Book, A System of Speculative Masonry
4.25" by 7"
Wood, Leather, Paper
John and Juliette Kinzie; Moses M. Strong; 19th Century Travel
Mrs. John Parkinson, 1941
Upon the signing of the Treaty of 1829 in Prairie du Chien, the United States government now had to prepare Fort Winnebago for its part in fulfilling the treaty’s terms. An Indian Sub-Agency needed to be established at the fort. The individual who was hired to oversee this new agency was John Harris Kinzie, introduced to us by anearlier Artifact Ambassador. Kinzie was appointed to this position due to his experience with the local tribes and knowledge of the Ho-Chunk language—an important skill at a time when the government had experienced difficulties finding translators willing to learn the complex Ho-Chunk dialect. Before he established residence at the post, however, Kinzie traveled East. Almost exactly a year later, he married Juliette Magill, a Connecticut New Englander who had met John through her relative, Alexander Wolcott. Wolcott had married into the Kinzie family during his residency in Chicago. Juliette loved John, but her memoirs also demonstrate that this affection was paired with eager anticipation for the perceived excitement of her first excursion into the American West.
In September, 1830, this adventure began with their journey to Fort Winnebago accompanied by a comparatively excessive quantity of household furnishings—likely Juliette’s way of recreating her Eastern surroundings in such a remote region. Today’s Artifact Ambassador—a book entitled A System of Speculative Masonry—highlights this tendency among early travelers in the Northwest. This book was acquired by Vermont native Moses M. Strong, a land speculator who traveled West to capitalize on newly opened lead mining lands in the mid-1830s. Books were considered to be important links to more civilized regions. This book’s topic in particular highlights these early settlers’ hopes of recreating Eastern social institutions in what was hitherto a vast wilderness.
This artifact also emphasizes another facet of the inaugural journey of the Kinzies to Fort Winnebago. Their voyage across the Great Lakes—a lengthy endeavor before the widespread use of mechanical power—was to terminate at Green bay. With primitive navigation and poor weather, the entry into this frontier town was suddenly complicated when the Henry Clay became lodged on sand flats just three miles from the settlement. Eager to arrive at the Bay, John and Juliette were ferried ashore by another boat, eventually arriving at the starting point of the wilderness adventure Juliette awaited.
Our Artifact Ambassador represents a remarkably similar narrative. The book had been shipped West to Wisconsin along with the rest of Strong’s belongings. The boat containing Strong’s possessions, however, became lodged on the flats outside of Green Bay, possibly the same ones which hindered the Kinzies’ journey less than a decade before. The water stains in this book attest to the captain’s decision to throw Strong’s belongings overboard to lighten the ship. The quick recovery of the book also testifies to the importance placed on these tokens of civilization.
Thus, this Ambassador leads us West with the Kinzies. It stands as a reminder of the material priorities of Wisconsin’s early settlers, as well as the hazards of travel in these early days. In the Kinzies’ story, it particularly represents their experiences as they crossed the Great lakes with their belongings and arrived at the launching point of their new venture in the Northwest.