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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History
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Hon. David Giddings

Source: "Portrait and Biographical Record - Published 1894 by Excelsior Publishing Co., Chicago" Pages 696 - 699

Few men have taken a more active part in the affairs of Sheboygan County that this worthy pioneer. Though now a resident of Empire, Fond du Lac County, his connection with the growth and prosperity of this county has been so intimate, that an account of his life will be of great interest to those who know him personally, or by reputation. Mr. Giddings is a native of Ipswich, Mass., born July 24, 1808. He is the fourth in a family of seven children, whose parents were Joshua and Anna C. (Cogswell) Giddings. Anna C. Giddings was a granddaughter of Gov. Patch, of Massachusetts. Of her children, only two survive, the gentleman whose name heads this record, and Abigail C. Giddings, who resides in the East.

Joshua Giddings followed the trade of a tanner in early life, working with his father until he was married, and then turning his attention to farming. All his children were born on the old homestead at Ipswich, which is situated on the Ipswich River, in sight of the ocean.

David Giddings had advantages for obtaining a good education, attending the common schools of New England, and completing his studies in the Grammar School of Ipswich. At the age of nineteen years, he embarked in merchandising in that city, handling, in connection with a general assortment of goods, various kinds of liquors. Seeing the effect of the liquor business on the families of those who patronized the store, he became thoroughly disgusted with that branch of the trade, and accordingly discontinued it. Having determined to come West, he disposed of his mercantile interests, and on the 23d of April, 1835, took passage in a stage-coach for Troy, N. Y. From that place to Buffalo he traveled by a canal-boat, requiring a week to make the trip. When he arrived in Buffalo, about the 1st of May, the harbor was full of ice, and he was thereby delayed about a week. Shipping aboard the brig "Indiana," he arrived in Chicago after about two weeks' sailing. The great "World's Fair City" at that time contained only three hotels, which were crowded with emigrants. Mr. Giddings put up at one, and as he retired to the attic for a night's rest, curiosity led him to count the people who were on the floor, quietly slumbering in their blankets. To his surprise, he found thirty-four in that part of the house. Another incident related by him illustrates the wild condition of the country which is now covered by the great metropolis. A short distance south of the river was a clump of trees and bushes, in which wolves used to congregate. A party of young men, armed with rifles and mounted on ponies, surrounded the thicket which had grown up in the prairie and began the work of destruction. A number of wolves were killed, and the rest made good their escape. Ere leaving Chicago, Mr. Giddings had the satisfaction of seeing a payment made to the Indians, of whom there were supposed to be three thousand present. The Indians first wanted their pay, next "fire-water," and then the white man's scalp.

Our subject intended to go to Peoria, but those who came from the South were sallow and shaking with ague. Hearing of a place to the North called Milwaukee, he decided to go there. He formed the acquaintance of a carpenter, who suggested that they build a skiff and sail down the lake. The boat completed and rigged with a blanket for a sail, these two adventurers, accompanied by three others, launched their vessel. They encountered a north-easter, which drove them ashore at Grosse Point, where they camped for the night. The next morning the wind arose, and they were compelled either to delay or to tow their boat along the shore. They adopted the latter plan, taking it as far as Waukegan, where they pulled it out on the shore and turned it upside down, to shelter them from a beating rain. They camped under their boat until they had consumed their supply of provisions, which consisted of crackers, cheese and smoked meats. They knew that somewhere on the present site of Racine there lived a settler, and two of them started on foot to find his whereabouts, while the others were left to tow the boat down the lake. After a weary search for his cabin, and just as they were about to give up in despair, the tinkle of a bell was heard. Following the sound, they came to the home of that rough, but hospitable, man who furnished them with provisions for the remainder of the trip. Having spent the night in his clapboard shanty, they proceeded on their journey, entering Milwaukee River during the night. For several hours they rowed, trying to find a place to land. By the sound of a cow-bell they were finally led to the home of the pioneer of Milwaukee, Solomon Juneau, who received them kindly, and fed and lodged them in a log schoolhouse, which he had built for his children. This noted pioneer tried to persuade Mr. Giddings to remain there, but after a few days' rest he started on foot, with a companion named Eaton, for Green Bay, arriving July 4.

At this time Mr. Giddings’ entire worldly possessions consisted of his clothes and $5 in money. His first business was to build fence for Gen. Ellis at $20 per month. The General had a contract to survey the town of Astor, and our subject told him that he could do the work for him, as he had received instructions in civil engineering in the East. He was entrusted with the work which brought his employer the sum of $3,000. Gen. Ellis had, with Mr. Hathaway, of Milwaukee, a contract to survey twelve townships in the southeast corner of the State, where the counties of Racine and Kenosha now are, and Mr. Giddings was employed to do Gen. Ellis' part of the work, in part payment for which the latter was to advance $200 to purchase one hundred and sixty acres of land near Sheboygan.

