Monday, December 5, 2011

Amanuensis Monday: Centennial History of the Town of Springdale, Dane County, Wisconsin, 1848-1948; William A. Housel's Reminicence of James P. McPherson and His Family, Part 1.

No Table of Contents is included in the Centennial History of Springdale, so even though the following is identified as a "Continuation," I have been unable to locate the first part of William Housel's story of old Springdale.

William Housel (b. 1856) was the youngest son of Furman (sometimes written as Ferman or Firmin) and Margaret Housel, who was a neighbor of J. P. McPherson. Not only were the Housel's neighbors, but their families became intertwined when William's sister, Mary M. Housel married J.P. McPherson's second son Jabez Burns McPherson. So William Housel's stories of the McPherson are a combination of family tales as well as Springdale stories.

Pp. 102-105 Centennial History of Springdale
As told by William A. Housel

Continuation of his story of old Springdale days and of the noted Justice of the Peace, James P. McPherson, by the late William A. Housel, follows herewith. Housel was a native of Spring, who died recently in Spokane, Wash. The second installment of his story runs:

His (McPherson's methods of stirring up enthusiasm in those days were quite up-to-date, in a way. The family was quite musically inclined and he bought a fife for William B., the eldest son, a bass drum for James B, the second son, and a snare drum for Jabez B., the next younger, while he himself would handle a good -sized American flag. The would hitch their old farm team to a lumber wagon on which was a hay rack and sally forth, playing patriotic airs and drive to some school house, where the people of the community would flock, and in goodly numbers too. If it was a county or state election, there would be speakers from Madison or other places, who address the assembled multitude upon the 
issues of the day.

[Note:  The descriptions of the protest gatherings of the Chartist of the 1830s & 1840s in Scotland and England sound very much like James Peter McPherson's political rallies in the mid to late 1800s in Dane County, Wisconsin.  The Chartist demonstrations of the mid 1830s involved great numbers of men and women singing, waving flags,  giving political speeches and writing and reading Chartist poetryApparently, J.P. transported much of his political activism from his days  in the flax mills to rural Dane county, Wisconsin.]

“Old Mac” usually closed the meeting with an optimistic little speech predicting a glorious victory for the whole Democratic ticket from top to bottom; then he would laugh uproariously and propose three cheers and lead them with a “Hip! Hip! Hurra!” for the grand old Democratic party!   Sometimes, as the hour would be late, the speakers from a distance would be entertained in the farm home, and at the time – as we had a spare room at our house, – I can remember such men as Judge J. Gilbert Knapp and Burr W. Jones stopping at our home. I can remember that the judge was quite portly, while Jones looked like a mere stripling, but he seemed to have considerable ability as a campaigner. I think he was at that time running for the same office which Bob LaFollette later filled with such marked distinction (district attorney of Dane County). Of course, you will readily observe that my father was a Democrat, as in those days part;y lines were drawn sop tightly that no Republican seeking office would be entertained in a Democratic household.

[To be continued] 

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© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. Political meetings sound like they were a lot of fun (and noisy) back then. Now that I think about it--maybe it's not so different from today.

  2. Yes, I think J.P had a grand old time with his political activities. However, he cut his political teeth in a most unusual time -- not a revolution, but for the first time the common worker believed that change was possible thru political means. Exciting, dangerous times.

  3. Another great post Joan -he'd have been an interesting character to meet. BTW did you get an email I sent you at the weekend?