Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

February 9, 2000, Page 24

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days

Compiled by Dee Zimmerman


Clark County News


C. C. Washburn


Cadwallader Colden Washburn – surveyor, statesman, Governor of Wisconsin, realtor, Civil War General, businessman, land baron and namesake of a Clark County Township.


As to his genealogy, Cadwallader Colden Washburn belonged to the purest of Puritan blood lines, both parents being descendants of early settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony.  He was born in the Town of Livermore, Androscoggin County, Maine on April 22, 1818.  His father was Israel Washburn, his mother Martha Benjamin Washburn. The sons of Israel and Martha Washburn, seven in number, all attained prominence and three of them, Israel, Jr., Elihu Benjamin and Cadwallader all served together for a time in Congress, each one representing a different state.  Israel rose to the position of war governor of Maine, Cadwallader became Governor of Wisconsin and Elihu had a notable career as minister to France.


After receiving a good general education, including a period of classical study, C. C. Washburn left his home for the West in the spring of 1839.  Upon arriving in Illinois, he started teaching school.


Subsequently, Washburn joined a federally-funded survey team operating in Illinois, Iowa Territory and Wisconsin Territory.  The objective of the surveyors was to determine the feasibility of selling the mineral lands in the area, contrary to the current policy at the time of limiting individuals to leasing the lead-bearing land upon which they worked.  Employment on the survey crew brought Washburn into intimate contact with a part of Wisconsin in which he was to spend nearly a third of his life.


The West pleased the young Yankee from the beginning. With the conclusion of the Federal survey, Washburn became a county surveyor, residing in a rooming house in Stephenson where he commenced reading law in the office of Joseph B. Weeks, another expatriate from Maine.  He stayed three years in Illinois, supporting himself by surveying. 


The lack of capital interfered with Washburn’s desire to make his mark in the burgeoning West and was a source of frustration to the young man’s ambitions.  In a letter written home to his father, he observed that “here a person who has money can make money.  I have neither money nor credit.  Whether I shall make anything here remains to be seen.” 


In 1840 Washburn’s older brother, Elihu, recently graduated from the law program at Harvard, settled in Galena, Illinois which enabled the two brothers to remain close in supporting one another in business matters.


The economy in Rock Island fell in 1841, discouraging the future in surveying, affecting Washburn’s livelihood in the business.  It was then that he decided to start studying law as surveying became a part-time job.


Washburn went to Mineral Point, Wisconsin Territory in 1842 when it was still a raw, crude lead mining town.  Its first settlers came in search of “mineral” in 1827, but there were signs in 1842 indicating the importance of lead was on the decline.  Washburn’s sponsor for admission to the bar was Mineral Point’s leading lawyer, the Vermont-born Moses M. Strong.


Even though there were several other lawyers in Mineral Point, Washburn was confident that he would prosper as an attorney in the area.


Establishing an adequate practice in two and a half years, he entered into the first of two relationships which possessed both personal and professional ramifications of lifelong duration.  He forged a partnership, which endured formally for eleven years with Cyrus Woodman, another expatriate from Maine.  The firm of Washburn and Woodman quickly subordinated the practice of law to the purchase, management and speculation of land, both farmland and timberland.  Secondly, on New Years Day of 1849, the thirty year old attorney commenced a marriage relationship which soon had quite unusual consequences.


Washburn married Jeanette Garr, a native of New York and one of fourteen children of Andrew Sheffield Garr, a prominent trial lawyer.  One of Jeanette Garr’s sisters had married another lawyer of New York origins, Mortimer Jackson who subsequently moved to Mineral Point to practice law and eventually became circuit judge.


Two daughters were born to the Washburn’s, Jeanette, named after her mother, and Fanny. Shortly after the birth of the younger daughter, Mrs. Washburn was overcome with a mental illness and was returned to the East.  She was entered into the Quaker-founded Bloomingdale Asylum in New York with expectations that the hospital might provide therapeutic services beneficial in curing her illness.  Washburn dutifully paid for his wife’s care at Bloomingdale with standing orders that “if she should be in need of anything please do not fail to procure it and advise me.”  Jeanette Washburn remained in institutional custody in New York and later in Brookline, Massachusetts, until her death in 1901.  She was outlived her husband by twenty-seven years.  Consequently Cadwallader Washburn as an adult had virtually no normal home life.  Nor was he often home.  His marital experience drove him to frenetic activity, possibly as a means of escaping the memory of his domestic calamity.


