or live in their wagons—perhaps the only shelter they had known for weeks. So the prospect for a house, which was also to be a home, was one that gave courage to the rough toil, and added a zest to the heavy labors. The style of the home entered very little into their thoughts—it was shelter they wanted, and protection from stress of weather and wearing exposures. The poor settler had neither the money nor the mechanical appliances for building himself a house. He was content, in most instances, to have a mere cabin or hut. Some of the most primitive constructions of this kind were half-faced, or, at they were sometimes called, ‘cat-faced’ sheds or "wike-ups," the Indian term for tent or house. It is true, a "claim" cabin was a little more in the shape of a human habitation, made, as it was, of round logs, light enough for two or three men to lay up, about fourteen feet square—perhaps a little larger or smaller—roofed with bark or clapboards, and sometimes with the sods of the prairie, and floored with puncheons (logs split once in two, and the flat side laid up) or with earth. For a fire-place, a wall of stones and earth—frequently the latter only, when stone was not convenient—was made in the best practical shape for the purpose, in an opening in one end of the building, extending outward, and planked on the outside by bolts of wood notched together to stay it. Frequently a fire-place of this kind was made so capacious as to occupy nearly the whole width of the house. In cold weather, when a great deal of fuel was needed to keep the atmosphere above the freezing point—for this wide-mouth fire-place was a huge ventilator—large logs were piled into this yawning space. To protect the crumbling back-wall against the effects of the fire, two back-logs were placed against it, one upon the other. Sometimes these were so large that they could not be got in any other way than to hitch a horse to them. The animal was driven in at the door, when the log was unfastened before the fire-place. It was afterward put in position. The horse would be driven out at another door. (16)

Once they had secured shelter, families’ thoughts turned to food. The early farms in Metomen, carved from the thick bluegrass sods of the prairie and the oak openings, were modest. A sketch of their creation is offered in the 1880 history:

The first year’s farming consisted mainly of a "truck patch," planted in corn, potatoes, turnips and other vegetables. Generally, the first year’s crop fell far short of supplying even the most rigid economy of food. Many of the settlers brought with them small stores of such things as seemed indispensible to frugal living, such as flour, bacon, coffee, and tea. But these supplies were not inexhaustible, and once used were not easily replaced. A long winter must come and go before another crop could be raised. If game was plentiful, it helped to eke out their limited supplies. (17)

Among the challenges these families faced once they had established themselves were wolves, which made the raising of small stock problematic for several years until the wolf population had been reduced. Mosquitoes, panthers, lynxes, and wildcats also presented their own problems. A challenge of a different kind, simply transporting grains to a mill, is described in the 1880 text:

Not the least among the pioneers’ tribulations, during the first few years of the settlement, was the going to mill. The slow mode of travel by ox teams was made still slower by the almost total absence of roads and bridges, while such a thing as a ferry was hardly ever dreamed of. The distance to be traversed was often as far as sixty to ninety miles. In dry weather, common sloughs and creeks offered but little impediment to teamsters; but during floods and the breaking-up of winter, they proved exceedingly troublesome and dangerous. To get stuck when time was an item of grave import to the comfort and sometimes even to the lives of the settlers’ families. Often a swollen stream would blockade the way, seeming to threaten destruction to whoever would attempt to ford it.

With regard to roads, there was nothing of the kind worthy of the name. Indian trails were common, but they were unfit to travel on with vehicles. They were mere paths about two feet wide….

Those milling trips often occupied from three weeks to more than a month each, and were attended with an expense, in one way or another, that rendered the cost of breadstuffs extremely high. If made in the winter, when more or less grain-feed was required for the team, the load would be found to be so considerably reduced on reaching home that the cost of what was left, adding to other expenses, would make their grain reach the high cash figures of from $3 to $5 per bushel. And these trips could not always be made at the most favorable season for traveling. In spring and summer, so much time could hardly be spared from other essential labor; yet, for a large family, it was almost impossible to avoid making three or four trips during the year. (18)

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The first settlers in the town of Metomen began arriving in 1844, the same year that the religious and socially idealistic settlement of Ceresco was founded in what is now Ripon seven miles to the north, (19) and seven years after families began settling the Waupun area fourteen miles to the southeast. Within three years, by the time of the first state census in the township, the population reached 460. Just to the south, in the town of Alto, initially a part of Metomen, the population kept pace, reaching 339. By the time of the first federal census in the township in 1850 three years later, Metomen’s population had nearly doubled to 720. By the 1860 federal census, on the eve of the Civil War, the population more than doubled again, reaching 1617.

