At first glance after a basic genealogical investigation of the life of Job Orlando Mattison, mostly in census data, it would seem to show he was an ordinary young man of his time. He was born in 1821 in Berlin, Rensselaer County, where he lived and worked as a shoemaker and died in 1895, close to where he was born. But there was much more to Job’s story. A donation to the RCHS by his descendant of a few letters he wrote home in 1845 and 1846 reveal he had a great adventure as a young man in his early 20’s. In mid-September 1845 he set off for Walworth County, Wisconsin to make his fortune.
Walworth, located on the southern border of Wisconsin Territory, became a county in 1836. In fact, Wisconsin was in the midst of applying for statehood when Job went there, so he was really a pioneer. The county was named for Judge Reuben Hyde Walworth, a prominent N.Y. jurist who was raised in Hoosick. Job reported that there were many people from New York in Walworth County. Perhaps it was a case of some original settlers attracting people they knew to join them, a common immigration pattern.
Job’s journey began in Troy, where he boarded a canal boat, the “Henry Nazro” of the Griffith Western Line. Griffith’s was one of a number of companies which operated on the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. And Henry Nazro, originally from Canajoharie, had been a business partner of Richard Hart, of our own Hart-Cluett House. Travel on the Canal was slow, of course. Job departed Troy on September 15, arrived in “Canajohara” on the 19th and in Buffalo on the 25th. Thus it took ten days to travel the 300 miles or so from Troy to Buffalo. Job arrived there at 9 a.m. and an hour later boarded a steamboat, the “Illinois” on Lake Erie, bound for Chicago. The boat left at 7 p.m. The “Illinois” was “the largest and finest” sidewheeler steamboat of the day.
N. Currier lithograph of the side-wheel steamship: “The Empire of Troy”
RCHS Collection 2002.96.1
By 4 p.m. on September 26th, the boat arrived in Cleveland, then went on to Detroit the next day. Crossing Lake St. Clair, the boat got stuck in the mud, but they were “helped off by a propeller.” Traveling the whole length of Lake Huron, the “Illinois” reached Mackinaw by the morning of the 29th in the midst of a storm. Job reported, “Left port, wind increased, heavy swells. Lake very rough. The waves frequently dash over the bow deck, sometimes sprays of water fly onto her upper deck. Many sea sick. Some old women badly scared, some playing cards in the gents’ saloon. Fireman dancing in the after cabin. Ship makes heavy lurches. Baggage fell over on the main deck. Scared some out of bed.” But apparently Job wasn’t scared. “Went to bed about 10. Slept well all night.” The “Illinois” traveled back south, down Lake Michigan, and Job reached his goal, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the afternoon of September 30. He took a stagecoach to Geneva, Walworth County, his final destination, meeting up with a person he knew named “Ephraim.” He had traveled about three times as far by steamboat in four days as his initial traverse of the Erie Canal in ten days.
Job was a shoemaker, and his next letter reported that “I could have as much work as I could do at one dollar a pair.” His father wanted news of the land, what it was like, perhaps contemplating a move himself. He reported on a Jonathan, who was also in a “figet” to go to Wisconsin. In a later letter, Job said, “where I have been the land is very fertile. Surface more uneven than I expected…cattle do very well on this hay, but horses want plenty of oats. Hogs are generally good…their buildings in this country and cities here are not as large and expensive as they are east...the folks are principally from New York State…they are full of speculation and bound to get rich.”
Job worked for a shoemaker in Elkhorn, which later became the county seat, and stated, “the country is settled with a good society of people, mostly emigrants from New York.” In January 1846 he reported for the second time to his worried father, “my dish is rite side up yet,” that he was doing fine. But the same letter added, “I often dream that I am in Berlin telling you of the wonderful things in Wisconsin, but wake up and find myself separated from you by a vast chain of frozen lakes.”
Job married a woman named Hannah Nichols from Fulton County, New York, in 1848. By 1860 they were back among the Mattisons in Berlin where they remained with their two sons. Was Wisconsin ultimately not as wonderful as it first appeared? Was the pull of home and family too strong? Unless some more letters turn up, we may never know. Job continued to work as a shoemaker. Hannah died in 1874 and Job in 1895.
2008.2.1-5 letters in the collection of the RCHS