By Amorin Mello

Magazine of Western History Illustrated Volume IX No.1 Pages 12-17

Magazine of Western History Illustrated
November 1888
as republished in
Magazine of Western History: Volume IX, No. 1, pages 12-17.



Detail of Lapointe du Saint Espirit and Mission du Saint Espirit from Claude Allouez Map of New France, 1669. ~ Research Laboratories of Archaeology

Detail of Lapointe du Saint Espirit and Mission du Saint Espirit from Claude Allouez Map of New France, 1669.
~ Research Laboratories of Archaeology

If the reader will look at the map of the United States, he will see on its northern boundary the largest body of fresh water in the world – Lake Superior, called by the Ojibways Kitche Gumi, “The Big Water.” It lies between 46 and 47 degrees north latitude, and stretches east and west through eight degrees of longitude. Its coast-line is nearly two thousand miles in extent, forming some of the finest natural harbors in the world. Its surface is six hundred and thirty feet above the ocean level, while its bottom in the deepest parts is four hundred feet below the level of the tide-waters. As you come from the east end of the lake, St. Mary’s river, approaching its western extremity, you will, from the deck of the steamer, notice a group of beautiful islands – the same islands which, more than two hundred years ago, met the gaze of Fathers Marquette, Allouez and Mesnard, and which, in their religious zeal, they named the “Apostles’ Islands,” thinking that in number they corresponded with the number of our Savior’s disciples. One of these they named “Madeline,” from a favorite saint of their own “Belle France,” and to commemorate one of the most noted churches of Paris.

Detail of "The 12 Apostles" from Captain Jonathan Carver's journal of his travels with maps and drawings, 1766. ~ Boston Public Library

Detail of “The 12 Apostles” from Captain Jonathan Carver’s journal of his travels with maps and drawings, 1766.
~ Boston Public Library

These islands in ancient times were doubtless a part of the main, as was also the land now lying under Ashland bay. Underlying them was sandstone, rising from twenty to one hundred feet above the water, and horizontal. The great glaciers coming from the north, and moving in a southwest direction, cut channels in the sandstone, forming these islands, and scooping out of the solid rock the large basin which, in after years, received the name of Chaquamegon bay, and which is now known as Ashland bay. This was the first prophecy of the city of Ashland. In the times, millions of years before this, the vast deposits of iron ore had been upheaved and stored along the south shore of the lake, to subserve the designs of the Mighty Builder in the development of that commerce of which we now see but the earliest down, and of whose future extent we can form but a faint comprehension. Chaquamegon, Le Anse and Marquette bays are the natural outlets on Lake Superior for the rich mineral deposits which line its southern shore.

The formation of Ashland bay was therefore not accidental, but in harmony with Eternal plans. It is protected from the storms of the lake by a long, low, sandy point, and also by the Apostles’ islands. Into it open from the lake three broad channels, with a depth of water ample for the largest vessels, called the North, Middle and South channels. Under these islands, vessels coming from the wild storms of the open lake are secure. It is the sailor’s haven of safety.

1834 Map of LaPointe by Lyman Warren

1834 Map of LaPointe by Lyman Warren for the American Fur Company.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

The first settlement on the bay was made by the American Fur company in the early part of the present century, on the beautiful Madeline island, and named La Pointe. It continued for many years the headquarters of a flourishing fur and fishing trade. About 1830 a Protestant and, soon after, a Catholic mission were established there, and churches built by them, in which devoted missionaries labored to Christianize and civilize the Indians whose homes were here and in the surrounding country. Here toiled Rev. Sherman Hall, a missionary of the American board, and Rev. L. H. Wheeler, and also that devoted man, now known to us as Bishop Baraga. These have all passed away. La Pointe, then the most populous and active village on the lake, is now, alas, “The deserted village,” and is visited alone in veneration of its past memories.

Map inset of Chequamegon Bay with Houghton, LaPointe, Bayfield, Ashland, and Bay City.

Map inset of Chequamegon Bay with Houghton, LaPointe, Bayfield, Ashland, and Bay City.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

On the west shore of the bay, opposite La Pointe, is the beautiful town of Bayfield, founded by Honorable Henry. M. Rice in 1856. It is the terminus of the C., St. P., M. & O. railroad and the headquarters of a flourishing fish and lumber trade, and one of the most charming summer resorts on the lake.

On the west shore of the bay is also the flourishing town of Washburn – named in honor of Wisconsin’s governor, Cadwallader C. Washburn. It is the favorite town of the Omaha railroad, and has several large saw-mills, and is an active and enterprising town.

