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Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
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Submitted by Gloria A Olson,


John Matravers was born in Donyatt, England 4/11/1827, the son of Philip Matravers and Eliza Sweetland. His surname has been researched back to 1086. His direct line in England dates back to 1743. He was the only one in his family to immigrate to the United States.

He married Mathilda Clark in St. Helliers, Isle of Jersey, England, 4/12/1854. Mathilda was born in Chord Common, England on 12/20/1833, the daughter of Richard Clark and Mary Ann Lumbert. Little is know of her family except she had a brother Richard and one sister.

John & Mathilda emigrated immediately after they were married in 1854. The trip was a wedding present from Mathilda's cousin Louise. They sailed from Liverpool, England on a ship named Ango Saxon. When they boarded the ship they were to have all the food they need for the voyage. On the voyage over Mathilda suffered a loss, when her wedding ring slipped off her finger as she leaned over the ship's rail. The first gift she received from her husband, which was bought when they had little money, was lost forever. Forty years later she still mourned the loss as she described it to her granddaughter, Edith Porterfield. The trip from England to Quebec took 6 weeks and they disembarked at Quebec, Canada.

Here is where family stories vary as to what happened next. The one thing that is consistent is they befriended a young man on the trip to Quebec and shared their food with him because he had run out. The young man assured him they could find work in Milwaukee. They either stayed two weeks or 6 weeks in Quebec according to the stories. What they did while in Quebec is not know. The stories never said how they traveled from Quebec to Milwaukee. The logical way would have been by ship.

After arriving in Milwaukee, they obtained work with a relative of the young man they had befriended. John worked with the husband in his business and Mathilda took care of his wife who was ill. They worked for room & board plus a small amount of money. After some time in Milwaukee the people they worked for helped them research where they should go next. They decided on Oconto. Here again, we do not know how they traveled to Oconto. Since they evidently had few personal possessions, they may have gone by boat. It was faster & economical as long as you did not have a lot of things to ship with you.

The book "Commemorative Biographies and Portraits, West Shore of Green Bay" printed in 1896; tells us they arrived in Oconto in 1855 with $1.00 in cash. It goes on to state, that John was employed at Hubbels Mill for several months before moving to Leightown where he worked for George Smith. Mathilda's obituary states they stayed in Oconto for 2 years, before buying their first farm land in 1857.

The book states he bought his first piece of land, 53 acres of timberland in 1855. A man named Hatton had previously owned the land. Some stories say he built a log cabin on the land. Another version states that the cabin existed, a garden area had been cleared and the purchase included a cow. We need to do a deed search to find the truth between these two versions. This was the homestead they spent the balance of their life on. John proceed to clear they land which made his wife extremely nervous when he was cutting down trees. Family stories state she had to be near by when he was doing this work because she was afraid he would be hurt. This first property was located 8 miles out of Oconto and 1 mile from Couillardville on what is now know as County Trunk J towards Brookside.

ohn & Mathilda had four children between 1855 and 1859. They were Philip Matravers born 1855, died 1858, George Phillip born 5/2/1857 died 5/5/1860, Mary Ann Mathilda born 7/5/1858 died 12/3/1858 and Walter born 8/14/1859 died 8/31/1859. All of these children were buried at the Brookside Cemetery. My aunt remembers the stones being there, they have now disappeared.

Next they had Mathilda born 8/31/1860, married Samuel Couillard; Mary Ann born 12/19/1861, married Thomas Edwin Couillard; Edwin born 5/1/1863, married Lucy LaCourt; and Lether born 9/25/1864.

John reported to active duty for the Civil War on 1/6/1864 at Chicago, Ill. He was mustered into the 39 Illinois Militia , First Division, First Brigade, 24th Army Corps at Springfield, Illinois. He was then sent to Camp Distribution near Washington, DC where he spent the winter. In the spring the regiment marched to Richmond, Virginia where they participate in the battle of Hatchez Run. John sent many letters home during the time he was serving. There is a gap in the letters from January to April 20, 1865 during which he was probably actively engaged in the war.

