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Genealogy: Family Histories

John Watson Family

Last Revised 07/31/2009

Retrospect: Lisbon pioneer John Watson's family roots were in Scotland

Posted: November 26, 2008, Sussex Sun

In his time, foreign-born pioneer John Watson (1827-1916) claimed land in Lisbon, fought honorably in the Civil War, voted for Abe Lincoln, built a still-standing home and barn in Lisbon, and served on the school board, as Lisbon town assessor, and as town chairman.

The Watson family was from the Perthshire area of Scotland, near the River Tay. His father, Andrew, was born May 28, 1795. His mother, Catherine Roger, was born March 31, 1801.

John was born Dec. 19, 1827, the fourth of four boys and two girls. His father, Andrew, died April 7, 1835, at 39 when John was only 8 years old.

Andrew was not a wealthy man. His trade, home weaving, was a dying industry, though he also supplemented his income as a fisherman on the River Tay.

John Watson received a meager education, but did learn to read and write – using that, and his keen observation skills, to teach himself the rest of his life.

When he was almost 14, John and one of his brothers, Gilbert, went to Dundee on the east coast of Scotland and took the ship Peruvian to New York City on May 12, 1841, arriving there July 4. The two boys then went to Buffalo, NY, where John worked the next two years for $4 a month.

He saved his money, and in the fall of 1843, the two sailed the Great Lakes for Milwaukee. John served as a seaman on the steamer boat to pay for his fare, holding onto what little money he had saved.

Immediately after arriving in Milwaukee they went to Lisbon where they worked for wages on farms there. He started out with just $10 in his pocket, but lent it to someone who never paid it back, so he really started off penniless.

Saving what little money he earned with his farmwork, he bought 80 acres of land in 1846 in Lisbon Section 3 for $1.25 per acre. The following year he bought an additional 40 acres of swampland near the headwaters of the Bark River west of Hillside Road.

He later sold 25 acres of the swampland, keeping 15, then added another 80 acres to his original claim, bringing his holdings to 175 acres.

By 1850, working his land with oxen, he felt wealthy enough to send for his mother and the three children she was still raising in Scotland. She died in 1875 in Lisbon and is buried in Lisbon Central Cemetery.

One of the children she brought with her was Andrew Watson Jr., who received an outstanding education, graduating from Carroll College in 1857, then going on to Princeton, followed by studies at Allegheny and Philadelphia.

He was a member of the Lisbon Presbyterian Church, and the United Presbyterian Church of the USA posted him as a missionary to Cairo, Egypt, where in time his son, the Rev. Charles Watson, became the president of Cairo’s American University.

John Watson married Mary Roger on Dec. 15, 1853. I wonder about this, as John’s mother was Catherine Roger, and both were from Perthshire, Scotland. Mary Roger had sailed on the “Peruvian” with John in 1841. She was 9 years old then, and John was nearly 14.

They had six children, four boys and two girls. The second born, 1-year-old Robert, died in 1860. Some of the children were born before the Civil War, some after. All went on to college.

John, then 35, and a neighbor, Charles McGill, joined the Union Army in July 1862, serving in Waukesha’s 28th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Trans Mississippi area. The regiment joined the battles of Helena, Vicksburg, Little Rock, New Orleans and Mobile Bay and participated in the post-war occupation of Texas.

John was discharged in August 1865 and returned to Lisbon, increasing his family and his wealth. He replaced his log-and-mudstone cabin with a Cream City brick home in 1871, which still stands today, and built Lisbon’s biggest barn ever.

Watson was a Republican. He voted for John Fremont in 1856 and for Lincoln in the next two elections. Locally, he served on the one-room Sixteen School board for 15 years. He was elected Lisbon’s town assessor, then town chairman for a single two-year term, 1871-72.

He farmed wheat, then turned into a dairy farmer, before retiring from agriculture altogether in 1890 when his son Robert took over until 1907. Then his college-educated son-in-law, Charles Will, took over the farm.

John and Mary lived out the remainder of their lives in part of the main house until their deaths in 1916 – him Jan. 3 and her May 23. Both are buried in Lisbon Central Cemetery.

