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Fond du Lac CountyBrandon  |  Fairwater | Reeds Corners

 

READING THE 1870 FEDERAL CENSUS
Town of Metomen, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin

 

In 1860, the eve of  the American Civil War, the population of the town of Metomen was 1611. As recorded by the federal census a decade later (see the 1870 census transcription for Metomen), the population had increased nearly18 percent, to 1898. Family numbers increased proportionately, from 318 to 375. As a ratio of the total, every age group but two remained remarkably constant. The first exception, young adults between the ages of 21 and 30, declined 4% to 17% of the total population. The second, children under the age of 11, correspondingly increased from 25% to 29%.

% Total\Age Group 0-10 11-20 21-30 31-40 41-50 51-60 61-70 70+
% Total, 1860 25 22 21 13 9 5 3 1
% Total, 1870 29 22 17 13 10 5 3 1

Behind the steady growth in Metomen's population and the apparent constancy in its composition, several important changes were taking place during the decade of the 1860's. The decline in young adults can be dismissed, fairly or unfairly, as the natural consequence of the recent, devastating war between the states. After all, nearly 20% of the 32 men who enlisted in the Union cause in the village of Fairwater alone did not return home, either as a result of desertion or death. Not as easily dismissed and hinting at an underlying and fundamental change is the fact that, while their ratio in the population was growing, the number of school age children actually enrolled in school dropped 5%, to 25% of the town's residents.

Immigration and Emmigration
The combination of new immigrants to the area and the loss of former residents during the decade of the 1860's represented a watershed change. In 1860, more than one in four of the township's residents, 407, were Wisconsin-born. As could be predicted in a township only 15 years old, most of these were children. Excluding these "home-born," however, nearly 68% of the town's 1860 residents, 810, were born in the Yankee states of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. Another 4%, 45, were born in other midwestern states. Nearly 11%, 137, were born in the British Isles. Canadians and German-born each accounted for 7% of the remainder, 89 and 85 respectively in real numbers.

While the 1870 census documents an 18% increase in total population, it also documents a dramatic change in the ethnic and cultural composition of the township. Wisconsin-born accounted for 696 people, nearly 37%, of the total. Again excluding these "native-born" sons and daughters, the percentage of Yankees in Metomen declined sharply during the war years and immediately following, from 68% to 47%. In real numbers, they decreased from 813 to 563. Canadian-born also declined in number from 89 to 79, a loss of about 1% of the total. Those born in the British Isles increased moderately in real numbers, from 137 to 146, about 1% of the population. Contrasting sharply, however, with the decline in Yankee-born residents, the number of German-born jumped from 85 to 281, an increase from 7% to 23% of the population not born in the state. Other European-born also increased in real numbers, from 14 to 64, and in percentage, from 1% to 5%. This increase was accounted for almost entirely by Danes (increasing from 1 to 36) and Dutch (12 to 22).

% Total\POB Yankee Midwest Brit. Isles Canada Germany Misc. European
% Total, 1860 68 4 11 7 7 1
% Total, 1870 47 4 12 7 23 5

The decade of the 1860's, therefore, witnessed a dramatic shift from predominantly Yankee-born families to families headed by foreign-born, largely German. The distribution of these families is also of interest. Families of German heritage, like those from England, Ireland, and Scotland, were distributed relatively evenly throughout the township. Sixteen German-born families were living in the immediate Fairwater area in 1870, 25 in the Brandon area, and 17 in the Reeds Corners area. Another 4 families were located in the 4 sections in the northwestern corner or the township, closest to Ripon. In contrast to the evenly distributed German population, all of the 7 Dutch families in Metomen were living in the Brandon area, while 4 of the 5 Danish families were living in the immediate vicinity of Fairwater.