"Asaph Whittlesey dressed for his journey from Ashland to Madison, Wisconsin, to take up his seat in the state legislature. Whittlesey is attired for the long trek in winter gear including goggles, a walking staff, and snowshoes." Circa 1860. ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

Asaph Whittlesey circa 1860.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

The first settlement on the spot where Ashland now stands was made, in 1854, by Asaph Whittlesey and George Kilborn, both natives of the Western Reserve, Ohio. The lands were not as yet surveyed, so that they could not preëmpt them, and there was as yet no Homestead law. For this reason they, with Martin Beaser, then living in Ontonagon, Michigan, laid claim, under the “Town Site” law, to about three hundred acres, embracing their log houses and small clearing. They platted this into town lots in 1855, and subsequently were allowed to enter their lands as claimed, and in due course received their title. In February, 1855, Edwin Ellis, a graduate in medicine, in the University of the City of New York, of the class of 1846, came on foot through the woods from St. Paul to the bay. He had been engaged in the practice of his profession in his native state – Maine – till 1854, when, attracted by the prospect of wider fields for enterprise in the new west, and by the advice of Judge D. A. J. Baker, his brother-in-law, then living in St. Paul, he came to Minnesota.

Edwin Ellis, M.D., died in Ashland on May 3rd, 1903. This portrait and a posthumous biography of Dr. Ellis is available on pages 16-18 of Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region by J.H. Beers & Co., 1905.

Edwin Ellis, M.D.
~ Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region by J.H. Beers & Co., 1905, pages 16-18.

The years 1853 to 1857 were years of wild speculation. The states of Wisconsin and Minnesota especially were covered with rising cities – at least on paper. Fabulous stories of rich silver, copper and iron mines on the south shore of Lake Superior attracted a multitude of active young men from the eastern states. The city of Superior had been laid out, and its lots were selling for fabulous prices. The penniless young man of to-day became the millionaire to-morrow. The consequent excitement was great, and in the event demoralizing.

The Bay of Ashland, stretching far in-land, the known vast deposits of iron near the Penokee Gap, whose natural route to market was evidently by Chaquamegon bay, indicated with moral certainty that at its head would rise a commercial mart which should command a wide extent of country. The vast forests of pine were then hardly thought of, and no efforts made to obtain them. The lands were unsurveyed, and all the “squatters” were, in the eye of the law, trespassers. Nevertheless, the new-comers ran “spotted” lines around their claims and built log-cabins to hold them, and began to clear up the land. In June, 1855, Dr. Ellis went on foot to St. Paul, and thence to Dubuque, Iowa, and secured from the surveyor-general an order to survey four townships about the bay, embracing the site of the present city of Ashland. In the meantime, many settlers had come in and preëmpted lands in the neighborhood. In the fall of 1855 many of them were enabled to prove up and get titles to their lands.

Portrait and biography of Frederick Prentice, the "first white child born in ... Toledo." ~ History of the Maumee Valley by Horace S Knapp, 1872, pages 560-562.

Portrait and biography of Frederick Prentice; the “first white child born in … Toledo.”
~ History of the Maumee Valley by Horace S Knapp, 1872, pages 560-562.

In the winter of 1855 Lusk, Prentice & Company, who had a trading-post within the present limits of Ellis’ division of Ashland, built a dock for the accommodation of the settlers coming to the new town. It was built of cribs, made of round logs sunk in the water about twenty feet apart. From one crib to another were stringers, made of logs, flattened on the upper surface, all covered with small logs to make a roadway. On the docks were piled several hundred cords of wood for the purpose of “holding” the dock from floating away, and to be sold in the summer to the steamboats which should come to bring supplies and begin the commerce of the town. The evening of the second day of April, 1855, saw the bay full of ice, slightly detached for a few feet from the shore, but with no sign of an immediate opening of navigation.

Portrait of Martin Beaser on page 24.

Portrait of Martin Beaser on page 24.

The next morning no ice was in sight, nor a vestige of the dock to be seen. Floating timber and cord-wood covered the bay. Till then the settlers had no idea the power of the floating ice moved by the tide of the bay. But they were not discouraged. The following winter two other docks were constructed – one by Martin Beaser, at the foot of what is now called “Beaser Avenue,” and the other by Edwin Ellis, near where Seyler’s foundry now stands.

These were also crib-docks, but the effort was made to anchor the cribs. There were no rocks to be had on the side of the bay where the docks were built, for which reason Mr. Beaser filled his cribs with clay, dug out of the banks. Dr. Ellis hauled stone across the bay, and filled as many of his cribs as possible, and on the top of the dock also piled several hundred cords of wood, and the settlers with anxious faces watched the departure of the ice. The shock came, and the docks afforded little resistance. The cribs filled with clay were easily carried. Those filled with stone stood better, but that part of those above water, and near the outer end, were swept away. The labors of many weary days and much money was thus swept away. There was, however, enough of the Ellis dock left to afford a landing to the few boats that came with supplies for the people.

The years of 1855-1857 at Bayport, Ashland, Bayfield, Ironton, and Houghton along Chequamegon Bay are captured in the Penokee Survey Incidents and the Barber Papers.

