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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History
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Source: Sheboygan Telegram February 22, 1923

W. Farnsworth, Fur Trader, Founder Of City Of Sheboygan


The name of William Farnsworth, the founder of Sheboygan, who in 1818 first visited the site on which this city stands, appears on the first ledger of the Security National bank. This old book was used in 1856 when the bank was first organized under the name of the German bank.

Farnsworth belonged to the fearless and enterprising clan of early-day American fur traders who braved the dangers of the wilderness to traffic with the Indians for their valuable pelts. Very little of written record is available on Farnsworth, because he had few intimates, and except for one article written by Judge Morgan Lewis Martin in the State Historical society collection, there is a dearth of reminiscence available.

Farnsworth was born probably in Vermont or New York about 1795, but entered the fur trade at Montreal, Canada. Of a bold and impetuous temperament which made him a successful trader, he soon broke with the American Fur Co., in whose employ he originally was, and entered the field as an independent trader.

Among the Canadians these independent traders were known as "couriers du bois," and since they were without authority from the government to engage in the Indian trade, their goods might be confiscated wherever found, and their life was in constant jeopardy. Farnsworth set up his establishment near Marinette, and the story is told that the company sent a band of Indians to eject him from the Wisconsin trading territory which they considered their exclusive field. The warriors filed into his cabin, the purpose of their visit being apparent to him. He defied them, however, and to show his mettle, he placed a burning candle on an open keg of powder standing in the middle of the floor. This was too much of a test for the Indians' nerve, and as the flame burned lower and lower, one after the other of the Indians filed out, the last few pell-mell, leaving Farnsworth in undisputed possession.

He built a sawmill here in 1835 and a warehouse, which he operated in partnership with Charles D. Cole, and except for three or four years after the panic of 1837, when he lived in Milwaukee, he lived here the rest of his life. Members of the family have been members of the community from time to time since and are well known.

Farnsworth was one of the victims of the "Lady Elgin" disaster in 1860, when the steamer went down off Kenosha during an excursion out of Milwaukee, with a loss of several hundred lives. He lies buried in Wildwood cemetery, a part of his original purchase of half the village site when Sheboygan was first platted during the 30's.

The date of his first visit to this spot was in 1818 when on an exploration trip he landed here. The party, in birch-bark canoes, continued their way into the interior, their trip taking them as far as St. Louis.


Transcribed by Kay R.

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