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Sylvanus Bonnell


Posted By: John C. Bonnell, jr. (email)
Date: 12/3/2005 at 10:24:58


John C. Bonnell, Jr.

© 2005

“General" William Bonnel (Bunnel), first landed at Canopic (name changed in 1640 to
New Haven) Connecticut in April 1638, aboard a ship named "James” that had sailed from Bristol
England. Bonnel was a member of the Hertfordshire Church of Dissenters or Puritans formed by the Reverend Peter Prude, a nonconforming minister of the Church of England, to migrate to North America. In 1639 Prude took his flock to Milford, Conn. Bonnel afterwards moved to long Island.1

Nathaniel Bonnel, I was born on Long Island in 1641, and on 3 January 1665 married
Susannah Whitehead of New Haven. With his father-in-law and others, they formed a company
and emigrated to New Jersey in the spring of 1665 to form a "pure Church and Godly
government" in the wilds of America. They purchased from the Indians, the land lying between the Rewritten and Passaic Rivers and called themselves the ELIZABETHTOWN ASSOCIATES.
They settled in the area around Elizabeth and Chatham, New Jersey.2

An abbreviated Family Tree of the male line follows:3 (OMITTED)

The community of Chatham, New Jersey was the home territory for most of the members
of the Bonnel clan in the 1700's and 1800's. Along the Passaic River were mills that Bonnel's
owned at one time or another.4

A few miles to the southeast of Chatham is the community of Springfield. On 28 February (or Jan.or Sept.)1773, Sylvanus Bonnel was born to John and Sarah Carter in Springfield or Chatham. He died 09 December 1825 at age 53. His third son, Sylvanus, married Nancy Bonnel his cousin, the daughter of Nathaniel, IV. (John was the third son of Nath., III, and Nancy was the daughter of Nathaniel IV). Nancy was born about 1778, and died, 04 July 1851 at age 73. Sylvanus and Nancy married on 28 Feb. 1807 (or 5 March 1803/04).5

Sylvanus had five sons and four daughters. The first son,Calvin Day,was born in
Springfield, NJ in 1810. It is this branch of the family (with nine children) that were the apple orchardists in Springfield, while other Bonnel's had mills at Chatham. Three sons of Sylvanus,with their families, migrated from Springfield, New Jersey to Dover, Iowa in the autumn of 1843 with a fortune made in apples.6
The three sons, all born in Springfield, (Essex County now Union County NJ), were Calvin Day, b. 9 April 1810, d. 5 August 1861; James Harvey, b. 30 June 1811; and John W., b. 14 July 1814. Calvin Day was the oldest and brought his wife Julia Anne and several children: (Mary, age 7, William Harvey, age 6; Nancy (?) and John Calvin, I,age 2, b. 28 July 1841).

The journey started at Springfield by railroad to Philadelphia, continued by stage to Pittsburgh, and then by Ohio River steamer to St Louis. From there the pilgrims proceeded by steamer up the Mississippi to Fort Madison, Iowa Territory, where the family left the boat.Two other brothers; Sylvanus (b. 1819, d. 12 Aug. 1859) and William (b. 31 Dec. 1820,
d. 3 Oct. 1908) came to Fort Madison in the spring of 1844.8

The first and second family ventures were as merchants, supplying the needs of settlers.
These enterprises soon failed because of the completion from established stores in Fort Madison and in their second location, from Salem. In 1845 the brothers purchased a large amount of land in Franklin Township about five miles north of the present town of Donnellson, near the crossroads with Highway 2 and Highway 218.The purchase was about 2000 acres of land along Highway 218 and was farmed as a group, and in 1846 they had 535 acres planted in wheat. The brothers were among the wealthiest and most progressive farmers in Southeast Iowa, introducing the first mechanical reaper and binder in Lee Counties. The machine was a sickle and reel with a platform to catch the cut grain.9

At the same time as the farming venture, James and William Bonnel, owners of 880 acres,
opened a store named "Dover" North of the above crossroads. The brothers sold the business
after several years to devote their full time to farming. The new owner relocated to the crossroads and soon a town, by the name of Dover, grew up around the crossroads. Dover included a stone school house (still standing in August 1987), several houses, two blacksmith shops, a cobbler, horse trough and pump and a post office. The town prospered until the 1880's when the railroad town of Donnellson was founded. Today there is only a memory of the community, except for the school. Bonnel children were in this school from the day it was built in 1867, until 1921.10

In 1852 the brothers split-up and become independent farmers.Records show that brother Sylvanus returned to New Jersey in 1856, and no more is heard of him. Aunt Jennie, a sister of J.C.B, I, suggested in a letter, that they also engaged in logging that failed about the time
of the Civil War. The decision to split was not a wise one for the brothers and the fortunes of the families slowly declined. Slowly the large domain slipped to ownership outside the family, either by the brothers or their heirs. The last to go was the old James Harvey Bonnel farm, sold at public sale in 1921.11

James Harvey, son of Calvin Day, occupied about 171 acres of land, one-half mile north of Dover, at the time of the split. A house, begun in 1848, on this property was known as "Elmwood" and in the 1950's was still known as the homestead. Brother John W. owned one-half
interest with his brother William in 490 acres. The four brothers were Republicans. James Harvey,
and Calvin Day’s son, John Calvin I, were members of the Presbyterian Church.12