Occupation
The second dramatic change during the decade was occupational. Prior to the war, 224 men in Metomen identified themselves as farmers. In 1870, that number had fallen to 195, a decline of 13% despite the considerable growth in the population as a whole. Although it might have been projected that the difference would be made up in the maturing township by corresponding increases in the numbers of professionals, merchants, and tradesmen, that prediction would have been misplaced. The numbers in these occupational categories in fact remained remarkably unchanged despite the population increase and the continued development of the village of Brandon. Instead, making up the difference, the number of men identifying themselves as laborers increased 80% during the preceding decade, from 124 to 224.

Occupation 1860 1870
Farmers 224 195
Laborers 124 224
Clergy, physician, lawyer, and teacher 23 24
Merchants and other businessmen 32 36
Tradesmen and manufacturers 56 60
Railroad and miscellaneous 4 6

One explanation for the decline in the number of families identifying themselves as farmers was the decline in the productivity of the land for raising wheat. Undoubtedly by 1870 many of the original Yankees, who had come to the prairie lands of Metomen expecting to continue their wheat farming, had already begun to move on to virgin soils further west as the soils of Wisconsin began to play out and simultaneously to rise in price. Although some of the Yankee farmers made the successful shift to sheep-raising and ultimately to dairying, others decided to capitalize on their land profits and to prolong their familiar wheat farming by uprooting their families and selling their farms.

Another explanation for the occupational shifts during the decade is the dramatic increase in the foreign-born population. Paralleling the influx of Yankee immigrants during the 1840's, many of the German and other continental immigrants during the 1860's arrived without the immediate resources needed to purchase farms. Consequently, many were forced to labor for their living. Supporting that argument is the fact that of the 57 German families for which there is adequate information in the census, 45 had arrived in the United States after 1860 and therefore had not had any appreciable time in which to amass the funds needed to purchase farms. Contributing to that problem was the fact that by 1860 inexpensive federal lands in western Fond du Lac County were virtually gone, having already been purchased and improved upon by the first wave of Wisconsin settlers. Secondarily but related, many of the foreign-born who identified themselves as laborers in the 1870 census were between the ages of 14 and 20. Presumably they were working rather than attending school in order to provide needed support for their families, explaining in part the decline in the percentage of children attending school.

It is also true that the 1870 census did not distinguish between farm laborers and non-farm laborers. Just as many of the recent immigrants required some time to accumulate the funds needed to purchase farms, many others required time to establish their own businesses. New residents hoping for occupations other than farming almost certainly filled out the ranks of laborers in 1870. The census identifies a ratio of nearly 1-to-1 between the two occupational tracks: 18 German-born farmers and 15 German-born merchants and tradesmen. Falling between the two was a large group of 72 German laborers, some of which almost certainly would have been non-farm workers.

Emblems of Cultural Change
Evidence of the impact of these population changes on Metomen was readily apparent in the village of Fairwater. As a consequence of a population that was predominantly Yankee before the Civil War, by 1860 Fairwater boasted two congregations of Yankee Baptists, each with its own church. By 1870, the second of these, the First Regular Baptist congregation, was already in decline, while only two years later the burgeoning German Lutheran congregation was building its first church. Within the following decade, the Baptist church building itself had taken on a new identity as the Lutheran German school.

fw_germanschool_fs.jpg (6565 bytes) Fairwater's  German school (foreground) and Lutheran church, ca. 1900; the school building was originally constructed in 1860 as the First Regular Baptist Church. (photo courtesy Oliver & Frances Stelter)

The railroad came to the village in 1882, and its arrival stimulated the development of a new commercial district to complement the original business area on Washington Street. Representative of the changes in the township as a whole, shortly thereafter a spirited competition developed between "Bill Town," the original district then led by German tavern owner William Daehn, and "Jim Town," the new district named for temperance advocate James Johnson.


Related Links
Three on-line documents of immediate interest in relation to the Yankee Baptists and German immigration are:

 

Fond du Lac CountyBrandon  |  Fairwater | Reeds Corners
Last updated 1/17/2000 This site represents an ongoing project to document the history of the town of Metomen. If you have information to share, please contact Bob Schuster by email at rmschust@facstaff.wisc.edu or at 6020 Kristi Circle, Monona, Wisconsin 53716, (608) 221-1421.