Joseph Alexander: born May 14, 1826 in . married Hannah Knight
on April 29, 1844 in Ramsbury. They accompanied Ole family to America in 1844,
and eventually settled in Rochester, MN. They would eventually have 14 children.
Joseph Alexander was baptized May 14, 1826 in Ramsbury, Wiltshire, England, the fifth child of John Alexander and Harriet Pike. King George IV was on the throne of England, and John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States. There were twenty states in the United States, and the Erie Canal had just been completed in New York. Twenty-two miles away from Ramsbury in Lacock Abbey Henry Talbot was in the process of inventing the first practical photographic process. Samuel Morse invents the telegraph.
It can be assumed that Joseph was trained by his father to be a carpenter although he evidently did not enter into any formal apprenticeship program. At age 18 Joseph married Hanna Knight in Ramsbury, England on April 29, 1844. Hanna was from the village of Thatcham which was situated about eleven miles to the east of Ramsbury. She had five brothers, and her father – George Knight – was the proprietor of a baking business in Thatcham. On Sept. 30, 1844 Hanna gave birth to their first child – Jabez Hezakiah Alexander.
In 1845 Joseph, Hanna and Jabez accompanied John and others of the family on the trip from England to America. The account of this voyage has been described previously. Joseph settled in Watertown, WI with the rest of the family members. He may have worked as a carpenter. At that time there were three feed mills under construction on the Rock River, and construction was under way of a log road that ran from Watertown to Milwaukee, so there would have been plenty of work. However, Roy Alexander was under the impression that Joseph worked with his father in running a small mercantile store where he may have done some shoe repairing. For one thing, there were records of purchases of leather and leather working tools. Secondly, there was a letter written by John to Joseph after Joseph settled in Rochester which stated that the person that had purchased Joseph’s leather-working tools had left town without paying for them. Thirdly, there was a notation made by Joseph in the margin of the day-book to the effect that “On this day – Sept. 26, 1848 – my son Jabez (N) was born in Ramsbury”. His first son, Jabez H. had died the year after they had arrived in Watertown. In 1848 Hanna made the long trip back to New York and then on to England to visit her parents and family. Joseph did not go with her but it can be assumed that one member of the family accompanied her for she was pregnant at the time. She gave birth to Jabez and then returned with him to America. Four more children were born to Hanna and Joseph during their years in Watertown. George John was born Sept. 26, 1846; Mary Ann was born Jan. 13, 1850; Hanna Belinda was born Feb. 2, 1853; and Joseph E. was born Dec. 25, 1854.
After nine years in Watertown Joseph made the decision to leave to search for a new home. It is not really clear why he came to this decision. It may have been that there was some concern for the safety of his family. An epidemic of Cholera had come to Watertown in 1849 and had persisted for several years. At the peak of the epidemic the town recorded eight to ten deaths per day. The epidemic subsided in 1851 but returned in 1854. It also might have had something to do with his financial prospects. Evidently the shop was not prospering well enough to support the entire family, and John – now 53 years old – may not have been able to continue to run the shop and farm his land at the same time. Joseph could see the possibility that he would have to take over the management of the farm in the not too distant future; and it is obvious that Joseph had little interest in farming. We must assume that Joseph had the desire to establish his own business, but by this time there was considerable competition in Watertown. There were already three mills, several stores, a drug store, several hotels, churches, and a post office. He may have felt that to be successful he would have to find a location where there was greater potential.