William at the time lived with his brother, James Harvey, William never married. John W.
later lived on the top of "Denmark Hill" in Fort Madison where he planted a double row of elm
trees around his property. These trees were still standing in 1950.13

John W. was married (first) to Rozana C. Hoover. On 1 August 1858, Arthur F. Bonnel was born. He died on 22 August. Rozana died on 9 September 1858, probably from complications resulting from the child birth. Both were buried in a small cemetery across the road
from the old "Elmwood." site, known as "Dover" or "Bonnell Cemetery".14

John W. next married Eliza M. Pitman in the spring of 1863. Eliza was the daughter of
William G. Pitman Sr., classified as a pioneer of Lee County,(a “first family” of the territory) because he was one of the first settlers in the territory before 4 July 1840.15
James Harvey lived in "Elmwood" until he died in 1895. His wife, Rachel Anne Buffington Bonnel, lived there until her death in 1910. The home was destroyed by fire in 1949.
James Harvey and his wife Rachel are buried in the "Hoover Cemetery" near Dover.16

Approximately a quarter of a mile north from "Elmwood",Calvin Day occupied an old
building that had been the store before he moved into hi home, later known as the "Gill" place.
Calvin was living at the "Gill" place when he shot himself,5 August 1861. According to his obituary in the,"We regret to learn that Calvin Bonnel, an old and highly respected citizen of the county, closed his life on Monday of this week (5 August 1861), by the effects of a pistol shot initiated by his own hand, whilst under a temporary derangement of the mind".He was buried next to Rozana.In 1909 his body was removed by his son, George Washington Bonnel, to a family plot in the Wyuka Cemetery, Lincoln, Nebraska. Calvin Day's wife, Julia Anne moved to the town of Fort Madison after his death and died 28 April 1910 at the age of 97 at Ft. Madison, Iowa. She is buried in Lincoln, Nebraska. next to Calvin Day.17

The brothers built a barn of native stone and frame in 1844-1845,(or 1847-1848) at Calvin Day's farm. The barn stood untill 1935. This barn was built with the help of a Mormon
cousin and his family driven from their home in Nauvo,Illinois. The family of David Edwin Bunnel, a fourth cousin to Calvin Day, came to live with and work for the Bonnel's. The cousin earned enough to buy a yoke of cattle and a wagon that enabled him to move onto Utah in a year and a half of working on the barn. The barn was built to withstand Indian Raids and
had a well inside the barn. Slits on all sides in the masonry wall were for the use of rifles.18

Calvin Day Bonnell had three sons, William Harvey, John Calvin, and George Washington. After three years with the 19th Iowa Infantry in the Civil War, John married and worked for the railroad, leaving the home area. Brother George also worked for the railroad and left the area.. By the early 1930's there were no more Bonnell’s in the Fort Madison Area. I am John C. Bonnell Jr and Calvin Day was my Great Great Grandfather.John Calvin was my Greta Grandfather.


1.Bonnell, Albert, Genealogy, p. 19, etc.
2.Bonnell, Albert, Genealogy, p. 1, 2;
4.Cunningham, Chatham, map p.83; marked-map, Borough of Chatham, 1973.
5.Duncan, Decedents, various pages.
6.Sloat, Madisonia, p. 112.
7.Duncan, Decedents, pp. 99, 176.
8.Bonnell, Fern, James Harvey, p. 49.
9.Bonnell, Fern, James Harvey, p. 3; Sloat, Madisonia, p.112.
10.Bonnell, Fern. James Harvey, p. 4.
11.Bonnell, Fern, James Harvey, pp, 44- 45.
12.Bonnell, Fern, James Harvey, pp. 4, 52-54.
13.Bonnell, Fern, James Harvey, pp. 4,54; Obituary, John W. Bonnell, Weekly Democrat,

January 4 , 1888.
14.Bonnell, Fern, James Harvey, p. 50.
15.Register of Pioneers of Lee County, Iowa., Published by the Fort Madison Democrat,
24 August 1882.
16.Bonnell, Fern,James Harvey, pp. 5, 58.
17.Ibid., pp. 50, 59; Obituary Fort Madison Plain Dealer, 9 August 1861; Wyuka Cemetery,

Lincoln Nebraska, records.
18.Bonnell, Fern, James Harvey, p. 63.


1.Bonnell, Albert. "Genealogy of the Sylvanus Branch of the Bonnell Family, 1638-1904":
Donnellson, Iowa, 1904. Private Printing
2.Bonnell, Fern. "A Brief Record of James Harvey and Rachel Anne Bonnell", 1811-1950.
Fern Bonnell, 1950. Private Printing
3.Cunningham, John T. "Chatham at the Crossing of the Fishawack" Chatham New Jersey
Historical Society: 1967.
4.Duncan, Ruth, Cost."William Bunnell and His Descendents". The Anundsen Publishing
Co: Decorah, Iowa, 1986.
5.Sloat, Ted. "Madisonia" The Fort Madison Evening Democrat: Fort Madison, Iowa, 1978.


Lee Biographies maintained by Sherri Turner.
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