Survey of Frederick Prentice‘s Addition of Ashland near the Gichi-wiikwedong village.
“It is in this addition, that, the Chippewa River and the St. Croix Indian trails reach the Bay, and for the purpose of accomodating the trade, already flowing in on their routes, a commodious store has just been built”
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

Translates as “Big Bay” in Ojibwemowin.
Traditional place-name for Ashland, WI.
Anglicized version of Gichi-wiikwedong.
Prentice Park and Maslowski Beach.
Area is famous for artesian wells.
The Park of a Hundred Flowing Wells
“This was all Indian land then, but [Asaph] Whittlesey believed in take time for the forelock, looking he said, for a place that ‘might prove to be the most available point for a town, at or near Equadon (pronounced E Quay don, the second syllable emphasized.) The word ‘Equadon,’ is the Chippewa word meaning ‘settlement near the head of the bay.'”
The Ashland Daily Press, July 6, 1933, by Guy M. Burnham, reproduced on  Read the full article for an interesting stories about how the town-site for Ashland was allegedly negotiated between Reverend Wheeler and Little Current.

During the years 1855, ’56 and ’57 many settlers had come to Ashland and built homes, and were all young men full of bright hopes for the future. In the spring of 1856 a township organization was formed, embracing more than forty townships of six miles square, and was called Bayport. The usual township officers were elected. The year 1857 opened with bright prospects. In Ashland streets were cleared and several frame houses were built. A steam saw-mill was begun and brought near completion. But in September of that year the great financial storm came, involving the whole country in ruin. The little village of Ashland was overwhelmed. The people had but little money, and in making their improvements had contracted debts which they could not at once pay. There had been so such speculation that the settlers had paid but little attention to the cultivation of the soil, depending upon supplies brought by water a thousand miles. We had no wagon roads nor railroads within three hundred miles. Winter was coming on, and many of the settlers – in truth, all who could get away – left the place. The few who remained saw hard times, whose memory is not pleasant to recall. Some of them, in making improvements, had assumed liabilities which well-nigh ruined them. If the county had then been organized for judicial purposes, so that judgements and execution could have been easily obtained, scarcely anyone would have saved a dollar from the wreck. But this fortunate circumstance gave them time, and their debts were finally paid, and they had their land left; but it then was without value in the market. Town lots in the village, which are now selling for five thousand to six thousand dollars, could then be sold for enough to buy a barrel of flour. The years following “’57” were hard years, and the settlers, one by one, moved away, so that in 1862 only two remained – Martin Beaser and Martin Roehn. In 1866 Mr. Beaser undertook to come alone from Bayfield to Ashland in an open sail-boat. It was a stormy day, and he never reached home. His boat was found soon afterwards at the head of the bay, and his body was found the following spring on the beach on the west side of the bay. Ashland was now left desolate and alone. Mr. Roehn, with a few cows, migrated backward and forward between Ashland and the Marengo river, finding hay and pasture for his cows, selling his produce and butter at Bayfield and La Pointe, and thus eked out an existence. The first railroad to reach Ashland was the Wisconsin Central, completed in 1877, connecting Ashland with Milwaukee. Work at the Ashland end was begun in 1872, and in 1873 finished to Penokee, twenty-nine miles south from Ashland. It had been built from the south to within about eighty-five miles of Ashland, and then came the panic of 1873, and all work stopped. The building in 1872 in Ashland was quite extensive, and village property sold at good prices, and everybody was hopeful. But the crisis of 1873 coming on, all enterprises at once stopped. Not till 1877 was the railroad completed. Its completion established Ashland on a substantial basis. In 1877 the Wisconsin Central company completed the Chaquamegon hotel, one of the finest in the country, which has added greatly to the attractions of Ashland.

The building of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha road to this place, in 1883, gave a short outlet to the west and southwest, greatly benefiting the lumber trade.

The Northern Pacific, whose eastern terminus is at Ashland, soon after completed, gave it new importance as in the direct line of transcontinental commerce.

But the advent of the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western railroad had done more, perhaps to stimulate the growth of Ashland than any one of its great enterprises.

It runs northerly from Milwaukee to Manitowoc, where, turning in northwesterly course, it traverses vast tracts of valuable timber and farming lands, running for fifty miles along the Gogebic range – the richest iron region in the world.

This company has built two large and costly ore docks for the shipment of the vast amount of iron ore which it brings over its road.

Chapter 9
South From Ashland
“The promoters decided to make Ashland the north end of their iron. It was a mere clearing, in the woods in 1870, formerly known as Equadon which was founded in 1854 and abandoned in 1863. The Ashland site was located on the bank of a splendid natural harbor called Cheguamegon Bay.”

“The clearing, grubbing and grading of the 30-mile Ashland-Penokee Gap Division had been practically complete in 1872. The iron rails were not laid into the Gap until October 1873, and there the railroad stopped for 4 long years.”