Although the 1847 state census only records the counts of males and females in households and names only heads of household, the two federal censuses during this period identify every individual by name, age, and place of birth. They also identify individuals who were attending school, the value of family estates, and occupations of workers. From these censuses, we can draw a sketchy picture of who these early settlers were and where they were coming from.

The following tables offer a summary of just how diverse Metomen’s early population was. Nearly forty-percent of the population was from the eastern states of New York, Pensylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, with New York alone accounting for more than one in three. One-fifth to one quarter of these early residents were born in Wisconsin, but virtually all were children. The New England states and Great Britain (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) each contributed slightly more than one-tenth of the total. Vermont represented nearly half of the New Englanders in the early years, while Ireland represented nearly half of the early settlers from Great Britain. Canada contributed more than one-twentieth of the population. Germany and Holland each represented a mere one-percent in 1850, but by 1860 settlers of German heritage were nearly as common as Canadians. The Dutch population in Metomen stayed relatively level from 1850 to 1860, although most Dutch were settling in Alto and represented a significant percentage of the population there. Other midwestern states (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio) represented seven-percent of the population in 1850 but less than three-percent in 1860, and most of these were children.

POPULATION OF METOMEN BY PLACE OF BIRTH

1850

#

%

1860

#

%

East

320

44.5%

East

587

36.7%

Wisconsin

97

13.5%

Wisconsin

477

25.4%

Great Britain

86

12.0%

New England

216

13.5%

New England

79

11.0%

Great Britain

137

8.6%

Midwest

51

7.1%

Canada

96

6.0%

Canada

41

5.7%

Germany

82

5.1%

Holland

9

1.3%

Midwest

45

2.8%

Germany

7

1.0%

Holland

12

0.8%

Denmark

0

0.0%

France

1

0.1%

France

0

0.0%

Denmark

1

0.1%

Russia

0

0.0%

Russia

1

0.1%

Unspecified

29

4.0%

Unspecified

15

0.9%

 

690

   

1655

 

Excluding the census statistics for children and looking only at place of birth for heads of household gives a somewhat more refined view of where these families hailed from. The following table not only excludes all of the children born after families reached Wisconsin but also children born along the way as families made their great migration west during the 1830’s and 1840’s. From these numbers, we can see that nearly fifty-percent of the early families were easterners, twenty-percent were New Englanders, nearly twenty-percent were from Great Britain, and most of the remainder were from the Midwest, chiefly Ohio, and Canada. By 1860, though, German families were, in fact, nearly equal to Canadian.

NUMBER OF ADULTS (>18 Y/O) BY PLACE OF BIRTH

Unspec

15

Canada

23

Conn

2

England

21

Germany

2

Holland

9

Ireland

31

Maryland

2

Mass

9

Me

4

Mich

3

NH

6

NY

158

Ohio

10

Pa

18

Scotland

12

Vt

32

Grand Total

357

 

NUMBER OF CHILDREN BY AGE AND PLACE OF BIRTH

Place of birth/Age

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

Grand Total
Unspec

2

1

 

2

2

1

 

1

3

 

2

             

14

Canada

3

1

     

2

 

2

1

 

1

1

1

2

2

 

2

 

18

Conn      

1

                       

1

 

2

England              

1

         

1

1

1

1

 

5

Germany      

1

 

1

1

1

 

1

               

5

Illinois        

1

   

1

1

   

1

1

         

5

Ireland          

2

 

1

 

2

       

3

 

2

 

10

Mass  

2

 

2

1

1

1

2

 

2

   

2

 

1

1

   

15

Mich  

1

 

1

3

1

2

1

1

 

3

   

2

2

   

1

18

NY

2

2

3

6

9

5

10

4

9

4

3

7

5

9

3

9

7

11

108

Ohio

1

     

1

 

2

2

   

3

 

3

 

1

 

2

 

15

Pa  

1

1

 

1

1

1

4

3

4

4

6

3

 

2

2

1

 

34

Rhode Island          

1

                       

1

Scotland      

1

 

2

 

1

 

1

1

       

1

   

7

Vt

1

   

1

 

1

1

1

     

1

 

1

   

1

 

8

Wis

26

25

12

12

6

4

3

2

2

3

3

             

98

Grand Total

35

33

16

27

24

22

21

24

20

17

20

16

15

15

15

14

17

12

363

 