There also may have been a religious element in his decision. Watertown was growing rapidly due to the influx of German settlers. The population grew from 218 people in 1840 to more than 8,500 by 1855. Most of the churches had ties with their German counterparts and most services were in German and Latin. At that time there was only one Methodist congregation in Watertown, and it was serviced only periodically by a Methodist Circuit rider. Joseph, who was very religious, may have felt a sense of alienation from the religious community around him. So in the fall of 1854 he left Watertown on foot. He later provided the following description of his trip in an interview in the Rochester newspaper:
“I left Watertown October the Sixth to the West to seek a home in Minnesota. I started alone and on the foot train at four o’clock in the afternoon and after along weary tramp (160 miles) I reached La Crosse. I then by accident became acquainted with a Mr. Wesley Ilen and his father who were on their way to Oronoco, Minnesota and they wanted that I should ride with them. So the next day we crossed the ferry and drove until four o’clock; then unchecked the team and left the wagon in the road and took the team down the hill to a stream and camped. This was on the twelfth of October in 1854 in Minnesota, and at the spring I found many of the campers sick and as I had some medicine with me and also understood what herbs to administer to the sick. This was my first practice of medicine in Minnesota.
The next day we came to the cabin of Mr. Bentley about noon, and about five o’clock came to another log cabin of Mr. Springer, and the next day we came to Rochester, October 14, 1854. On the fifteenth Mr. Grimes and myself went out and made our claims. Mr. Grimes made his a little to the west of town and I took the SW one quarter of section 36 and I built a house on it hut I finally abandoned it because it was school land. And then I made a claim and built a shanty on it that took in Cascade falls. But this claim was jumped (stolen) and entered whilst I went for my family. I then made a claim of Section 1. This claim I entered and built a log house and made it my home. On the 15th of October 1854 Mr. John Bamber came to Rochester and stayed at Head’s Tavern. He took off his leather belt that was filled with gold and gave it to Mr. Head for safekeeping.”
The log house mentioned above was located on Beaver Street (now 9th Ave. S. E.) Between 7th and 8th streets in Southeast Rochester. Roy drew a sketch of the cabin from a description supplied by one of Joseph’s brothers. The second floor attic acted as sort of a dormitory. At one time there may have been as many as eleven people living in the small cabin. It was eventually incorporated in to a new house built by Joseph’s son Henry.
From the Daily Post, August 31. 1895
“It is not very difficult to imagine what Rochester, or rather the beautiful valley in which Rochester nestles, was like at a period forty years ago. Viewing it from one of the eminences which overlook the city and imagining the place bereft of any traces of the civilization that have intruded themselves within that time, what a scene of beauty unfolds itself in the mind of the interested gazer. To a real person, however, viewing an actual scene at the time of which we speak it would have been the better part of wisdom not to have lost himself too deeply in admiration of the charming picture before him; for the there were wild beasts and wilder men who claimed the country as their own by right of prior possession and though the chroniclers do not relate any instances, who can tell but some straggling adventurer, lost on his way from one trading-post to another and never heard from or inquired about since, might not have wandered into the valley of the Zumbro, there to fall pierced by a silent Indian arrow, and to become food for the wild animals that abounded in the forests of this region”.
Joseph noted that when he arrived in Rochester there were only two buildings between Rochester and La Crosse. George Head, (considered the founder of Rochester) had put up a modest structure which served as a tavern and hotel. It was a welcome sight to Joseph. With the arrival of Joseph the population of the town had increased by 20%. The next day a sixth settler – John Bamber arrived at the tavern. Slowly, more settlers arrived and the town began to grow. The problem of ‘claim-jumping’ noted above was a persistent one. So the small group created a mutual protection group. When a member wished to return East to bring his family back to Rochester the others posted the area and warned off interlopers. Pioneers acquired land by preemption; that is they had to register a claim on some parcel of land, build a house or cabin on it and live on it for three years. At that time they had to have paid off the cost of the land which was $1.25 per acre. Joseph first made a claim of 40 acres which was the SW one quarter of section 36, but he later abandoned it because it was school land. He then made a claim that took in Cascade Falls and built a shanty on it. This was the claim that was jumped when he returned for his family. He finally claimed 160 acres of land in what is now the Southeast section of Rochester which included Bear Creek.