Retrospect: Lisbon pioneer John Watson: Union soldier in the Civil War

Posted: December 3, 2008 Sussex Sun

The Civil War started in 1861 and by mid-1862 had become a major conflict. President Abraham Lincoln called for 300,000 new soldiers in July 1863, instituting a draft if not enough volunteers signed up. Wisconsin was assigned a quota of five regiments (roughly 5,000 men, 1,000 for each regiment).

Waukesha County successfully applied to the state governor for a local regiment, which became the 28th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It attracted 900 Waukesha volunteers, later supplemented by men from adjacent Walworth County.

John Watson and his immediate neighbor, Lisbon pioneer Charles McGill, both probably influenced by the pastor of Lisbon Presbyterian Church, joined the regiment and went into training Aug. 10, 1862, at Camp Washburn in Milwaukee.

They were only given a weekend to get their Lisbon estates in order, and off they went to war for the next three years. Watson was nearly 35 and McGill 44 when they enlisted Aug. 21, 1862. Both were assigned to the regiment’s 107-man-strong Company F, which included 17 men from Lisbon and 25 from the Merton area.

As their training neared completion, the regiment was put on a boat bound for Port Washington and Ozaukee County to put down an antidraft insurrection in Ozaukee County, where local immigrants from Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands were reluctant to volunteer for service.

As Draft Commissioner William Pors chose names from a lottery box, a mob drove him away, burned the boxes with the names of men of military age, and then burned down some houses belonging to the richer families in town, as well as the Masonic Hall.

Eight companies were dispatched from the Milwaukee-based 28th Regiment to surround and occupy the town and search the surrounding county Nov. 12-30, 1862. Scores of draft dodgers were arrested. Subsequent court proceedings were a big mess.

Watson was returned to Camp Washburn for most of December 1862, but the regiment was then sidetracked to Columbus and Hickman in Kentucky to push back an incursion of Confederate cavalry.

By the first week of January 1863, the 28th was in Helena, Ark., as part of the Trans-Mississippi Army led by Generals Clayton Fisk and Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was trying to dislodge the Confederates from Vicksburg, and the 28th was part of an intensive move to split the Confederacy in half.

The 28th was assigned to the Vicksburg Campaign, the pacifying of Arkansas, and to secure Grant’s supply route down the Mississippi. Some soldiers were also dispatched to Helena, Ark., to fight guerillas or marauding Confederate Army units.

Helena is 50 miles south of Memphis, Tenn., and 150 miles north of Vicksburg. All three communities were important Mississippi River towns.

Initially, the 28th’s contribution to the siege of Vicksburg was the Yazoo River Expedition (Feb. 23-24 through April 8, 1863). Union officers designed the expedition to outflank the Vicksburg defenses, sending their troops down the river, which led into Vicksburg’s northeastern back door.

They were met with fierce resistance from irregular Confederate units on the banks of the Yazoo, who cut trees down to slow and even stop the riverboat transport of the 28th and assorted other units. The irregulars also sniped at them from the trees along the riverbanks and cut down trees behind the lead boats to trap individual units.

In the end, the Union commanders in the field became convinced that that tactic was going too slowly and dangerously, and sent the 28th and Watson to garrison duty in Helena.

Next week: the great battle of Helena, July 4, 1863.

Retrospect: Lisbon pioneer John Watson fought in Battle of Helena

Posted: December 10, 2008, Sussex Sun

Lisbon pioneer John Watson’s remaining service in the 28th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment consisted mainly of “garrison duty” with the occupation Army of rebel state Arkansas, and waiting to be assigned to the next big push.

The Waukesha Regiment had 961 men, 36 were from the Town of Lisbon. During its garrison duty in Arkansas from April 1863 to February 1865, 10 soldiers from Lisbon died and four more were discharged from further duty because of debilitating diseases. Another deserted.

Notable among the deceased were Charles McGill, Watson’s immediate neighbor, and Thomas Lannon, from the Pheasant Farm area near today’s Highway 164, who was a close relative of William Lannon, the namesake and original postmaster of the Village of Lannon.

