The Town that Grew Up Around George Clinton Shattuck (1786-1876)

George Clinton Shattuck

George Clinton Shattuck was descended from the Dr. Philip Shattuck (1648-1722) branch of the Shattuck family. He was restless, adventurous, entrepreneurial, a man of great energy, making his mark in expansion of America into the Old West.

George's father, Major William Shattuck (1747-1810) was a blacksmith, an occupation that took him all over what was the new frontier, from Massachusetts to Vermont, to New Hampshire, back to Vermont, then Romulus, New York. He was also a soldier.

Benning Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire

He was a prime player in what Lemuel in his biography describes as an American civil war between New York and New Hampshire over disputed territory both states claimed. Known as the New Hampshire Grants, the land grants were made between 1749 and 1764 by the governor of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth. The grants claimed land west of the Connecticut River, territory that was also claimed by the Province of New York. The dispute led eventually to the formation of Vermont. George's father was a major in the New York militia, formed to protect New York's claim to the territory.

Lemuel picks up the story here: "In the civil war that followed they were captured by the "New-States men," under Col. Ethan Allen, imprisoned at Bennington, and their property confiscated. In March, 1786, an act was passed by the legislature of New York, granting Major Shattuck and others a township of land eight miles square on Chenango River, (now Bainbridge,) as a remuneration for their losses and sufferings. Of this grant 3,200 acres were assigned to Mr. Shattuck for his portion." (p. 153 Descendants) George's father became a very large landowner.

Major Shattuck almost became a Canadian. He applied for a land grant in what was "Canada West" (later Ontario). When he failed to meet the terms of the grant, he went to Canada West to resolve the issue in 1810 but was accidentally killed when he was thrown from his horse. George was twenty four years old.

Nancy Shattuck, second great granddaughter of George Clinton Shattuck, has done a very thorough research of his life, which I will not attempt to reproduce here. My gloss of his life owes everything to her narrative history. (I found it on attached to George. Although I corresponded with Nancy in 2015, but more recent emails with her have gone unanswered.)

Anne Bronson (1786-1876)

George Clinton Shattuck was born in Battleboro, Vermont in September, 1786. His father named him "George Clinton" to honor the Governor of New York, "for whom he had preformed important military service, on whose account he had suffered, and by whom he had been rewarded" (Lemuel in Descendants). George made use of the education he acquired by becoming a school teacher. At the age of 24 he married Anne Bronson. Her sister Aurilla (1789-1814) was married to George's brother William (1784-1871). The two brothers and sisters must have been close because they were married in the same year. Unfortunately Aurilla died four years later leaving two small children. In 1814 George's brother William had a law practice in Penn Yan, Yates County. By 1816 George became a surveyor of roads and estates.

Nancy tells us that in the summers of 1816 and 1817 New England was subjected to winter conditions, a result of the eruption of the Mt. Tambora volcano on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. This devastated farming. Nancy speculates George, like thousands of people in his area, may have already been thinking of seeking opportunities in the west. He left New York with his wife and four young daughters in a wagon and eventually landed in Fort Harrison in Honey Creek Township, Vigo County, Indiana. There was no other way to move out to the new frontier.

George's brother Dr. Eliphalet Shattuck (1778-1840), who was a physician and farmer, joined George in Indiana in 1820, as well as Anne's sister Clarissa Bronson (1817-1906).

By 1827 George and Anne had eight children. He was on the move again. They moved to Galena, Jo Daviess County, Illinois.

Nancy: "Along the way, they camped out near Fort Dearborn, or present day Chicago, at a time when mostly Indians lived there. George assisted in raising the first framed house in Galena, prior to steamboats having ever visited there. It was also within that year that he aided in the defense against the Indians in the Winnebago Indian War."

