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The land surrounding the Fox River was highly desired for it controlled trade through the waterway. Three hundred years ago in 1717 the French were first stationed in Green Bay. The French fort, Fort La Baye, like Fort Howard was built on the opening of the Fox River. The French fort stood until 1760; for 43 years the French were a major influence in North Eastern Wisconsin. We can see the impact of the French in Wisconsin, especially in our area, when we think of Charles De Langlade, also known as the “Father” of Wisconsin, who was a French military officer. De Langlade and his family were one of the first inhabitants of Green Bay.
After the French had abandoned their location during the Fox Wars the English relocated to where Fort La Baye had stood and built Fort Edward Augustus. The English also saw the potential of the Fox River. Fort Edward Augustus was abandoned in 1763 during the Pontiac Uprising, yet the inhabitants of Green Bay remained dedicated to the English.
After the War of 1812 the British no longer had claim to the area and plans were being made for American forces to be moved into the area to control the Fox River. This wasn't the only reason the 3rd Regiment of the United States Army Infantry was placed in Green Bay. The larger goal of placing American soldiers here was to "Americanize" this newly attained land and to acclimate the people of the area with a new spirit of patriotism.
Fort Howard was vital for America's grasp on the Northwestern frontier. Our very own Fox River was hugely important in America's expansion to the West. Through the control of trade on the waterway that was so sought after by the other nations America now had another key to prosperity. Looking back I never fully realized how truly important our own little area was to the growth of this part of the nation. Over the last couple weeks I have been able to explore artifacts from the Neville's collection that were used in the Life and Death at Fort Howard exhibit which ran from April 2016 through April 2017. From maps to muskets the story that is told through the artifacts of Fort Howard speak volumes on how influential the fort was in creating the place we call home today.
If you want to learn more about America's beginnings and the men who forged the way don't miss our upcoming event America! on June 21st. You can get more information and tickets here.
One of the unfortunate truths about working on exhibits like Life and Death at Fort Howard is that, eventually, you have to stop researching and start actually building the exhibit. Our team had moved on to researching other aspects of the Fort Howard story when our Research Technician, James, made an unexpected discovery about Childs.
This discovery was a letter written by Childs which was sent to Morgan L. Martin, his attorney. (Read the letter here) In the letter we learned that Childs had married into the prominent Grignon family and that his wife had recently given birth; however, Childs alleges that he is not the father of his wife Margaret’s child. He names a man who he believes to be the father, and reveals that “one thing is certain… I can never live with my wife anymore.” This revelation was shocking, as Childs had never mentioned a family in his memoirs. We later found a reference to the Childs’ wedding in another source, but otherwise this letter was the sole indication that Childs had ever been married.
Recently we had a chance continue researching more about Childs and his life after Green Bay. We utilized the Area Research Center at UW-Green Bay and were able to find marriage and birth certificates that back up the contents of this letter, along with a Childs v. Childs divorce file. During the divorce Margaret Childs wrote a scathing and lengthy statement alleging that her husband was often intoxicated and “neglectful”.
This letter may explain why we know so little of Childs; we can only assume that the divorce was an embarrassment to all involved, and after Childs left Green Bay it is reasonable to assume that it was not a topic of polite conversation. Perhaps the residents of Green Bay avoided speaking of Childs, and that is why his name has not made it into the history books until now. It is also quite possible that he was intentionally omitted from the record, essentially “erasing” him from history.The thing that attracted me to Childs in the beginning was the sheer outrageousness of his claims mixed with an element of mystery. As we continued to uncover his story, however, I began to think; Is it really my place to expose this incident in the life of a man who lived 150 years ago that he himself would have preferred to stay secret? As a historian I try to use the stories of the past to make sense of the present. Ebenezer Childs was truly a “founding father” of Green Bay, and he deserves to be remembered as such. Understanding this chapter of his life not only explains why he hasn’t been viewed in this light until now, but explains the decisions he made after his time in Green Bay. It also reminds us that there are always two sides to every story and that as historians all we have to work with is what has been left behind.
*Within two years of his divorce Ebenezer had left Green Bay, served as a state legislator, and spent his final days in La Crosse. Further research will need to be done regarding Margaret and Louis, but it appears Margaret never remarried and lived near Kaukauna for the rest of her life. We have not yet found any records of Louis.