Then in February 1865 the 28th mounted paddle-wheelers for a trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans for a momentary stop to load supplies and ammunition. The regiment then shipped out to Alabama via the Gulf of Mexico to join the battle to take Mobile.

Admiral David Farragut had secured the entrance to Mobile Bay in February 1864 with the capture of Fort Morgan. From there, the Union generals planned to go up the bay, both on land and on the bay waters, to capture Mobile.

Union Gen. Edward R.S. Canby gathered his forces, some 45,000 troops, in the early spring of 1865. The beleaguered Confederates could muster only 10,000 soldiers, but they had the advantage of defensive rifle pits, trenches and Fort Blakely and the Spanish Fort.

Watson and the 28th were assigned to take the massive Spanish Fort. Bombarded from land and sea, its Confederate defenders surrendered April 8 to the 28th’s Company C under Capt. Thomas S. Stevens. The first to enter the Fort, the 28th went to assist the attack on Fort Blakely, but marched up just as it was surrendering.

Shorn of its defenses, the Confederates began to abandon Mobile on April 12, and the Union forces, including the 28th, marched through Mobile to a holding area north of the city.

The capture of the Spanish Fort yielded 265 officers, 538 enlisted men, five mortars and 25 pieces of artillery. The capture of Fort Blakely took even more, including 2,400 prisoners.

It was on April 16 that Watson and the rest of the 28th heard that the war had ended on Palm Sunday, April 9, when the Confederate commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army to Gen. Grant at Appomattox Court in Virginia. Gen. John B. Gordon surrendered an additional 20,000 Confederate troops nearby.

News of the war’s end had taken a long time getting from Virginia to Washington, then down the Ohio River Valley to St Louis, down the Mississippi to New Orleans, and then over to Mobile Bay and north toward the city of Mobile and its environs.

There was great jubilation in the ranks of the 28th when it was lined up and told of the April 9 surrender, but by then its original complement of 961 men had been thinned down to less than 600.

Then on April 23, nine days after it had happened, the 28th was lined up again to announce that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C.

The entry in Lisbon-born Sgt Alfred S. Weaver’s diary reads, “We heard very (sic) bad news today that Abraham (sic) Lincoln was shot at Washington, April 13 (actually 14). The bands all played dirges in memory of … Lincoln.”

The men of the Waukesha 28th Regiment thought that they would soon be marched back to New Orleans and discharged, thought they feared that the regiment might be assigned to more garrison occupation of the South, delaying their discharge.

Little did Watson and his cohorts know that they were about to start a new chapter in Texas, along the Rio Grande River, to stand ready to back a Mexican revolt against the French-imposed Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian of Austria and his wife, Empress Carlotta.

Next week: Texas duty, oysters and, finally, discharge in August 1865.

Retrospect: Civil War ends; Watson goes to Texas

Posted: December 31, 2008,  Living Sussex Sun

By Fred Keller, Sussex Village Historian

After the capture of Mobile in 1865 – which actually occurred after the Civil War ended April 9 (news traveled a lot slower then) – and President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Lisbon pioneer John Watson and his cohorts thought they would soon be released from the Union Army.

Instead, Watson spent the next four-plus months with his regiment in Texas before finally being discharged in late August and returning to Lisbon in early September after three years and one month of service.

Watson and the remaining 600 or so men of the 28th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment were sent to Texas to back up Mexican rebels who were trying to overthrow French-imposed Austrian Emperor Maximilian and his consort, Queen Carlotta. They eventually succeeded, sentencing Maximilian to death by firing squad and installing their leader, Benito Juarez, as their new president.

The month-plus he spent in and around Mobile, especially after the end of the war, were relatively good times for Watson. He and his army buddies had an abundance of food, especially beef, potatoes and corn.

Watson and the 28th Infantry returned to Mobile from the boondocks May 9 and boarded a small boat to get to a staging area for the big trip to Texas. The trip from Mobile Bay to Texas started June 2 in a large paddle-wheel steam ship.

