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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Madison's First Child

"I shall be glad when it is all over and I am gone, too," burst out Wisconsiana Hawley to a reporter in 1917. She had been the first settlers' child born in Madison, and she was tired of hearing about it. "The papers have had a lot of stuff about us, but all the reporters know is what they are told by those who know nothing."

Her mother, Roseline Peck, arrived in Madison during a spring snowstorm in 1837, five months pregnant. She helped erect a primitive boarding house, lodged and fed dozens of workers who came that summer to start building the Capitol, and on September 14 gave birth to a daughter, the first non-Indian child born in Madison. "When she was less than a week old," Mrs. Peck later recalled, "Judge Doty, one of the commissioners for the erection of the capitol and treasurer of the board, arrived from Green Bay with a large sum of specie, guarded by Capt. John Symington and a squad of soldiers from the garrison at Fort Howard, accompanied by Charles C. Sholes, an early editor and legislator of Wisconsin. They put up at our house. Doty ordered a table spread with wine and he and his party standing around it as solemn as a funeral prophetic shadows go before sipped their wine and named the young babe, Wisconsiana. Simeon Mills said as my boy's name was Victor, his sister's name should be Victoria in honor of the young queen who had but a few weeks before ascended the English throne; so that name was added, making her full name Wisconsiana Victoria Peck."

Only three years later, the Peck family sold their lodging house in Madison to become the first settlers in another primitive outpost, Baraboo. A few years later Mrs. Peck's husband abandoned the family to move out West, leaving Roseline and the children to what she called "a full share of life's troubles and disappointments and ... but few of its favors."

They remained in Baraboo, where Roseline Peck died in 1899 and her daugher married a local attorney. In her old age, the baby born in the wilderness of Madison and christend by the state's leading citizens was living with her second husband in a crude shanty outside Baraboo, on the shores of Mirror Lake. Wisconsiana Victoria Peck had become a little old woman of 90 pounds in a ragged house dress. "She reads well without glasses, and eats well," her husband told a reporter, "more than you or I. And sleeps three-quarters of the time." She died in 1922.

:: Posted in Madison on April 13, 2006

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