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Territory to Statehood: Captain John Todd Trowbridge, Wisconsin Territorial Legislator

Society archaeologists are engaged in the study of an early 19th Century farmstead and tavern/inn in Racine County. When archaeologists found this site, it was located in a fallow farm field covered with grasses. Initially, the site was named ‘Sheard Road'.

Later research has revealed that, in the early 19th century, this farmstead and tavern was a local landmark known as Captain Trowbridge's Place. Captain John T. Trowbridge and family had been the first Yankee/Euroamerican settlers in Dover Township. Their home was described as a two-story log structure. Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered the house cellar, cistern, above ground root cellars, and trash middens.

Archaeological excavation of the
house cellar at Captain Trowbridge's
Place/Sheard Road site
Prior to settling in Wisconsin, the Trowbridge family had resided in Connecticut and New York. John Trowbridge was a mercantile ship's captain, travelling to both domestic and foreign ports. During the War of 1812, he was imprisoned by the British in India (Calcutta) and England (Dartmoor Prison). Following the war, Trowbridge returned to the United States and ran a successful shipping company on the Great Lakes.

In 1836, John Trowbridge moved to the Wisconsin Territory accompanied by his wife (Mary) and two of their sons (Stewart and Henry) with their families. Once settled in Wisconsin, John Trowbridge became a prosperous and prominent member of the community. He held several public offices in addition to managing the farm and tavern/inn. He served as a Racine County representative to the Fourth Legislative Assembly (1842-43) of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature. Locally, he was also a justice of the peace, postmaster, and director of the school district. John Trowbridge died in 1858, and was buried in the Rosewood Cemetery, located near the tavern/inn. Two years later, Mary Trowbridge sold the property and went to live with a daughter in Racine. Mary Trowbridge died in 1866 and was interred at the Rosewood Cemetery.

Captain Trowbridge's Place provides a rare opportunity to learn about daily life in the Wisconsin Territory. Well preserved archaeological sites representing the transition from Territory to Statehood are uncommon. Taverns were often a focal point for early rural communities on the frontier. They provided food and lodging for travelers; a meeting place for political and business groups; and in general a place for neighbors and families to obtain mail, exchange gossip and discuss local events. The efforts of prosperous and influential innkeepers often fostered further community growth, which in some cases gave rise to major towns and cities. Captain Trowbridge's Place was situated on a route between the modern cities of Racine and Burlington, and near smaller communities such as Rosewood, Cedar Park, Eagle Lake Manor, Union Grove, Kansasville, and Brighton. As was common for 19th century tavern/inns, Captain Trowbridge's Place became a social center for the surrounding rural community, in addition to providing for travelers.

Examples of wine and liquor
bottles found during recent
excavations. Wisconsin Historical
Settlers on the frontier often relied heavily on goods imported from the eastern United States, until more local manufacturers and merchants became available. Archaeologists have recovered artifacts that illustrate the role of Captain Trowbridge's Place as both a working farm and tavern/inn. For example, the dishes include a number of large serving vessels. There are a wide variety of types of ceramics and earthenwares: whiteware, ironstone, pearlware, porcelain, stoneware, redware, and yellowware. A number of nearly complete blue-transfer decorated plates were found in the cistern, and were likely discarded by Mrs. Trowbridge when she gave up housekeeping and moved to Racine. The glass containers included liquor and wine bottles, flasks, and bar tumblers. One bottle had contained Dr. Townsend's sarsaparilla, a beverage manufactured in Albany, New York.

Examples of transfer print and
edge decorated dishes.
Wisconsin Historical Society

Dr. Townsend's Sarsaparilla
was manufactured in
Albany, New York.
Wisconsin Historical Society

Other artifacts include white-clay tobacco pipes, coins, safety and straight pins, buttons, and lead shot. Considered as a group, the artifact assemblage provides a representative sample of the material culture (artifacts and items used on a daily basis) of a pre-Civil War Yankee family living in Wisconsin. The presence of some more costly domestic items, including an ironstone flow-blue pitcher, may suggest that the Trowbridges were relatively well-to-do for a frontier family.




An ironstone pitcher with transfer
print decoration. Wisconsin Historical

The results of our study of Captain Trowbridge's Place will be published in the Museum Archaeology Program's Archaeology Research Series. Look for this volume in 2007!


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