Out in the Gulf of Mexico by June 4, they had passed the Mississippi River delta and by June 9 had traveled southwest to the Brazos and Brownsville, Texas, area where the Rio Grande River emptied into the Gulf of Mexico.

Between mid-June and late August, the 28th was very near the Mexican border areas that had been taken over by the Mexican rebels. The regiment did a lot of guard duty, fighting among themselves and trying to escape the “Vermin and musaketoz” (sic).

They did a lot of swimming in the river and even in the ocean. Oysters were harvested as a food snack. Watson spent time visiting other units and other Lisbon troops while in the Brownsville area while army life was on hold.

Finally, orders came down in August discharging the 28th. Rosters were made up and final paydays were arranged. When all the paperwork was completed, Watson left Texas on August 30 on a side-wheel steamship bound for New Orleans. There he transferred to a Mississippi paddle-wheeler which landed him in Cairo, Ill, on Sept. 12.

From there he and his comrades from the 28th took the train, many riding the tops of box cars to get home as fast as they could. Of the 37 Lisbon men who set out for war in August 1862, only 19 returned.

The Wisconsin 28th Infantry began with 961 men, later recruiting 144 more and adding 32 “substitutes.” While accurate figures are hard to come by, it appears 237 of them died while in service, 31 deserted, 81 transferred to other units and 221 received early discharges as unsuitable for service because of disabilities or lingering illness. All told, 573 returned to Wisconsin from Texas.

Watson came back to his wife of nearly 12 years, Catherine Rodgers Watson, and their two sons (another son had died soon after he was born). The couple had three more children, another son and daughters for the youngest two. All of them went on to college.

Watson kept a couple of souvenirs from the service, including his musket rifle and bayonet. For the rest of his life, he received $20 a month in disability pension pay for heat prostration and exhaustion while in service, although he had never spent a single day on furlough or in the hospital. He left the Union army with the rank of corporal.

Retrospect: John Watson returns from Civil War, joins Lisbon's civic life

Posted: January 7, 2009,  Living Sussex Sun

By Fred Keller, Sussex Village Historian

After the Civil War, and brief post-war army stint in Texas, John Watson returned to his 175 acres in north central Lisbon and his wife Mary Rodgers Watson and their two sons.

Watson was something of a broken man, earning a $20-per-month veteran’s pension for suffering from heat, hardship and exhaustion during the war.

The family was still living in a log cabin when he got back to his homestead.

John and Mary the had three more children in quick succession, a boy and two girls. All the children attended the Sixteen School at the corner of today’s Hillside and Good Hope roads and went on to college.

Having outgrown the log cabin, Watson commissioned the construction of a a two-story Milwaukee Cream City brick house for his large family in 1871 at what is now N88 W24882 North Lisbon Road, just east of Hillside Road. As the house was being finished, Watson also had the largest barn ever built in Lisbon put up.

On an 1891 plat map of the Town of Lisbon, the Watson farmstead is called Oak Wood Farm. A 1914 plat map of shows a name-change to Bonaire Farm.

Watson is credited as the first Lisbon farmer with the then-new Holstein cow, competing with the Guernsey cows of the mighty George McKerrow dairy farm in south central Lisbon.

Incidentally, Watson and McKerrow were prominent members of the Lisbon Presbyterian Church; both were of Scottish descent; and both were buried close to each other in Lisbon Central Cemetery.

Watson was elected Lisbon assessor in 1871 and town chairman for a single term, 1875-76. He also served 15 years on the Sixteen School Board of Directors.

He retired as the manager and full-time farmer at his farm in 1890 at 62, but lived on in the home. His son, James R., then a recent graduate of Carroll College (1887), took over the farm that year and ran it until 1907, when he turned it over to Charles Will, his sister Mary’s husband.

Will was a Carroll College-educated teacher who had taught at the Sixteen School. He remained a big fan of Carroll College football, and always tried to attend home games.

A 1918-23 directory of Waukesha County shows Will with 12 horses, 60 cows and a prize bull, Sir Korndyke Fytje, No.132719, who had won prizes at the National and Waterloo shows in 1914. He was a full brother of a cow and bull who had won first prizes at the National Dairy Show.

