John Watson Family
Retrospect: Lisbon pioneer John
Watson's family roots were in Scotland
Posted: November 26, 2008,
By Fred Keller, Sussex Village Historian
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
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
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
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
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.
pioneer John Watson: Union soldier in the Civil War
Posted: December 3, 2008 Sussex Sun
By Fred Keller, Sussex Village
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.
pioneer John Watson fought in Battle of Helena
Posted: December 10, 2008,
By Fred Keller, Sussex Village
About a year after joining the Union Army in August 1862 at age
34, John Watson’s regiment was deployed to Helena, Ark.
General Samuel Curtis commanded the Union forces in Helena, with
Wisconsin’s former Governor, now Brig. General Samuel Salomon, under
him. Solomon’s “pet” unit was his own (and Watson’s) Wisconsin 28th
Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
The 28th shared the Helena garrison’s defense with the Iowa’s
10th, 29th, 33rd and 36th; Indiana’s 43rd; Missouri’s 1st, 33rd,
35th and 36th; Hayden’s Artillery, plus assorted small units. While
regiments were supposed to be 1,000-strong each, many were down to
500 or fewer.
When Watson got to Helena, Generals Curtis and Salomon pressed
his Company F into preparation for a defensive battle against
The Helena garrison was a major source of fresh supplies and
troops for General U.S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg, Tenn., 150 miles
south. The Confederates wanted to take Helena to cut off those
supplies and end the siege.
The estimated 4,000 troops in Helena chafed as they dug trenches,
cavalry attack ditches, artillery strong points and rifle pits (fox
holes). They thought such an attack would never come, and their hard
labor would turn into “make work” to fight a ghost Confederate army.
Then in July 1863, U.S. Cavalry scouts detected a 7,600-strong
Confederate force collecting in Arkansas and steadily pushing toward
Helena’s 4,000 Union troops.
After a few false alarms, the Generals Curtis and Salomon knew
for certain the Confederates would attack July 4, just before
Not only did they know, so did the southern sympathizers in
Helena. The city’s southern belles dressed grandly and put out food
to welcome the Confederate troops – all in vain, as it turned out.
Watson’s 28th regiment was told it would be alerted at 3 a.m.
July 4 and its troops deployed to their assigned trenches and rifle
pits to await the Confederates.
The Wisconsin 28th was position in the right center of the Union
defenders, astride the Upper St Francis Road, and then strung out
further to the north (right) along the old St. Francis Road. They
were backed up by Fort Curtis, a massive artillery installation,
The 28th’s position surrounded Fort B, a big artillery
forward-defense post. Each quadrant had a similar frontline
General Curtis never knew where he would be attacked the hardest,
so he doubled up on his artillery, bringing the U.S. Navy down the
Mississippi with its gun boats and pull artillery barges.
The attack came at 4 a.m., just before daylight, and ended at 11
a.m. with a resounding Union victory, inflicting 1,636 casualties on
the enemy while losing only 239.
The Confederates did succeed in overrunning the 28th-protected
Fort B artillery, but Watson’s regiment retook it quickly, at a
great loss in lives to the Confederates. The Confederates retreated
to a ravine and a hollows where punishing fire decimated their
In the end, the Confederates were bloodily repulsed on all
fronts, with the Union cavalry soon going out to pick up stragglers
and find the wounded.
The Union victory at the Battle of Helena left Arkansas under
Union occupation during the following months, but was overshadowed
by more important battles that turned the tide of the Civil War in
the Union’s favor.
The July 4, 1863, victory came right on the heels of the
three-day Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, and the July 4 surrender
of Vicksburg, which opened up the Mississippi River from New Orleans
to Minnesota, splitting the Confederacy in half.
Our next installment will tell the rest of Watson’s Civil War
story through his discharge in August 1865.
