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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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Wllllam Ashby

Source: "Portrait and Biographical Record - Published 1894 by Excelsior Publishing Co., Chicago" Pages 413 - 415

William Ashby, one of the pioneers of Sheboygan Township, has been a resident of this county since 1836, and is truly one of the grand men whose names will always be linked with the history of this region. He is engaged in farming on section 28, where he has long made his home. A native of the Empire State, he was born in Oneida County, May 4, 1816, and is the eldest in a family of four sons and a daughter born to John R. and Betsy (Stark) Ashby. The former was a native of Connecticut, and was reared to the life of a mechanic. He was a soldier in the War of 1812, and was present at the battle of Lundy's Lane. In political sentiment, he was a "buck-tail." His death occurred in New York State. His wife was a direct descendant of old Gen. Stark, of Revolutionary fame, the leader of the "Green Mountain Boys." She also died in New York.

William Ashby was reared in his native county until the age of nineteen years, and was early inured to the arduous labors of an agriculturist. His education was obtained in the common schools of that early day, and he was a lad of only thirteen summers when he left the parental roof to battle with the stern realities of life. He was in the employ of a farmer for five years, and for his first wages received $4 per month. Then he was one of a party of twenty which started from New York for Wisconsin, on a contract to work in a lumber mill at Menomonee, at $16 per month for one year, in addition to which their passage was paid. They were transported in a canal-boat to Buffalo, and thence transferred to the steamer "Robert Fulton," bound for Detroit, where they remained eleven days, waiting for a vessel bound for Menomonee. There they arrived November 9, 1835, many years before Wisconsin was admitted to the Union. Our subject came to Sheboygan County, and on his arrival at this place it contained only two families, those of Charles Cole and A. G. Dye.

After Mr. Ashby had obtained the check representing his first year's labor in this State, he made a trip to Milwaukee in order to get it cashed. There were no houses between Sheboygan and Milwaukee, and the latter city, as he first saw it, was a small town of not over five hundred inhabitants. He failed in his errand, and returned to this county, where he worked as a lumberman, and to this day has been an honored and industrious citizen. He has witnessed the entire growth and development of the city and county. For many years there were remnants of the Chippewa, Menomonee and Duck Creek Indian tribes in this region, but they did not cause the settlers any trouble. Wild game, such as deer, bears and wolves, geese and ducks, were plentiful, and our subject's wife was often forced to drive the wolves from her doorway with a broom. For about six years, Mr, Ashby worked for one man, in a sawmill, the ruin's of which can still be seen near his present home. By his sturdy will-power, pluck and energy, he has acquired a goodly fortune, though he started in the battle of life with only $15.

On the 4th of March, 1842, Mr. Ashby married Miss Harriet Walker, who was born December 31, 1817, in Virginia. By this union has been bora three children, all living. Elizabeth E. is the wife of F. W. Manville, a resident of Sheboygan. Hattie A., who was educated in the city schools, is now one of the successful teachers there, and still makes her home with her parents. James F. resides at home and assists his father in his agricultural pursuits. Mr. and Mrs. Ashby were the first couple married in Sheboygan Falls Township, and for half a century they traveled the journey of life together, sharing its joys and sorrows. On May 27, 1892, the devoted wife and mother was called to the home beyond, and her remains were laid to rest in Wildwood Cemetery of Sheboygan.

The following incident is related by Mr. Ashby as an example of the hardships of pioneer life: The first year he lived in this county he fan out of bread in the dead of winter. In company with Charles Cole, Tom Perry and the blacksmith, he hitched up four yoke of oxen and made his way through immense snow drifts to Milwaukee, and on the return, near the present site of Port Washington, a terrible blizzard began, and the travelers believed that they would surely perish. One of the men had his foot severely frozen and one of the oxen died from the cold. Another ox had his feet so badly frozen that he was useless, but in spite of these trials and difficulties they persevered and made their way to Milwaukee. At this, time they were without bread for six weeks. Chicago, one hundred and thirty-eight miles away, was the nearest market of any size, and the journey thither had to be made with ox-teams, but for about five years after his arrival the settlers had nothing to sell. John D. Gibbs, who lived in what is now known as Lima Township, was the first settler who offered any produce for sale, this consisting of only two bags of oats. Mr. Ashby is truly the oldest living settler in the county of Sheboygan, and was awarded the gold medal as such.

Mr. Ashby has been an efficient municipal officer in this county, having served as County Treasurer for four years, and having been Chairman of the Board of Supervisors for from twelve to fourteen years, which demonstrates that he has had the confidence of his fellow-citizens. He has also been connected with the public schools for many years, is a friend to education, and is a respecter of all religious and moral teachings. In 1844, he purchased one hundred and thirty acres of land at $3 per acre, but has since disposed of a part of this tract. At present he is owner of one hundred acres of very valuable land, within a-half mile of the city limits, which is worth from $125 to $150 per acre. In his political faith, he is a Republican, and was formerly an old-line Whig, his first ballot being cast for the Tippecanoe hero.

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