Early U.S. Settlement

After the War of 1812, the U.S. government concluded it had to do more to protect its resources in the Northwest, especially routes used by American fur traders. Garrisons were therefore posted and forts built at Detroit, Mackinac, Chicago, and elsewhere in the West, including at three crucial locations along the Fox-Wisconsin waterway.

Shortly after the British withdrew from Prairie du Chien's Fort McKay in 1815, three permanent military outposts were established in Wisconsin: Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien (1816), Fort Howard at Green Bay (1816), and Fort Winnebago at the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers (1828). Besides offering protection to settlers, these early military posts sponsored much civilian activity. Many enlisted men found themselves building roads, constructing bridges, farming produce, cutting lumber, surveying town lots, or escorting travelers. The forts also served as political and judicial centers, and the presence of the military, particularly the officers and their families, helped set the social tone of the early settlements by promoting education and religion and by hosting social gatherings.

To Native Americans, the U.S. forts represented both commercial opportunity and military oppression. To the frontier French, some of whom had been here for several generations, the posts were unwelcome intrusions, bringing military commanders and American settlers hostile to French land claims and customs. To the English-speaking Yankees and Southerners relocating on the Wisconsin frontier, the forts were cherished bastions of civilization in an unfamiliar wilderness.

The first important U.S. exploring expedition through Wisconsin was Major Zebulon Pike's 1805 trip to find the source of the Mississippi (linked here from our American Journeys digital collection). Fifteen years later Michigan's territorial governor Lewis Cass set out with scientist Henry Schoolcraft, with young James Doty acting as secretary, to travel to the same destination by way of Detroit, hugging Lake Superior's shore. They also intended to assess the condition of the Ojibwe Indians and investigate the reported mineral deposits on the Keweenaw Peninsula of upper Michigan.

One of the most interesting developments in early Wisconsin settlement was the emigration of several Indian communities here during the 1820s. The Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans, part of the Oneida nation, and the Brothertown community (a group of Pequot, Niantic, Montauk, and other coastal peoples who'd been given refuge by the Oneida in New York) all came to Wisconsin to escape exploitation in the East. They secured various lands in northeastern Wisconsin from the Menominee and Ho-Chunk and established new communities here on the frontier.

By the time Wisconsin became a territory in 1836, exploitation of the lead region and the commercial potential of harbors on Lake Michigan's shoreline had spawned many new settlements and industries that would transform the region.

[Sources: Wyman, Mark. The Wisconsin Frontier (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, c1998). Kellogg, Louise Phelps. The French Regime in Wisconsin and the Northwest (Madison : State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1925). The History of Wisconsin: volume 1, From Exploration to Statehood by Alice E. Smith. (Madison, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1973)]