Over a year ago, when we began our initial research for our exhibit Life and Death at Fort Howard, we naturally looked to our collections from the prominent “founding fathers” of Green Bay. Men like Morgan L Martin, Henry Baird, and many members of the Grignon family were all connected with the first settlers in Green Bay. However, we kept coming across a man named Ebenezer Childs, who was mentioned throughout many official records and personal correspondences, but who he was and what he did was never really explained. Using books and articles that researchers before us had written we finally identified this character, and even found that he had written a very short autobiography.
Childs’ memoirs were the piece of the puzzle we needed…or so we thought. He writes of his many exploits; some as simple as building the first framed home in Green Bay, building the first ox yolk here, partnering with John Arndt to build the first sawmill in the area, and even claiming to have brought the first piece of lead to Green Bay. Other tales, such as how he eluded the authorities of the fort to illegally sell alcohol to the soldiers, survived harrowing journeys to St Louis and Madison, and outran tax collectors as a young man in his home state of Massachusetts are more fanciful. However, in a letter to his lawyer, Morgan L Martin, we discovered a whole side of Childs’ life that he did not share in his remembrances.
As historians, the case of Ebenezer Childs reminds us of two things. First, the process of doing history is messy and murky. Researchers in the present day can only use the sources that have not been destroyed or lost. Who knows how many stories, people, and events have been forgotten simply because no record of them survives? The second lesson is that you can’t always believe everything you read. Childs makes many claims in his own autobiography, but we can also prove he left many things out. Neither a modern day Facebook profile nor a 150 year old autobiography can tell us the complete story of a person’s life, and it’s easy for the writer to embellish, omit, or simply misremember the facts.
Stay tuned for Part II of this blog, where we reveal the scandals that may have caused Ebenezer Childs to have been “erased” from history. Or, even better, visit Life and Death at Fort Howard to discover what we know about Childs’ life. And even better than that, visit us on Wednesday, August 17 at 6:00 p.m. for our Exhibits Exposed program, where we will share new information about Childs that has been discovered even after the exhibit opened along with additional artifacts and stories about the people of early Green Bay.
Frank Hermans of Let Me Be Frank Productions will be bringing the vivacious character to life this weekend only at the museum. For more information and tickets visit Ticket Star.
On May 20th and 21st I had the pleasure of leading a public archaeological survey at the site of the historic military site, Fort Howard, in downtown Green Bay. Thanks to special permission from Brent Weycker, owner of Titletown Brewery, we were allowed to set up a survey area behind the brewery along the railroad tracks. Based on historic maps and previous research, this area is thought to be the location of the southeast section of the former fort.
More than one hundred people came out both days to learn about the fort’s history and the technology being used to locate it. Although we know the approximate location of the fort we do not know exactly where the stockade or any of the buildings stood. The main technology used in the survey was the museums’ Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).
GPR is a technology that uses radio waves to “look” into the earth without digging. The radio waves bounce off of buried objects and are captured on a computer chip. After the survey area is mapped the data can be sliced in layers using special computer software. This can reveal patterns that might give clues to the size and shape of buried features and how deep these features are located.
Over the course of the 2 days, 3 survey grids were collected with a total area of 5,433 cubic feet. The depth that the GPR was looking was just over 6 feet deep. After processing the data, it was clear that there is large amount of disturbance in the first 2 feet or so, likely from the past hundred years of railroad activity. However below 2 feet things got interesting.
Around 3 feet below the surface, a series of anomalies appeared in all of the survey grids we collected. Once the grids were stitched together at the same depth, a pattern emerged that strongly points to these anomalies as being human-made and possibly associated with the historic Fort Howard. At this time we cannot confirm that what the GPR is showing us is the fort but if there was to be a controlled archaeological excavation, we can recommend an exact location to dig. Known as “ground truthing,” an excavation would prove if what we’re seeing are the remains of wall foundations or something else.
In the meantime, we hope to continue surveying the area behind Titletown Brewery, and hopefully beyond, in order to piece together a much larger understanding of Fort Howard. If the patterns in the data below one meter continue, then it will make for a compelling case that we have located the foundations of the fort that made Green Bay American.
I will be presenting the findings of our GPR survey at a special Hardcore History event on August 9th at 6pm. If you want to learn more about the history of the site and Fort Howard’s influence on Green Bay visit our current exhibit Life and Death at Fort Howard open through April 2017!
Caroline, the 16 year old daughter of the fort’s Commanding Officer, Major William Whistler, was being courted not only by Lt. Loring, but also Lt. Bloodgood. In the end Caroline never received the letter and married Lt. Bloodgood. This water stained letter in our collection is all the remains of Lt. Loring and Caroline Whistler's short lived romance.