Penokee Gap, 1000 feet above Lake Superior, is a break in the rough country, a regular gap where the Bad River breaks through the Iron Range Hills on its way to Lake Superior. The Gap is an historic pathway through which the copper workers from Mexico and South America came to Lake Superior centuries ago enroute to the copper deposits on Isle Royal in Lake Superior.”
History of the Soo Line, by James Lyden.

The Wisconsin Central Railroad company has also built a very fine ore dock, over which it ships the iron brought from the same range by its own line – the “Penokee Railroad” – built easterly along the northern base of the Gogebic range to Bessemer, in Michigan.

Notwithstanding the depression in the iron trade, more than a million tons of ore will be shipped from Ashland the present season.

Ashland has also two coal docks – one operated by the Ohio Coal company and the other by the Columbus & Hocking Valley Coal company – both of whom are doing a large business. The Lake Shore railroad and the Wisconsin Central obtain their coal for their engines, on the northern two hundred miles, by their docks at Ashland. The same rates for coal going west prevail as from Duluth and Washburn, and a large trade is springing up over the Omaha & Northern Pacific lines.

Ashland has three National and one private bank, all of which are conservative and carefully managed. It has also a street railway, two miles in length, with six fine cars and about forty horses, and is rendering very satisfactory service. We have also a “Gas and Electric Light Plant,” which affords abundant light for the streets, stores, dwellings and the ore docks. Ashland has also the Holly system of water-works, with about two miles of pipe laid, affording ample protection against fire and an abundant supply of water for domestic purposes. The pump-house has two ponderous engines, one being kept in reserve in case of accident.

As a point for the distribution of manufactured goods of all kinds, Ashland stands among the foremost. With practically the same rates as by the roads leading from Duluth west, it is prepared to compete with that lively town for part of the trade of the great northwest – now in its infancy but destined soon to attain great proportions; whose beginnings we can measure, but whose vast results we cannot now comprehend.

Portrait of Prentice's brownstone quarry at Houghton Point. ~ Ashland Daily Press, circa 1893.

Portrait of Prentice’s brownstone quarries at Houghton Point.
~ Ashland Daily Press, circa 1893.

“A Big Stone Quarry,
A Great Brownstone Industry Established At Houghton Point.
What Frederick Prentice Has Accomplished During The Season.
~ Ashland Daily Press article in the Washburn Itemizer, October 18, 1888, reproduced on
Brownstone quarries along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Tour historic buildings in Ashland, Washburn, Bayfield, Superior, Duluth, etc., for examples of The Brownstone Architecture of the Lake Superior Region, 2000, by Kathryn Bishop Eckert.

One industry on Ashland bay is the brown stone, which exists along the water’s edge for many miles on the shore of the mainland and on the islands. It can be quarried in inexhaustible quantities within a few hundred feet of navigable waters of Lake Superior. It is of fine texture and beautiful color, and hardens by exposure. Large quantities have already been shipped and the demand is rapidly increasing. It can be shipped by rail at about four dollars per ton to Cincinnati. This stone, used for trimmings in buildings built of white brick, makes a very beautiful appearance.

The vast quantities of pine and hardwood timber in the vicinity of Ashland, and its advantages as a point of distribution for manufactured articles in wood, render it one of the best locations for manufacturing industries. For tanneries its location is unrivaled; the supply of hemlock bark is ample, while hides can be cheaply brought from Minnesota and the northwest, and the products can be shipped in all directions at low rates.

The schools of Ashland afford the best of opportunities for the education of our youth. Our school buildings are large, new and commodious, with all modern improvements. Our schools are graded and the attendance is large.

In the churches, most denominations are represented. The Catholic is the finest church edifice in the city, built of our own brown stone at a cost of over thirty thousand dollars. There are Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and several Scandinavian churches.

As a summer resort, Ashland and the Apostles’ islands afford unrivaled attractions. Sail-boats, tugs and steamboats make daily excursions in all directions. They busy men from Chicago, St. Louis, St. Paul, Cincinnati and other cities can, in one day, escape from the sweltering heat and sleep on the cool ore of Lake Superior, and with our lines of railroad and telegraph stretching in all directons, they can be in constant and instant communication with their counting-rooms a thousand miles away. Its advantages in this line are already drawing many persons of wealth and leisure, as well as invalids, who come here to spend the hot season and at the close of the summer return home with new health and vigor.

Portrait of Edwin Ellis, M.D. on page 20.

Portrait of Edwin Ellis, M.D. on page 20.

Ashland has just two daily and three weekly newspapers, models of enterprise and very newsy, contributing much to the prosperity of the city.

The population of Ashland is about fifteen thousand, composed principally of persons under thirty-five years of age, and full of push and activity, who have come to stay and built up fortunes.

With all these and many other advantages Ashland seems to have a bright future, and many of us think it bids fair, in the near future, to become the second city in the state of Wisconsin. And we will labor that she shall be worthy of her rank.


By Amorin Mello

Selected letters of the Joel Allen Barber Papers 

… continued from Winter of 1855.