HEADS OF HOUSEHOLD IN METOMEN BY PLACE OF BIRTH

1850

#

%

1860

#

%

East

61

51.3%

East

144

43.4%

New England

24

20.2%

New England

68

20.5%

Great Britain

23

19.3%

Great Britain

56

16.9%

Midwest

5

4.2%

Canada

26

7.8%

Canada

4

3.4%

Germany

22

6.6%

Germany

1

0.8%

Midwest

10

3.0%

Other

1

0.8%

Other

6

1.8%

 

119

   

332

 

Looking at the trends over these ten years, we can also see a modest decline in the numbers of families arriving from the east and from Great Britain, a steady migration from New England, and a modest growth in families arriving from Canada and Germany. These trends would be born out and accentuated in the years following the Civil War.

Because the federal censuses identify the occupations of individuals who are working, we can also sketch a portrait of the skills and livelihoods of these early settlers. As indicated in the following table, the vast majority of these early Metomen residents were farmers and laborers. A small number were practicing some of the "skilled" occupations the early town would need, pursuits including shoe making, blacksmithing, carpentry and joinery, and wagon making. William Plocker, a tavern keeper, and Thomas Handy, a grocer, were both early residents in the Fairwater area.

1850 CENSUS OCCUPATIONS

Occupation

#

POB
Farmer

138

 
Laborer

47

 
Shoemaker

2

New York
Blacksmith

1

Vermont
Carpenter

1

New York
Clerk

1

Holland
Grocer

1

Scotland
Joiner

1

Maryland
Tavern Keeper

1

England
"Waggon" Maker

1

New York

As indicated the majority of these early settlers were farmers and laborers. Most of the farmers were migrating westward from the expensive and exhausted wheatlands of New York, as the following table suggests. Although most of the laborers were also from New York, their numbers were in proportion to the population as a whole. Although the total numbers are too small for any real statistical conclusions, it is interesting to note that on average the large real estate holdings were generally in the hands of farmers from New England. If we examine the individual records, real estate worth $2000 and greater is held by families from England, Ireland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York (numerous), Pennsylvania, and Vermont. If we look at farms worth $1000 or more, we could also add Canada, Connecticutt, Holland, Ohio, and Scotland. The wealthiest land owners were Carpenter Egelston ($6000, New York), Thomas Norris ($3000, New Hampshire), Almon Osborn ($2750, Maine), Hiram Allen ($2500, Vermont), Jacob Carter ($2500, Massachusetts), Levi Yorti ($2500, Pennsylvania), and Thomas Zaeling ($2500, New York). While other occupations generally did not account for substantial real estate holdings, it is worth noting that William Plocker, the tavern keeper, listed real estate valued at $4000, and that Thomas Handy, the grocer, listed his real estate at $6000. It is interesting to note that of these very largest land owners, only Osborn and Norris purchased substantial acreage through the federal land sales. The land records show that neither Zaeling nor Egelston particpated at all in the federal sales.

FARMERS IN 1850 CENSUS

LABORERS IN 1850 CENSUS

#

POB

Real Estate

#

POB

Real Estate

61

New York

789

18

New York

0

11

Ireland

423

7

Canada

29

10

Vermont

1020

4

Pennsylvania

100

9

England

667

4

Vermont

100

8

Canada

388

3

England

367

7

Pennsylvania

500

3

Ireland

233

7

Scotland

371

1

Germany

0

6

Holland

233

1

Maryland

0

5

Ohio

260

1

Massachusetts

400

4

Massachusetts

800

1

Ohio

400

3

Maine

1417

1

Scotland

0

3

New Hampshire

1733

1

Connecticut

1200

1

Michigan

2000

If we look at the comparable statistics from the 1860 census, New York holds its place in terms of sheer numbers, while Canadians become both more numerically dominant and more dominant in terms of real estate value. In general, the average real estate value of farmers was lower in 1860 than in 1850, in large part due to the increase of relatively new farms. Among laborers, Germans in 1860 are considerably more dominant, as are Irish. Both increases presage the increase in those nationalities among the township’s farms following the war. It is worth noting that for the first time, the 1860 census lists a Wisconsin-born farmer.

