Monday, December 19, 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 3

William A. Housel's Reminicences of James P. McPherson and His Family, Part 3

The Centennial History of Springdale does not have an index nor table of contents, and even though this segment is identified as a "Continuation," I have been unable to locate the first part of William  Housel's story of old Springdale. This is Part 3 of 3.   Part 1 ( 12/5/2011 post) described J.P. political activities, and Part 2 (12/12/2011 post) told about the eldest son, Billy/William Burns McPherson. 

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. 

It is also important to remember that when William Housel was 10 years of age, J.P. and Mary were in their 50s, and his stories of the McPhersons are a combination of family tales and gossip.  Nonetheless, my favorite parts of this excerpt are the descriptions of J. P., Mary and their family life.  How I would love to have photographs of those images Housel painted in my mind.

J.P.'s knowledge and  writing ability, plus his willingness to volunteer his time to these endeavors, gave him the perfect opportunity to become an active participant in the formation and workings of  the town of Springdale and Dane county government. 

The following is found on pp. 102-105 of the Centennial History of Springdale:

James P. McPherson
c. 1860

In appearance McPherson might easily have passed for an American, but he was very proud of being a native of Scotland, and when around home and when engaged in trying a law suit there he would wear a genuine Scotch cap, with thistle ornament and narrow black ribbons at the back of it, which covered his extremely bald pate very effectively. When he ventured abroad he usually wore a large black hat unless the weather was extremely cold, when he would wear a home-made cap trimmed with muskrat fur, (home product). He wore white cotton shirts, winter and summer, with narrow black bow ties and usually went around his home wearing old-fashioned carpet slippers. He was about 5 feet, 8 inches in height and would weigh about 150 pounds. He stood up very straight, even in his old age. When he talked you would quickly discover his nationality, as he spoke with a distinctly Scotch accent, quite rapidly, correctly and entertainingly.

He was a great reader and sat up far into the night and stored in his mind all the current events of the day that he could glean from the weekly periodicals of that day, which he took great delight in regaling his neighbors with as they came to his home for their mail. He was postmaster continuously from a short time after the Civil war until the time when he moved to Verona. He sold the farm to a native of Switzerland, who with a member of his countrymen, bought up several of the old settlers farms in that neighborhood and went in for dairying.

Mary Burns McPherson
c. 1860
McPherson's wife was a small, very dark complexioned, English woman, quite reckless in her use of the letter 'H,' when she conversed. She was very proud of her husband's attainments and success in his political activities.

There were five girls and four boys in their family. Peter B., the youngest boy, had to carry on the work on the farm after the older boys were married and had left the parental roof. From lack of time for study he was not found in the school room as often as the others. The other children all had an ordinary common school education and seemed satisfied with that. They were all as bright as the average young folk of their day and generation, and were quite industrious, not only lending a hand to their mother in her household duties, but assisting with the farm work when the time of harvesting grain, or putting up hay arrived, as the father was not very strong on farm work; in fact, I never saw him put his hand to the plow or bind a bundle of golden grain.

McPherson's wife's maiden name was Burns I believe and so everyone of her sons carried that for their middle name, which was regarded as quite a joke by the neighboring people. They lived in a log house some distance from the old Madison and Mt. Vernon road, which ran through their farm, until after the Civil War, when their eldest son, William B. married one of the Miles girls (Rosetta). William B. built a frame house on the northeast corner of his father's farm where the public highway runs through it, and besides living rooms planned a good-sized room in which he place a small stock of groceries and notions and essayed to run a little country store and post office. This office had been held by his father-in-law, Thomas Miles, from a time to which my memory runneth not to the contrary, and the whole Miles family seemed to take a keen delight in sharing in the services for Uncle Sam. How Bill ever succeeded in separating them from it, whether peaceable or otherwise, we (p)atrons never knew, but he secured it at all events.

I have often thought that 'Old Mac' must have belonged to what the late Sen. LaFollette termed 'the spoil system.' He believed in getting what he could in the way of offices for himself, his relatives and his friends, but I don't think any of them were what could be called 'grafters' or dishonest people. After the boys married and moved away some of the other young fellows had a look in on the township offices.

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© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. What a great mental picture of J.P. in his cap! What an energetic man, full of life...love the point about his reading prowess and regaling the neighbors. Must have been quite a conversationalist.

  2. Jacqi, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. This is one of my favorite images too --- a real treasure to have a first hand description of J.P. --- also the reading and sharing of the newspaper comes from his days in Dundee,Scotland, when the workers in the flax mills, and the working class in general, would get together in the ale houses, or sometimes in someone's home, and share the newspaper and discuss the topics of the day.

  3. How wonderful to have such an evocative image of J P.....especially in his Scotch cap with thistle. I particularly love his wife's liberal use of the letter "h". These descriptions are better than photographs!

  4. What a wonderful description of J.P. I especially liked the mention of how his sons had his wife's maiden name as their middle name. Some of my relatives also did that--and I've always thought that it was a nice practice.