Read the letter for yourself below!
Fort Howard, Sunday morning
My dear Caroline,
A short time before I left this place I mentioned to you that Mr. Bloodgood had said to me that he was desirous of speaking to me on a particular subject & that I thought it was concerning you and myself this turned out to be the fact for on the day previous to our regiment’s starting, he in conversation with me stated his feelings toward you & wished to know from me positively our situation in regard to each other, at the same time disavowing any wish to supplant me in your esteem or affection- he was so frank in his avowal & remarks- that I was led to declare to him what I did then & must still believe to be the fact- that I considered myself bound and engaged to you by every tie that could possibly bind a man of honor to the woman he loved & that nothing but your father’s consent was in the way of our being united before I left the bay- he appeared satisfied and requested permission to mention the conversation to your parents and yourself, as he thought it necessary to account you and them for discontinuing his visits and attentions which from regard to me he intended doing. I told him I had no objection to his telling you what I had said- but being fearful that your mother would be offended and probably make your time more disagreeable, I requested him not speak to your parents on the subject & continue his visits as usual.
Yesterday he walked out with me and told me that he had spoken to you on the subject a few days after I left- & that you stated to him the amount of what follows- “That you did not consider that there was any engagement between us- that I had formerly been very attentive to you, but for some time past had neglected you very much- that your parents had objected to your marriage with me & for this reason & your having been advised by your friends not to connect yourself with me, you had concluded that we never should be married & in fact considered me as only a common acquaintance”
The above, Caroline, is as near as I can recollect the amount of what he told me- but I shall make no comment upon it for I cannot unless I hear from yourself believe that you are so much altered- there must have been some mistake.
I must see you if possible Caroline & immediately, therefore I wish you to make some arrangement to pass the evening from home& inform me what I shall meet you- say at the doctor’s, or you might walk in the garden with Rachel and your Cousin Abbot-
Nothing that may happen will ever change my feeling towards you & believe me my dear girl,
Yours as truly as ever,
Lisa Zimmerman, Curator
The first part of the story is what you find in the exhibit on the second floor of the museum. The young U.S. Army lieutenant who wore this coat 185 years ago died in it. Lt. Amos Foster was shot and killed by one of his own soldiers, Private Patrick Doyle. In February 1832, Doyle was detained in the guardhouse for being drunk and disorderly. Alcohol consumption was a real problem at Fort Howard, especially since part of the soldier’s rations included two gills of whiskey or rum (the equivalent of four shots today). After a few days, on February 7, 1832, Doyle persuaded a guard to escort him to the Lt. Foster’s quarters to talk to him. After harsh words and a scuffle Doyle stole the guard’s musket and killed Lt. Foster. Doyle was immediately arrested. He was tried and sentenced to death in July of 1832. It is said Doyle was hanged outside the stockade wall of the fort for all to see.
Beyond historical documents the coat itself can tell you another part of the story. It reveals Lt. Foster’s role in society while he wore it (a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry based on the coat construction and rank insignia). It can also share insight to his early demise. We can clearly see where the bullet entered and exited. We can see loss of wool from blood staining. It is also probable the surgeon at the time, Dr. Clement Finely, tried to get at the wounds quickly. The bottom 7 buttons appear to have been cut off, probably because they were buttoned at the time of the murder.
The coat Lt. Foster was wearing when he was murdered on February 7, 1832 (#1988.78.1)
|Entry point of the bullet that killed Lt. Foster|
Now if you look at the photograph of the coat on exhibit in our main gallery on the second floor, you may notice it has all of its buttons. That’s because the one on exhibit there is a replica. Why would we not put the real thing out? Because of all the coat has been through. It has been through 19th century Wisconsin winters, a gunshot, blood stains, and several years in an attic in Texas. That is why the exhibit team is beyond excited to pull the real thing out of storage for Life and Death at Fort Howard. Not only will the coat be displayed for the first time at the Neville, but the team has created exciting new ways of explore the coat and Lt. Foster’s story.
There is so much more we can and will share about this special artifact but nothing beats seeing the real thing. Life and Death at Fort Howard is open through April 9, 2017!
195 years ago a cheerful holiday feast was held just across the street from the museum near Leicht Park at Fort Howard.Once a fort officer, Col. McNeil (later commander of Fort Howard 1824-1825), found out how important it was to the French residents of the area to celebrate Christmas, he planned an elaborate party. The officers invited the French, the Americans and native people living in the area. The 4’ o’clock dinner is said to have fed a hundred people. The evening included a feast of fish, bear, and porcupine along with a dance that lasted late into the night.
