First Town of Lisbon Settler – Thomas Spencer Redford or ?

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First Town of Lisbon Settler – ThomasSpencer Redford or ?

Written and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 05/28/2013

    To Thomas S. Redford, probably, belongs thedistinction of having been the first one to drive his stake in this town.When he first came here, he accompanied the surveying party of Hudson (?),Garret Vliet and John Brink, who surveyed through the town early in 1836. In May of this year, he collated the claim which he now occupies, on Section 25.

But was T. S.Redford the first settler in the Town of Lisbon or the very first to stake aclaim for land?

Sketch Map by Deputy Surveyor Garret Vliet early 1836

    In June of 1836, Presley N. Ray, James Hanfordand William Packard came out from Milwaukee and selected claims, and assisted T.S. Redford in erecting his first shanty, this being a sort of headquarters forall until each could get a cabin raised. Soon after, probably about the month ofAugust, John Weaver, Lucius Botsford, Thomas Rolf and David Bonham came into thetown. They at once made claims and proceeded with all dispatch to erect housesfor their families, for they were all, but one, family men. Having got theirhouses up and ready during this fall and winter, they then went into the city ofMilwaukee, where the women and children were staying, and brought them outbefore the snow was off the ground in the spring. A. A. Redford came in at thistime also. These four women were the first in the town, as also weretheir children the first of the small folks.

In the spring and summer of 1837, JamesWeaver, who now lives at Sussex; George Elliott, Edward Smith, Nathan Peso and Samuel Dougherty came with their families and settled here, making forthemselves permanent homes.  F. Otis, who came in 1837,built the first frame shell; but Sherman Botsford erected the firstreally substantial frame house built in the town.

The above two paragraphs from “The History of Waukesha County,1880″, therefore the language and point-of-reference is from the year 1880.Additional notes have been added by this website editor  to further explain thetext.

The First Settler?

    Most agree that Thomas Spencer Redford wasthe first to stake a claim to land in the Town of Lisbon, but there is evidenceto indicate that his accomplishment may not have been entirely his own making.

    To begin this explanation, some backgroundinformation is necessary for the reader.

The following comes from a biography of Thomas’ life:

” Thomas Spencer Redford, was born in Genesee County on July 18, 1818. He worked on his father’s farm until he was 18, and later learned the carpentry trade. He attended common schools in New York and entered the College of Milwaukee after coming west. On February 28, 1836, he left New York carrying a 25 pound pack on his back and headed west on foot. “I traveled from Cattaraugus County, through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois and reached Milwaukee on the 23rd of April, 1836. Some days I traveled in Michigan all day and did not find more than 2 or 3 homes, and poor ones at that.” Joining a surveying party of Hudson, Vliet and Brink, he made the first claim in Lisbon Township and built a cabin of basswood logs. He did his cooking over a fire outside the house. During the summer, he worked at the carpenter trade in Milwaukee. “The land from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi was neatly all in a state of nature.” When the Town of Lisbon was first settled, it usually 2 days to make the trip to Milwaukee, a distance of 16 miles over logs and through the mud, fording streams and camping out one night on the road. “We may all thank God for the ox. Provisions were high, and no grain had been raised to feed the horse, but the ox worked all day, then turned loose to pick his own feed at night. When Wisconsin was first settled, we had every obstacle to contend with. First, we had no market for our produce. There was no outlet for it except home consumption. I attended the first wedding that took place in the Town of Lisbon. There were no gilt cards, no presents, but we had a good big Johnnycake passed around, and we wished them all the good things of this life the same as they do nowadays. After the ceremony, the young couple took their wedding tour home behind a yoke of oxen.” Using a team of oxen, he hauled 1100 bushels of wheat to market in 1840 and sold it for 50 cents a bushel.”

Thomas appears to have been the point man for the Redford family, traveling to Wisconsin overland (source: Portrait and Biographical Record of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, Excelsior Publishing Co., Chicago, 1894) while his parents and siblings followed by the Great Lakes water route meeting him in Milwaukee sometime in 1836 (Note: This is countered by Sarah Redford statement below.) If he left New YorkState on foot, on Feb 28, 1836 as reported in the above source, he would have been traveling during thelate winter months, not very hospitable.