Lancaster  March 23rd, 1855

Dear Father,

The Barber brothers, Augustus and Allen, received expert legal advice and political updates from Uncle Joel Allen Barber (Senior) regarding their affairs while on Lake Superior.

It is not long since I wrote to you but I thought I would write just a word though it may not do any good.  Uncle Allen says you would do better to send land [????] than money.  So many will be drawing land under this new bounty land law, that you can probably get them cheap.

Pine lands may be better in the eastern part of the state [?? ???????] but not worth half as much as in the western part.  Lumber that sells in Oshkosh for 8 or 10 dollars brings 18 to 23 or 4 dollars here or any where along the river.  Do you know anything about the culture of [osiers?] for willow baskets.

I saw an advertisement in the Tribune which says they will yield 100 to 150 dollars proffit per acre.  This would be a good place to raise them I should think.  Willow baskets are used here more than any other for all purposes.  This I suppose is because there are so many [foreigners?] here who understand making them.

This is a beautiful warm day and the snow is going off in torrents.

Brothers William and Joseph Alcorn, of Ireland, were listed as residents of Lancaster, Grant County, during the 1855 Census of Wisconsin.

Was it not [fl??ging?] smart that Thode Burr could not come out with Uncle Thode.  His folks were swift to have him come but as the time approached had to give it up.  Grand Mother has just come in, walked up.  We are pretty well all but Aunt [Lib?], who was sick yesterday but better today.  Have not seen anything of Cad yet.  Jo. Alcorn has taken Dr. Woods farm.

Love to all

J. Allen Barber 2nd

This letter appears to be written by Allen in the name of his Cousin Allen 2nd.

This letter appears to be written by Allen, using the name of his Cousin Allen 2nd.

Johnson April 1st, 1855

Dear Son

Allen’s brother Augustus worked for George Riley Stuntz with land surveys and copper speculation in Douglas and LaPointe Counties by Lake Superior.

I do think you hurt yourself writing so often and so much as you do to us.  Once in two weeks is a short time to you I suppose to intervene between the times of writing home, but it seems very long to me to wait for news from my absent children.  The last letter from Augustus was dated Jan 17th but he is where he cannot write and at a distance of 30 miles from any P.O. as Mr. Stuntz has probably told you.  But you are where you could write oftener and more if you would, and as we cannot hear from Augustus do let us here from you.  Yet if you do not want to hear from home but seldom, just set the pattern and I will write as often as you do, and relieve you from the trouble of writing, or reading my letters any oftener than you choose.  Everything is going on at the usual snail pace about here.


There was a great dance in the Town Hall Friday 23rd at the Public at the [close?] of the [dancing?] school.  Somewhere from 60 to 70 couples in attendance, and what was strangest of all, some of those little lambs in the flock who have recently passed from death unto life, instead of giving living evidence of their having been with Jesus, showed their preference for gayer company & went to see the show.

It was but two days before the holy commission and Mr. Caldwell and [men?] somehow or other concluded not to show their faces there before their august teachers and the mangled remains of their adorable savior so soon after patronizing the company of Jake Dodge, Henry Daniels, Frank Atwell, [Morse’s & Patrk’s?] boys [Jo Read?] and [Almy Ferrier?].  Oh the folly of Sinners.

I thought it would look just as well for old cripples who were just ready to emigrate to the kingdom come to stay away and let the young, the wealthy, proud & gay have their [partihase?] & recreation to themselves and not betray our weakness by going to gaze at them and thereby evince to them & to the world our regrets that we are no longer fit associates for [Jo. Reads?] &c. But some folks act curiously at times like there was a partial insanity in their case.

I felt very well at home & so did Am as we did when Ossian & Dodge was here & Mum went.  It is getting to be mad times.  Give my love to Mother and to my other Friends if I have any.  I have written about twice as much now as you write and have not got half through but time forbids more at present.

G. A. Barber

[ca. 1855] Apr.

Lancaster Apr.

Dear Mother,

Having rec’d several lines from you and Amherst without sending any full equivalent I will now try to write a few words though they may not be very interesting.  Today is a beautiful Sunday.

It is now about two o’clock.  I have not been to meeting.  Shall probably go this evening.

You see my prejudice in favor of evening meetings is not altogether overcome.

I am dressed up in my new vest and boots, clean shirt, thin brown coat and brown hat &c.  This morning Uncle Allen drove up with his carriage with his children, [and?] Ham. and three other children.  I took Thody and got in (Myron was at meeting) and had a delightful ride on the prairie.  Such beautiful spring weather I never saw before.  Every day seems unequated.  The earth has got green in spite and there are some flowers out.  They look just like yellow daisies only they grow as low and humble as violets.

Night before last I got a letter from Augustus at Galena.  They are having colera considerable and a number have died on the river or been put ashore in consequence of colera.  You may not see anything of it in the papers as they try to keep it mum but John [Henry?] who was down there says it is so.  No wonder for he says the mercury stood at 90* one day that he was there.  Every boat up the river has 6 or 800 passengers.

