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First Town of Lisbon Settler - Thomas Spencer Redford or ?

Written and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 05/28/2013

    To Thomas S. Redford, probably, belongs the distinction of having been the first one to drive his stake in this town. When he first came here, he accompanied the surveying party of Hudson (?), Garret Vliet and John Brink, who surveyed through the town early in 1836. In May of this year, he collated the claim which he now occupies, on Section 25.

    But was T. S. Redford the first settler in the Town of Lisbon or the very first to stake a claim for land?

Sketch Map by Deputy Surveyor Garret Vliet early 1836

    In June of 1836, Presley N. Ray, James Hanford and William Packard came out from Milwaukee and selected claims, and assisted T. S. Redford in erecting his first shanty, this being a sort of headquarters for all until each could get a cabin raised. Soon after, probably about the month of August, John Weaver, Lucius Botsford, Thomas Rolf and David Bonham came into the town. They at once made claims and proceeded with all dispatch to erect houses for their families, for they were all, but one, family men. Having got their houses up and ready during this fall and winter, they then went into the city of Milwaukee, where the women and children were staying, and brought them out before the snow was off the ground in the spring. A. A. Redford came in at this time also. These four women were the first in the town, as also were their children the first of the small folks.

    In the spring and summer of 1837, James Weaver, who now lives at Sussex; George Elliott, Edward Smith, Nathan Peso and Samuel Dougherty came with their families and settled here, making for themselves permanent homes.  F. Otis, who came in 1837, built the first frame shell; but Sherman Botsford erected the first really substantial frame house built in the town. 

The above two paragraphs from "The History of Waukesha County, 1880", therefore the language and point-of-reference is from the year 1880. Additional notes have been added by this website editor  to further explain the text.

The First Settler?

    Most agree that Thomas Spencer Redford was the first to stake a claim to land in the Town of Lisbon, but there is evidence to indicate that his accomplishment may not have been entirely his own making.

    To begin this explanation, some background information is necessary for the reader. 

    The following comes from a biography of Thomas' life:

    " Thomas Spencer Redford, was born in Genesee County on July 18, 1818. He worked on his father's farm until he was 18, and later learned the carpentry trade. He attended common schools in New York and entered the College of Milwaukee after coming west. On February 28, 1836, he left New York carrying a 25 pound pack on his back and headed west on foot. "I traveled from Cattaraugus County, through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois and reached Milwaukee on the 23rd of April, 1836. Some days I traveled in Michigan all day and did not find more than 2 or 3 homes, and poor ones at that." Joining a surveying party of Hudson, Vliet and Brink, he made the first claim in Lisbon Township and built a cabin of basswood logs. He did his cooking over a fire outside the house. During the summer, he worked at the carpenter trade in Milwaukee. "The land from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi was neatly all in a state of nature." When the Town of Lisbon was first settled, it usually 2 days to make the trip to Milwaukee, a distance of 16 miles over logs and through the mud, fording streams and camping out one night on the road.  "We may all thank God for the ox. Provisions were high, and no grain had been raised to feed the horse, but the ox worked all day, then turned loose to pick his own feed at night. When Wisconsin was first settled, we had every obstacle to contend with. First, we had no market for our produce. There was no outlet for it except home consumption. I attended the first wedding that took place in the Town of Lisbon. There were no gilt cards, no presents, but we had a good big Johnnycake passed around, and we wished them all the good things of this life the same as they do nowadays. After the ceremony, the young couple took their wedding tour home behind a yoke of oxen." Using a team of oxen, he hauled 1100 bushels of wheat to market in 1840 and sold it for 50 cents a bushel."

    Thomas appears to have been the point man for the Redford family, traveling to Wisconsin overland (source: Portrait and Biographical Record of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, Excelsior Publishing Co., Chicago, 1894) while his parents and siblings followed by the Great Lakes water route meeting him in Milwaukee sometime in 1836 (Note: This is countered by Sarah Redford statement below.) If he left New York State on foot, on Feb 28, 1836 as reported in the above source, he would have been traveling during the late winter months, not very hospitable.

