Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Richardson Family Story: Early Settlers in Porter Township

The Cooksville Archives contains many family histories of the early settlers in the Cooksville area. They are stories of migration from eastern American states and from the British Isles and other European countries— stories that document the eagerness and determination, the accomplishments and happiness—and the hardships— of their new lives .                

Europeans were emigrating from their home countries in the mid-19th century for a number of reasons—spreading revolutions and wars, serious potato famines, divisive inheritance laws—all of which created a desire to improve their lives elsewhere in the world.

Some of the settlers’ stories handed down are more complete than others, usually because someone took the time to write down the experiences and the anecdotes, and then shared them with others—and they also frequently visited the popular new photography studios for portraits.

Helen Porter Richardson  (1848-1926)

The Richardson family’s story, now in the Cooksville Archives, is one of those, although it begins with a special twist. The story was related by Helen Porter Richardson (1848-1926), a prominent Cooksville area music and vocal teacher, who wrote a narrative about her Richardson family for her son, Robert (1887-1955).

Helen Porter Richardson, an earlier photograph

Helen’s father, Alexander Richardson (1814-1853), came to America from Scotland after he was a victim of a robbery in England, and Helen’s story begins with that incident.

Helen relates that Alexander Richardson was the owner of a large dry goods store in Edinburgh, Scotland, and that he was robbed of a reported $12,000 in gold on a buying trip to London. He then decided to migrate to Australia and join a brother in the “sheep business.” But an old schoolmate of Richardson’s, Alexander Mitchell, already in Milwaukee, persuaded Richardson that a better opportunity was in the New World, specifically  in Wisconsin, So Richardson  exchanged his tickets to Australia for passage to America instead.

The family sailed from Glasgow for Boston on April 7, 1849, arriving in Boston June 3, 1849.

At the time, the Richardson family consisted of Alexander (1814-1853), wife Elizabeth (1815-1892) and their children, Elizabeth (1842-1922), John (1843-1917), Alex (1846-1918), and Tom (1847-1931). After arrival, Lucy (1851- ?) and Frederick (1853-1890) were added.

Richardson had to remain in Boston after the family arrived to collect the luggage and furniture, but he sent his family onward, in the new railroad “cars,” with three changes, to the Erie Canal in New York State. There they boarded a boat for their journey on the canal westward to Buffalo, New York, and the shores of Lake Erie. From there, the mother and children took a longer boat-ride across the Great Lakes to Milwaukee, which took about a week.

Erie Canal, c. 1855

Helen continues her story: 

“There was no pier or landing at Milwaukee, so they put down planks from the boat to the shore and ropes on each side for the passengers to take hold of. They were met by Alexander Mitchell… Your grandfather did not come with furniture for two weeks, which caused great anxiety on the part of your grandmother, as she was afraid he would be robbed again. As soon as he arrived he went to Alexander Mitchell’s bank and deposited all his gold in Alexander Mitchell’s bank, where he met John White of the Town of Porter, and he and Mitchell advised him to come out to Cooksville and start a store.

“They then sold a lot of their furniture in Milwaukee, and Mr. White and his son, Alex, loaded the rest of the furniture into their two farm-wagons. On the third day out from Milwaukee coming over the hill, on the wide, open prairie, they saw a little farm nestling on the hillside with its deep wooded ravines and heavy foliage facing the wide expanse of prairie with its variety of beautiful flowers, and on the south bordered with a fine young orchard of peach, apple and plum trees.  Your grandmother exclaiming, 'Oh, what a beautiful place. If I were to live in the country this is just such a place as I would like.’ Mr. White said the place is for sale…as he was anxious to get all the Scotchmen he could into the neighborhood… Your grandfather bought the place… [with] the new lime-and­-gravel house.”

Richardson Grout House (1849)

The house, now known as the Richardson Grout House, was built early in 1849 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and still stands on Riley Road in the Town of Porter. The house and property were sold to William B. Porter in 1888..

Richardson Grout House, front porch
Town of Porter census 1850 with Richardsons

Helen’s story continues :“The farm proved a poor paying investment… he  [Alexander] sent money to England to bring an experienced farmer, named Robert Shepherd, to take charge of the farm and all the stock, cows, pigs, horses, sheep, and cattle. While planning for this he went to Indian Ford to the saw mill; on coming home it grew dark and stormy; the forward wheel went into a ditch. He was thrown from the wagon and a plank struck him in the back of the neck, breaking it and killing him instantly. This accident changed all plans. Your grandfather was thirty-eight years old at the time of his death. He was buried in the corner of the orchard.”

A sad ending to this chapter in the Richardson family story.

Alexander Richardson (1814-1853) tombstone piece

Alexander Richardson tombstone, bottom 

Later, Alexander, Jr., apparently removed his father’s gravestone about 1888 from that Richardson family burial site when the farm was sold to the John Porter family. Perhaps Alex removed it hoping to preserve the tombstone from possible neglect or loss. The stone was stored in the barn on the historic Van Vleck House property in Cooksville, which Alex used as a summer home. When that home was sold in 1955, the gravestone was purchased by E. Marvin Raney, Cooksville historian and antique collector, who lived nearby in the Duncan House, Marvin stored the gravestone in his barn where it remains. No doubt, Marvin bought the memorial stone to keep it in the village.

Lyell Porter Richardson (1887-1947)

Clara Porter Richardson  (1895-1946)

The Richardson family went on to flourish and prosper in the Cooksville, Evansville and Rock County area over the years, along with their close relatives, the Porter family. And both generations of Richardsons and Porters participated in many village events including the famous Old Settlers Reunions and picnics held in Cooksville in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Richardson children in a pony cart, Cooksville, photo c.1920s

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[Thanks to Helen Batty Porter and Amey Elizabeth (Lisa) DeSoto for recently sharing their family stories. Lisa DeSoto’s great-great-grandmother was Ann Eliza Bacon Porter, wife of Joseph K. P. Porter, and Lisa’s great-grandmother was Helen Porter Richardson, the story teller. Helen Porter’s husband was Bill Porter, whose great-grandfather was Joseph K. P. Porter, one of the three Porter brothers who originally settled at Cooksville-Waucoma in 1846. Thanks to Lisa and Helen for providing the story materials and thanks to their ancestors for telling the stories. The photographs and the Richardson and Porter information are in the Cooksville Archives.  Larry Reed, Chair, Historic Cooksville Trust.]




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