Augustus appears to be in fine spirits.  He is swift to have me come up that way.

The ground here is warm and dry as any ever need to be, gardens are being made and crops are being put in with all delight.

Uncle Jay and Cyrus will have splendid gardens in a short time.  In fact, Uncle Jays garden now is the finest I know of about here, he has enlarged it this spring.

Aunt Fanny has considerable of a start in her garden because the place was made by a fellow who took great pains to have everything that he could get growing.

I am quite anxious to go up the river and see the elephants and would like not a little to see Augustus.  Uncle Thode is farming and sleeps in his house and that is all I have got to say about him at present.  Father requires me to write so much to him that I can hardly find any thing more to write to any one else.  Little Thody is not very well – has a bad cold.  My love to all.  We expect Uncle Ham here every day.

Your affectionate Son


Lancaster May 2nd 1855

Dear Father

Perhaps I have neglected writing to you too long but as I have been rather busy of late and have written to mother not long since I hope to be [?????]


“William Alcorn was very well known in the community, operating a general store, member of the Masonic Lodge, and a skilled carpenter. He came from Ireland to New York City in 1833. He left New York in 1845 and settled in Grant County, where he married Miram Lockhardt of Indiana in 1849, and she bore ten children with eight surviving. There is some puzzlement in this family concerning Joseph. John Alcorn, Sr., found in the 1855 census, died on 20 October 1861, at Lancaster. His estate papers contain a letter by his son William, in this letter he states that he is the only heir of John Alcorn, Sr., that his brother John had died earlier, whose estate papers state that he died on 9 December 1855, and left a widow, Antoninette. She remarried on 26 June 1859, at Beetown to Joseph Sykes. How Joseph Alcorn fits into this family is puzzling.
Joseph Alcorn appears to have been with Augustus and Stuntz at Lake Superior previously.

Day before yesterday I made Jo. Alcorns folks a visit.  They appear to feel pretty well.  The girls were all at home.

I took dinner there and looked over the farm some.  Jo is building stone wall on the farm for Dr. Wood.  I begin to think we have about all the herbs here that grow in Vermont.  [Spikenard?], bloodroot, coltsfoot, leeks, wild onions, wild summer savoury, balm, and a great many more grow in abundance.

Uncle Allen has spoken to me about studying law but nothing deffinite has been proposed on either side.  Two fellows start from here today to go to Lake Superior.  They have to walk over 200 miles so I suppose they would not wish to carry any extra burden and Jo says he thinks Augustus would not care anything about that vest up there.  I am really anxious to go up there but I guess I shall not this summer.


Must close rather abruptly for want of time.  Have been looking some days for a letter from you.

Love to all


All is well but Aunt Fanny who is most [used?] up with a severe cold

Lancaster May 14th /55

Dear Father

It seems to me I have not written to you for about a week and as there is just 25 minutes between [illegible words] a few words. I have nothing of special interest to write but dont want to keep you waiting for a letter.  For some time we have been wishing for a little rain for which we would be very thankful although a great deal is needed.  We now have a prospect for a good shower.


~ 15th Uncle Vest Phelps and all his family have arrived in town today I understand.  I am most tired to death, have been planting corn all day with Cyrus and I have about a days work more to do alone to finish it and fix the apple trees.  I have a wet cloth on my neck to cure a sunburn.  Whatever the effort may be ultimately, it saves me a great deal of pain at present.  I am thinking quite [strong?] nowadays of pottering off up to the lake.

Jo is here yet and would go with me.  I should want no better companion.

There is no serious obstacle that I know of to hinder.  While I wish to go for many reasons.

So far as I know I have had excellent success in grafting although I have not done a great deal only about 600.  I cant tell exactly about the wheat there was not much of it all a great deal of that was wasted.  I have never said a word to Shoemaker and dont want to.  He is a foolish howling Methodist and nothing else.  I sold 5 bushels of

[Incomplete copy of letter]

MOTHER Dear Mother


Lancaster Wis. May 20th 1855

Dear Mother

Last night I was much gratified by the reception of another Salvo of letters all in one envelope from home.

It is pleasing to thus find myself kindly remembered at home but letters written in the spirit of one I received from father last Tuesday are not quite so agreeable and allow me to say I think they are rather tend to defeat their object.  The accounts of the season in Vermont seem rather dismal.

Can it be possible that no leaves were visible on the 13th of May.  Here fruit trees were going out of blossom.  A fortnight Three weeks ago today (April 26th) the poplar trees appeared to be in full foliage but the leaves were not fully grown wild plum trees were white and crabapple trees were blossoming.

Lilacs are now out of blossom.  Gooseberries plums currants and cherries are about as [as peas?] – plums rather larger apples are as large as beans.

I ate rhubarb pie at Uncle Jays May 3rd made of new plants.  it is somewhat doubtful about my going up to the lake this summer.  Jo dont wish to go untill after harvest or about the last of August but I guess I could get him started now if I [???] really anxious about it.

