Monday, January 23, 2012

Amanuensis Monday, 2012 January 23rd: Centennial History of the Town of Springdale, Dane County, Wisconsin, 1848-1948; History of James McPherson Family as told by A.O.Barton, Part 2

The following is the second part of A.O. Barton's remembrances of Jame P. McPherson.  Even though J.P. was an old man by the time Barton was born,  J.P's role in the history of  early Dane County coincided with Barton's job as a journalist and his long standing interest in the history of Dane County.

The following is from pp.105-107 of the Centennial History of the Town of Springdale, Dane County, 1848-1948, as told by A.O. Barton:

He [James P. McPherson] was a typical Scotchman, frugal and thrifty in his home life but when he was out with his cronies he would show them a good time and spend his money like a prince. This made him many friends among the voters in those days and he seemed to be able to be elected to any local office which he aspired to, which was justice of the peace, town clerk, or something of that sort. When his boys became old enough to hold office he usually saw to it that they too had some township office to fill.

I recall at one time that the family was holding so many offices in Springdale township that the next spring at election time some wag had a democratic township ticket printed and put in circulation at the polls, carrying the names of the male members of the McPherson family and ending with 'For Constable, any other McPherson.' This caused much hilarity among the voters, but did not seem to disturb 'Old Mac” as he was familiarly known. He went on holding office in that township as long as he resided there, and perhaps he continued to do so after he removed to the adjacent township of Verona.

One of the interesting figures in Dane county politics a half century ago was James P. McPherson of the town of Springdale.

For a half century the McPherson family, living on the old Verona-Mt. Vernon road, was well known in western Dane county, and the father, James P. McPherson, being prominent in public life.

James P. McPherson, a native of Scotland, settled in the town of Springdale in 1850, and soon was active in politics. From 1853 until 1859 he was chairman of the town, and also served as county superintendent of poor in 1854-55, and again in 1857-58.

In 1858 he was elected county clerk, serving until a861. In 1861 he was elected chairman of the county board. During the war the county was under the commission form of government, but when it returned to the supervisor system in 1870, he was again elected chairman of the county board. He was also among the organizers of the Dane County Agricultural society, and served as a trustee of the the society.

Being a Democrat, he was never able to win election to the legislature, though aspiring to that honor.

In his home locality he was for years postmaster of the Springdale postoffice, which was kept at his house. He also served for years as school board officer, and in his honor the school of the district was early given the name of the “McPherson School.”

It was as justice of the peace in his later years, however, that he won a wide local renown. Petty litigation from many neighboring towns as well as his own came to his “court” for adjudication as he was well read in law and just in its application. It is said that even John C. Spooner, later Untied States Senator, once trued a case before him. Mr. McPherson also wrote an excellent short history of the town of Springdale.

Mr. McPherson was a pioneer in the movement for the ad valorem taxation of railroads. While a member of the county board in 1858 he introduced the following resolution:

Resolved that a committee of three b e appointed to drat a petition or memorial to the legislature for the repeal of Chapter 74, session laws of a1854, and for the taxation of railroad and plankroad property equally with other property in the state.”

The resolution was adopted and the chair appointed as such committee, Mr. McPherson, W. R. Taylor of Cottage Grove, later governor, and O.B. Hazeltine of the town of Ray (later the towns of Mazomanie and Black Earth.)

This committee drew up the following memorial to the legislature, which was presented by Mr. Taylor and adopted by the board:

The memorial of the board of supervisors of the county of Dane, state of Wisconsin, respectfully sheweth:

That your memoralist believe that Section 183, Chap.18, R.S., which enact that Railroad and Plankroad companies shall pay a tax of one per cent, on their gross receipts to the state, in lieu of all other taxes whatsoever, is a direct violation of article 8, of the constitution of this state, which said article provides that taxation shall be uniform.

That while your memorialist concede the utility and benefits of railroads to the community at large, we also believer that they ought be equally assessed with other property, for the state and county purposes.

Your memorialists herefore respectfully request your honorable bodies to repeal Sect 183, Chapter 18, Revised Statues, and allow and require all property to be taxed in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.

Resolved, that the chairman and clerk iof the board of supervisons of the county of Dane, be and they are hereby authorized and required to sign the foregoing memorial in our behalf, as expression the sense of this board, and forward a copy to each of out representatives in the legislature.

JGH Note: This section of the Centennial History of Springdale has the "feel" of being written by two separate writers, even though it appears under the heading of "As told by A.O.Barton."
~ ~ ~

© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. The more I read about your J. P. McPherson, the more it puts me in mind of my own McClellan forebears who also came from Scotland but settled in Florida. I sometimes wonder if what we take for personality actually is a remnant of an ethnic heritage.

    1. Jaqui, I have often said the same thing --- I think at some point we may find that some of the "personality" that seems so similar to folks of old is actually hardwired into our beings. Don't know how it works, but really strong "personality" characteristics that go back 2, 3, 4 or more generations are otherwise, hard to account for. Of course, my more scientific members sometimes scoff at me for such foolishness.

  2. I agree the first part seems to be one author, the second part (from "one of the interesting figures") seems to be another. I loved the story of "elect any Macpherson"!

    1. I love watching JPs political life, and that of his boys, unfold before me in the pages of the diary. Also, the husbands of his daughters also tended to political life.

      This little book is a wonderful source of stories, but is rather confusing as to who is telling the stories. It sometimes appears that the "compiler" takes over the storytelling. However, there are so many wonderful "eye-witness" accounts of the life in Springdale, a bit of confusion is well worth the read.