As I mentioned above, his departure time during the yearprobably didn’t afford the best of weather conditions to travel in. Alone (?),and on foot, must have been very dangerous and foolhardy, especially for a boyonly 17 years old. If he was carrying money to purchase land for his father andsiblings, he was most certainly in grave danger.

Thomas says he met up with the surveying team of Hudson, Vliet and Brink, and apparently helped them to blaze a trail and assist in the surveying. So far, the name Hudson hasn’t been found to have done any surveying work in the Townships of Lisbon or Menomonee (Editor’s note: a F. Hudson is known to have sketched Indian burial mounds in the Madison, Dane County area). Both Vliet and Brink were Deputy Surveyors in charge of their own surveying teams, but never worked on the same team (at least in the Towns of Lisbon and Menomonee). This doesn’t mean that Thomas didn’t work some menial job for a surveying team to earn his way from Milwaukee to what was only then known as Township 8 North, Range 19 East of the 4th Principal Meridian.

Since Thomas didn’t arrive in Milwaukee until late April, 1836, the surveying ofthe townships mentioned had already been completed, so any survey team leavingMilwaukee was probably bound for land beyond

In May1933, Sarah Redford, daughter of Henry, who was brother to T. S. Redford readthis paper “RedfordPioneers” to the Waukesha County Historical Society. Init she says that except for her father Henry, the oldest son, the entire Redfordfamily traveled to Milwaukee by boat from New York state, and arrived in 1836. Source:Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, June 8, 1933, page 5, cols 2-4.

On September 5, 1908, Lieut. O. P. Clinton read a paper”More of History” (He Treats of First Settlers and First Things inWaukesha County) before the Waukesha County Historical Society in Oconomowoc,where he states that T. S. Redford was the third to make a claim in the Town ofLisbon in 1837, but doesn’t say who the first two were. Source: WaukeshaFreeman, Thursday September 17, 1908, page 6, col. 2.

It’s interesting to note that in the 1837, 1838, 1840,and 1842 Census’, the head-of -house is not Thomas, but his father, Arthur,living in the Town of Lisbon. Later Arthur is credited with owning the S.W. 1/4in Section 30, Town of Menomonee, as of Sept 14, 1849. So even though the claimmay have been Thomas’, he was not considered the man-of-the-house. See below

Under English common law, full majority wasreached at the age of 21. Anyone under 21 was legally an “infant”.Only persons who had reached majority could perform certain legal actions underthe law: Buy or sell land without restriction; Vote or hold public office; Bringsuit in one’s own name; Devise land by will; Sign a bond or note; Patent land(Note: Thomas’ land was patented (?) in 1839, when he was age 21.); Marrywithout consent; Act as a guardian; or Serve on a jury. Nothing in the lawprevented an infant from buying land or other property. But such an action couldbe later be repudiated by the minor. Therefore, we generally find suchpurchases made on the infant’s behalf by an adult guardian or next friend.Blackstone points out that an infant could renege on the deal upon reachingmajority: “an infant may also purchase lands, but his purchase isincomplete: for, when he comes to age, he may either agree or disagree to it, ashe thinks prudent or proper, without alleging any reason…”


All of this makes one wonder if Thomas Spencer Redfordactually did all that was said of him? Apparently he (and his family – fatherand siblings) actually was a “squatter” or”pre- empter” on surveyed land that hadn’t been offered yet by thegovernment for sale.

Some patents (which Thomas doesn’t have, but his fatherArthur eventually received for Section 30  in the Town of Menomonee) have the word “Pre-emption”in the upper left-handcorner. “Pre-emption” was a tactful way of saying”squatter”. In other words, the settler was physically on the propertybefore the GLO officially sold or even surveyed the tract, and he was thus givena pre-emptive right to acquire the land from the United States.


The following abstract of the pre-emption law will prove of interest to suchas design to avail themselves its provisions:

1. The settler must never before have had the benefit of pre-empting underthe act.

2. He must not, at the time of making the pre-emption, be the owner of threehundred and twenty acres of land in any State or Territory in the United States.

3. He must settle upon and improve the land in good faith, for his ownexclusive use or benefit, and not with the intention of selling it onspeculation; and must not make, directly or indirectly, any contract oragreement, in any way or manner, with any person or persons, by which the titlewhich he may acquire from the United States should enure, in whole or part, tothe benefit of any person except himself.