It is principally on account of my health that I prefer going up there to reading law at present.  Today is a beautiful [??????] I have not been to any meeting this forenoon but guess I shall go to the choir meeting this afternoon.

Aunt L is not very well yet.  Yesterday I cut out a lot of willows that grew around the best spring on the east side of the farm.

It is a noble spring and might easily be made to run to go building spot on the South end of the farm on the road near the S.E. corner Cyrus thinks of selling his place in town and building on his farm but Aunt Fanny is strongly opposed to it.  Going to Lake Superior is not so much of an undertaking as when Augustus first went.  I should have to foot it about 200 miles.  A great many people are going through every few days but probably I shall not go without Jo as he understands all the minutia of providing necessary articles and food, coaching, camping out &c &c.  Well I must close this and write a few words to Father.

Receive with this the Love of

Your affectionate Son

J Allen Barber

Lancaster May 20th 1855

Dear Father

It was my good luck to receive a letter last Tuesday and another on Saturday so I must write again soon or get behind in my correspondence.  Uncle Allen says I can find plenty of land though not very near town but the country is filling up so fast that it will all be worth the [??] government price.  He says he will go out with me in a day or two [a?] land hunting as he has some plots only a few days old and wants more land.  I should not be able to enter more than 80 acres at present but if I dont go to the lake you can send me more money and I will try to make the best disposal of it (21st) Old Ben’s auction goes off today.

There is undoubtedly money to be made in village property here but not near so much as on wild land.  Well Old Bens auction has come off and proved to be a kind of mock auction – all but one bargain was struck to off to his bidder, Jim [?evens?].

I got Jo to promise to day to go to the lake in two weeks but he will alter his mind before night I am afraid.  There is a terrible amount of sickness on the Mississippi and Missouri boats.  The boats are all overloaded often carrying over 600.

This is a very warm day.  We had a little rain this morning but not enough to do any good.  Other places not 11 miles from here have plenty of rain.

It is common here to have thunder here whenever it rains.  If it rains 3 days the thunder cracks around all the time night and day.  Then look out for cholera.  There are a lot of old telegraph posts standing between here and [Potosi?] and more than half of those that stand in open country are split down by lightning.  Jo is fiddling here while I write he remains firm in his resolution to go to the lake in two weeks.

If I go I intend to come back next fall if nothing prevents still as far as health and comfort are concerned I had rather winter there than here if I could have as good accommodations.

I am glad to hear that some of the old faces once so familiar have again visited Johnson although I was not there see them.  It really does me good to see their names written.  How we are scattered.  Albe reminds me of fast day two years ago.

He and John Cook & Charlie and I ate sugar on the catnip farm and had a good time.  Now each breathes the air of a different state.  It would give me great pleasure to attend the commencement at Burlington this summer.  Probably at no other place in the world should I ever meet so old friends.  Where is Homer [Wetherly?] now?  I had a letter from when he was in Glover and would answer it sometime if I knew where to direct.  Aunt Fanny wants me to tell you she is all well and anunt Lucy says when her pen gets started it will with a vengence!  They think I write home so often there is no use of any ones writing any more.  It may be a disappointment to you to have no more land entered but I shall not have time to receive any money from Vermont if I go up country this summer.  What land there is now in market about here is of course of poorer quality and some and I think I had rather enter land north of Wisconsin where there is plenty and lumber cheaper timber plentier.

Ahalf section” is 320 acres; or 1/2 of a square mile.

However I dont know what I shall do.  I want to enter a half section all that I can enter under the graduation [act?] and it must all be adjoining or adjoining land I now own.

If I find any land very tempting perhaps I had better borrow the money of Uncle [?????] and you could remit the amount to him.

The interest would not be much for a [month?] or two – at any rate it appears that I have got to act as I think best.  A Mrs. [?tig?] opened a lot of bonnets and other goods for sale this morning and the streets are full of women all crazy for a new bonnet.  I hope it will have a good effect on the weather as we need rain badly.

Today I had a talk with Shoemaker.  He raised 9 bushels of wheat and says he will give up your share if I will sign a receipt in full of all demands.  He suffered considerable waste and ought to smart for it.  But I suppose he lost money by taking the farm, of about 50 bushels of oats his share after paying for threshing and other helping was only 6 bushels.  I can have things well enough this summer.  The corn I planted among the hops and appletrees I shall let Cyrus have to remunerate him for the trouble I have made him.  I have not done near enough here to pay my board as he has been so situated I could not very well.  There are two or three other boys here that want to go up to the lake and perhaps will go with us.  If you dont get this in season to answer before the 4th of June direct to Superior.  I think this with Mothers and Ams will do for one letter.  Shall probably write again before I leave and look for about two more letters from you.

