Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Barstow, William Augustus 1813 - 1865

Barstow, William Augustus 1813 - 1865 | Wisconsin Historical Society

governor, b. Plainfield, Conn. He attended the local school and worked with his brothers in Norwich, Conn., and Cleveland, O., until the business failures of 1837. He moved to Wisconsin in 1839, settled in Prairieville (now Waukesha), and became a prosperous merchant. A Democrat, he rose swiftly in politics, becoming village highway commissioner, member of the Milwaukee County Board and, in 1850, secretary of state. Scandals connected with federal school land grants, printing contracts, the insane asylum, and the state treasury led to his defeat for re-election in 1851, but in 1853 he was elected governor. He was re-elected in 1855 but his Republican opponent, Coles Bashford (q.v.), charged that the Barstow-dominated canvassing board had manufactured votes, and brought suit before the state supreme court, producing so much evidence that Barstow resigned on Mar. 21, 1856. During these years Barstow was involved in railroad promotion schemes, including the ill-fated St. Croix and Lake Superior R.R., of which he was president; he also opened a bank in Janesville, but it failed in 1857. When the Civil War broke out he raised the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment and became its colonel. In 1862, when serving in Kansas, he was made provost marshal general of the state. His further war career was unfortunate. In his only encounter with the enemy his command was routed, and he spent most of his remaining life in hospitals. Dict. Amer. Biog.; Natl. Cyclopaedia Amer. Biog., 12 (1904); J. G. Gregory, ed., S. W. Wis. (4 vols., Chicago, 1932); T. W. Haight, ed., Memoirs of Waukesha Co. (Madison, 1907); E. B. Quiner, Military Hist. of Wis. (Chicago, 1866); J. W. Stearns, ed., Columbian Hist. of Education in Wis. ([Milwaukee] 1893); J. B. Winslow, Story of a Great Court (Chicago, 1912); WPA MS.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the William Augustus Barstow Miscellany for details.

View a biographical sketch of Barstow at Wisconsin Historical Collections.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

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[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]