    As I mentioned above, his departure time during the year probably didn't afford the best of weather conditions to travel in. Alone (?), and on foot, must have been very dangerous and foolhardy, especially for a boy only 17 years old. If he was carrying money to purchase land for his father and siblings, he was most certainly in grave danger.

    Thomas says he met up with the surveying team of Hudson, Vliet and Brink, and apparently helped them to blaze a trail and assist in the surveying. So far, the name Hudson hasn't been found to have done any surveying work in the Townships of Lisbon or Menomonee (Editor's note: a F. Hudson is known to have sketched Indian burial mounds in the Madison, Dane County area). Both Vliet and Brink were Deputy Surveyors in charge of their own surveying teams, but never worked on the same team (at least in the Towns of Lisbon and Menomonee). This doesn't mean that Thomas didn't work some menial job for a surveying team to earn his way from Milwaukee to what was only then known as Township 8 North, Range 19 East of the 4th Principal Meridian. 

    Since Thomas didn't arrive in Milwaukee until late April, 1836, the surveying of the townships mentioned had already been completed, so any survey team leaving Milwaukee was probably bound for land beyond

    In May 1933, Sarah Redford, daughter of Henry, who was brother to T. S. Redford read this paper "Redford Pioneers" to the Waukesha County Historical Society. In it she says that except for her father Henry, the oldest son, the entire Redford family traveled to Milwaukee by boat from New York state, and arrived in 1836. Source: Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, June 8, 1933, page 5, cols 2-4.

    On September 5, 1908, Lieut. O. P. Clinton read a paper "More of History" (He Treats of First Settlers and First Things in Waukesha County) before the Waukesha County Historical Society in Oconomowoc, where he states that T. S. Redford was the third to make a claim in the Town of Lisbon in 1837, but doesn't say who the first two were. Source: Waukesha Freeman, Thursday September 17, 1908, page 6, col. 2.

    It's interesting to note that in the 1837, 1838, 1840, and 1842 Census', the head-of -house is not Thomas, but his father, Arthur, living in the Town of Lisbon. Later Arthur is credited with owning the S.W. 1/4 in Section 30, Town of Menomonee, as of Sept 14, 1849. So even though the claim may have been Thomas', he was not considered the man-of-the-house. See below

    Under English common law, full majority was reached at the age of 21. Anyone under 21 was legally an "infant". Only persons who had reached majority could perform certain legal actions under the law: Buy or sell land without restriction; Vote or hold public office; Bring suit in oneís own name; Devise land by will; Sign a bond or note; Patent land (Note: Thomas' land was patented (?) in 1839, when he was age 21.); Marry without consent; Act as a guardian; or Serve on a jury. Nothing in the law prevented an infant from buying land or other property. But such an action could be later be repudiated by the minor. Therefore, we generally find such purchases made on the infantís behalf by an adult guardian or next friend. Blackstone points out that an infant could renege on the deal upon reaching majority: "an infant may also purchase lands, but his purchase is incomplete: for, when he comes to age, he may either agree or disagree to it, as he thinks prudent or proper, without alleging any reason..." 


    All of this makes one wonder if Thomas Spencer Redford actually did all that was said of him? Apparently he (and his family - father and siblings) actually was a "squatter" or "pre- empter" on surveyed land that hadn't been offered yet by the government for sale.

    Some patents (which Thomas doesn't have, but his father Arthur eventually received for Section 30  in the Town of Menomonee) have the word "Pre-emption" in the upper left-hand corner. "Pre-emption" was a tactful way of saying "squatter". In other words, the settler was physically on the property before the GLO officially sold or even surveyed the tract, and he was thus given a pre-emptive right to acquire the land from the United States.


    The following abstract of the pre-emption law will prove of interest to such as design to avail themselves its provisions:

1. The settler must never before have had the benefit of pre-empting under the act.

2. He must not, at the time of making the pre-emption, be the owner of three hundred and twenty acres of land in any State or Territory in the United States.

3. He must settle upon and improve the land in good faith, for his own exclusive use or benefit, and not with the intention of selling it on speculation; and must not make, directly or indirectly, any contract or agreement, in any way or manner, with any person or persons, by which the title which he may acquire from the United States should enure, in whole or part, to the benefit of any person except himself.