The earliest settlers came in prairie schooners. By 1856 as many as 300 prairie schooners were passing through the village in a day. Later, trains came as far west as the Mississippi River, and from Red Wing and La Crosse they finished the journey by wagon. Historians say that in 1853 one Jacob Gross trudged into Olmsted County, built a home and went down on the record books as the first settler in the county. So Joseph was truly one of the pioneers having arrived only one year later. The life of a pioneer was hard. The winter of 1854-1855 was unusually severe. The homes were miles apart, primitive and crudely constructed, usually of logs. There was little money and much bartering. Other hardships they faced included prairie fires, and tornadoes. Indians and black bears were still prowling the woods of the county as late as 1870. Indian Heights, in N. W. Rochester, was so named because of an Indian burial ground located there. Joseph’s sons George and Jabez remembered playing and wrestling with the young Indians. George’s mother would tell
Joseph had conceived of the notion of starting a nursery for the growing of various fruit trees. He had evidently placed an order with a nursery in Watertown for a large number of young trees. However, after he arrived in Rochester he received a letter from a Mr. B. B. Reynolds in Watertown informing him that the nursery stock had not faired too well and that he (Mr. Reynolds) would not expect that he could fulfill the contract that they had entered in to. Joseph evidently did not pursue the idea.
Joseph’s first successful enterprise was undoubtedly a crude saw mill. Joseph related how Mr. Head, who was the prime mover in the growth of the town, was constantly devising schemes to bring more settlers to the area. One day he and Joseph hit upon the scheme whereby Joseph would saw up a quantity of boards and building timbers and pile them in front of the tavern so that immigrants, who might otherwise pass on, might remark on the evidence of a prospering community that was exhibited by the stack of lumber, and would come to the conclusion that a settlement that could support a sawmill was one that a person should consider settling in. The following is taken from W. H. Mitchell’s History of Olmsted County:
“The first saw mill in the town of Rochester was of a somewhat curious construction and consisted of a scaffolding erected some six or eight feet in height. The saw used was about seven feet long, tapered from 8 inches to four inches and had large handles at both ends. The framework of the scaffolding was so arranged that the log could be gaged to produce lumber of any width. The motive power was a
man at each end of the saw,
other beneath it in the pit. Mr.
Alexander, the proprietor assured us that two men would frequently manufacture as much as 500 feet of lumber in a day. To the pioneers who were yet destitute of mill driven by water or steam this was of vast importance, and many are the houses made comfortable by use of the lumber manufactured by the pit mill.” (Note: the saw is now housed in the museum at the Olmsted County Historical Society.)
This saw mill was in use throughout the years from 1855 through 1858. At that time Joseph and his partner William Goldsworthy (son-in-law of Judge Olds) decided to expand the business to include some manufacturing. Sometime during this period the partners built a steam powered mill at the site on the Zumbro River almost directly south of the East end of the Mayo Civic Auditorium. Machinery was added to permit planing and general cabinet making. The mill was in production until the summer of 1863 when it caught fire and burned to the ground.
The following advertisement appeared in the Rochester Free Press Aug. 25, 1858:
“The undersigned have made arrangements and signed a co-partnership with Messrs Goldsworthy andAlexander for the manufacture of all varieties of cabinet ware, chairs, bedsteads, tables, lounges, sofas etc., and we intend to keep all articles belonging to our business constantly on hand for sale at wholesale and retail. Anything in the cabinet business will be made to order and on short notice. All hinds of wood turning done to order. Shop at the old stand on the East side of the river at the sash and door factory. Those having logs would do well to give us a call and get bids so as to have them sawed into suitable sizes and lengths.”