While John was serving Mathilda was left to care for the children and run the farm. When she could she had a hired hand to help her. Mathilda had little cash to spend and the income was derived from selling of wood from the timbered farm, sales of maple syrup from tapping trees and processing it, and what produce she could sell.

The majority of their food came from what they raised or what was available wild in the area. Items like blackberries, blueberries and raspberries were readily available for the picking. The wheat for flour came from the winter wheat they raised and had ground into flour. They preserved food from the garden for winter use plus stored items in a root cellar. For meat they had what they raised and butchered plus eggs from the chickens and a cow for milk.

Mathilda took produce to Stiles to sell, a 3-mile trip one way. She did this by pulling a cart behind her filled with produce. She sometimes took a child with her if there was room. The other children would have had to stay with a hired hand or neighbors. This was a dangerous trip, especially if she was traveling in the dark because of the wolves in the area at that time. She often took the family dog for protection. In addition she sometimes carried meat to throw to the wolves. It was on these trips to Stiles that Mathilda sent her letters & received John's as there was no mail delivery at that time. It has been said neither knew how to read or write, so they paid people to write the letters and read they.

On June 14 1864, Lether was sick, and Matilida carried the child to Oconto to a doctor. On the way back the child died in her arms. With the help of neighbors they buried the child under a tree in the yard. After John returned the child was moved to the Brookside Cemetery. Mathilda must have done a tremendous job of handling all this responsibility, as in one of John's letter he states she does not need to send him any money he is fine.

In the final days of the war John was stationed at Appormattox Court House, before and during Lee's surrendered to General Grant. While there he had the opportunity to meet him. John had a great deal of respect for General Grant, and is probably the reason his first son born after he returned was named George Grant.

After leaving Appormattox he was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia where he guarded union deserters. He was discharged in September of 1865. When a solider was discharged it was up to him to get home. John reached home on 12/19/1865 his daughter Mary Ann's fourth birthday. Family stories say as he approached the house the family dog started barking and Mathilda went out to see a thin, limping man with a cane approaching the house and did not recognize him. John had a limp the rest of his life. His granddaughter , Helen Jelinski, states he was wounded during the war and received a $5.00 a month pension for the rest of his life.

After John's return the family prospered and had four more children. Amber Elizabeth born 7/15/1866, married Edmund L Classon; George Grant born 2/6/1868, married Viola Henderson; Hugh Yarwood born 1/27/1870, married
Lillian Temple, daughter of Marie Volk and George Temple, and their last child Martha Etta born 6/26/1873, married John Porterfield.

John continued to buy additional land, and the commemorative biographies book of 1896, tells us that the original site had a 1-1/2 story house besides other improvements and he owned 200 acres. It states that in addition he owned a separate farm of 100 acres of which 70 were cleared.

Family stories say in 1896 John gave each of his sons a farm and each daughter was given $1,000. For a couple who arrived in the area with $1.00 they certainly accomplished a great deal. His daughters also were to receive $1,000 at the time of his death.

John & Matilda celebrated their 50 anniversary on April 12, 1904 with a celebration at their home.

Mathilda died on 7/5/1906 after a three days of problems with dysentery. She had been troubled with heart trouble prior to her final illness. Her funeral was held on 7/12/1906 at the Couillardville Presbyterian Church with Rev. George V.R. Sheppard officiated. John died on 1/14/1910 and his funeral was held on January 17, with the pastor George Sheppard officiating. . It was said he was a very lonely man after the death of his wife. For all they shared, the travels, tribulations and happiness you could see why he would have been lonely. Both are buried in the Evergreen Cemetery at Oconto, Wisconsin.

Descendents of this brave, strong, independent couple still live in the area.

Helen Jelinski book "Stories of Life's Winding Pathways"; Numerous articles out of the Oconto Reporter; Thomas Edwin Couillard and Mary Ann Matravers Bible; personal discussions with various descendents.

This biography prepared by Gloria A Olson, a great-great granddaughter.