Civil War regiment pushes on to Arkansas
Posted: December 17, 2008,
Living Sussex Sun
By Fred Keller, Sussex Village
The Union rejoiced July 4, 1863, a day after the great battle
of Gettysburg, the same day that General U.S. Grant had finally
outflanked the Confederates at Vicksburg, Tenn., capturing
control of the entire Mississippi River from Illinois to New
In a much lesser known battle, Cpl. John Watson’s own 28th
Wisconsin Infantry Regiment had beaten back a Confederate attack
on the Union garrison in Helena, which supplied Grant’s forces
in Vicksburg with men and equipment.
Watson, now 35, was a lowly grunt soldier and did the bidding
the Trans Mississippi Union Army commanders, who now
consolidated their position in rebel Arkansas. Union General
Major General Frederick Steele was sent to Helena with
additional troops to make a move on Little Rock in early August,
As the Union vanguard, now 10,000 strong, advanced on the
Arkansas capital, the Confederates’ 7,700 defenders abandoned
the city. By the end of 1863, the Union Army controlled more
than half the state.
The 28th Regiment arrived in Little Rock as September came
and stayed their for a period of time. Watson’s army duties for
the rest of 1863 and 1864 were confined to garrison duty in
The 28th initially put up tents, but, soldiers being
soldiers, soon scrounged wood for floors, then walls, followed
by mud-wattle chimneys. The troops spent most of their waking
hours on guard duty and scrounging for additional food and fuel.
It was raining, wet and cold much of the time, and the
soldiers often went hungry, too. Close order living also invited
diseases, listed as “Debility, ague, chill fever, pulmonary
disease, bilious fever, chronic diarrhea, shakes and a
scratching plentiful supply of bugs (lice).”
The 28th eventually left Little Rock for Pine Bluff and
stayed there well into 1864.
The neighboring McGill family
Watson served with his immediate neighbor, Lisbon farmer
Charles N. McGill. Born in Scotland in 1818, the 46-year-old
caught cholera in Pine Bluff.
When he joined Aug. 2l, 1862, he left behind his wife,
Elizabeth, and their two daughters and young son. Two daughters,
Mary, 11, and Lizzie, 8, had died of diphtheria, and were buried
at Lisbon Central Cemetery. Lizzie died Sept. 26 and Mary on
Oct. 3, 1862.
The 5-year-old son, William, took over the North Lisbon Road
family farm at 13, and had a monumental impact on Lisbon and
Sussex as a longtime Lisbon Town Chairman, and a co-founder of
the Sussex State Bank in 1911 (today Associated Bank in Sussex
on Orchard and Main.)
A fellow Lisbon soldier in Pine Bluff, Sgt.-flag bearer
Alfred Weaver, wrote these entries in his diary: Aug. 28, 1864,
“Charles McGill is very sick and not expected to live,” and
Sept. 3, “Charles McGill of Co. F. died Sept. 2 and buried (sic)
the morning of the 3rd of Sept.”
To this day, McGill’s body remains in Pine Bluff.
James A. Elliott of Sussex
James A. Elliott of Sussex was attached to the 28th Regiment
as a teamster. In a letter to his wife, Sally, from Little Rock
on Oct. 9, 1864, he sent money with instructions for its use,
including: “I want you to go to Mr. Cooling’s and buy me two
pounds of his best smoking tobacco and four ounces of Blue
The Blue Ointment was for relief from a bad case of lice.
Cooling’s was a Sussex General Store on the four corners of Main
and Maple Avenue.
Later in the letter, he describes how his fellow teamsters
and some soldiers went to the nearby river to immerse themselves
in the water, holding their breath as long as possible to drown
the fleas and lice. He said that while that helped, it was not a
Next week the Watson story continues with his deployment to
New Orleans and the battle of Mobile, Ala., at the end of the
Joy at Civil War victory dampened By news of Lincoln's
Posted: December 24, 2008,
Living Sussex Sun
By Fred Keller, Sussex
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
Em Lindahl and the Watson
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
During this period of her life, from the
late 1960s to the early 1970s, Lindahl's
children were attending Hamilton High
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
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
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:
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