About the middle of November, Mr. Giddings, in company with Mr. Hathaway, left Green Bay with two horses, which they packed with their clothing and blankets. The snow was about ten inches deep and the weather quite cold. On arriving at the mill, at Sheboygan, where Mr. Hathaway had a trunk, they made what was then called a "jumper," on which was placed the trunk and the pack from one horse, and thus they started on their journey to Milwaukee. There they purchased their provisions for the surveying expedition, and hired a team to take them to their destination. They also engaged ten men to go with them. The survey was commenced about the middle of December and finished the 1st of March following, the party then returning to Milwaukee. By this time quite a settlement had been made there, mostly on the north side of the river.

After his return to Milwaukee, Mr. Giddings found a vessel going to Sheboygan for lumber, on which he took passage, arriving at that port the next day. Going up to the mill, Mr. Giddings passed the night, during which a terrific thunder shower came up, and so flooded the stream that the mill-dam was carried away. The vessel on which he came was driven away by the wind. He found the men at the mill greatly frightened by a story which had been gotten up, to the effect that the Indians, as soon as the grass was grown enough to sustain their ponies, would rise and kill off all the whites in the country. The men were talking of leaving on the vessel when it should return to Milwaukee with the lumber, but it had gone and they did not know when it would return. Mr. Giddings learned that two Indians were going, as soon as the water in the streams would permit, to Green Bay with some furs and sugar. For several days he stayed at the mill waiting for the flood to abate. He secured the services of a man who could talk with the Indians, to see if they would take along with their furs and sugar the mail-bag and Mr. Giddings' baggage. They agreed to take them for $5, and the next morning started, their ponies being packed with furs, sugar, mail-bag, blankets, provisions, etc. The water was still so high that in crossing Pigeon River it ran over the ponies' backs and thoroughly soaked the bread which he had provided to last them through to the Bay. That night when they camped, about five miles south of Manitowoc, the Indians ate all the bread and quite a piece of the pork. A fire was made, and deer skins were spread down, on which the three travelers slept during the night, Mr. Giddings occupying the middle. It was still two days before they reached Green Bay, and all they had to eat during that time was two dried suckers and a small cake of sugar, purchased of the Indians at Manitowoc.

In the year 1836, Mr. Giddings was employed to survey twelve townships on the headwaters of Rock River, south and west of Fond du Lac, and two years later he surveyed the country between Lake Winnebago and Wolf River. In 1842, he was engaged in surveying on the west side of Green Bay, and while thus employed was nominated and elected a member of the Territorial Legislature, in which he served two years. He was chosen a member of the first Constitutional Convention in 1846.

Mr. Giddings came to Sheboygan to reside in 1837, and, having purchased a lot on Pennsylvania Avenue, erected thereon a store building. Upon the organization of Sheboygan and Manitowoc Counties, he was elected County Judge, which office he held two years. In 1838, he purchased an undivided half of the mills at Sheboygan Falls, and about four hundred acres of land, including the village plat. Going there to reside and take charge of the mills, he also went into the lumber and real-estate business. He purchased the first shingle mill introduced into Wisconsin, and worked hard to build up Sheboygan Falls and the surrounding country, often giving the settlers lots, and selling them, on credit, the lumber with which to build their houses. When the United States Road was relaid from Chicago to Green Bay by Capt. Cram, the plan was to have it run through Sheboygan, but by the earnest efforts of Mr. Giddings the road was laid through Sheboygan Falls. In order to secure it to that village, he surveyed the road from Manitowoc to Port Washington without compensation. By order of the Government, the road was cut two rods in width.

When in the Legislature, Mr. Giddings introduced a bill to allow the county offices to be held at Sheboygan Falls, thus making it virtually the county seat. He erected two sawmills and a flouring-mill on Onion River, two and a-half miles south of the Falls, also a sawmill at Hingham, and one on the Sheboygan River, three miles above the Falls. In company with A. Z. Littlefield, he erected a double sawmill at Sheboygan Falls, on the south side of the river, where Brickner's woolen mill now stands. Mr. Giddings built the first bridge across the Sheboygan River at that place, and surveyed and helped to open the road between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac. In company with a few others, he built, and owned for several years the plank road extending from the former city to the village of Sheboygan Falls. When Sheboygan County appropriated $100,000 to help build the railroad from Sheboygan to Fond du Lac, Mr. Giddings was appointed as one of the three commissioners to see that the money was judiciously distributed.

Mr. Giddings was married on the 7th of June, 1842, to Miss Dorothy C. Trowbridge, a sketch of whose family will be found on another page. There being no horses or carriages in the country, the wedding trip was made on an ox-sled from the home of the bride to the new home of the couple at the Falls. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Giddings three children were born: Harvard, who lives in that village, and owns a farm of four hundred acres; Clara, deceased; and George, a prominent business man of Fond du Lac.

Mr. Giddings always took an active interest in political affairs. When the Greenback party sprang up, he became identified with it, and in 1878 was a candidate for Congress, receiving more than the party vote. In 1863, he purchased a farm containing five hundred and seventy-seven acres near the city of Fond du Lac, and in 1874 went there to live.

Mr. Giddings is now in his eighty-sixth year, and is in good health, being able to oversee his four hundred acre farm. He has witnessed the growth of Wisconsin from a wilderness, inhabited by Indians, to a populous and prosperous State, and has stored in his memory a vast fund of its annals.


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