While the average value of Metomen farms did not change in the decade of the 1850’s, the value of the wealthiest farms certainly did. The list of the major farms in 1860 included Thomas Norris ($16050, New Hampshire), Almon Osborn ($15075, Maine), Jacob Carter ($12360, Massachusetts), William Plocker ($12000, England, the Fairwater tavern keeper), Martin Ely ($10800, Ohio), A. B. Porter ($10000, Pennsylvania), Hanson Ely ($9600, Ohio), James Culbertson ($9600, New York), Ebenezer Leonard ($9000, New York), A. C. Robbins ($8275, New York), David Newland ($7400, New York), Alonson Stillwell ($6600, New York), Levi Yorty ($6400, Pennsylvania), C. D. Higley ($6280, New York), and Oliver Besley ($6000, New York). New Yorkers dominate the list, interspersed with names of New Englanders whose farms were already well established a decade earlier.

FARMERS IN 1850 CENSUS

FARM LABORERS IN 1850 CENSUS

#

POB

Real Estate

#

POB

92

New York

492

43

New York

21

Vermont

469

21

Germany

20

Canada

1152

10

Ireland

15

Ireland

292

8

Prussia

14

England

619

6

Canada

10

Massachusetts

517

4

Holland

7

Maine

603

4

Vermont

7

Pennsylvania

766

3

Wisconsin

6

Scotland

202

2

England

5

Germany

320

2

Massachusetts

5

New Hampshire

770

2

Pennsylvania

3

Prussia

130

1

Connecticut

2

Holland

375

1

Illinois

2

New Jersey

1398

1

Maine

2

Nova Scotia

479

1

Michigan

1

Connecticut

370

1

Ohio

1

Denmark

425

1

Scotland

1

Wales

250

1

Wirttemburg

1

Wisconsin

0

More dramatic is the change in the list of occupations identified by the 1860 census. The 1850 census identified a single blacksmith. In 1860, the township boasts ten blacksmiths. Shoemakers increased from two to ten, carpenters from one to twelve, laborers from 47 to 112 (including both day laborers and farm laborers), and farmers from 138 to 224. Among the new occupations were agriculturist, school teacher, butcher, cistern maker, lawyer, mason, mechanic, mill wright, physician, and railroad agent. Perhaps more eloquently than any other documentation, the changes in the occupation list describes the rapid growth from frontier to community that occurred during the 1850’s in Metomen.

1860 CENSUS OCCUPATIONS

Occupation

#

POB Occupation

#

POB
Agriculturist

1

Mass Lawyer

2

Conn, NY
Blacksmith

10

Ireland, NY Mason

4

Conn, Eng, NY
Butcher

2

NY Master Mechanic

1

Vt
Carpenter

5

Holland, Mass, NY, Vt Mechanic

8

Conn, Me, NY, Vt
Carpenter & Joiner

7

Conn, Me, Ny Vt Merchant

5

Eng, NY, Ohio, Pa
Carriage Manufacturer

1

RI Mill Sawyer

1

Me
Cistern Maker

1

NY Mill Wright

2

Eng, NY
Clergyman

5

Canada, NY, Me Miller

5

Canada, Eng, NY
Clerk

2

Eng, NY Milliner

1

N.Y.
Common School Teacher

12

Canada, NY, Me Painter

3

Ireland, NY
Cooper

1

NY Pedlar

1

N.Y.
Day Farm Laborer

1

NY Physician

3

NY, Pa
Day Laborer

10

Germany, Ireland, NH, Pa Rail R Agent

1

N.Y.
Domestic

33

Canada, Conn, Eng,

Germ, Ire, NY, Ohio, Pa, Prussia, Wis

Rail Road hand

1

Ireland
Drilling Well

1

France Saloon Keeper

1

N.Y.
Farm Hand

2

Ireland, Me Seaman

1

Conn
Farm Keeper

1

Vt Shoemaker

10

Scotland, Canada, Ireland, Mass, Me, NJ, NY, Prussia, Wis
Farm Laborer

113

  Tailor

2

Baden, NY
Farmer

224

  Tailoress

1

N.Y.
Grain Merchant

2

Conn, NY Tradesman Grocery

1

Vermont
Grocer

1

Vt Weaver

2

Canada, NY
Harness Maker

3

NY, Wirttemburg Well digger

1

N.Y.
Horse Jockey

1

N.Y. Wheat Merchant

1

Ireland
House Keeper

4

Canada, NY Wheel Wright

1

Conn
Joiner

1

N.Y.

