WISCONSIN TERRITORY BECKONS IN 1843
It would be interesting to know what the circumstances were that caused James Bruce to turn his attention toward the Wisconsin Territory in 1843. Had he made a trip west, as was implied in James Alexander’s article, and returned undecided in 1836? There is a record in H. M. Simmons’ Wisconsin Local History
written in 1876 stating that “Hugh Longwell and 6 other men arrived (in what was then Milwaukee County) March 1835 in wagons from Michigan, following the trail of Jambeau.” The South Port area later named Kenosha, was just being opened up at that time. Could James Bruce have been one of those six men and perhaps returned to Utica, not yet ready for frontier life in the Wisconsin Territory? Possibly he wanted to accumulate more finances with which to purchase land and was looking upon the Utica Iron Works as providing this opportunity.
The following statement found in Fathers of Wisconsin
by Tenney and Atwood, written in 1880, may shed some light on the decisions made by James Bruce at this point in history.
“The period 1830 to 1837 was one of great and almost limitless financial currency expansion. In that year, in the states east of us, it reached a natural culmination, followed by a crash that speedily carried down most of the banking institutions in the U.S. The banks of Green Bay and Mineral Point, the only two within the territory, ended in the same way, and for some years the early settlers had little or no currency other than the small sums brought in by newly arrived immigrants. In the southwest counties, or lead region, citizens of all classes combined and refused to receive or use anything but gold and silver as a measure of exchangeable value. Immigration which had commenced coming in a flood soon after territorial organization was not only checked but actually recoiled eastward, and it was not until about 1843 that the current turned westward again since which time it has shown no abatement.”
Whatever his reason he did, following the land purchase from James Covel, make his way in about 1843 to what was then Racine County. This area had been formed from part of Milwaukee County in 1863. Kenosha County did not become a separate unit of government until 1850.
It is interesting to note that the present city of Kenosha was the southernmost port on Lake Michigan at the time he arrived. It was situated at the mouth of the Pike River which provided a natural harbor. In fact the settlement here first bore the name “Pike” and the first post office carried that name. Later it was named Southport because of its location as the most southern port on the lake. The name Kenosha which came into use in 1850, is taken from the Indian word for “Pike River.” This area of Wisconsin had been Indian territory and Indian presence had no doubt been responsible for delayed white settlement until after 1833. It was in that year, following the Black Hawk War, that a treaty was signed at Chicago by which the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes ceded their lands south and west of Milwaukee to the U. S. Government.
In 1834 settlers began to arrive in larger numbers. The first steamboat line on Lake Michigan was established in 1834 between Buffalo and Chicago. The “Jambeau trail” referred to above, was named after a French explorer though it had been a well-traveled Indian trail for many years between Chicago and Milwaukee. Not until Aug. 15, 1835 did pioneers arrive by Lake schooners, a four weeks voyage from Oswego, N.Y., located on Lake Erie. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 had made waterway travel from the east much easier and contributed to the influx of people especially from New York State and New England. In November, 1835 L. M. and P. W. Dodge arrived having walked all the way from Detroit. By the fall of 1836 a weekly stage began to run from Chicago to Milwaukee.
Though the village of Southport did attract many workmen with trades, the major number of settlers who arrived had agricultural backgrounds. Throughout the Racine County area there developed many small clusters of agricultural settlers. The clusters grew into small villages, few of them reaching much size. Wheatland was one of these villages and it was here that James Bruce settled.
It was not until 1838 that the first civil towns in Racine County were established. The land purchased in 1843 by James Bruce was located in the towns of Wheatland and Randall in the southwestern corner of Kenosha County, as presently named, and in the town of Bloomfield in Walworth County to the west. He found upon arrival that a post office had just been established at Wheatland early in 1843. The location of this post office was changed to New Munster in the same civil town, but not until 1880.
Milwaukee and Racine started developing as cities about 1835. Chicago at that time passed from an army post (Fort Dearborn) to a pioneer village. James D. Doty, later Wisconsin’s second territorial governor, in 1834 had marked out a road between Milwaukee and Chicago which passed inland from Kenosha but served as a north-south line of travel for new settlers.
The population recorded in the 1840 census shows a total of 30,945 whites present in the Wisconsin Territory. This number was to increase to 305,391 by 1850.
Being curious about the presence of Carters or Cartters in the Wisconsin Territory in 1840 the author checked in the census of that year for the presence of this name among the state’s resident family heads. Nine were found in all of Wisconsin Territory. All spelled their names with one (t) and they were scattered among four counties. Ackley, Harry, and John were located in Milwaukee County; three, Henry, Lorenze, and Orange in Walworth County; Benjamin and Francis in Iowa County and one, Franklin, lived in Jefferson County. Of these nine, five were involved in Agriculture, two in mining, one in manufacturing and trades and one not identified. So far as we know none of these families were in any way closely related to James Bruce.
We have little information concerning James Bruce after his arrival in Racine County other than his purchase or sale of land up to the time of his participation in the 1st Constitutional Convention. His efforts were evidently concentrated on accumulating land and developing it agriculturally. On February 24, 1844 for a consideration of $500.00 he purchased 160 acres of land from Eliphalet Cramer and his wife. The property being described as the N E ¼ - Sec. 21 – T-1-n – R 19 E in the town of Randall.
On May 16, 1846 he purchased 120 acres from George W. Plank and wife for a consideration of $300.00 described as:
“All of W ½ of NE ¼ of Sec. 21 – T (1) N – R 19 E also the SW ¼ of NW ¼ of Sec. 22 – T (1) N – R 19 E
On September 23, 1848 he purchased for $250.00, from Josiah Hyde and wife, 87 acres described as follows:
SE fractional ¼ of Sec. 21 – T (1) N – R 19 E.
His purchase of 45 acres from Pliney M. Perkins was made November 14, 1845 for the sum of $200.00 and carries the following description.
“All that tract or parcel of land situated on and being so much of the E ½ of the NW ¼ - Sec. 17 – T (1) N –R 19 E in County of Racine and Territory of Wis. Aforesaid as lies south of the road now running through said section leading from Southport (Kenosha) to Geneva and running nearly E. and W. through said section containing 45 acres of land.” Land values increased rapidly during this period. As an illustration we note that the 160 acres purchased by James Bruce 1844 for $500.00 was sold by him nine years later for $3000.00.
James Bruce began selling property in December of 1845. His sale that year was to Abijah Pierce and included 45 acres.