People, Place, and Time

Telling my family's stories

Johann George Scherwitz and the family farm (52 Ancestors #5)

If there is any farm in my family history that qualifies as the “family farm” to me, it is the Scherwitz farm in rural Jefferson County, Wisconsin.  My grandfather was born on it, lived his entire life within a quarter mile of it, went to the church across the road from it, and was buried on the cemetery attached to it.  A painting of the farm hung over our living room couch when I was growing up; and on Sundays when we visited my grandparents, I could see the buildings just beyond a copse of trees.

Scherwitz Family Farm, Fort Atkinson, WI

You can see the cemetery in the photo above, and every generation of Scherwitzes was buried there — the oldest generations are over on the east (right) side, right on the edge of the trees.  This was the first cemetery I remember going to on a regular basis, and I think where I first started wondering about my old family.

Johann Georg “George” Scherwitz was the immigrant who came to Wisconsin with his family and bought this piece of land that would become so important to my — well, my life, really.  He was born on September 16, 1803, in Baden, Germany, son of Johann David Scherwitz, and Catharina Elisabetha Weber.  He married Elisabetha Hummel in the old country, and in 1845 they made the long trip over along with their three oldest children Elisabeth, George, and Frederick.  Mother Elisabeth was pregnant with their fourth, born by family tradition on the steamer in the middle of Lake Michigan.


Geo. Scherwitz; Elisabeth; Elisabeth; George; and Frederick.Ship Platina, from Antwerp to New York.


Great-grandpa George came from a long line of city folk – innkeepers, butchers, candlemakers since at least 1600.  George’s father was a butcher, and George was trained as a shoemaker. Apparently there are still shoes that he made floating around somewhere, but I’ve never seen one.  (If anyone has one, or knows where one is, I’d love to hear from you!)

George himself was the 17th child of his father, which I suspect had something to do with his decision to pack up and head for a new land.  There’s not always much room for one so far down the pecking order.   Coming from a city in the heart of Baden, I wonder what he thought when he arrived in the Wisconsin territory, several years before it even achieved statehood, and into what must have seemed a vast wilderness.

Within a few short years, he had applied for citizenship and filed a land claim for a little over 52 acres.  Here’s the official certificate


President James K. Polk (well, probably some secretary of his) signed this land purchase certificate on March 1, 1847, although a local history of the farm states that the land was sold October 22, 1845, just after the family’s arrival.  I’m not sure why the discrepancy – perhaps it just took that long for all the paperwork to go through?

You can see the land on this 1887 plat map of Sumner township.  The land in blue is the original land, and the land in green was marshland bought later — apparently the marsh grass was a great way to grow hay for the cattle’s winter rations.  The road now known as County J runs right by the northeast corner of their land. In the southwest corner of this image is part of Lake Koshkonong.


I’d love to take a look at the agricultural censuses for Wisconsin, but they’re not currently available online.  One of those things I’ll have to dig up!

The other important thing about this farm?  Although it was the family farm on my mom’s side of the family, it played an instrumental role in my dad’s life as well.  When my mom was a young teenager, her family lived in a newly built house adjacent to it, since my grandpa’s brother owned the farm.   Uncle Walt rented it out to a sessional lecturer in history at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. . .  who happened to have a son a couple of years older than my mom.  Though the history professor and his family only lived there for three years, it cemented a friendship and romance that resulted in what will be the 40th wedding anniversary for my parents this year.


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This entry was posted on February 9, 2015 by in 52 Ancestors and tagged , , , , , , .
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