4. He must be twenty-one years of age (Editor's note: Which Thomas wasn't?), and a citizen of the United States; or, if a foreigner, must have declared his intention to become a citizen before the proper authority and received a certificate to that effect.

5. He must build a house on the land, live in it, and make it his exclusive home, and must be an inhabitant of the same at the time of making application for pre-emption. [Until lately, a single man might board with his nearest neighbor; but the same is now required of single as married men, except that, if married, the family of the settler must also live in the house.]

6. The law requires that more or less improvements be made on the land, such as breaking, fencing, &c., but pre-emptions are granted where a half-acre is broken and enclosed.

7. It is necessary that no other person, entitled to the right of pre-emption, shall reside on the land at the same time. (Editor's note: How the Redford family handled this condition is open to speculation.)

8. No person is permitted to remove from his own land, and make a pre-emption in the same State or Territory.

9. The settler is required to bring with him to the land-office a written or printed application, setting forth the facts in his case as to the 1st, 2d, and 3d requirements here mentioned, with a certificate appended, to be signed by the Register and Receiver, and make affidavit to the same.

10. He is also required to bring with him a respectable witness of his acquaintance, who is knowing to the facts of his settlement, to make affidavit to the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th requirements here mentioned, with the same set forth on paper, with a corresponding blank certificate attached to be signed by the land-officers.

11. The pre-emptor, if a foreigner, must bring with him to the land-office, duplicates of his naturalization papers, duly signed by the official from whom they were received.

A minor who is the head of a family, or a widow may also pre-empt--their families being required to live on the land. (Editor's note: Thomas wasn't the head-of-the-family as indicated in four  Federal Census'.)

The settler is required to file a written declaratory statement of his intention to pre-empt, before he can proceed with his pre-emption.

FEES.--1st. The fee required by the Register for filing a declaratory statement is one dollar.

2d. For granting a pre-emption, the Register and Receiver can receive fifty cents.

3d. For duplicate of the map of any township, one dollar is required by the Register." (Editor's note - This is interesting! What sort of map was this? The original survey sketch or something else?)

Source: Wisconsin and Its Resources, by James S. Ritchie   1857 (Editor's note: for the full text version online click here

also read:

Pre-Emption Bill
    Below will be found the Pre-Exemption Bill which has passed the Senate. We have no time to comment upon the bill, nor room for the interesting debate upon the subject.
    A Bill to grant pre-exemption rights to settlers on the Public Lands. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembles, That every actual settler of the public lands, being the head of a family or over twenty-one years of age, who was in possession, and a householder by personal residence thereon, on and before the first day of December, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-seven, shall be entitled to all benefits and privileges of an Act entitles, "An Act to grant pre-exemption rights to settlers on the public lands," approved May twenty-ninth, one thousand eight hundred and thirty; and the said act is revived and continued in force two years.
Source: Milwaukee Sentinel, February 20, 1838

    Another source that would indicate that Thomas Redford couldn't have claimed the land

    Thomas, his father, and siblings most likely traveled from Milwaukee by foot, perhaps with a team of oxen to carve out their initial claim stake. To protect their squatter's claim, someone must have had to stay behind while part of the family went back to Milwaukee to work and face the winter months. 

    Imagine to their horror, after investing two years of their lives improving their claim to find out that "their land" had been granted to the Milwaukee and Rock River Canal Company chartered in 1838 by the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature. Further investigation at the Waukesha County Court House, Register of Deeds department, discloses in Deed Book 12 Page 519 that on July 2, 1839, Thomas Redford purchased his quarter section of Section 25, Milwaukee County, from the Milwaukee and Rock River Canal Company. This was recorded on August 2, 1839 by W. B. Haughton, Secretary Wis. Territory at Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Fortunately for the Redfords and some of their neighbors in like circumstance, the canal project never was realized with the company dissolving finally in 1862.

    So, we are left with unanswered questions, did Thomas actually walk to Wisconsin, stake a claim in the wilderness as a 17 year old, or was it more of a family project? He was given a "patent" for his claim, but since he was not technically the original owner (the canal company was), he's not listed as such in any internet on-line inquires.