4. He must be twenty-one years of age (Editor’s note:Which Thomas wasn’t?), and a citizen of the United States;or, if a foreigner, must have declared his intention to become a citizen beforethe proper authority and received a certificate to that effect.

5. He must build a house on the land, live in it, and make it his exclusivehome, and must be an inhabitant of the same at the time of making applicationfor pre-emption. [Until lately, a single man might board with his nearestneighbor; but the same is now required of single as married men, except that, ifmarried, the family of the settler must also live in the house.]

6. The law requires that more or less improvements be made on the land, suchas breaking, fencing, &c., but pre-emptions are granted where a half-acre isbroken and enclosed.

7. It is necessary that no other person, entitled to the right ofpre-emption, shall reside on the land at the same time. (Editor’s note: How theRedford family handled this condition is open to speculation.)

8. No person is permitted to remove from his own land, and make a pre-emptionin the same State or Territory.

9. The settler is required to bring with him to the land-office a written orprinted application, setting forth the facts in his case as to the 1st, 2d, and3d requirements here mentioned, with a certificate appended, to be signed by theRegister and Receiver, and make affidavit to the same.

10. He is also required to bring with him a respectable witness of hisacquaintance, who is knowing to the facts of his settlement, to make affidavitto the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th requirements here mentioned, with the sameset forth on paper, with a corresponding blank certificate attached to be signedby the land-officers.

11. The pre-emptor, if a foreigner, must bring with him to the land-office,duplicates of his naturalization papers, duly signed by the official from whomthey were received.

A minor who is the head of a family, or a widow may alsopre-empt–theirfamilies being required to live on the land. (Editor’s note: Thomas wasn’t thehead-of-the-family as indicated in four  Federal Census’.)

The settler is required to file a written declaratory statement of hisintention to pre-empt, before he can proceed with his pre-emption.

FEES.–1st. The fee required by the Register forfiling a declaratory statement is one dollar.

2d. For granting a pre-emption, the Register and Receiver can receive fiftycents.

3d. For duplicate of the map of any township, one dollar is required by theRegister.” (Editor’s note – This is interesting! What sort of map was this?The original survey sketch or something else?)

Source: Wisconsin and Its Resources, byJames S. Ritchie   1857 (Editor’s note: for the full text versiononline click here

also read:

Pre-Emption Bill
Below will be found the Pre-Exemption Bill which has passed the Senate. We have no time to comment upon the bill, nor room for the interesting debate upon the subject.
A Bill to grant pre-exemption rights to settlers on the Public Lands. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembles, That every actual settler of the public lands, being the head of a family or over twenty-one years of age, who was in possession, and a householder by personal residence thereon, on and before the first day of December, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-seven, shall be entitled to all benefits and privileges of an Act entitles, “An Act to grant pre-exemption rights to settlers on the public lands,” approved May twenty-ninth, one thousand eight hundred and thirty; and the said act is revived and continued in force two years.
Source: Milwaukee Sentinel, February 20, 1838

Another source that would indicate that Thomas Redford couldn’t have claimed the land

Thomas, his father, and siblings most likely traveled fromMilwaukee by foot, perhaps with a team of oxen to carve out their initial claimstake. To protect their squatter’s claim, someone must have had to stay behindwhile part of the family went back to Milwaukee to work and face the wintermonths.

Imagine to their horror, after investing two years oftheir lives improving their claim to find out that “their land” hadbeen granted to the Milwaukee and Rock River Canal Company chartered in1838 by the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature. Further investigation at theWaukesha County Court House, Register of Deeds department, discloses in DeedBook 12 Page 519 that on July 2, 1839, Thomas Redford purchased his quartersection of Section 25, Milwaukee County, from the Milwaukee and Rock RiverCanal Company. This was recorded on August 2, 1839 by W. B. Haughton,Secretary Wis. Territory at Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Fortunately for theRedfords and some of their neighbors in like circumstance, the canal projectnever was realized with the company dissolving finally in 1862.

So, we are left withunanswered questions, did Thomas actually walk to Wisconsin, stake a claim inthe wilderness as a 17 year old, or was it more of a family project? He wasgiven a “patent” for his claim, but since he was not technically theoriginal owner (the canal company was), he’s not listed as such in any interneton-line inquires.