Original Documents and Other Primary Sources

Link to article: Memoirs of a Fox River HomesteaderMemoirs of a Fox River Homesteader
Link to article: A woman's memoir of the founding of SheboyganA woman's memoir of the founding of Sheboygan
Link to article: Girlhood and motherhood on the Wisconsin frontier, 1824-1860.Girlhood and motherhood on the Wisconsin frontier, 1824-1860.
Link to article: An early Yankee settler recalls Prairie du Chien's infancy.An early Yankee settler recalls Prairie du Chien's infancy.
Link to article: Indian Versions of Some Early Wisconsin EventsIndian Versions of Some Early Wisconsin Events
Link to article: A Green Bay girlhood in the 1820s.A Green Bay girlhood in the 1820s.
Link to article: John Shaw recalls Tomah, Black Hawk, Keokuk, and other Indian leaders.John Shaw recalls Tomah, Black Hawk, Keokuk, and other Indian leaders.
Link to article: A Yankee Childhood in Dodge CountyA Yankee Childhood in Dodge County
Link to article: Henry Dodge brought his slaves to WisconsinHenry Dodge brought his slaves to Wisconsin
Link to article: An 1886 visit to the Menominee community of KeshenaAn 1886 visit to the Menominee community of Keshena
Link to article: Governor Philipp reflects on his childhood in Sauk County, 1920Governor Philipp reflects on his childhood in Sauk County, 1920
Link to article: A missionary travels 1,500-miles among the Ojibwe and Sioux in 1838A missionary travels 1,500-miles among the Ojibwe and Sioux in 1838
Link to article: A trader relates his family history and personal adventures, 1745-1857.A trader relates his family history and personal adventures, 1745-1857.
Link to article: An officer's daughter recalls her girlhood at Fort Howard, 1824-29.An officer's daughter recalls her girlhood at Fort Howard, 1824-29.
Link to article: A teenager comes to Green Bay as a new bride in 1824.A teenager comes to Green Bay as a new bride in 1824.
Link to article: A participant tells how the Oneida, Stockbridge, and Brothertown came to Wisconsin in the 1820s.A participant tells how the Oneida, Stockbridge, and Brothertown came to Wisconsin in the 1820s.
Link to article: The surveyor that laid out Madison recalls his days in the field in 1837.The surveyor that laid out Madison recalls his days in the field in 1837.
Link to article: Recollections of Wisconsin slaves by pioneer settlers.Recollections of Wisconsin slaves by pioneer settlers.
Link to artifacts: The oldest toast in WisconsinThe oldest toast in Wisconsin
Link to artifacts: A mid-1800s birchbark maple sugar containerA mid-1800s birchbark maple sugar container
Link to book: A teenager's diary of coming overland from Ohio in 1846A teenager's diary of coming overland from Ohio in 1846
Link to book: Stockbridge and Munsee Testimony, 1892Stockbridge and Munsee Testimony, 1892
Link to book: An 1875 history of the Chippewa ValleyAn 1875 history of the Chippewa Valley
Link to book: Fr. Baraga's 1853 Ojibwe DictionaryFr. Baraga's 1853 Ojibwe Dictionary
Link to book: The Stockbridge-Munsee Constitution, 1857The Stockbridge-Munsee Constitution, 1857
Link to book: A guide to the Mohican language, 1789A guide to the Mohican language, 1789
Link to book: A local historian chats about Prairie du Chien (vol. 1)A local historian chats about Prairie du Chien (vol. 1)
Link to book: A speech by Brothertown Indian leader Samsom Occom, 1771A speech by Brothertown Indian leader Samsom Occom, 1771
Link to book: The language of the Brothertown Indians' ancestors, 1722The language of the Brothertown Indians' ancestors, 1722
Link to book: The first book printed in Wisconsin, an Ojibwe almanacThe first book printed in Wisconsin, an Ojibwe almanac
Link to book: A Munsee language edition of Methodist hymns, 1874A Munsee language edition of Methodist hymns, 1874
Link to book: The history and traditions of the Chippewa ValleyThe history and traditions of the Chippewa Valley
Link to book: Increase Lapham describes territorial Wisconsin for new settlers.Increase Lapham describes territorial Wisconsin for new settlers.
Link to book: A clergyman locates the Biblical Garden of Eden in Wisconsin, 1886A clergyman locates the Biblical Garden of Eden in Wisconsin, 1886
Link to book: Descriptions of Wisconsin disasters and catastrophes, 1848-1948Descriptions of Wisconsin disasters and catastrophes, 1848-1948
Link to book: A local historian chats about Prairie du Chien (vol. 2)A local historian chats about Prairie du Chien (vol. 2)
Link to book: Folklore and folktales collected by Charles E. BrownFolklore and folktales collected by Charles E. Brown
Link to images: Oneida Chief Daniel Bread in 1856Oneida Chief Daniel Bread in 1856
Link to images: Stockbridge Chief John W. Quinney in 1849Stockbridge Chief John W. Quinney in 1849
Link to images: Wisconsin's first Territorial Governor, Henry DodgeWisconsin's first Territorial Governor, Henry Dodge
Link to images: Early Wisconsin settler and Madison Promoter James Duane DotyEarly Wisconsin settler and Madison Promoter James Duane Doty
Link to images: Madison's first white woman settlerMadison's first white woman settler
Link to images: Stockbridge Indian leader Austin E. Quinney, 1849Stockbridge Indian leader Austin E. Quinney, 1849
Link to images: Increase Lapham examining a meteorite, ca. 1868Increase Lapham examining a meteorite, ca. 1868
Link to images: A photograph of Augustin Grignon near the end of his life.A photograph of Augustin Grignon near the end of his life.
Link to images: Prairie du Chien merchant and judge James H. Lockwood, 1856.Prairie du Chien merchant and judge James H. Lockwood, 1856.
Link to manuscript: Northern settlers try to join Minnesota, 1847Northern settlers try to join Minnesota, 1847
Link to manuscript: Ledger books from Fort Winnebago, 1831-1851Ledger books from Fort Winnebago, 1831-1851
Link to manuscript: Brief Ho-Chunk Language Vocabularies, 1830-1930Brief Ho-Chunk Language Vocabularies, 1830-1930
Link to manuscript: Climatological observations at Portage, 1828-1842Climatological observations at Portage, 1828-1842
Link to manuscript: Letters by relatives of Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1861-1919Letters by relatives of Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1861-1919
Link to manuscript: James Doty explores Lake Superior in 1820 with Lewis CassJames Doty explores Lake Superior in 1820 with Lewis Cass
Link to manuscript: Residents of Prairie du Chien petition Congress, 1816Residents of Prairie du Chien petition Congress, 1816
Link to manuscript: Sioux warriors ambush their enemies at Prairie du Chien, 1830Sioux warriors ambush their enemies at Prairie du Chien, 1830
Link to manuscript: Menominee Chief Oshkosh is acquitted of murder, 1830Menominee Chief Oshkosh is acquitted of murder, 1830
Link to map: The imaginary capital city that its chief promoter envisioned, 1836.The imaginary capital city that its chief promoter envisioned, 1836.
Link to map: A member of the party maps the Cass and Doty expedition of 1820.A member of the party maps the Cass and Doty expedition of 1820.
Link to map: The rectangular survey gets underway in Wisconsin, 1835.The rectangular survey gets underway in Wisconsin, 1835.
Link to map: States and territories created under the Northwest Ordinance.States and territories created under the Northwest Ordinance.
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