Fond du Lac: Links to our Past
by Clorissa Swingen
University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee

Spring, 1998


by Clorissa Swingen

What was so important about the vast lands just west of Lake Michigan? The territory now known as Wisconsin played several roles and we can now witness their effects. The origins of cities vary from starting out as trading headquarters, or even smaller yet, posts, to missionary sites, and even some logging industries. But even before those times, there was something here that kept several American Indian tribes in the vicinity, the animal known as the beaver. This aspect is very important to understand. The beaver dominated the trading industry for almost two centuries. Trading between the French and French-Canadians and then later with the English, was quite frequent among the Algonquian and Sioux tribes.
           As early as 1634, Jean Nicolet, a French Canadian set foot upon Wisconsin land to please his curiosity of this strange land and people. Jean Nicolet did not travel all of the way to current day Fond du Lac, but many did. This man started a trend that would last a very long time, even into the 19th century.
           Prior to the trading era, the site of Fond du Lac was a place of peace known to all of the American Indians in the area. This was very important because here housed a burial ground, where one went to seek reverence and peace. All knew that there once had been the Great Fathers residing here. It dates the area, knowing at least a few generations had lived there. We do know for sure that in 1615 there was at least one tribe there, because of rumors in Canada. By 1787, Augustin Grignon had a trading post in the Fond du Lac area. Fond du Lac was just a stopping point between Green Bay and Milwaukee. At this time, Jacob Franks too, set up a trading post just north-east of there. Later Jacques Porlier, John Lawe, Laurent DuCharme, Ace, and Cavodreuil had occupied the area. Most of the men did not have that good of relations with the American Indians, as the legends go. It was thought that the French and French Canadians had the best relations with the American Indians. All but one was killed by the "ennemi." By about 1819, Fond du Lac was finally settled, but there was never really a permanent resident. Even the houses were build just to hold up for trading purposes.
           Where does the name Fond du Lac originate? Literally it means "foot" or "bottom of the lake." But to the French traders it meant the farthest, or most remote part from the trading post headquarters, which happened to be at La Baye Verte or now known as Green Bay. It is located on the south end of Lake Winnebago. There was another Fond du Lac situated on the south end of Lake Superior for this same reason. As a girl growing up in the city of Fond du Lac, I was always intrigued by what Fond du Lac meant; I never realized or had been taught the first and true meaning behind it.
           In 1835, the United States Government sent out government officials to survey the land west of the Michigan Lake. On April 20th, 1836, Wisconsin became a US territory and an official state in May, 1848. On June 6th, 1836, Colwert Pier, having visited the area before, came and was the first resident in the city of Fond du Lac along with his wife. Later followed by his brother and other family members. This area, wanting to be settled by the government, did so quite fast. Others came from New England and Vermont, and even straight from Europe. Many of these settlers did not stay long, but the vast majority did.
           When trading became a thing of the past, Fond du Lac did not sit idle. It was booming with construction because so people had come to settle. And along with that, came the infamous railroad companies. The one known as the Sheboygan and Mississippi Railroad Company was established in 1852. Later it was sold and renamed as the Sheboygan and Fond du Lac Company. In the short of twenty years, seventy-eight miles were built.
           Now the city has over 27,000 inhabitants. Many faces and names have changed since then, but just knowing that over 1/4th of the founding fathers were French or French-Canadian descent allows us to look further and see that there is a link to our past. When 75 students at the University of Wisconsin- Fond du Lac were asked, most knew the meaning of the words, but knew almost next to nothing of their past. Less than half understood to what extent the French and French Canadians influenced the area. Fond du Lac needs to recapture and teach its proud history to its residents, even though the name may speak for itself, the story will not.
           Below is a partial list of some of the founding people of Fond du Lac. Most names are of French or French Canadian origin.

Allar, Peter
           son of Joseph and Josette
          natives of France
Allen, Rolvin
Bartlett, Charles
Bechaud, F.H.
          son of Jean and Josephina
Bechaud, Jean
          son of Jean and Mary
Benton, Charles
          son of Daniel
Bevier, Cornelius
          son of Johannis and Elizabeth
Bissell, Edward
Blewett, Edmund
Bond, La Fayette
Bowe, O.P.
Bowe, William
Chapelau, Thomas
          native of Montreal, Canada
Clement, C.L.
Comtois, Rev. Father Oliver
          native of Montreal, Canada
Curran, David
Curran, Ed
Daniel, Samuel
          son of David and Hannah, nee Roblee
DeLand, Adelbert
          son of John
Delany, Edmund Jr.
Demarais, Charles
          native of Canada
DeSombre, H.G.
DeQuine, Fred
          son of Louis
Dix, Richard
Dufrane, Peter
          native of Canada
Durand, Harvey
Durand, Henry
Dye, R. Jr.
Edwin, Vital
          native of France
Eger, Oscar
Errard, Calice
          native of Canada
Everest, Asaph
Flower, Frank
Flower, Charles
          son of William
Frederick, Charles
          son of Charles and Louise
Germond, Joel
Guile, S.s.
Hammond, Charles
Hazette, Mother Mary Agnes
          daughther of Christopher & Mary
          native of Loraine, France
Jarivs, Alexander
          native of Canada of French parents
Lallier, Leon
Lallier, Louis
Lallier, Charlotte
Lallier, Charles
LeLand, S.G.
Level, Samuel
Marcoe, Francis Jr
.           dealer in wines
Petrie, Martin
Peir, Col. Cowert
          native of Canada
Pierron, John
          native of France
Raymond, Don M.D.
Roblee, Jay
          parents were natives of France
Varney, Daniel

Western Historical Company, The History of Fond du Lac Conty of Wisconsin. 1880, Chicago. Culver, Page, Hoyne and Co., Printers.

Dr. Harry Anderson, speech on Wisconsin History.


page added January 14, 1998
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