A local land surveyor who attended the fort’s Christmas dinner/dance in 1823 describes the evening...
The hall was well filled… men and women, were attired in all the grades of dress, from the highest partisan down to the buck-skin coats, pants, petticoat, and moccasins of the aboriginals. Yet as no one of the elite thought himself over-dressed, so, on the other hand, none of the citizens, French or half-breeds reproached themselves with least want or etiquette, or of intended disrespect of their host, on account of costume.
-Albert G. Ellis
The fort hosted several gatherings like this one during its existence. Maj. Zachary Taylor (Commander of Fort Howard 1816-1818 and later President of the United States) has been known for hosting social events but the truth is several officers enjoyed throwing hosting parties, including Col. McNeil.
These gatherings led to some interesting stories including one murder and dangerous trip across the river during a violent storm. These stories were featured in the exhibit, Life and Death at Fort Howard at the Neville From April 2016-April 2017.
Lisa Zimmerman, Curator
My time at the Neville Public Museum was extremely educational even though it ended far too soon. I took this internship so I could gather more experience in the museum field. During my internship I worked on a variety of projects and tasks. I began my internship by learning the museum’s cataloging system and database since it varies in different museums. With their database mastered on a basic level I could attach pictures and information. This helped the museum’s digital initiative where every object will have a picture in Argus, though there is a lot to be added yet! A major project I worked on was cataloging two accessions of Kaap’s restaurant artifacts into the museum’s permanent collection. This was a very valuable experience that laid the groundwork for any future cataloging I may do. I learned a great deal at the museum but honing my research skills was the greatest one. I spent a great amount of my time researching artifacts the museum has for research requests and for the future Fort Howard exhibit opening in April 2016.
I worked on two aspects of the upcoming exhibit; women’s clothing and accessories, and weaponry. As fascinating as women’s fashion is during the early 1800s, my favorite aspect of research for Fort Howard was the weaponry and armory because it is just so intriguing! The items held in the collection that date to the Fort Howard era are mostly muskets but other artifacts include: bayonets, swords, pistols, a cannonball, and other various guns. The main armories of the time period we were interested in were the Springfield Armory (the model 1816 being the most abundantly produced), and the Harpers Ferry Armory. During the early 1800s most muskets were flintlock but because the time period for this exhibit extended from 1800-1850 some of the muskets were percussion locks. This was a change that made the guns more reliable and weather resistant than flintlocks. This also meant that some of the guns that were made earlier in the 1800s such as M1816’s were modified from flintlocks to percussion locks.
A lot of the guns have manufacturer stamps or other marks that can help add provenance to the gun. Examples are proofs for European guns, designs carved or stamped into the gun, initials, and other marks. Below is an example of initials on the handle of a rifle that was locally made in the 1840s.
Something to remember is that some weapons were brought from Europe before armories became popular in the U.S. During the time period we were interested in, many people probably had guns that had already been imported. The U.S. Army also imported weaponry for the Civil War as well as wars before that meaning Fort Howard likely had imported weaponry and U.S. made weapons.
Though there is a lot more to do for the future Fort Howard exhibit, researching the time period and helping to choose and research artifacts was a great way to push the planning further. Overall I am by no means an expert on weaponry from the early 1800s but I did learn a lot and my research skills are for the better!
By Natasha Khan- Intern
If you’ve been following the museum on Instagram you may have noticed we’ve been hinting at our next local history exhibit over the last few weeks. We’ve posted these images (right) asking our followers; first what these things are; and second what they mean to Green Bay. So what do a statue of Zachary Taylor, an iron shutter guard, a ledger from 1831 and the lines painted in the parking lot at Leicht Park have in common? The answer is Fort Howard. The fort was commissioned in 1816 to protect the western frontier in Wisconsin. It stood on the ruins of the previous French post, Fort La Baye, just across the street from the museum around where Titletown Brewery stands today.
(Zachary Taylor served as commander- the shutter guard once held the shutters open at the hospital on site, the ledger is the Quartermasters Ledger- the lines represent where researchers believe the corner of the stockade once stood)
Life and Death at Fort Howard (opening in April 2016) will explore the real stories of the military fort on the western shore of the Fox River. These stories include tales of murder, grand balls, a love triangle, and relations between the fort and the citizens building a community across the river.
Over the next seven months we will be sharing special behind-the-scenes pieces via this blog and Instagram. Some great artifacts have surfaced during our research and we want to share them with you! Stay tuned!
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