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Swiss in Lafayette County

Swiss in Lafayette County
Submitted by:  
Maralyn A. Wellauer Project Director
2845 North 72nd Street
Milwaukee, WI 53210 USA

For Immediate Release
February 1999


I am still actively collecting data pertaining to a select group of early Swiss emigrants who left Europe in 1821 and traveled together to Lord Selkirk’s colony on the Red River of the North in Western Canada.  

Presently, the location is near present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba. Beginning in 1823, entire families relocated to areas in the Minnesota and Wisconsin territories, Illinois, and Missouri. Others remained in the colony until 1826, when they too left for the United States.

I am most interested in evaluating the extant primary source material relating to the migration, to identify the individual members of the group by name, age, occupation, and social status; and to determine the fate of the families. Of particular interest are personal accounts contained in contemporary letters, diaries, and colonial papers.

The majority of the first group of Swiss in Wisconsin originated in cantons Bern and Neuchatel. Other cantons are represented as well.  Approximately 44 families participated in this emigration, including Abram Perret (a.k.a. Abraham Perry,) and Benjamin Gervais, founders of St. Paul, Minnesota, the renowned artist, Peter Rindisbacher, and father of the famed Civil War General Augustus Louis (A.L.) Chetlain of Galena, Illinois. The project focuses around a core group of 10 Swiss families with the following surnames:

Aebersold, Chatelain, Hofmann, Marchand, Monnier, Quinche, Rindisbacher, Scheidegger, Schirmer, and Stramm.  

The emigrant party also included a number of professional soldiers, of German, Swiss, and French origins, who were formerly attached to the de Meuron and de Watteville regiments. The names of primary interest are:

Bain (Bane, Bayne,) Bruechler (Brickler,) Ehrler (Erler,) Fournier, Gerber, Langet, Ostertag (Osterday,) Paquet (Paquette,) Polander (Bollender,) Schmid (Schmidt,) and Verring (Varing).

For Immediate Release
April 1999


Description of a research project to identify Swiss immigrants to Wisconsin from 1826-1900  

An intensive and comprehensive study of Swiss immigration to Wisconsin during the 19th century has been in progress since 1980. The goal is to produce brief biographical and genealogical studies of all persons of Swiss birth who came to reside in Wisconsin prior to 1900. The focus is on major sources of emigration, the journey to America, migration routes, and the settlement process. The purpose of the research is to identify individuals by name, age, and occupation; locate immigrants’ communes and cantons of origin; chronicle their settlements; and identify their descendants. This study will consolidate all that is currently known about each immigrant and gather together material pertaining to the Swiss in general.  The total number of Swiss immigrants who came to Wisconsin in the 19th  century is approximately 12,000, according to the most reliable estimates.  Because these figures were gleaned mainly from census records, it is likely that additional Swiss were included in groups speaking a common language, i.e., German, French, or Italian. Therefore, it is possible that 20,000 would be a more realistic number.

Preliminary research indicates that the first Swiss settled in the Wisconsin territory (then part of Michigan and Illinois) in the middle of the 1820’s.  The greatest number immigrated to the state in the 1840’s and 1850’s, with a significant increase appearing in the 1880’s. The main cantons contributing their citizens were Bern, Graubuenden, Glarus, and Zuerich. Noteworthy Wisconsin Swiss communities were located in Buffalo, Green, LaCrosse, Milwaukee, and Sauk counties, but Swiss dispersed widely throughout the states. Several prominent national figures in religion, politics, and art had Wisconsin-Swiss connections, namely Archbishop J.M. Henni, C. Hermann  Boppe, E.L. Philipp, P. Rindisbacher, and Dr. N. Senn.  In the early stages, the project focused on the naturalization records of seven counties to identify the immigrants. A complete search of other vital records, including census records, cemetery transcriptions, diaries, genealogies, family Bibles, letters, and newspapers also provided useful information. Six research trips to Swiss archives were made between 1980 and 1996. During this period, complete histories of Swiss settlements in Fond du Lac, Waukesha, Waupaca, and Wood counties were also compiled.  

Partial studies of the Swiss in Buffalo, LaCrosse, Milwaukee, and Winnebago  counties have been steadily progressing and are nearing completion. Other  counties will follow. The story of the Swiss presence in Wisconsin has not been adequately told.  With the help and cooperation of a large number of people, especially the  Swiss descendants, the story will unfold, resulting in a definitive study of this important and interesting ethnic group. The progress of this research will be presented in articles on Swiss origins and settlements that will appear in genealogical and historical journals periodically.   Due to the scope of this undertaking, there is no deadline for completion of  this project. Anyone with a “Swiss connection” is invited to submit  information on early Swiss immigrants. All contributions, no matter how  small, are welcomed.

Correspondence relating to this group is welcomed. Please contact:

 Maralyn A. Wellauer , Editor, The Swiss Connection
2845 North 72nd Street, Milwaukee, WI 53210 USA

Tel: 414.778.1224  //  Fax: 414.778.2109  //  e-mail: [email protected]

I have a site for "The Swiss Connection"

Lafayette County Homepage

County Coordinator  Dori Leekley

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© 1997-1999 Dori Leekley

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