Once again in 1830 they were on the move, this time to Iowa County, Wisconsin Territory. He was probably drawn there by the prospects of lead mining, which was spiking up in value at the time due to a lowering of taxes on its production. The prosperity that lead mining brought to the area is summed up in the "Miner's Journal" of May, 1832 quoted by Nancy:

The miner, the smelter and the merchant all transact a cash business. Fine farms are to be seen in every part of the country. Mills are built on almost every stream. Machines are in operation for the rolling of lead and for the manufacture of leaden pipes. A shot tower is being built at Helena. Laborers receive from $15 to $20 per month and their board… One hundred and two steamboats and seventy-two keel boats have arrived in a single year, and the annual product of lead has increased to 13,343,150 pounds.

Peace and prosperity did not last long for George and Anne. In 1832 the Black Hawk War broke out. George moved his family to a fort. George joined the militia in defense of the settlement under Captain Cornelius Delong's company in the Iowa County Militia. It was under the command of Colonel Henry Dodge. Wikipedia:

The Black Hawk War was a brief 1832 conflict between the United States and Native Americans led by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader. The war erupted soon after Black Hawk and a group of Sauks, Meskwakis, and Kickapoos, known as the "British Band", crossed the Mississippi River, into the US state of Illinois, from Iowa Indian Territory in April 1832. Black Hawk's motives were ambiguous, but he was apparently hoping to avoid bloodshed while resettling on tribal land that had been ceded to the United States in the disputed 1804 Treaty of St. Louis.

US officials, convinced that the British Band was hostile, mobilized a frontier militia and opened fire on a delegation from the Native Americans on May 14, 1832. Black Hawk responded by successfully attacking the militia at the Battle of Stillman's Run. He led his band to a secure location in what is now southern Wisconsin and was pursued by US forces. Meanwhile, other Native Americans conducted raids against forts and settlements largely unprotected with the absence of US troops. Some Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi warriors with grievances against European-Americans took part in these raids, although most tribe members tried to avoid the conflict. The Menominee and Dakota tribes, already at odds with the Sauks and Meskwakis, supported the US.

Commanded by General Henry Atkinson, the US troops tracked the British Band. Militia under Colonel Henry Dodge caught up with the British Band on July 21 and defeated them at the Battle of Wisconsin Heights. Black Hawk's band was weakened by hunger, death, and desertion and many native survivors retreated towards the Mississippi. On August 2, US soldiers attacked the remnants of the British Band at the Battle of Bad Axe, killing many or capturing most who remained alive. Black Hawk and other leaders escaped, but later surrendered and were imprisoned for a year.

The Black Hawk War gave the young captain Abraham Lincoln his brief military service. Other participants who later became famous included Winfield Scott, Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis. The war gave impetus to the US policy of Indian removal, in which Native American tribes were pressured to sell their lands and move west of the Mississippi River and stay there.

George had a mining claim three or four miles north of Galena called "Shattuck Diggings." It was typical of a large number of shallow diggings within six miles of Galena. Legend has it that George made and lost a fortune during this period.

By 1839 George and his family had moved to the Vinegar Hill area near Galena. In 1842 he opened the first school in the area by teaching in his home.

If you were an entrepreneur in early America, that often meant you went to the frontier to secure land, because land was the basis for wealth. In 1844 George went searching for new land to settle. He moved to Dubuque County in Iowa. He explored the northeastern area of Iowa, found a suitable place on the gently rolling prairie for a new homestead and in 1849 brought his family to Allamakee County, where he built a log cabin near a spring.

The prairie outside Wauton, Iowa. A blank canvas in the eyes of George Shattuck.

It was to become what one of Nancy's sources calls a "hospitable mansion" for newcomers to the area, and was the nucleus of a town that sprung up around it: Waukon, Iowa. This would finally be George Clinton Shattuck's claim to fame. He helped found the town of Waukon in Makee Township. The community was named after the chief of the Winnebago tribe.

According to family legend, George's son Scott (1828-1909) went to town on errands one day in 1850, where he must have heard about the gold rush in California because he never came back. He left Dubuque, taking the southern route around the Cape of Horn to San Francisco. His brother Monroe (1826-1902) followed him out there. The money Scott and Monroe made in California would pay off what their father owned on his large claim.

