Date in History: 1796 – 1886
In 1837 Caroline Barrie of upstate New York said goodbye to her two sons – twenty-one year old William and nineteen year old Robert – as they headed west toward a brand new settlement on the Rock River in Wisconsin Territory. Upon arrival here in what’s now Fort Atkinson, they were closely watched by Caroline’s good friend and former neighbor, Rebekah Foster Dodge, who herself had just come west to join her brothers Dwight, Alvin, and Edward Foster in this new settlement.
Rebekah wrote to Caroline reporting that her boys were doing well with Robert working at the new Bark River Sawmill and William working with Alvin Foster on his claim. She encouraged Caroline to consider coming west along with her two younger sons, Thomas and Charles.
Below is a classic, motherly letter written by Caroline to her sons in Wisconsin:
Vernon [New York] September 26, 1838
I take this opportunity of letting you know we are enjoying good health and hope these lines will find you enjoying the same blessing. We have had a visit from Mr. [Dwight] Foster which was very acceptable although much dissapointed at not seeing you this fall and hardly willing to give it up yet glad to hear that you are well. Think that you might have come down this fall if you had been very anxious about it.
Mr. Foster informs me that Robert sold his part of the crops. I am afraid that you trade too much. I think it would have been much better for you to have sold your produce and had your money to have bought your land but I do not pretend to know much about it. I dislike to have you work hard and have someone else recieve the benefit of it. Thair is but little dependence to be put on people each one must look out for themselves.
I am very sorry I cannot send you winter clothing. The cloth is at the machine and will not be done till Mr. Foster starts but you shall both have your share of it some further time. If Thomas continues to be anxious to go west I shall either sell or let out the farm in the spring. I have a comfortable house and can live as well as we wish. If I sell I never expect to be as well situated but I do not wish to detain any of my children when they think they can do better.
I wrote you a letter in July and have been expecting an answer but hope you will answer this as soon as you recieve it. I send Robert sixty dollars by Mr. Snell or Foster and would send more if I had it but will pay you the interest at some later time. We have not sold our grain yet. I hope you will make a good use of your money and lay it out to some advantage to yourself. We want to see you both very much and feel a great anxiety for your welfare. I have thought many times this summer that I should never see either of you again. My health has been quite poor. Death is all about us. Thair are many of our friends that have gone to thair long home and ere long will be our turn. May we be prepared for that great and last event. I fear that your Sabbaths are poorly spent. I hope however that you do not work on that day. . . .
I remain your affectionate Mother, Caroline Barrie your brothers join in love to you.
Caroline came west the very next year and later married Asa Snell, living in the large brick home that is now the Hoard’s Dairyman farmhouse. She was a prominent member of the community, becoming the only woman among the original stockholders of the First National Bank of Fort Atkinson (now PremierBank). Despite her worries over “poor” health, Caroline would outlive all four of her sons, dying in 1886 at age 89.