Also reference - 

  The Free Homestead Act of 1862 entitled anyone who filed to a quarter-section of land (160 acres) provided that person "proved up" the land. "Proving up" meant living on the land for five years. Otherwise, after living on the land for six months, homesteaders could choose to buy it outright for $1.25 per acre. Each homesteader was also assessed a $10.00 filing fee.

    By law, all land that had been surveyed and was to be opened for entry had to be offered for sale at public auction; this was "offered land." "Unoffered land" was public domain, both surveyed and unsurveyed that had not been put up for sale at public auction. The date of each auction was set by a presidential order listing the tracts to be sold. Each 40 acre parcel was sold to the highest bidder with a minimum price of $1.25 per acre. The sale continued until all of the listed tracts were offered for bid; any land that did not receive a minimum bid was then subject to private sale.

    Prior to 1841, it was illegal to settle on unoffered land. A series of laws prohibited illegal settling on public land and an act of 1807 permitted forcible removal of "squatters" or "pre- empters." In reality, these laws proved ineffective as settlers moved onto and improved unoffered and unsurveyed land. Once the pre-empted land was surveyed and about to be offered for bid and auction, the settlers were often faced with the prospect of losing their claim to the highest bidder. In order to forestall removal from their claim, the pre-emptors frequently organized "claim clubs" that worked to delay the scheduling of sales or attempted to prevent bidding on pre-empted claims. These settlers also lobbied Congress for legislation recognizing their claims and permitting them to enter the land at the minimum price. While several pre-emption acts were passed during the early 19th century, they were limited in scope. Finally, in 1841, a general and prospective pre-emption law was passed; it recognized the claims of settlers on surveyed but unoffered land. An act of 1854 extended pre-emption rights to settlers on unsurveyed land in Minnesota. By filing an intention to purchase with the local land officer, the pre-emptor could protect his claim and later purchase it at the minimum price of $1.25 per acre. Settlers claims were shown on original survey plats.

    The early settlers claimed land before the ground was actually on sale. The first land sale did not occur until 1838. In the meantime, to protect their claims, the settlers in a community banded together, drew up regulations, and maintained what was termed "club law," or "claim law."

    When the government opened land offices these claim laws were recognized as valid.

    The price of government land was $1.25 an acre. Each township sent to the sale a representative, who had a list of the claims settled upon in the area advertised. He bid in for each settler.

If a speculator or "land grabber" in the crowd attempted to oppose the rightful claimant matters went hard with him, and forced him to retire from the vicinity. A "land-grabber" was hated, being looked upon as one who would rob the settlers of their hard earned claims.

    Money lenders, also, mingled with the settlers. Capitalists saw a chance to do a fine business by lending to the settlers cash with which land could be purchased. Fifty per cent interest was not unusual; sometimes the rate was even higher that that. If the settler could not pay the debt, and the interest, he lost his property. This interest was outrageous, but the settlers were so hard-up that they were obliged to accept the terms, or nothing.

    The money panic of 1837 told severely on the settlers for several years following. It was difficult to dispose of produce even after a good crop. Wheat was hauled one hundred miles and sold for only 37 1/2 cents a bushel, corn and oats for only 6 cents, and the best horses for $50.

    First of all he had to determine the boundaries of his homestead. This was done not by the surveyor's chain, but by "stepping off" certain distances from a given point. Approximately fifteen hundred paces each way was considered to include three hundred and twenty acres "more or less"-the amount designated as a legal claim. The boundaries were marked by driving stakes in the prairie or by blazing trees if the claim was located in the timber. Many of the boundary lines were crooked and not infrequently they encroached upon other claims. But it was understood among the settlers that when the lands were surveyed and entered all inequalities would be adjusted.

    Paradoxical as it may seem, in a land without courts or judges, justice prevailed. By honorable adherence to the rights of others, claims staked out in good faith were as secure as property held by law. The Golden Rule governed the rights of the squatters. Local extralegal protection became so general and the claim associations of the settlers were so powerful that it was extremely hazardous for a speculator or a stranger to bid upon a claim which was protected by a "pre-emption right."

