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William A. Barstow

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William A. Barstow
1850s portrait of Barstow by William F. Cogswell
3rd Governor of Wisconsin
In office
January 2, 1854 – March 21, 1856
LieutenantJames T. Lewis
Arthur MacArthur, Sr.
Preceded byLeonard J. Farwell
Succeeded byArthur MacArthur, Sr. (acting)
Coles Bashford (elected)
2nd Secretary of State of Wisconsin
In office
January 7, 1850 – January 5, 1852
GovernorNelson Dewey
Preceded byThomas McHugh
Succeeded byCharles D. Robinson
Personal details
William Augustus Barstow

(1813-09-13)September 13, 1813
Plainfield, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedDecember 13, 1865(1865-12-13) (aged 52)
Leavenworth, Kansas, U.S.
Resting placeBrookmere Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Maria Quarles
    (m. 1844)
  • Frank Quarles Barstow
  • (b. 1846; died 1909)
  • Augustus Quarles Barstow
  • (b. 1848; died 1906)
  • William Augustus Barstow
  • (b. 1850; died 1910)
  • Horatio Nelson Barstow
  • (b. 1854; died 1891)
  • William Augusta Barstow (father)
  • Sally (Hall) Barstow (mother)
RelativesJohn L. Barstow (1st cousin, once removed)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1861–1865
Rank Brig. General, USV
Commands3rd Reg. Wis. Vol. Cavalry
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

William Augustus Barstow (September 13, 1813 – December 13, 1865) was an American businessman, politician, and public administrator. He was the third governor and second Secretary of State of Wisconsin, and served as a Union Army officer during the American Civil War. Before Wisconsin became a state, he was instrumental in the creation of Waukesha County.

Early life[edit]

Barstow was born in Plainfield, Connecticut, and was raised there, working on his family's farm and attending local schools. At age 16, he moved to Norwich, Connecticut, and worked as a clerk in a store owned by his brother, Samuel.[1]: 91  They later moved their business to Cleveland, Ohio. After the Panic of 1837, the Barstows moved to the Wisconsin Territory, settling in Waukesha in 1839. At the time, Waukesha was part of Milwaukee County and was known as "Prairie Village" and later "Prairieville."[2]

Wisconsin Territory[edit]

The Barstows built a flour mill and became prominent businessmen in the new settlement. William was elected postmaster in the village in 1842, and Samuel was elected to the Territorial Legislature in 1845. William ran for sheriff of Milwaukee County in 1843 on the Democratic Party ticket, but was defeated by independent candidate Edward D. Holton. In that election, Barstow was hurt by Democratic voter defections due to allegations he had packed the convention with supporters to secure his nomination.[3]

Waukesha separation[edit]

During this time, agitation began in Prairieville and other Waukesha towns for the creation of a separate county from Milwaukee. There were several reasons for this, but the principal cause was probably the desire for Waukesha residents to keep more of their tax money for local improvements, rather than funding the growth of Milwaukee, which was how they perceived their role under the Milwaukee County organization.[1]: 82  The Barstows became some of the leaders of the separation movement, along with Alexander Randall, with whom they were politically allied throughout these years. Samuel, now serving in the Territorial Legislature, sponsored a bill in the Legislature which put the question of separation to a referendum in the proposed county. The referendum was bitterly contested, but ultimately passed amid allegations of fraud on both sides.[1]: 83  The town of Prairieville was renamed "Waukesha" in 1847 and became the seat of the new county.

Political career[edit]

Secretary of State[edit]

At the Wisconsin Democratic Convention in September 1849, Barstow was nominated for Secretary of State of Wisconsin on the 5th ballot, defeating incumbent Thomas McHugh and other challengers, including Myron B. Williams and Frederick W. Horn.[4][5] He went on to win the November general election, defeating Whig candidate Levi Alden and Free Soil candidate Edward D. Holton, and became Wisconsin's 2nd Secretary of State.[6]

As Secretary of State, Barstow's term was consumed by scandals connected to corruption of federal land grants and state government contracts associated with printing, the state insane asylum, and the state treasury. In particular, he was implicated by a statement from a Madison Argus editor who stated his determination to win a State printing contract even if he had to "buy up Barstow and the balance." The phrase stuck with Barstow for the rest of his career.[7]

He fought a bitter campaign in the Democratic caucuses attempting to earn renomination, but, at the State Convention in 1851, he was defeated on the third ballot by Charles D. Robinson, of Brown County.[8]

Wisconsin Governor[edit]

In 1852, Barstow's reputation had sufficiently recovered to represent Wisconsin at the 1852 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. But his legal controversies continued, and, during the 1853 legislative session, Barstow's name was associated with several corrupt acts charged in the impeachment of Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Levi Hubbell, and gave a deposition to the Legislature under subpoena. Hubbell was acquitted, however, and no new charges were brought against Barstow.

