Happy Birthday Lucretia Brownell



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Lucretia Brownell (1799-1857)

Lucretia Brownell Johnson.

If I had a time travel machine, Lucretia is one of the ancestors that I would go back and visit. Well, or maybe I’d have her join me here in more modern times. I would love to talk to her and get her personal perspective on the events of her life.

Lucretia Brownell was born on 21 Dec 1799 in Schuylerville, Saratoga, New York, as the second child of Pierce Brownell and Margaret Spike. She had two siblings, namely: Ezra, and John.

Lucretia’s father died when she was about three-years old. A couple years later, her mother remarried to Alexander Simpson. Margaret and Alexander had eleven children who were Lucretia’s half-siblings. They were McNeil Seymour, Elizabeth, Daniel, Mary, Robert, Alexander, Julia Ann, Charles, James M., Sarah Jane and Ezra B. Simpson.

When she was 18, Lucretia Brownell married Timothy Johnson, son of Timothy Johnson and Grace Johnson, about 1818 in Rochester, Monroe, New York.

Timothy Johnson and Lucretia Brownell had the following children:

  1. Charlotte Johnson was born on 14 Sep 1820 in Genesee, New York. She married Philander Baldwin in 1838 in Watertown, Jefferson, Wisconsin. He died. She married William Henson Thomas after 17 Apr 1877 in Iowa. She died on 29 Feb 1904 in Sac, Iowa.
  2. Henry Johnson was born in 1824 in Rochester, Monroe, New York. He died on 25 Mar 1898 in Pittsville, Wood, Wisconsin.
  3. Elizabeth Johnson was born on 14 Nov 1826 in Rochester, Monroe, New York. She died on 24 Dec 1873 in Watertown, Jefferson, Wisconsin.
  4. Jane Melissa Johnson was born on 14 Aug 1827 in Rochester, Monroe, New York. She married John A. Chadwick on 15 Nov 1842 in Watertown, Jefferson, Wisconsin. She died on 15 Apr 1898 in Watertown, Jefferson, Wisconsin (acute bronchitis).
  5. Mary Johnson was born about 1830. She died in May 1845 in Watertown, Jefferson, Wisconsin.
  6. Seymour Johnson was born about 1832. He died before 1871.
  7. Alzina N. Johnson was born on 19 Aug 1835 in Montville, Medina, Ohio. She married Dwight Goodrich in 1857 in Watertown, Jefferson, Wisconsin. She married George Washington Wylly on 25 Dec 1875. She died on 17 Dec 1917 in Orlando, Brevard, Florida.
  8. Charles Johnson was born on 25 Aug 1838 in Watertown, Jefferson, Wisconsin. He was the first white child born in Watertown, Wisconsin. He married Margaret Robinson Hayhurst on 25 Aug 1862 in Wisconsin. He died on 19 Nov 1924 in Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  9. John Brownell Johnson was born on 08 Nov 1841 in Wisconsin. He married Ida Gilbert on 27 Dec 1892 in Fond du Lac, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He died on 25 Jun 1932 in Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota.

Lucretia and Timothy Johnson started their married life in New York. Then, he traded his farm in New York for a a place in the wild lands of Montville, Medina County, Ohio. In about 1835, after about seven years in Ohio, Timothy decided that he wasn’t satisfied there, so he left the family and headed out to find a new location. Lucretia stayed behind in Ohio with their seven children.

In the fall of 1836, Timothy sent for Lucretia and the kids to join him in Wisconsin. Timothy, who is known as the founder of Watertown, Wisconsin, left a narrative of his life that included a description of the family’s arrival in what was then called Johnson’s Rapids.

Timothy’s account of Lucretia and family joining him in Watertown, is an example of what I would love to be able to discuss with Lucretia. I always wonder at how patient and accommodating women must have had to be. Did she complain? Did she cry a lot? We get tired of traveling by car sometimes, and it took Lucretia three months to get from their established home in Ohio to the wilds of Wisconsin. They arrived in Johnson’s Rapids (now Watertown) on 10 December, so was her 37th birthday celebrated in the crude cabin that Timothy had built for the family or was it left largely unacknowledged because they were too busy trying to survive in the cold wilderness? My questions are endless and I have a lot of admiration for this pioneer woman.

Timothy Johnson wrote, “…During the summer, I built a cabin within the present village of Watertown, and erected the body and laid the floor of the log house now standing on my farm, on the west side of the river, about three fourths of a mile south of the village. In the fall, I sent for my family.  About the time, I expected them to arrive at Milwaukee; I started for that place on horseback, following the Indian trails through Ixopia, Oconomowoc and Summit, to Prairieville. I do not think that any white man had previously passed over that route. There was at that time no inhabitant between Watertown and Prairieville.  Having been thrown from my horse in fording the Oconomowoc River, wetting me to the skin and rendering useless my fire matches, I passed a cold, comfortless night, encamped by the side of a log near the junction of the Twin Lakes.