The story of George Clinton Shattuck is that of the indomitable serial entrepreneur, succeeding and failing and succeeding again, like so many founders of successful enterprises. And that indeed describes how Waukon became the county seat for Allamakee County. Apparently he invited the commissioners for the counties of Dubuque, Delaware and Clayton to his homestead and fed them on a fine meal of venison and other delicacies, while extolling the location for its numerous springs, nearby forest, and rich grass and soil. He sweetened the deal with an offer to supply 40 acres free if the stake for the county seat was driven into the ground there. It was. The voters ratified the deal on April 4, 1853. And suddenly George Clinton Shattuck's land became much, much more valuable.

You can visit the small town on the prairie by clicking on this link to its location on Google maps.

Scott Shattuck returned from California that spring and decided to built a large residence and hotel for the family.

Waukon, about 1870

Nancy quotes an account in the "Waukon Standard" in 1877. It was written by D.B. Raymond, who was living with George.

“…. This brings us near to the beautiful prairie where Waukon is now located. The first time I beheld the gentle rolling land on which your town now stands my impression was that the Allwise Being had bestowed uncommon beauties on this spot. The pioneer cabin of Mr. George Shattuck was like a dot on this rare picture. It stood in a clump of hazel thicket with a few burr oak trees around, and near the spot where the Episcopal Church stood later. Mr. Shattuck had entered considerable land here, and made a wise selection, never dreaming his location was to become the future county seat. The writer worked for Mr. Shattuck a few days in the fall of 1852, and took turnips for pay. Mr. Shattuck was a staunch Whig then, and the election of Winfield Scott was to him almost bread and butter. I being schooled differently thought the old man overzealous, hence some bickerings between us; I being young and having no vote was always worsted in these talks. Mr. Shattuck was anxiously awaiting the return of a son from California with funds to free him from debt and make improvements. He was advanced in years and could not labor much, but was hale and hearty for his age.”

Sometime before 1862 George's wife Anne died and George married Rebecca Plue (born Howard) (1824-1907). According to Nancy, Rebecca and George never lived together. "Their marriage had been one of convenience as Rebecca's minor sons needed a male guardian in order to inherit land from their grandfather. George was granted guardianship of the boys in 1865."

In 1870, when he was 84 years old, George left the town he had help found. He wrote a letter published in the “Waukon Standard”:

“Editor Standard: As I am about to leave Waukon, it may be permanently; I wish to say ‘goodbye’ to my friends here. Being among the first to settle here, I have seen this county pass through wonderful changes during the last twenty years; the wilderness of the prairie changed to rich and fruitful farms, and Waukon grown from nothing to be one of the finest villages of the state. One by one I have seen settlers make their homes here. Many of them, all with whom I have become acquainted, I have learned to love as friends. I do not know that I leave a single enemy. And so, as I leave you, I wish to bid you good-bye, hoping that God will bless you, and that prosperity and happiness may be the portion of all.

Truly yours,

G.C. Shattuck”

The Standard replied:

“We are sorry to have friend Shattuck go. He is one of the patriarchs. We know of no other that can better lay claim to the name. Twenty-one years ago he drove the first wagon onto this prairie, and he can better appreciate the changes made than we later comers. Such pioneers deserve to be crowned with honor, and be held in grateful remembrance. Mr. Shattuck goes to Missouri and thence to Kansas. As he came, so he now departs overland, driving his own horse team. Not wonderful, you say? But he is now eighty-six years old! May God bless the old man, and may he enjoy health and strength for many years to come.”

Five years later, in 1875, he visited Waukon for a last time. The next spring he died at the home of his daughter, Sophia Shattuck Seeley. He was 89. He was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Platteville, Wisconsin in the Seeley family plot. He had an energetic life struggling with the vicissitudes of frontier life in America. A Shattuck pioneer was finally at rest.