The same legislative session, however, also passed a temperance law based on the Maine Liquor Law, creating a statewide referendum on the question. Barstow became a vocal opponent of the act, speaking against it around the state. Through the summer of 1853 he was a nominal supporter of A. Hyatt Smith to receive the Democratic nomination for Governor and participated in several party meetings and caucuses in which delegates were selected. At the state convention however, as Smith was unable to reach a majority after 7 ballots, he dropped out of the race and encouraged his delegates to support Barstow. Barstow was nominated on the 11th ballot, narrowly defeating Jairus C. Fairchild.[9] The convention also adopted a resolution calling for the defeat of the temperance law.

In the November 1853 general election, Barstow faced off against Free Soil candidate Edward D. Holton for the third time, defeating him again and earning 54% of the statewide vote.[10] Governor Barstow was sworn in on January 2, 1854. As governor, Barstow supported the railroad to the Pacific and stood against the attempts of the Know-Nothing movement to undermine the citizenship of the foreign-born or slow down immigration. As promised, he opposed and vetoed the temperance law, despite the fact that the referendum had demonstrated popular support for the measure.[11]

However, allegations of financial impropriety emerged again, this time related to the use of public school funds and improper influence on state-backed loans and other expenses appropriated by his allies in the Democrat-dominated 1854 Legislature. Although he was able to secure renomination by the Democrats in 1853, Barstow lost support within his party as well as in Wisconsin generally.

Disputed election[edit]

William A. Barstow in 1853

When Barstow ran for reelection in 1855, he was initially declared the winner over his Republican opponent, Coles Bashford, by a mere 157 votes. However, Bashford claimed the result was fraudulent, and it was soon substantiated that Barstow's win was due to forged election returns from nonexistent precincts in the sparsely populated northern part of the state, in addition to other irregularities such as two separate canvassing boards claiming legitimacy in Waupaca County and attempting to submit conflicting certifications.[12]

As rival militia units converged on the state capital in Madison, threatening to start a civil war within the state, Barstow was inaugurated in a full, public ceremony on January 7, 1856. On the same day, Bashford was also sworn in quietly as governor in the chambers of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Chief Justice Edward V. Whiton.

The Wisconsin Attorney General, George Baldwin Smith, filed quo warranto proceedings in the Wisconsin Supreme Court to remove Barstow, who threatened that he would not "give up his office alive." After challenging the court's jurisdiction without success and noting that the tide of public opinion had turned against him, Barstow declined to contest the fraud allegations and sent his resignation to the legislature on March 21, 1856, leaving the lieutenant governor, Arthur MacArthur, as acting governor. On March 24, the court unanimously awarded the governorship to Bashford by a count of 1,009 votes in the case Atty. Gen. ex rel. Bashford v. Barstow.[13]

Later life[edit]

Barstow moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, where he opened a bank and promoted various railroad construction schemes, becoming president of the St. Croix and Lake Superior Railroad. His business ventures were mostly unsuccessful as his bank failed in the Panic of 1857, and his railroad company was consumed in another bribery scandal. He remained involved in Democratic politics, however, and served as a Wisconsin delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1860, where he worked for the nomination and election of Stephen A. Douglas.

Civil War service[edit]

After the outbreak of the American Civil War, Barstow wrote to General John C. Frémont, who had been named commander of the Department of the West, and offered to raise a regiment of cavalry. In the intervening months, the United States Department of War reduced their request for additional volunteer cavalry regiments and revoked the authorization for Barstow's regiment, but, after appeals from Barstow and Governor Alexander Randall, demonstrating that the regiment was nearly complete, the War Department restored his authority.[14]: 96  The 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment mustered into the service of the Union Army under Colonel William Barstow on January 31, 1862, at Camp Barstow, near Janesville, and left the state on March 26, proceeding to St. Louis.[14]: 909 

Shortly after their arrival at St. Louis, Colonel Barstow was named Provost Marshal of Kansas and the regiment was distributed around the state on provost duty. For most of his term in this role, Colonel Barstow operated out of Fort Leavenworth. Only months after starting his service, Colonel Barstow was struck by illness and, after struggling for several months, he accepted reassigned in the summer of 1863 to preside over courts-martial at St. Louis, Missouri.[14]: 914  He was mustered out of the service on March 4, 1865, and received a retroactive promotion to brigadier general of volunteers on March 13, 1865.[15]

He remained in Leavenworth, Kansas, after leaving the service and bid for a contract on the state prison. Two of his sons also relocated to the city. His health had continued to decline through his years in the war, suffering from chronic diarrhea. He died at Leavenworth, Kansas, on December 13, 1865.[15]

Family and legacy[edit]

William A. Barstow was married to Maria Quarles of Kenosha, Wisconsin. They had four sons.

