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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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The Pioneer, a monthly supplement to the Sheboygan Press

Sheboygan Press - January 31, 1933

Sheboygan Pioneer Monthly Supplement

Early Sheboygan's Own Uncle Sam

Ye editor well remembers dear old William Ashby (nicknamed "Uncle Sam" for the reason given further on in this article and also in one in the past issue of The Pioneer), who was in the year 1836 the one solitary settler in the area now known as the City of Sheboygan. Later he settled on a small farm on the Lower Falls road, about a mile beyond the western limit of our city. The site of the farm was before that time occupied by many Indian tepees, wigwams, and wikkiups, and amiable Same Ashby readily became friendly with all aborigines, as he did with all whites who came in contact with him, including ye editor, who took a boyish liking to the sociable man who always carried a well colored clay pipe between his pipe-abraided teeth and who never failed to moisten his tongue with the very palatable beverages that were dispensed at Schreier's corner (now the Security National Bank location), and these beverages were sine qua non to Uncle Sam's well-being and a stimulant to his good-nature.

About fifty years ago a Sheboygan correspondent (name not available) of the Milwaukee Sentinel told its readers of some of Sam Ashby's experiences when he settled here, which experiences were and are even now of particular interest to Sheboygan readers of them.

According to the unidentified Sentinel correspondent, who must have been in intimate touch with early Sheboygan affairs, William Ashby was at that time the correspondent wrote the oldest resident in Sheboygan's vicinage, not in age, but in length of residence, having been born in Rome, N.Y., May 4, 1816, he left that city October 9, 1835, accompanied by twenty other young men. to seek employment in the then wilderness of Wisconsin. The venturesome party went through the Erie canal to Buffalo, and from there they traveled to Detroit on the steamboat Robert Fulton. Here they waited several days for a sailing vessel to take them to Menominee, Michigan, where they arrived the following November 9, and where William Farnsworth soon operated a saw mill with the help of his companions from Rome.

Ashby worked for a year in Menominee, for which he received pay in the form of a draft on Solomon Juneau in Milwaukee at the rate of $16 per month. He came to Sheboygan November 9, 1836, when there were only two houses here, which he found occupied, one by Charles Cole and one by A. Dye, and started in the saw-mill business for himself. In 1842 he married Harriet Walker, and all his adult life resided here.

Before Ashby left Rome, N.Y., he worked there for Jesse Williams, who, it was claimed, operated the first cheese factory in America. On his west young Ashby possessed $25, which he carried in coin issued by his Washington namesake, Uncle Sam. When he arrived in Sheboygan he found plenty of Indians but little money, and as his acquaintances saw that he possessed ready cash, he soon became a banker to them, as it were, so they dubbed him "Uncle Sam,: by which sobriquets he was from that time on known by all.

At times during Ashby's first year in Sheboygan the winds were so high that vessels carrying provisions from Cleveland could not safely land here. This was the case when, in 1868, a lake captain by the name of Brooks got married here and was going on a wedding trip to Chicago. Mrs. Daniel Wells, of Milwaukee, and her sister, a Miss Brown, were visiting here with Jacob Kimball, a former resident of Waukesha. A party of young men, including Sam Ashby, who told the story of the trip at the time, decided to go as far as Milwaukee to keep the bride and groom company (rather superfluous, thinks ye editor), and the merry party embarked here on the schooner Otter, and all were so hungry that they consumed all the food aboard the vessel at breakfast which was braking a fast with a vengeance, it seemed to others who heard of it later. About dinner-time the vessel was becalmed, and there the voyagers were without a thing to eat, and the nearest house was the home of General Harrison at Port Washington, from which we were many miles away. In the course of the next night, a breeze spring up, and in the morning the schooner reached Port, where they immediately went to the General's home, but he was in Milwaukee at the time, and the only food his wife found immediately available to stay the hunger of the party was a pitcher of succotash, which she graciously permitted to be taken away, and this one pitcher of succotash was all that stood between the party and starvation until Milwaukee was reached, which was on election day, when Daniel Wells was running for the Legislature. The young men composing the wedding party hadn't been in Milwaukee two hours, but all the same they voted for Mr. Wells.

Sam Ashby was the probably most popular man in Sheboygan in early as well as in later days, and his popularity continued during all the succeeding years of his life. He was town chairman during fourteen years and county treasurer during four years, and while this was the extent of his public service, he was always interested in public affairs as a private citizen, living on his suburban farm, where the massive new concrete Ashby bridge now in a graceful curve like the letter S crossing the Sheboygan river perpetuates his honored name.

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