Your affectionate Son

J. Allen Barber

Johnson June 17th 1855

Dear Sons

I expect you are now together and I will address this to you both thereby saving some scribbling paper, postage &c which is no small consideration with some folks, and I must acknowledge is to me a convenience I went to St Albans last Monday to see my father previous to his departure from this country perhaps forever, though I did not then know how so soon he was going but on arriving there found that he had fixed on the Wednesday following for leaving.  I accordingly remained till that time & then accompanied him as far as [Run??’s] Point & there parted with him.  Thode Burr goes to Sandusky with him, & from thence I expect your Uncle Ham will escort him to Lancaster.

Father felt very much affected at parting with your Uncle B’s folks and they as much so as though they were consigning him to the grave.  Returning from St Albans I came to D Fairchild’s and stayed over night & made one more visit on my way through [Georgia?] & arrived at Johnson Thursday night in safety, but I [presumed?] not many hours before Father & Thode reached Sandusky.  I found that Am. had recd a letter from Augustus & one from [me?] requesting a deposition to establish your his age.  I have made it and also one for Allen thinking that he might want to make a preemption claim in that region, and if he would be deferred from making such claim on account of owning land, would it not be best for him to convey his title to his lands in Wisconsin to me or some other person to be held for him whenever he might wish to resume the ownership again.  Augustus will best know how that business can be managed.  I have a draft that I shall forward by mail tomorrow morning to J. Allen B. Esq. for the sum of $80.00.  I think Allen’s purchase a very good one.

The Barber Family followed national slavery issues.  The American Civil War did not begin until 1861.

You will see by the Tribune that Messrs Bell & Hale are [listed?] to the U.S. Senate by the Legislature of N.H. & probably will [eybise thereat?] & further that the National [R.N.?] Convention are having hot times on the subject of slavery, & that the whole pro slavery concern will be blown sky high, as all attempts to silence freedom of discussion should be now and forevermore Amen.


Giles Addison Barber, father of Augustus and Allen, was enrolled into the Vermont Constitutional Convention in 1850 as a delegate for Charlotte, Lamoille County.

I am now thinking of going to Burlington on the 27th to attend a State Convention [the call?] for which you will see in the [Freeman?].  It is now almost 3 years since I have been there to step my feet on the ground & for that as well as a wish to participate in the doings of the convention I shall like to be there very well.

Portrait of Cadwallader Colden Washburn; U.S. Representative from Washburn between 1855-61. ~

Portrait of U.S. Representative Cadwallader Colden Washburn (Wisconsin); in office between 1855-61.

Portrait of U.S. Representative Alvah Sabin; in office between 1853-57. ~

Portrait of U.S. Representative Alvah Sabin (Vermont); in office between 1853-57.

This morning I recd a [Pub. Doc.?] from Hon. A Sabin ‘sectry of the [Amaroo?] [pant ???] by [Lieut?] [Gibbon?] with an atlas, also another [Corernoned?] at the presentation of the [swant?] of Gen Jackson, [??? Brainiere? into?] me a Biggon’s battery of the [Amaroo?] just the same thing last winter so that I now have two & if you do not receive one from Mr Sabin I will give you one of mine when you come.  I think you will continue to require favors from Mr S. while you [remain?] at the Lake & that Mr C.C. Washburn will not neglect you.  If Allen has arrived at the lake how does he like it & how does he propose to spend the summer?  He is so great a [mineral agent?] and so patient an explorer I shall look for great exploits by him, & certainly I hope you will both be fortunate in discoveries, and that you may realize ample remuneration for all your privations and toils.

The Barber Family’s speculation in Lake Superior copper was supported by federal legislators from Vermont and Wisconsin.

I hope to hear soon of Allen’s safe arrival and hope you will both write often and I will try to do likewise.

Accept my best wishes for your welfare and happiness.

G.A. Barber

A.W.B & J.A. Barber

[fragment, c. 1855, June]

thought but to not enter it without knowing that it was worth something.  I have not seen it but Uncle Allen says it is first rate.

I am glad to hear that Am is no worse off but cannot conceive why he should continue at school this summer.  The letter r in the map represents a high sand rock like a monument about 12 feet high standing on the point of a bluff.  It is biggest at the top and looks very picturesque.  That 40 would be a first-rate meadow just as it is and would produce 2 ½ or 3 tons of hay every year, plenty of water could be had on it by digging a few feet.

But what is of some consequence is the land is the very richest quality much better than prairie land will average and it is not more than two miles from a first rate gristmill.

I hope you will come out here and see my great purchase before many years and enter as much more some where.  The land in [Richland?] in a short time will come down to .75 ¢ per acre.

I wish the old farm could be sold so that you could all come out here.  I should feel a great deal better and I know you all would like your new home.  Jo is more than half undecided about going to the lake but I guess he will go.

He thinks now he can’t go so soon as Wednesday.  Perhaps I cannot but I want to.  Hoping to hear from you once more before I leave I remain

Your affectionate Son


To be continued in the Summer of 1855