Also reference –

The Free Homestead Act of 1862 entitledanyone who filed to a quarter-section of land (160 acres) provided that person”proved up” the land. “Proving up” meant living on the landfor five years. Otherwise, after living on the land for six months, homesteaderscould choose to buy it outright for $1.25 per acre. Each homesteader was alsoassessed a $10.00 filing fee.

    By law, all land that had been surveyedand was to be opened for entry had to be offered for sale at public auction;this was “offered land.” “Unoffered land” was public domain,both surveyed and unsurveyed that had not been put up for sale at publicauction. The date of each auction was set by a presidential order listing thetracts to be sold. Each 40 acre parcel was sold to the highest bidder with aminimum price of $1.25 per acre. The sale continued until all of the listedtracts were offered for bid; any land that did not receive a minimum bid wasthen subject to private sale.

    Prior to 1841, it was illegal to settleon unoffered land. A series of laws prohibited illegal settling on public landand an act of 1807 permitted forcible removal of “squatters” or”pre- empters.” In reality, these laws proved ineffective as settlersmoved onto and improved unoffered and unsurveyed land. Once the pre-empted landwas surveyed and about to be offered for bid and auction, the settlers wereoften faced with the prospect of losing their claim to the highest bidder. Inorder to forestall removal from their claim, the pre-emptors frequentlyorganized “claim clubs” that worked to delay the scheduling of salesor attempted to prevent bidding on pre-empted claims. These settlers alsolobbied Congress for legislation recognizing their claims and permitting them toenter the land at the minimum price. While several pre-emption acts were passedduring the early 19th century, they were limited in scope. Finally, in 1841, ageneral and prospective pre-emption law was passed; it recognized the claims ofsettlers on surveyed but unoffered land. An act of 1854 extended pre-emptionrights to settlers on unsurveyed land in Minnesota. By filing an intention topurchase with the local land officer, the pre-emptor could protect his claim andlater purchase it at the minimum price of $1.25 per acre. Settlers claims wereshown on original survey plats.

    The early settlers claimed land beforethe ground was actually on sale. The first land sale did not occur until 1838.In the meantime, to protect their claims, the settlers in a community bandedtogether, drew up regulations, and maintained what was termed “clublaw,” or “claim law.”

    When the government opened land officesthese claim laws were recognized as valid.

    The price of government land was $1.25an acre. Each township sent to the sale a representative, who had a list of theclaims settled upon in the area advertised. He bid in for each settler.

If a speculator or “land grabber” in the crowdattempted to oppose the rightful claimant matters went hard with him, and forcedhim to retire from the vicinity. A “land-grabber” was hated, beinglooked upon as one who would rob the settlers of their hard earned claims.

    Money lenders, also, mingled with thesettlers. Capitalists saw a chance to do a fine business by lending to thesettlers cash with which land could be purchased. Fifty per cent interest wasnot unusual; sometimes the rate was even higher that that. If the settler couldnot pay the debt, and the interest, he lost his property. This interest wasoutrageous, but the settlers were so hard-up that they were obliged to acceptthe terms, or nothing.

    The money panic of 1837 told severely onthe settlers for several years following. It was difficult to dispose of produceeven after a good crop. Wheat was hauled one hundred miles and sold for only 371/2 cents a bushel, corn and oats for only 6 cents, and the best horses for $50.

    First of all he had to determine theboundaries of his homestead. This was done not by the surveyor’s chain, but by”stepping off” certain distances from a given point. Approximatelyfifteen hundred paces each way was considered to include three hundred andtwenty acres “more or less”-the amount designated as a legal claim.The boundaries were marked by driving stakes in the prairie or by blazing treesif the claim was located in the timber. Many of the boundary lines were crookedand not infrequently they encroached upon other claims. But it was understoodamong the settlers that when the lands were surveyed and entered allinequalities would be adjusted.

    Paradoxical as it may seem, in a landwithout courts or judges, justice prevailed. By honorable adherence to therights of others, claims staked out in good faith were as secure as propertyheld by law. The Golden Rule governed the rights of the squatters. Localextralegal protection became so general and the claim associations of thesettlers were so powerful that it was extremely hazardous for a speculator or astranger to bid upon a claim which was protected by a “pre-emptionright.”

