Friday, October 4, 2013

Degrees of Separation to John Hancock

Today's blog will be for my Jepsen relatives but others may find it interesting.  You have probably heard of the 6 degrees of separation or the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon where everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by six links.   I have one about John Hancock.  He was the famous patriot who had the largest signature on the Declaration of Independence.  My connection may actually be less than 6 degrees.

My mother and her family lived in Pray Wisconsin.  It is an unincorporated town.  When I was young my grandpa still lived in Pray.  Then as he got older, he lived with us in the winter and lived there every summer until he died on New Year's Eve of 1966.  The town consisted of my grandpa's house, a bar next door and a bar and house across the road.   We all loved to go out to Pray.  I never got to go into a bar when I was young except when we went out there.  Then I was allowed to go inside and get a grape soda.  I loved grape soda.  I wonder if I would still like it.  I haven't tried it in many many years.

Grandpa Jepsen a couple summers before he died.

Ma, grandpa and Jake

The owners of the bar/general store across the road were Jake and Ma Kozlowski.  Ma had a real name which was Justine, but everyone called her Ma.  My mother's brother married their daughter.  My cousin generously gave me these pictures.

This is Ma and Jake Kozlowski.

They had moved to Pray from Chicago in the 1930's.  Apparently they made some arrangement with the owner and moved to Pray for an easier life.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.  They worked so hard to make a living.  Running a tavern from morning to night is not easy.  Ma tended bar, cooked meals and ran the store.

The tavern is now abandoned.

This is how the bar looks today.  When Jake died their daughter Emily ran the bar with Ma.  Sad loss of history.

Next door to the tavern was a beautiful old house.  I never was in the house, but it always fascinated me.  I never knew why, but I liked it.  I imagine I was told of the historical value of it  and that was the reason.  The sad part of this is that in 1985 this beautiful house was torn down to build a new tavern and parking area.  I'm kind of surprised that it was allowed, but it is now gone.

This house looks so much smaller to me now than it did when I was young.

The house was originally owned by Colonel John Hancock.  During the Civil War Colonel Hancock was in the Second Wisconsin Infantry.  He was from a very distinguished family.  Supposedly he was the nephew of the famous John Hancock who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  I have read the nephew connection in articles but personally haven't done enough research to prove it for sure.  His wife, named Jennie was an elegant women and musician who was trained at the Madison School of Music.  They married and lived in Oshkosh for quite some time.  It was where all five of their children were born.  The Oshkosh Public Museum has a collection of the letters John sent to Jennie during the war.  His first cousin was married to Edward Paine which is also a very important name in Oshkosh history.  His cousin is probably why he located from his birth place in Pennsylvania to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  John was a very successful lawyer so imagine the conversations and culture shock that occurred when John told his wife that they were building a cranberry marsh and moving to the wild land of central Wisconsin.  It was 1878 when they built their first house and then a few years later they built the house in Pray.  They had the house furnished with beautiful Victorian furniture including a grand piano.  One of their daughters named Louise ran the General Store next door which later became Jake's Tavern.

John Hancock became very active in local politics.  He died in 1894 but his wife remained in Pray until her death in 1911.  She must have learned to like it there.  She is not buried next to her husband but is buried in the same cemetery as my grandparents, great grandparents and many other relatives.  Colonel John Hancock is buried in the Catholic section of Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh.  One of his daughters died before him and is also buried there.  Remember this photo of the old Oak Tree I posted a couple weeks ago.

It is the site of Colonel Hancock's gravestone.  It has almost been swallowed up by this large Oak tree.  We talked to the caretaker of the cemetery and he said that many times they find gravestones inside tree stumps.  I imagine he and his daughter were buried next to a small oak tree.   A very pleasant place in the cemetery, but in 120 years the tree has become so large that his stone is beginning to disappear.  His daughters stone is no where to be seen so we imagine it is inside the tree.

Colonel John Hancock was born 8/12/1830 and died 4/9/1894.  He was 63 years old.


  1. Your uncle married Emily - Emily was my great grandmother. Her son Jack was my grandfather.