Barstow was the son of William Augusta Barstow and Sally Hall Barstow. His Uncles John and Ebenezer Barstow were volunteers in the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. Ebenezer Barstow's grandson, John L. Barstow, was the 39th Governor of Vermont.

Barstow Street in downtown Waukesha, Wisconsin, is named for him.

Electoral history[edit]

Wisconsin Secretary of State (1849)[edit]

Wisconsin Secretary of State Election, 1849[6]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 6, 1849
Democratic William A. Barstow 16,814 53.75%
Whig Levi Alden 10,703 34.21%
Free Soil Edward D. Holton 3,767 12.04%
Plurality 6,111 19.53%
Total votes 31,284 100.0%
Democratic hold

Wisconsin Governor (1853, 1855)[edit]

Wisconsin Gubernatorial Election, 1853[10]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 8, 1853
Democratic William A. Barstow 30,405 54.60% +5.24%
Free Soil Edward D. Holton 21,886 39.31%
Whig Henry S. Baird 3,304 5.93% -44.57%
Scattering 88 0.16%
Plurality 8,519 15.30% +14.15%
Total votes 55,683 100.0% +26.01%
Democratic gain from Whig Swing 49.82%
Wisconsin Gubernatorial Election, 1855[10]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, November 6, 1855
Republican Coles Bashford 36,198 49.86%
Democratic William A. Barstow (incumbent) 36,355 50.08% -4.53%
Scattering 45 0.06%
Total votes 72,598 100.0% +30.38%
Republican gain from Democratic

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Haight, Theron Wilber, ed. (1907). Memoirs of Waukesha County. Madison, Wisconsin: Western Historical Association.
  2. ^ "Barstow, William Augustus (1813-1865)". Wisconsin Historical Society. 3 August 2012. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  3. ^ Watrous, Jerome A. (1909). Memoirs of Milwaukee County. Vol. 1. Madison, Wisconsin: Western Historical Association. pp. 91, 119. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  4. ^ "Democratic State Convention". Southport telegraph. Kenosha, Wisconsin. September 14, 1849. p. 2. Retrieved April 14, 2022 – via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  5. ^ "Democratic State Convention". Waukesha Democrat. Waukesha, Wisconsin. September 18, 1849. p. 2. Retrieved August 15, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ a b "Official Vote of the State". Milwaukee Daily Sentinel. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. November 30, 1849. p. 2. Retrieved August 15, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ Johnson, Allen, ed. (1943). "Barstow, William Augustus". Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. 2 (Barsotti–Brazer). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 1–2. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  8. ^ "The Loco Foco Convention". Wisconsin Express. Madison, Wisconsin. September 18, 1851. p. 2. Retrieved August 15, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "Democratic State Convention". River Times. Fort Winnebago, Wisconsin. September 17, 1853. p. 2. Retrieved August 15, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ a b c Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau (2015). "Statistics: History" (PDF). In Pohlman, Julie (ed.). State of Wisconsin 2015-2016 Blue Book (Report). Madison, Wisconsin: State of Wisconsin. p. 699. ISBN 978-0-9752820-7-6. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  11. ^ "The Prohibitory Law Vetoed". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. March 24, 1855. p. 2. Retrieved August 15, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ McCann, Dennis (December 10, 1998). "3 governors held office within weeks". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on March 7, 2003. Retrieved August 15, 2020 – via Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "Attorney General ex rel. Bashford v. Barstow - 4 Wis. 567 (1856)" (PDF). Wisconsin Court System. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  14. ^ a b c Quiner, Edwin B. (1866). "Regimental History - Third Cavalry". The Military History of Wisconsin. Chicago: Clarke & Co. pp. 96, 909–920. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  15. ^ a b "Death of William A. Barstow". The Appleton Crescent. Appleton, Wisconsin. December 23, 1865. p. 4. Retrieved August 15, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Regiment created Command of the 3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
January 31, 1862 – March 9, 1865
Succeeded by
Thomas Derry
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Secretary of State of Wisconsin
Succeeded by
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Wisconsin
1853, 1855
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Secretary of State of Wisconsin
January 7, 1850 – January 5, 1852
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Wisconsin
January 2, 1854 – March 21, 1856
Succeeded by