Joseph Alexander, We. Goldsworthy, E. D. Walden, Z. J. Cowls
Joseph kept a daily ledger book giving the type of item manufactured, for whom, and the cost of the item. (This ledger is in the possession of Joseph Alexander). The business catered to most every need covering the manufacture of everything from coffins and children’s cribs to the repair of threshing machines. It was not uncommon to find some bartering going on wherein merchandise was paid for by provisions or labor. Nails, hardware and bed castings were shipped to the factory in wooden boxes and the wooden shipping crates were often utilized as backs of cabinets and bottoms of drawers. Woods used in the factory included Walnut, Butternut, Elm, Basswood, Maple, Oak and Poplar. Some representative prices from the Day book are given below:
Office table: $9.00 Stool: $ .50 4 Windsor chairs $12 Round table: $ 4.25 Boston rocker: $5.00 Gothic bedstead: $20.00 2 doz. buoys: $ .75 Book case: $4.00 Coffin & box: $15.00 Wagon tongue: $1.00 6 bent back chairs: $6.00 Bowling pin: $ .40
The original frame and door shop was built in 1856 on Zumbro Street. In 1861 it was moved (evidently being of modest size) to a lot on Broadway between 3rd and 4th streets S. E. where it served as a retail shop. For some time Hanna Alexander had a millinery store in the structure. Some of the entries in a day book include: 1 pair. silk stockings: $1.10; ribbon: $.34; 1 pr. gloves: $1.00; 2-1/2 yds lace: $.50. Later on the shop was rented out.
In reading the various letters that passed back and forth between Rochester and Watertown during the first years it is evident that Joseph was having a difficult time. He tent several letters to his father asking for the loan of some money but given the situation in Watertown his father was unable to help. His brother had remained in Watertown and had sent a letter to Joseph asking about the possibility of finding work in Rochester (he was a Cooper by trade), and he also returned a two-dollar bill that Joseph had sent him informing him that it was counterfeit and could Joseph send him a good one. It is evident that unit! was very scarce. This evidently weighed heavily on Hanna for she had written her brother in England telling him of their situation. He wrote back the following:
Thatcham, England March 16, 1860
I received your letter and was very pleased to receive one from you for it is a very long time since I had one from you. But at the same time I was very sorry to hear such unwelcome news respecting your prosperity. I was very sorry to hear you was so very badly off as I expected to hear soon that you had made your fortune and was returning to England. But I hope to hear by your next letter that things are altered for the best and that you are doing better.
Dear sister I was very sorry to hear that you had been soil. But I hope by this time you are quite well and your family. I must tell you I have been very unwell this 6 months. I have been to several doctors and physicians but cannot get any relief. I have a very bad cough and hoarseness with the liver complaint. Sometimes I think I shall not recover from it but I hope by the blessing of God I may for the sake of my family. We are doing very well and have got a good business. We are doing (note: this refers to baking) .50 sacks of flour per week. I think as a rule there is nothing better than a steady business – by far better than reckless speculations.
I wish you had never gone to America. I think you would been much better off respecting your money. I talked to brother George about it and he is very much annoyed about it. As I told you in my last letter that he is the proper person to apply to for it. (Note: this evidently refers to Hanna’s share of money left to her by her father after he died – a sum of nearly $800 which in those days was almost two years wages). He say he shall not send it as you never applied to him for it as you ought to have done. I have took it upon my own responsibility to send it to you. You must be sure and write to me directly you receive it and acknowledge the receipt thereof so that I may get the money from George and settle it all.
Your brothers are quite well and desirous to be remembered to you. You did not say in your letter a word about Joseph. How he was how he was either dead or alive. My dear wife desires to be remembered to you. I suppose you had forgotten that I had a wife as was as dear to me as myself as you never mention her in your letters. I have sent you a directed (addressed) envelope the way you should direct my letters as you direct them so bad they are sent all over county before I get them. I should think you may get someone to direct them for you.
Dear sister I hope you will receive this money quite safe and write to me directly you receive it. I should be very pleased to get a paper from you oftener.
Your affectionate brother – J. Knight -Thatcham, Berks
(The above was written in ink in excellent script on two sides of a small 7″ by 8″ piece of stationery. He had the curious habit of not ending sentences with a period, and the last paragraph was written over the previous text at right angles to the rest.)
