Early History of Racine County

As published in "A Few Good Men of Wisconsin including Biographical Sketches and Early County Histories" (1878)

The pioneers of Racine well remember the Frenchman, Jok Jambeau, the first white inhabitant of the county and his trading-post, the Indian settlement at Skunk grove, in the northwestern part of the present town of Mount Pleasant; but the time of his coming is unrecorded. Very different, however, were the men who came here to plant the enlightened institutions of society, and found a state, while securing homes for themselves and their families, and who are therefore justly entitled to the name of pioneers.

During the month of November, 1834, Captain Gilbert Knapp, the first permanent settler of the county, accompanied by two men in his employ, brothers, named William & A. J. Luce, came from Chicago on horseback, along an Indian trail to Skunk Grove, whence an Indian piloted them to the mouth of Root river. Here Knapp decided to locate, named the place Port Gilbert, and, with the aid of his men, built a log cabin in the woods on the south bank of the river, near the spot where the planing-mill of Johnson & McClurg now stands, in the city of Racine. After making arrangements for his men to remain during the winter, Knapp went away, returning the next March or April.

Within a year from the time Knapp made his claim, settlers found their way into nearly every township of the present county of Racine.

In November, 1834, William See, Harrison K. Fay, and Richard Carpenter came from Illinois as far as the rapids, two and a half miles above the mouth of Root river. Here See and Fay made a claim in company. Weed located where he long resided in the town of Mount Pleasant. Carpenter made a claim on the north side of the river near its mouth, where he moved the following fall. His wife was the first white woman in the county. His location proved to be on a portion of Knapp's claim, and had to be abandoned. He soon afterward died. See erected a saw-mill during the summer, and James Walker, who came in the spring, put in a turning lathe at the same place. Stephen Campbell arrived soon after this party, and located on the south side of the river, on what is now the Harbor addition to Racine, and erected a shanty near the site of the railroad shops. During the last days of December, 1834, John T. Kingston, James Harris, and several others from Illinois reached the place designated as the "Rapids," and then descended to Port Gibson. Kingston made two claims, one for his father, Paul Kingston, who moved on in the spring, adjoining Knapp's claim on the south, and one for himself, cornering Campbell's claim on the southwest. Harris claimed the land between the latter and Root river, comprising that on which the brick-yard is now situated.

Norman Clark visited Port Gilbert in April, but did not become a resident until June, 1836. Joel Sage came from Chicago on a pony belonging to Knapp, in May, and bought a claim to the west side tract, subsequently known as Sage Town. During the summer and fall, those who located here were E. J. Glenn, Levi Mason, James Beeson, Alfred Cary, Dr. Bushnell B. Cary, Amaziah Stebbins, John M. Myers, Dr. Elias Smith, Samuel Mars, Eugene Gillispie, Joseph Knapp, Henry F. Cox, Mr. Stilwell, and William Saltonstal.

During the year another saw-mill was built, and the first stock of goods in the county, brought in at the Rapids by James Kinzie. In July, Andrew Place and his son Thomas, accompanied by Alva and Zadock Newman, settled in the township on farms which their respective families have ever since occupied. In the following winter, Andrew Place and the Newmans made a trip with ox teams to St. Joseph, Michigan, for flour, and were gone two months. Thomas Place was employed for six months as Jambeau's clerk. Alanson Filer came to Mount Pleasant in November, 1835.

Elam Beardsley and John Davis were the first settlers in Caledonia. They came about the close of 1834, or the beginning of 1835. It is believed that Davis made the first claim, but that Beardsley was the first actual occupant. He brought his family with him; and his wife was the first white woman who made a permanent home in the county. In February, 1835, Levi Blake and three sons came from Niles, Michigan, by way of Chicago, and, when near the locality of Waukegan, were overtaken by a snow storm. Kindling a fire with their last match, they spent the night constructing a sled, with which, leaving their wagons, they pursued their journey. The trail was obscured by the snow, but, at noon, they were delighted with the sight of a human being leading a pony. The man informed them that the pony and himself were the United States route agents on the way from Chicago to Green Bay with the mail. He gave them directions by which they reached Jambeau's trading-post that day. Early the same year, Edward Bradley and his brother made claims in Caledonia. Eldad Smith bought the claim of John Davis; he came to the town in September with Walter Cooley and his family, but removed to Racine in 1841. The other settlers of 1835, were Simeon, Isaac and Thomas Butler, Joseph Adams, Sheridan Kimball, a daring borderer, named Shintafer, Tryslam Davis, Hugh Bennett, Hiram Bennett, Mr. Fowler, and Mr. Stillman.

Joseph Call was the first settler in Yorkville. He located at the place known as Ives' Grove, in the summer of 1835, and built a log house, afterward kept as a tavern. Later, Samuel Kerr, Daniel Whitmore and Samuel Daniels made claims in the township, and lived together. In the fall, Nelson A. Walker bought part of Call's claim.

Among the first settlers in Raymond were Nathaniel Rogers and his son, Joel Rogers. The date of their arrival is uncertain, but they were there when Elisha Raymond and his son Alvin made their location on the 22nd of September, 1835. Mr. Raymond, Sr., bought a claim already made, for $25. His son Seneca Raymond, came the following spring, bringing his own and his father's family.

Moses Smith and William Whiting made claims in the town of Burlington, on the site of the village, about the middle of December, 1834; Smith on the west and Whiting on the east side of the river, and the day after Christmas, they and B. C. Pierce and Samuel Smith built a shanty in a little grove on the east side and soon afterward another on the west side, also a third on the David Bushnell farm.

The first settler in the town of Rochester was Levi Godfry. He came in the fall of 1835, accompanied by John B. Wade, and selected the waterpower at the present village, and built a shanty on the west side, but a general settlement did not begin in this town until 1836.

Reference has now been made to all the settlements in the county up to the close of 1835, and the names given of the settlers as far as they can be obtained from reliable authority. Of the three present towns in the county into which the immigration of 1835 did not reach, Waterford was settled in 1836, by P. R. Mygatt, Samuel E. Chapman, Ira A. Rice, Archibald Cooper and Hiram Page. The same year, Captain John T. Trowbridge made his home in Dover, bringing with him his wife and two sons. He had been a sea captain for twenty-five years, and here found a refuge for his declining days; and, in Norway, the first settler was Thomas Drought, who located there in September, 1838. Early in 1840, the first company of Norwegian's immigrants arrived, and located in the vicinity of Wind lake. The town was settled chiefly by people of that nationality.