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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The First Rhythm & Booms

"Pshaw, talk about the time that tried men's soul, just as if a woman had none --- " That's the way Roseline Peck remembered the first Independence Day celebration in Madison. Only a few weeks after she'd arrived on the barren isthmus, the cornerstone for the state capitol was to be laid, on July 4, 1837. She was responsible for housing the guests and choreographing the festivities even though her husband was incapacitated, her boarding house was unfinished, and she herself was seven months pregnant.

She later said two or three hundred people had attended, but other witnesses suspect the size of the party had grown with decades of telling, like the proverbial fish that got away. We know that Augustus Bird had walked from Milwaukee in the rain for eight days with 36 construction workers (christening the town of Sun Prairie on the afternoon the clouds finally parted). Bird also brought with him a family with grown up daughters to cook for his workmen. Also on hand were Madison's founder and future governor James Doty, his Green Bay friend Morgan Martin, a handful of their associates, and a large assembly of Ho-Chunk with their chief, whom the whites knew as "Dandy."

Mrs. Peck described what happened:

"Then comes Judge Doty again and says, 'Madam, prepare yourself for company on the fourth, as a large number from Milwaukee, Mineral Point, Fort Winnebago, and Galena have concluded to meet here for the purpose of viewing the place and celebrating the day.' 'Why, what shall I do?' said I. " 'Just constitute me your agent,' he replied 'and I will contract for whatever you want; there is a crib of lumber just run down the Wisconsin River and lying at Helena from Whitney's Mill' ... He went and contracted for the lumber at sixty-nine dollars a thousand. I have still some articles of furniture manufactured from that first lumber and I prize them as others would relics from Mount Vernon or the Charter Oak. He also contracted for a load of crockery and table fixtures, provisions, wines, liquors, pickles, preserves, more bed-ticking, bedding, and finally everything that I sent for at Mineral Point, and ordered teams to convey them to Madison."

Her good luck continued as the big day approached.

"On the second day of July there was a drove of cattle from Illinois driven through Madison to Green Bay out of which we purchased beeves and veal. ... On the morning of the third our 'gimcracks' had all arrived except the lumber, and that made its appearance about seven o'clock in the evening that night. Our chamber floors were laid, except over the dining room. We had previously purchased three hundred pounds of feathers of Mr. Rasdall, an Indian trader, so our pillows were all ready and our beds were all spread by daylight on the morning of the fourth; and by one o'clock our dining-room floor was laid, our dining-table built, and dinner set; and between that hour and sundown some two or three hundred persons bolted something besides pork. In the evening there was a basket of champagne carried into the dining-room, and there their toasts were delivered songs sung, dinner bell jingled between times, and good feeling, friendship, and hilarity prevailed generally."

You can read all of her memoir in at Turning Points in Wisconsin history.

:: Posted in Madison on July 10, 2009

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