An early grist mill
Most of the grist mills at that time ground on “toll” or “grist”, the mill owner being paid for the use of the mill by taking a portion of the ground feed as payment for his services. Most mill stones were French Burhs imported from France. Each stone was made up of six or eight pie shaped segments bound to the center post with an iron hoop. Joseph used a stone that was 48 inches in diameter. Actually, two stones were required, the lower one was stationary and the upper one revolved. It was necessary to dress the stones quite often. After removing the stones from the shaft they were “staffed” which meant that a piece of lumber smeared with paint was scraped over the grinding surface. Where the paint showed the high spots they had to be cut down with a chisel and hammer. After leveling the stone surface was “cracked” which meant sharpening the curved furrows that radiated out from the center of the stone.
Originally the woolen mill was powered by a water turbine, but later the power was derived from a steam engine. The turbine was favored over a waterwheel inasmuch as it did not require a large head of water. The turbine was a round cast iron case about 4 feet in diameter. Inside were paddles or vanes made of inch thick iron. There was an opening upstream called a penstock which could be opened or closed with a gear-driven gate. The center shaft was connected to the mill stone or other equipment through a series of gears and
belts. Equipment for the wool operation included a spinning
single cylinder carding machine, one picker, one yarn spooler, and one doffer. The turbine was very efficient, did not require much maintenance and was not affected by ice. The mill was usually run eleven hours a day
not frozen. Sketch of the Mill by Roy Alexander
six days a week during
the time the river was
jack, a double cylinder
carding machine, a
Joseph lived in Rochester for 42 years, and saw it grow from a tiny settlement on a clearing in the forest to become the third largest city in the State. In 1854 the Dubuque to St. Paul stage coach line began service passing through Rochester. In 1856 the first log schoolhouse was built on the corner of Second Ave. and Fifth St. S. E. By 1863 the population was somewhere near fifty; yet there were eighty buildings of one sort or another. In 1858 the city of Rochester was chartered, the population had grown to 600, and there were about two hundred buildings (all made of wood). The first brick building wasn’t constructed until 1860. In 1862 the Oakwood Cemetery was created and Joseph bought a number of burial plots for the family. In 1864 train service was inaugurated by the Winona and St. Peter Railway Company. By 1870 Rochester had numerous churches, a bank, a county court house, several hotels and many shops and offices.
Joseph’s story would not be complete without mention of his religious beliefs. He was deeply religious as was his father and most of the other Alexanders of that time. It can be assumed that he was never without his herbs, and his copy of scripture. A letter written by his son Henry notes that “Dad went to Winona and staid seven or eight days to talk Bible and religion to a rich lumber man there”. The first man to die in the settlement of Rochester was a man named Brown. Joseph had built a house for him, but shortly thereafter Mr. Brown died. So Joseph made the wooden coffin, and since there was no one else available to do it he also performed the funeral service He also performed a
number of marriage ceremonies. His children remember him sitting in the kitchen of the house after supper
studying his Bible by lamp light and writing notes in the margins. Several of his bibles are in the possession of his great grandchildren.
He used to write his sermons in a small, fine script in a small notebook (which is in the Olmsted County Historical Society). Joseph would hold meetings in a grove shaded with trees on Lake Street, just west of the woolen mill. During the meetings Joseph would expound on his interpretation of scripture. Roy once characterized Joseph as a “Free Thinker”. This was a quasi-religious movement that became popular in the 18th century. It’s followers advocated a free and personal interpretation of the Bible without regard to creeds or institutional affiliations. Although Joseph’s father had some connections to the Methodist movement Joseph evidently favored an independent path to salvation.
There will be amiss of meetings held in the Grove near the Woolen Mill. East Rochester, for
Free Thought and Free -Speech.
The meetings will be held at 3 o’clock each Sunday afternoon.
will lead the meeting next Sunday July 27.
Subject “Life Everlasting and the Immortality
of the Souk” He will also give Bible proof of
what was said last Sunday.
Imetet fie ninety. _
AB are invited to attend, and any one will MShim the privilege of speaking. COMB ALL