On reaching Milwaukee, I found my family had been there two days.  I hired a man to carry them to Prairieville, where they remained about four weeks. I then hired their conveyance to the upper lake, on the Oconomowoc.  At that place I and my men dug out five poplar canoes, each 21 feet long, and built a red cedar raft capable of bearing two or three tons’ weight, expecting to find little or no difficulty in floating them down the Oconomowoc and Rock to Watertown, with my family furniture and provisions.  But I was mistaken. —As we passed out of the lake, we found the water quite shallow, and some days did not travel to exceed 80 rods.  We camped nights on the shore, and usually cooked provisions enough to last us through the following day.  We reached the head of the lower lake, where the village of Oconomowoc now stands, on the night of the fifth day after leaving the upper lake.  That night was intensely cold, and in the morning, we found the lake covered with ice strong enough to bear a man.  Of course, we were compelled to abandon our expectations of reaching Watertown by water.  So, leaving my family in a tent under charge of one of my men, (Mr. Griswold,) I and Mr. Miller started for Watertown after my ox team, to convey my family thither, by land.  Returning to Oconomowoc with the team, I took my family and a portion of my goods and started for Watertown. At a stream now known as Battletown Creek, about three miles from Oconomowoc, we found it necessary to build a cabin for our accommodation, until we could bridge that stream. We were thus detained three or four days.  We also cut the road all the way from that point to Watertown, which place we were three weeks and three days in reaching, from the time we left Prairieville. The road thus opened was the only one traveled between Watertown and Prairieville for many years; and for a long time was the cabin alluded to, the only building on the road.

I might have stated before, that my family landed at Watertown on the night of the 10th of December, 1836.  Mrs. Johnson was the first white woman who settled in that town…

Did you catch that? Lucretia had to pack up her family and Ohio household and get to Milwaukee. Her youngest child had just celebrated her first birthday when they set out on their journey. She also had six other children aged about  four, six, nine, ten, twelve and sixteen. They had to travel via the Great Lakes. We know based on an account given by Lucretia’s daughter, Jane, that the travelers first went to Cleveland, Ohio and boarded a schooner for Milwaukee. The boat took them through Mackinac. When they arrived in Milwaukee, they had been on the boat for three weeks. And, Timothy wrote that he didn’t even start out from his cabin in what is now Watertown, until the time he expected them to arrive in Milwaukee. It sounds to me like he knew he’d keep them waiting. I do feel bad that Timothy was thrown from his horse while fording a river and I know there were concerns with someone stealing his claim, but still. Poor Lucretia had to deal with her seven children waiting in Milwaukee for two days before her husband, who by the way had been gone for at least a year, finally arrived. Then, when they left Milwaukee, they only made it as far as Prairieville (now called Waukesha) which today would be about a 25-minute drive, before they had to wait another four weeks.

When they finally got back to traveling, Timothy thought that it would be pretty easy to float his family and belongings down streams, but later admitted that he had been mistaken. It wasn’t easy traveling. They didn’t make much progress each day. And, as if things couldn’t get any worse, they woke up one morning to find the lake covered in ice and had to figure out another way to get to Watertown. Again, Lucretia was left alone with the kids to wait – this time in a tent by a frozen lake. Also note that whey they finally started out again, they only took a portion of their goods with them. That means that Lucretia had to leave some of her possessions behind. It was slow going because they had to create the road through the woods as they went. Then, when they reached another creek, they were delayed another three or four days while they figured out to get across the stream. And, to top it all off, when they finally got to where they were going, Lucretia was the first white woman to settle there. Besides her daughters, there were only men around.

Times were definitely different back then, and my imagination is probably getting the best of me. Perhaps, Lucretia shared her husband’s interest in being a pioneer in unsettled territory. Perhaps she was invigorated by the hardships and adventure. Perhaps….

The Johnson family put down roots in Watertown. Two more sons were born to the family while they lived there. Eventually, other families moved to the community. A church, a school and stores cropped up and Watertown became a bustling community. On 29 May 1848, nearly twelve years after their arrival, Wisconsin became a state.

After twenty years in Watertown, Lucretia Brownell Johnson died on 02 Nov 1857. She was 57 years old. Her husband, Timothy, was not home at the time of her death, but was instead out exploring and looking for a new place to settle. Lucretia did not live to make another move. She was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Watertown, Jefferson, Wisconsin. Her obituary in the Watertown Democrat reflected thoughts of another era.

Charlotte Johnson obituary, Watertown Democrat, Watertown, Wisconsin.

Where is she in the tree?

Relationship chart, Lona Iona Fawcett to Lucretia Brownell.
Pedigree chart, Lucretia Brownell.


Photo provided by W.F. Jannke III, Watertown, Wisconsin, through personal correspondence, 2010.

Jannke, W.F., III, Images of America Watertown Wisconsin 1836-1936, (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2000) [https://books.google.com/books?id=pZ8Ogo8zVHMC]

Johnson, Paul Franklin, Genealogy of Captain John Johnson of Roxbury, Massachusetts, generations i to xiv [ancestry.com] (Los Angeles, California, The Commonwealth Press, Inc., 1951)

Riedl, Ken, editor, History of Watertown Wisconsin A Digital Online ebook, Watertown History.org, Web, 20 December 2016, http://www.watertownhistory.org/History_of_Watertown_Online.htm.

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