    To break five acres of ground wasrecognized in many communities as sufficient evidence of ownership to hold aclaim for a period of six months. To build a cabin “eight logs high with aroof” was considered as the equivalent of plowing an additional five acresand was sufficient to hold the claim another six months. If a newcomer arrivedand complied with these “by-laws” of the neighborhood, his rights werealmost as much respected as if he had occupied the land by virtue of agovernment patent.

    He filed his claim for the 160 acresallowed and a like amount for each of his minor sons, William H., 17 years ofage, and James, 14.

    He established his pre-emption rights tothese public lands by declaring his intention of settlement, by proving hisresidence within six months, cultivation of the tract within one year, andpayment of the established purchase price of $1.25 an acre. Final title of thehomestead was not secured until he had proved his residence thereon of fiveyears.


J.A. Swisher from The Palimpsest. “TheIowa Pioneers”, Published monthly by The State HistoricalSociety of Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa; July 1968; The MAKINGof IOWA, Chapter XX, MAKING A LIVING IN EARLY IOWA; The Dunton Times,“Early Life in Illinois” Part 2 of 2, Vol. 2, Issue 2, Feb.,1997; A Brief History of Land Settlement in Minnesota (from theU.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office MinnesotaPre-1908 Homestead & Cash Entry Patents CD-ROM)

Transportation Land Grants

A number of federal land grants were made to support thedevelopment of transportation systems within the state during the 1800s. Thelargest of these were a series of grants to railroad companies to help fund theconstruction of the railroads. The role of the Board of Commissioners of PublicLands was to accept the lands on behalf of the state and then transfer the landsto the railroad companies. The railroad companies were then responsible forselling the lands as they chose. Normally, these lands were granted along theroute of the railroad with the railroad company receiving alternate sections ofland within an area paralleling the route.
The federal government retained the other sections and could sell them as”improved” lands at higher price. All told, nearly four million acresof lands were granted to the railroads in Wisconsin.
Grants of land were given to support the construction ofwagon roads to connect the military forts of Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien,Fort Winnebago at Portage, Fort Howard at Green Bay, and Fort Wilkins in theupper peninsula of Michigan. Prior to the advent of railroads, grants were givento improve water-borne transportation along the Fox and Wisconsin Rivercorridor, across the Door peninsula at Sturgeon Bay, and to construct a canalconnecting the Milwaukee and Rock Rivers. Together, these grants includedclose to a million acres.

An area for more research to be done in the future:

United States land records collection, 1780-1964.M-142 Land Records
.6 cubic ft.
Includes abstracts, deeds, mortgages, land contracts, Milwaukee and Rock RiverCanal land, Wisconsin land patents, leases and other land records. Filedalphabetically and by type of record.
Located at: Waukesha County Museum.

First Settlers – Town of Lisbon

by Michael R Reilly, May 28, 2013

According to Melinda Warren Weaver, the first families to actually live in the Township were:

John and Melinda Weaver & family

David and Rebecca Bonham & family

Mr. Ralph (various spellings) and family

Note: These families travelled together on March 4, 1837 to their claims and lived together (in her brother-in-law’s, David Bonham, cabin/public house) for nearly a month before their own cabins were ready about April 1, 1837.

Arthur Redford, wife and 6 children

Note: Melinda says they arrived the same day. Thomas Spencer Redford, Arthur’s son, wasn’t waiting their arrival, though it’s said he staked a squatter’s claim in Section 25 early in 1836.

Mr. Palmer and Mr. Rosebrook

Note: These two men also arrived on March 4th, w/o their families, to erect a shelter. Later their families arrived which included Mr. & Mrs. Palmer, Sr., who were the parents of Mr. Palmer, and that of Mr. Rosebrook’s wife.

Note: It’s known that John Weaver was the brother of David Bonham’s wife, Rebecca. It’s not known if there was any family relationship to Mr. Ralph, or his wife, or to any of the other same day arrivals.

Note: The next folks to arrive, together, were in mid-June 1837; they were:

James Weaver and family (brother of John)

Edward Smith and family

George Elliott and family

Note: Brother William Weaver arrived with his family and his father at a later date. It’s believed that the Smiths and Elliotts are family related to the Weavers. They also arrived in America onboard the Brig Emma with them, April 19, 1830 and afterwards lived in the same general area: Augusta, Oneida, New York.