Indian treaties opened Wisconsin for settlement after the Black Hawk War of 1832. Previously there were a few small settlements where French forts or fur-trading posts were located, mainly in Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, and in the early 1800s there was a lead mining boom in the southwest corner of the state that brought thousands of miners and a smaller number of settlers. When the federal government allowed land sales in 1834, settlers began flooding into Wisconsin.
We have links to numerous books and articles about Wisconsin’s early days, with lots of variety for readers with different interests. One place to start is the Wisconsin History page, where there are links and brief descriptions for each of the 14 Wisconsin subject pages. You might like the Biographies and Memoirs and Explorers and Travelers pages, where you can find books by people describing their own experiences of living in early Wisconsin. Or take a look at Local History, where you can read about the early history of counties, cities and small towns. You might also be surprised at what you find on other pages.
One of the Wisconsin subject pages, General History, has works by historians that tell the history of Wisconsin from the early 1600s to about 1900. (Note that nearly all books on this site were published before 1923.) Included are in-depth histories, such as the volumes by Henry Colin Campbell and Reuben Thwaites, and also some less weighty works. The Making of Wisconsin by Carrie Smith is a fairly quick way to familiarize with state history. The History of Wisconsin from Prehistoric to Present Periods by Clark Matteson is lively, containing many good stories.
Economic History sounds dismal, but this is where you’ll find materials about the kinds of work that people did in early days; often first-person accounts. There is a memoir here from a boat pilot who moved logs on the Chippewa River, another from a steamboat pilot on the Upper Mississippi, and an account by a farmer that describes the time when Wisconsin farmers began switching from grain crops to dairy. We have several works on the fur trade, which was Wisconsin’s principal industry until the 1830s.
As you might expect, we have church histories on the Religion page. But whether or not you wish to read about religion, the memoirs by missionaries on this page and on the Native Americans page are often the best accounts of life in places far from ‘civilization’.
The Social History page contains, among other things, works about German, Swiss, Danish and Dutch immigrants who settled in Wisconsin.
Other Sections of this Website
The region that the site refers to as the ‘Great Lakes States’ was one single ‘state’ throughout a century of French and British rule and for about 15 years after it became part of the U.S. From 1787 until 1800 the whole region was the ‘Northwest Territory’; run by a governor based in Cincinnati. After that the region was divided into several Territories, each with a Territorial Governor, and one by one the five states were created, as populations in Territories reached levels required for statehood. Ohio was the first new State in the region, and Wisconsin was the last of the five.
History books for each of the five states often include several chapters about the period before statehood. These histories are sometimes about areas much larger that just that state. In other words, you might find information about the early history of one state in a history of a neighboring state which, on this site, you would find in the other state’s section. On the other hand, works that are mainly about the early history of the region – before 1800 – are normally found in the section called the Great Lakes Region. For example, books about the Revolutionary War in the ‘West’ are on the Great Lakes War and Military page.
If you’re looking for works on a particular topic, don’t forget to check other state sections. The experiences of pioneer settlers in Wisconsin were similar to those of settlers in Michigan or Illinois, and the sections for those two states have some excellent pioneer accounts. And if you want to read about the lives of French voyageurs in Wisconsin, for example, don’t confine your search to the Wisconsin pages, because this topic might be covered in a broader history of the fur trade that is found in another section. You can go to the Home Page, scroll down to an appropriate subject section, use the buttons to get to state pages, and browse. Or type your topic into the Search box near the top-right corner. The search engine looks only on this website, not on the internet, and does a pretty good job.
Wisconsin Historical Society
If you like Wisconsin history you are lucky to have the Wisconsin Historical Society as a resource. Staff members there have been collecting historical material for a century-and-a-half, and in recent years have put a lot on the internet. Many links on this Website open works at the Historical Society site.