The 1860 census also identified the valuation of personal estate as well as that of real estate. The list of wealthy non-farm families is consequently both more visible and lengthy, corroborating the evidence of the occupational list. Hiram Moore, the agriculturist from Brandon leads the list with a personal estate valued at $40,000 and real estate valued at $40,000. Also on the list would be Truman Fox, boarding in Fairwater ($3800 personal estate, $0 real estate, Connecticut), John H. Forter, Brandon merchant ($3300, $7600, England), N. D. Harwood, Fairwater merchant ($2500, $2000, New York), Somers Sherwood, Metomen farmer ($2500, $4040, New York), William Plocker, Fairwater businessman and farmer ($2500, $12000, England), and James Crays, Metomen merchant ($2000, $200, Ohio). The Brandon names on the list in addition to the Fairwater names reflects the arrival of the Horicon Railroad in Brandon in 1857 and the consequent growth of the former community of Bungtown four miles east of Fairwater. The Metomen names also indicate the development of a community in the area of Reeds Corners 9 miles north and east of Fairwater.

The names and occupations other than farming on the list of wealthy families in the 1860 census is of great interest in documenting the development of the three communities in Metomen. Highlights of that list are presented in the following table.

Postoffice

Name last

Name first

Age

Occupation

Real estate

Pers estate

Place of birth

Brandon Moore Hiram

59

Agriculturist

40000

40000

Mass
Brandon Forter John H.

38

Merchant

7600

3300

England
Brandon Heath John

45

Grain Merchant

1000

1000

Conn
Brandon Kelly Robert C.

27

Tradesman Grocery

600

700

Vermont
Brandon Needham John

31

Well digger

2000

600

N.Y.
Brandon Pride R. W.

41

Merchant

1700

500

N.Y.
Brandon Dodson B. J.

28

Physician

2000

500

Pa
Brandon West P.B.

45

Rail R Agent

100

500

N.Y.
Brandon Safford T. D.

34

Black Smith

1000

400

N.Y.
Fairwater Fox Truman

69

Boarding

0

3800

Conn
Fairwater Harwood N. D.

33

Merchant

2000

2500

N.Y.
Fairwater Harkness E. H.

30

Merchant

1200

1000

Pa
Fairwater Smith Saml F

38

Clergyman F.W.B.

0

1000

N.Y.
Fairwater Bisby A. C.

36

Mill Wright

3800

650

N.Y.
Fairwater Spooner Philo C.

43

Grocer

0

600

Vermont
Fairwater Nelson Resin

48

Lawyer

0

530

N.Y.
Fairwater Brown Harris

56

Carriage Manufacturer

0

500

R.I.
Fairwater Warriner Jacob

28

Harness Maker

850

400

Wirttemburg
Fairwater Landross Benj.

39

Shoemaker

800

300

N. Jersey
Fairwater West Wm

25

Shoemaker

150

300

Prussia
Metomen Crays (?) James

30

Merchant

200

2000

Ohio
Metomen Taylor Samuel

35

Shoemaker

0

800

N.Y.
Metomen Knapp C. P.

29

Mechanic

2000

686

Vermont
Metomen Stowell A. O. A.

77

Lawyer

1000

500

Conn
Metomen Reynolds George W.

37

Master Mechanic

1400

485

Vermont
Metomen Barnum Marcellus

50

Clergyman Wes. M

2700

397

N.Y.

Notes:
(1) History of Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, 1880, p. 375
(2) Lawrence Martin, The Physical Geography of Wisconsin, 1965, p. 209
(3) John T. Curtis, The Vegetation of Wisconsin, 1959, p 15-23
(4) History of Fond du Lac County, 1880, p. 355
(5) William Francis Raney, Wisconsin: A Story of Progress, 1963, p. 71
(6) Raney, pp. 64-65
(7) Raney, p. 68
(8) Michael Mentzer, Fond du Lac County: A Gift of the Glacier, 1991, pp. 6-7
(9) Maurice McKenna,, ed., History of Fond du Lac County, 1912, pp. 61-62.
(10) McKenna, p. 62.
(11) Alice E. Smith, James Duane Doty: Frontier Promoter, 1954
(12) Mentzer, p. 19
(13) Mentzer, p. 21
(14) Raney, p. 92
(15) Raney, p. 92.
(16) History of Fond du Lac County, 1880, p. 340-341
(17) History of Fond du Lac County, 1880, p. 341-342
(18) History of Fond du Lac County, 1880, p. 342-343
(19) Raney, p. 117-119


Last updated 3/3/99

If you have information to share, please contact Bob Schuster by email at rmschust@facstaff.wisc.edu or at 6020 Kristi Circle, Monona, Wisconsin 53716, (608) 221-1421.