Shortly after realizing his wife’s illness was incurable, Washburn took his two little daughters to Maine where they lived for a few years with the elder Washburn’s, the girls’ grandparents.  Most of the girls’ young lives were spent in eastern boarding schools.  After their schooling was completed they returned to their father’s home in Wisconsin.


Among the Washburn brothers, however, generosity gave way to interest bearing loans in their financial relationships.  Loans to one another underwent a process of careful calculation and recalculation in the interim.  For example, William Drew Washburn, Cadwallader’s junior by 13 years, went west in 1857 to the little village of Minneapolis and set himself up in the sawmill business with loans from his brothers. A year later, reporting to Sidney, his banker brother who had returned to Maine, he noted with respect to one loan that “this leaves 284 ¼ for me to account for to Cad which I shall do as soon as I am in funds from sales which I made.”


In the eleven year partnership of Washburn and Woodman the partners gradually decreased their activities for eastern clients and concentrated increasingly on the purchase and sale of land for their own profit.  With little capital the partners turned to Henry Hubbard, New Hampshire banker and long-time friend of Woodman, who agreed to lend them the notes of his bank, assuming that the bank notes placed in the West, would not return quickly to the bank of issue for redemption in specie.  However, the notes “ran home” expeditiously and the price of eastern exchange increased dramatically which curtailed continuing the arrangement.


Government policy makers came to the rescue and cut the cost of “credit” for land purchases dramatically. This time it was the Federal Government which indirectly bestowed its largesse on Washburn and Woodman and thousands of other small-scale operations like them.  The partners became active players in the rather incredible warrant market of the 1840s and 1850s.  In 1845 Washburn and Woodman made their first land acquisition – 800 acres near Dodgeville, purchased from a prominent Galena owner.  Later, in the same year they obtained 3,352 acres in the general environs of Winslow, Illinois, a town-site promotion of the Boston Land Company, the late employer of Cyrus Woodman.  Shortly after Wisconsin state-hood, the Federal Government granted the new state some alternate sections in the vicinity of Portage and the partners secured land adjacent to the Fox River and the projected site of the Fox-Wisconsin Canal.  In 1852 some tribal lands became available with Washburn obtaining thirty quarter sections and an undetermined number of eight-acre and forty-acre parcels near Oshkosh.


The device, to which Washburn referred, the land warrant, was a form of scrip designed to reward those who had faithfully borne arms for the new Republic.  In 1842 Congress banded the old “reservation” system of rewarding veterans of military service and replaced it with the warrant procedure. Originally any ex-serviceman or his assignee might use warrants to locate land on any part of the public domain open to entry.  Since most veterans had no disposition to move west they parted with their warrants at a price less and sometimes considerably less, than the land sold for in cash sales. The validity of the warrants even extended to pre-emption legislation of 1841 and the warrant enactment of 1842.  Congress changed warrant policy with some frequency. The encourage enlistments for service in the Mexican War, for example, the government in 1847 offered 160-acre warrants for one year service and adjusted the reward downward for lesser commitments of time.  Warrants became non-assignable, but speculators proceeded to purchase the serviceman’s “rights” to land rather than the land itself.  A new warrant law in 1850 provided for 160 acres in return for nine months service, eighty acres for four months service and forty acres for one month.  And the 1855 revision of the warrant legislation reflected almost absurd generosity, providing a 160 acres warrant for any veteran who served fourteen days of longer.


Each liberalization of the law yielded a new flood of warrants and in 1852 Congress restored assign-ability to warrant policy.  A regular market in warrants quickly sprang up with most professional dealers and brokers concentrated in the eastern banking community.


Washburn and Woodman normally obtained warrants through the banking house of George Woodman in New York.  Washburn in particular had a few qualms about procuring warrants with borrowed funds.  The warrant might then be located for a settler who paid the cash value of the land plus interest in the range often per cent over the life of the loan according to normal time entry procedure.  A twenty dollar entry or transaction fee made the process even more profitable.  For enterprising land agents the opportunities for aggrandizement were obvious.  Washburn personally made a number of eastern trips in search of warrants at more favorable prices than those obtainable from George Woodman.


In early 1853 Washburn and Woodman sat down in their office to contemplate the future with their business enterprise.  The lead mining within the Mineral Point area had run out and the land market had subsided with much of southwestern Wisconsin having been settled.  It was time to look elsewhere in their business ventures.


(Washburn story to be continued next week)


General C. C. Washburn seated on the far right, organizer of the Second Wisconsin Cavalry with his staff.


Cadwallader Colden Washburn was ranked as one of the 10 most important persons in Wisconsin history in a 1944 article which appeared in the “Wisconsin Magazine of History”.



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