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Bascom Clarke Of B.B. Clarke Beach Fame

January 14, 2008


Last Friday night a third cousin on my dad’s side rang our doorbell and dropped in for a brief visit.  We have let it be known that the teapot is always on for family and friends, and are glad that people know that is for real.  It was a joy to reconnect, as he is also into the genealogy of our family.

But I was also very surprised and pleased that he presented us with an old book, “Bascom Clarke: Southern Refugee”, and told us we could have it.  Clarke is the man that Madison’s B.B. Clarke beach is named for.

The book was written by Charles Whelan, and published in 1913 by the “American Thresherman”, a publication that Clarke founded in Madison in 1898.  Bascom had signed the book, (as seen above) to “Rev and Mrs. R.C. Bennett”.  He then writes, “In memory of the Father who fought to save the union much my Father was forced to try to help destroy.”  And then signed by Bascom Clarke on October 14, 1927.

The first ‘father’ he refers to his President Lincoln, and the second one is his own dad.

I have been doing reading lately to better understand the history of Madison, and so the timing of this book was perfect.  So while others were watching football this weekend I was following the story of Bascom Clarke.  What a tale!  As a Civil War buff the story was a hit with me even though the mindset at the time the story took place, and later was written, fails to mesh with our current thinking about slavery and the war.  To pretend that slaves were content to be owned is unacceptable in any context.  Yet history, at one level, should be understood in the context of those who lived it, and as such the book is rich in the flavor of the times.

But the story of Bascom Clarke’s family traveling from Virginia to Mount Adams, Arkansas is one that seems highly adventuresome.  An old-fashioned quality of story telling lends the text a certain charm as I turned the yellowed pages, and the slightly musty smell of a used book lifted up from the printed words.  (I actually like that old book smell.)

Bascom was seven years old when the family left the East and moved with the aid of two mule wagons, and two slaves.  After the Civil War and deadly malaria he is left orphaned at the age of 12, and soon would be on a boat headed to Indiana, and the home of the dreaded Yankees.  The tales he had heard about the northern way of life was soon to be undid by the experiences he would use to frame the rest of his life.

He would be instrumental with many aspects to life in Dane County and Madison after moving here in 1890.  Among other things he founded Dane County Telephone Company, and was involved with many efforts to help those who needed a lift up in life.

Reading this book reminds me yet again that no one can truly think history is ever boring. It always stuns me when some try and claim it to be true. Even history buffs such as myself get pulled back into time with such a compelling story, even though we think we have read it all before.   Bascom Clarke’s story is still one that resonates.

It now sits on my book shelves with other treasures about the past, not far from the beach named in his honor.

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  1. Martha permalink
    October 24, 2014 9:31 AM

    I just came across this while looking for my grandfather, Harry Clarke who is Bascom’s grandson. I enjoyed reading — thank you!

  2. lou ciszek permalink
    May 4, 2011 4:40 PM

    I purchased a hardcover book titled “The Musings of Uncle Silas” at an auction today in Baraboo, Wi. It says it was published in 1904. It is signed with a “Dear Senator” notation consisting of apprx. 48 words . This was signed Dec 24,1904. It appears to be an apology of some sort. Any interest?

  3. April 22, 2011 10:18 PM

    I am pleased and humbled that this little piece of cyberspace has been a way for relatives to meet and join in fellowship with one another. I am so glad that you all have found one another….who knows what others are out there to be found.

  4. Louise Scanland permalink
    April 22, 2011 3:43 AM

    B.B Clarke is my Grandmother’s uncle. Uncle Silas is an alias for B.B. when he wrote a pithy column in the American Thresherman. There is a book with the writings and musings of Uncle Silas available as a free download along with the “Southern Refuge…” One of the sons was killed in a hunting accident at an early age. My Grandmother was the daughter of Adeline Clarke and Andrew Jackson (Jack) Turner. My grandmother was given a trip to visit Uncle B.B and Aunt Belle for her graduation from high school. Her name was Deirdre Belle Carnes.

  5. Jill Hynum permalink
    July 27, 2010 11:49 PM

    I also enjoyed reading the book. My grandfather, son of Lucy Jane Clarke (B. B. Clarke’s sister) came to Madison to stay with his uncle in the early 1900s and ended up staying. His son, Robert, ended up owning the house next door to the BB Clarke home on Spaight Street for a few years. I’m told it was also built by Clarke, I believe for a son who later died.

    I also have a B. B. Clarke pin which I found on ebay.

  6. Helena Clarke-Froidevaux permalink
    January 19, 2010 9:20 AM

    I very much enjoyed reading this page and my brother, Matthew P. Clarke’s comments. I am the great-grandaughter living in France and am the eldest of Bascom’s great grandchildren. Actually, my husband and I are planning to visit the BB Clarke home in Madison on Spaight St this coming August 2010 with our first cousins from St Paul, MN, and hoping Bascom’s other 9 great-grandchildren will be able to make it to the BB Clarke Beach for a family picnic. Again, enjoyed your words.

  7. Matthew P Clarke permalink
    September 10, 2009 9:58 AM

    Sir, every once in awhile, I’ll do a search of my great grandfather, Bascom, just to see what’s out there. Nice to hear you enjoyed the book. As an added note, I am the son of Harry D. Clarke, who was the son of Frank Clarke, who was one Bascom’s sons. Bascom was the son of James F. Clarke; James was the son of Woodson P. Clarke of the War of 1812, and Woodson was the son of Nathanial P. Clarke who fought the in the revolutionary war in Virginia. Bascom has a lot of great great grandchildren, most who live in N.Y., Mass, and Vt. Plus one in France. We have all talked about a trip to Madison one day to go to the BB Beach.

  8. February 15, 2008 11:02 PM

    No I do not know what the pin would have been usd for. He was of course with the American Thresherman, but am not sure what the pin was used for…promotion perhaps?

  9. Alan Knox permalink
    February 15, 2008 10:48 PM

    I have an old pinback with a picture of B.B. Clarke. The pin reads: The American Thresherman. “The warmest bady in the bunch” B.B. Clarke Editor. “Uncle Silas” Madison, Wis. Do you know anything about this pinback?


  10. January 15, 2008 1:23 PM

    What a great gift! I, too, admit to being a Civil War buff, so the subject of the book is especially fascinating.

    To me, studying history in-depth, more specifically the personal experiences of those who lived it, is the closest thing to time travel as we’ll ever get.

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