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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 1

Sub-chapter - Physical and Political Geography


-As transcribed from pages 2 - 4

Politically, Wisconsin has been included in more different units of government than any of its neighbors.  It was first a part of the Spanish empire in North America, which claimed all the continent  whose southern borders had been discovered and occupied by Spanish subjects.  The Spanish sovereignty in Wisconsin was never more than a shadow, and so far as we know no one of that race ever placed foot upon Wisconsin soil until long after it was possessed by a rival power.

The true history of Wisconsin begins with the coming of the French who in 1634 sent their first representative to its shores.  The period of French occupation was nominally about a century and a quarter; in reality it lasted somewhat less than one hundred years, as more than twenty years elapsed before the first discoverer was followed by others.  The real exercise of French sovereignty began in 1671 when St. Lusson at the Sault Ste. Marie took possession in the name of Louis XIV "of all other countries, rivers, lakes and tributaries, contiguous and adjacent thereunto (to the Sault and Lakes Huron and Superior), as well discovered as to be discovered, which are bounded on the one side by the Northern and Western Seas and on the other side by the South Sea including all its length and breadth." 2

The French domination of the area we now know as Wisconsin was exercised from the lower St. Lawrence Valley and was directed by the court at Versailles, where paternalism was the fashion, and where the smallest details of administration were decided by the highest powers of the kingdom.  It may thus be said that Wisconsin during the French period was ruled directly by the French monarch.  Every appointment of a petty officer of the Canadian army to command a log fort by one of Wisconsin's waterways had to be endorsed by the King; every little skirmish with the Indian tribesmen, every disagreement between soldiers and traders had to be reported by the Canadian authorities to the Royal Council, and await its dictum for settlement.  Even the power of the governor of New France was frequently overruled by dictation from the Court of France, and orders for the governance of is subjects in Wisconsin were discussed in the presence of the greatest monarch of Europe.

The French domination came to an abrupt end when in the course of the Seven Years' War, Montreal, including all the upper province of New France, surrendered to the arms of England.  The last French garrison left Wisconsin in 1760 by the Fox-Wisconsin waterway, and the next year an English detachment took possession of Green Bay and made Wisconsin a constituent part of the British empire.  Thus it remained until the close of the American Revolution.  During the first years of the English possession, the Upper Country was ruled by the military authorities at Fort Edward Augustus (Green Bay), and Mackinac, subject to the commander-in-chief of the American armies, and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department.  After 1774 Wisconsin was a part of the Province of Quebec.

British sovereignty in Wisconsin fell with the treaty of Paris in 1783, which transferred to the new American nation the land south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi.  The British government, however, claiming non-fulfillment of certain treaty provisions, but in reality acting in the interest of British fur traders, refused to deliver to the United States the northwestern posts.  Thus the inhabitants of Wisconsin, while technically on American territory were practically ruled by English officers.  In 1796 after Jay's treaty with England, the northwestern posts were delivered over to American garrisons, and Wisconsin became an unorganized portion of the Northwest Territory.  On May 7, 1800, Indiana Territory was organized with Wisconsin a part of her vast domain.  Upon the  territorial division into counties Wisconsin became a part of St. Clair, whose limits extended from a line nearly opposite St. Louis to the northern boundary of the United States.  In 1802 Gov. William Henry Harrison appointed two justices of the peace and three militia officers in St. Clair County of Indiana Territory to serve at the French-Canadian settlement near the mouth of Wisconsin River.  The next year a third justice was appointed for Prairie du Chien, and another commissioned for the sister community at the mouth of Fox River on Green Bay.  All these appointees were British subjects and prominent fur traders.  Therefore while commissions were issued and writs ran in the name of the United States, British fur traders were in actual control of all government agencies in Wisconsin.

In 1808 the United States increased the number of its representatives by the appointment of an Indian agent at Prairie du Chien.  This agent was a French-Canadian by birth, formerly a British subject, who had become a naturalized American by residence in the French settlements of Illinois.  By race and interests he was allied with the Franco-British traders of Wisconsin.

In 1809 Illinois Territory was set off from Indiana carrying with it St. Clair county, in which Wisconsin was included.  So far as known the officials appointed by the governor of Indiana for Green Bay and Prairie du Chien continued to act under the commissions already received.

The outbreak of the War of 1812 made a sharp division among Wisconsin's few governing officers.  The Indian agent was the sole official who maintained his American allegiance.  All the other appointees declared for Great Britain, and actively engaged in operations for her benefit.  The Indian agent was driven down the Mississippi, and Wisconsin became again a part of the territory of the British empire, guarded by Canadian troops and administered by British officers.  In 1814 the Americans made an attempt to repossess themselves of the region on the Mississippi.  A force organized at St. Louis ascended the river and built a post at Prairie du Chien.  This American post had been held less than a month, however, when an overwhelming British force from Mackinac and Green Bay captured the new fort and expelled the American garrison.

The Canadian authorities were eager to retain possession of Wisconsin, and during the negotiations for the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 made a determined effort to have the boundary lines redrawn so that Wisconsin should be made a buffer Indian region under British authority.  This attempt failed, and in 1815 according to the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, the British garrisons were withdrawn from Wisconsin's soil.  Nevertheless, so hostile were the Indian tribes to American reoccupation that not until eighteen months after the signing of the treaty was the American flag raised within the limits of Wisconsin.  During this non-governmental period the British fur traders maintained, as they had done since 1761, an ascendancy over the tribesmen that preserved the few settlements from anarchy and destruction.  While thus theoretically changing sovereignty several times from 1761 to 1816, Wisconsin was really during the entire period a French-Canadian settlement under British control.

American military occupation began in 1816 when strong posts were built at Prairie du Chien and Green Bay, the garrisons of which overawed the sullen tribesmen.  Indian officials were appointed and American traders soon rivaled the operations of the French-Canadians.  So bitter did the latter resent the restrictions imposed upon them by American officers and officials that in 1818 they planned to removed in a body to some place under British jurisdiction, taking the Wisconsin Indians with them. Within a few years, however, the friction was adjusted, and the leading Wisconsin settlers became naturalized American citizens.

In 1818 Illinois was admitted as a State into the Union, and Wisconsin was transferred to Michigan territory.  The same year Wisconsin was organized into two counties, Brown and Crawford, justices of the peace were appointed and American sovereignty became operative with this region.  In 1824 United States district courts were organized for the portion of Michigan Territory lying west of Lake Michigan.  In 1823 Crawford County was divided, all south of the Wisconsin River becoming Iowa County.  In 1834 Brown County was reduced by the organization of its southern portion into Milwaukee County.  In 1836 Michigan was admitted into the Union, and the Territory of Wisconsin was organized out of that portion of its limits that lay west of Lake Michigan.

Wisconsin Territory was maintained for twelve years.  In 1846 there was a movement for Statehood, but the Constitution then drawn was rejected by the people, so that not until 1848 did Wisconsin become the thirtieth State in the American Union.

Resources for the above information:

2 - Wis. Hist. Colls., XI, 27-28

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