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By evening he was at the Four Lakes, “looking forward to seeing the wonders” detailed in the city plans. “But when I finally came to the flat, marshy shores of Fourth Lake there was no sign of human habitation. Night was falling, dark clouds were gathering, and it was certain I would be doused by a rainstorm as I had been the day before.”

Featherstonhaugh family

In April 1837 Eben and Roseline Peck became Madison’s first permanent residents, settling here at James Duane Doty’s behest to operate a boarding house that was being built to house the workers who would arrive in June to erect the Capitol building. Their first visitor, on May 30, was George Featherstonhaugh, a Scotsman who had come to the United States in 1807 and married a woman of means. A scientist and writer, he surveyed the lead region of the lower Mississippi River for the War Department in 1835. The result of his 1837 exploration of Wisconsin Territory and what is now Minnesota was a book entitled “A Canoe Voyage Up the Minnay-sotor.”

In his book he described his visit to Madison. After spending several weeks in Mineral Point, where he acquired elaborately engraved plans for Madison City, the City of the Four Lakes, East Madison, West Madison, South Madison, the City of the Second Lake, and the City of the First Lake, he called on Governor Dodge at Dodgeville on May 29. On the morning of May 30 he reached Ebenezer Brigham’s tavern at Blue Mounds, where Featherstonhaugh was served “a couple of hard boiled eggs and stale bread for dinner and charged ten times what they were worth.” By evening he was at the Four Lakes, “looking forward to seeing the wonders” detailed in the city plans. “But when I finally came to the flat, marshy shores of Fourth Lake there was no sign of human habitation. Night was falling, dark clouds were gathering, and it was certain I would be doused by a rainstorm as I had been the day before.” After an hour and a half he and his companion found the Peck cabin. The room, he claimed, was full of boxes and barrels, and he was served salt pork and bad coffee for dinner. Roseline Peck, who took pride in her coffee, never forgave him for making the comment. Featherstonhaugh also wrote that he slept on the floor; Roseline responded that he slept on a bed with 30 pounds of goose feathers.

His son, George William Featherstonhaugh, Jr., was born in New York in 1814 and sent to England to be educated in 1820. He attended West Point, then came to Wisconsin in 1839 after his father made large land purchases in Calumet County. He resided for awhile at Fond du Lac, later building a palatial stone house on the shore of Lake Winnebago. He lived the life of a country gentleman. He was appointed to the Constitutional Convention in 1847; while in Madison he was considered a man of elegance and dignity and was highly respected by the other members. He usually voted with the Whigs. He was an early member of the Wisconsin Historical Society and one of its first vice-presidents. He was elected to the last Territorial legislature.

On December 28, 1847, while Featherstonhaugh was in Madison serving in the Constitutional Convention, his two year-old daughter Catherine died. The Convention adjourned so members could attend her funeral at the National Hotel. Less than three months later another daughter, Elizabeth, also passed away. Both girls rest in unmarked graves in Forest Hill Cemetery.

Mark Gajewski