    To break five acres of ground was recognized in many communities as sufficient evidence of ownership to hold a claim for a period of six months. To build a cabin "eight logs high with a roof" was considered as the equivalent of plowing an additional five acres and was sufficient to hold the claim another six months. If a newcomer arrived and complied with these "by-laws" of the neighborhood, his rights were almost as much respected as if he had occupied the land by virtue of a government patent.

    He filed his claim for the 160 acres allowed and a like amount for each of his minor sons, William H., 17 years of age, and James, 14.

    He established his pre-emption rights to these public lands by declaring his intention of settlement, by proving his residence within six months, cultivation of the tract within one year, and payment of the established purchase price of $1.25 an acre. Final title of the homestead was not secured until he had proved his residence thereon of five years.

Sources: J.A. Swisher from The Palimpsest. "The Iowa Pioneers", Published monthly by The State Historical Society of Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa; July 1968; The MAKING of IOWA, Chapter XX, MAKING A LIVING IN EARLY IOWA; The Dunton Times, "Early Life in Illinois" Part 2 of 2, Vol. 2, Issue 2, Feb., 1997; A Brief History of Land Settlement in Minnesota (from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Minnesota Pre-1908 Homestead & Cash Entry Patents CD-ROM)

Transportation Land Grants

    A number of federal land grants were made to support the development of transportation systems within the state during the 1800s. The largest of these were a series of grants to railroad companies to help fund the construction of the railroads. The role of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands was to accept the lands on behalf of the state and then transfer the lands to the railroad companies. The railroad companies were then responsible for selling the lands as they chose. Normally, these lands were granted along the route of the railroad with the railroad company receiving alternate sections of land within an area paralleling the route.
The federal government retained the other sections and could sell them as "improved" lands at higher price. All told, nearly four million acres of lands were granted to the railroads in Wisconsin.
    Grants of land were given to support the construction of wagon roads to connect the military forts of Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien, Fort Winnebago at Portage, Fort Howard at Green Bay, and Fort Wilkins in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Prior to the advent of railroads, grants were given to improve water-borne transportation along the Fox and Wisconsin River corridor, across the Door peninsula at Sturgeon Bay, and to construct a canal connecting the Milwaukee and Rock Rivers. Together, these grants included close to a million acres.

An area for more research to be done in the future:

United States land records collection, 1780-1964.M-142 Land Records
.6 cubic ft.
Includes abstracts, deeds, mortgages, land contracts, Milwaukee and Rock River Canal land, Wisconsin land patents, leases and other land records. Filed alphabetically and by type of record.
Located at: Waukesha County Museum.

First Settlers - Town of Lisbon

by Michael R Reilly, May 28, 2013

According to Melinda Warren Weaver, the first families to actually live in the Township were:

    John and Melinda Weaver & family

    David and Rebecca Bonham & family

    Mr. Ralph (various spellings) and family

Note: These families travelled together on March 4, 1837 to their claims and lived together (in her brother-in-law's, David Bonham, cabin/public house) for nearly a month before their own cabins were ready about April 1, 1837.

    Arthur Redford, wife and 6 children

Note: Melinda says they arrived the same day. Thomas Spencer Redford, Arthur's son, wasn't waiting their arrival, though it's said he staked a squatter's claim in Section 25 early in 1836.

    Mr. Palmer and Mr. Rosebrook

Note: These two men also arrived on March 4th, w/o their families, to erect a shelter. Later their families arrived which included Mr. & Mrs. Palmer, Sr., who were the parents of Mr. Palmer, and that of Mr. Rosebrook's wife.

Note: It's known that John Weaver was the brother of David Bonham's wife, Rebecca. It's not known if there was any family relationship to Mr. Ralph, or his wife, or to any of the other same day arrivals.

Note: The next folks to arrive, together, were in mid-June 1837; they were:

    James Weaver and family (brother of John)

    Edward Smith and family

    George Elliott and family

Note: Brother William Weaver arrived with his family and his father at a later date. It's believed that the Smiths and Elliotts are family related to the Weavers. They also arrived in America onboard the Brig Emma with them, April 19, 1830 and afterwards lived in the same general area: Augusta, Oneida, New York.


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