He retired from farming in 1943, but later took a defense plant job in Milwaukee at Square D, putting in 10 years until he turned 86.

John and Mary Watson celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in December 1913. They both died in 1916, she in May at 84, he at noon Dec. 30 at 89.

Watson had put the Civil War behind him and never joined the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans group, but surviving local veterans attended his funeral.

Will died May 6, 1957, at 90 and was buried in Lisbon Central Cemetery near his father-in-law, John Watson.

Em Lindahl and the Watson land claim

As a result of the recent Retrospect series on the Watson-Will family farm and land holdings from the 1840s to World War II, a former owner of the property, Em Lindahl, has stepped forward with a letter about buying it in the 1960s and developing it for sale and trade to a variety of owners.

The Watson-Will farm was a mega-farm on the northeast corner of Hillside Road and North Lisbon Road. Immigrant John Watson claimed the original 80-acre homestead in 1846 and grew it to 175 acres. The last owner to actually farm the site was the George and Roland Koebler family in the 1950s.

Em Lindahl and her husband, Byrdale, a salesman, moved from Beloit in the early 1960s to the Tower Hill section of Mill Road east of Lannon Road and Whiskey Corners.

She picked up a job as the dispatcher at the Palmer Crushing gravel pit, which later became the Tews Lime and Cement gravel pit on Hillside Road, just south of Highway Q.

The Lindahls saw an opportunity to become land investors – and have a home and barn besides – and bought the remaining 80 acres of the original Watson Claim in the mid 1960s.

"The Sciano family sold the farm to us. They had purchased it from the Koeblers," she wrote in her letter to the society. "My husband purchased some horses, calves and wanted to farm the land. He had been a great horseman as he lived on a farm as a child and rode all the time."

Then tragedy struck. "My husband was diagnosed with cancer," Em continued. "He spent the next l˝ years in and out of the hospital, mostly at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn."

He died Jan. 20, 1969, leaving her a widow with two children, a boy and a girl.

"I did not want to stay in the country alone," she wrote "During this period we rented out the home and the land, and in 1968 we sold the house and farm buildings with nine-plus acres. Later on George Zisk did buy the home (from the people we sold it to). …

"Renting the house and land proved to be a chore, so we decided to subdivide the farm. Initially we sold 30 acres to Tews Lime & Cement gravel pit." This left a 20 acres behind the barn and two side lots of about six acres, each with frontage on North Lisbon Road. The one on the corner of Hillside Road was divided into six lots. These six lots and the eastern six-plus acres were eventually sold.

The central 20 acres behind the farm buildings was needed by the expanding Tews Gravel pit, so they traded for it, giving Lindahl twice the acreage on the adjacent William D. McGill farm further east on North Lisbon Road.

During this period of her life, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Lindahl's children were attending Hamilton High School.

In 1974, Lindahl was named to the Lisbon Plan Commission – the first woman on this powerful panel – during the town's transition from a farming to a bedroom community.

Around then, Lindahl subdivided her 40-acre McGill farm into the Hawks Heights West and East subdivisions, naming the two main streets, Dee Lane and Cordell Lane, after her children. Lindahl said she chose "Hawks" as the subdivisions' names because of all the large predator hawks that once roamed the Watson and the adjacent McGill farms. She's steamed about it these days, though, because, she says, human predators have gunned down the last of these soaring knights of the sky.

Even though Lindahl has lived in the greater Lannon and Lisbon area for about 46 years, she still feels like an outsider sometimes, but she keeps busy in retirement, spoiling her two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Earlier this year, Retrospect had a series on the John Watson mega farm on the northeast corner of Hillside Road and North Lisbon Road. Norman Tutzke contacted me with some additional information:

According to Norman, "one of the1940s owners/operators of the farm was Al Bauer, the future postmaster of Sussex." Norman remembers being hired as a young lad to help fill the historic square silo behind the barn. "We filled it to the very tippy top, with me acting as a leveler inside the silo. It got so full that I had to dig through the silage to get out of the intake exit hole." source: Living Sussex Sun, Retrospect, by Fred H. Keller, July 29, 2009


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