Winchel D. Bacon: Schoolteacher and Underground Railroad Participant

6158[1]In many cases hardworking school teachers become involved in important social causes. This is certainly the case with Winchel Daily Bacon, a schoolteacher, farmer, businessman, and politician from Waukesha, Wisconsin, who participated in the Underground Railroad.

Winchel was born August 21, 1816, in Stillwater, New York, the son of Samuel and Lydia Barber Dailey Bacon. For two years, he worked as a clerk in Troy, New York, before joining his parents in their 1837 move to Butternuts, New York. On July 4, 1838, the young Winchel married Delia Blackwell, a native of Butternuts. For four years the couple ran a farm in Butternuts, while Winchel taught school in the village during the winters.

On September 2, 1841, the Bacons left for the west, traveling from Utica to Buffalo, New York, by steamer, and from there to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From Milwaukee the young schoolmaster and his wife traveled west to what was then called Prairieville. This town in now known as Waukesha. There they settled for the remainder for their lives, where Winchel continued to farm and teach school. From 1843, this intrepid pioneer ran a local newspaper and engaged in the wagon-making and blacksmithing business, in partnership with his brother-in-law Charles Blackwell and his friend, Edmund Clinton. In 1850 Winchel traded the business he’d built in Waukesha for a steam-powered sawmill located in nearby Brookfield.

Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the abolitionist schoolteacher participated in the Underground Railroad, even sheltering at least one fugitive slave in his own home. He was also active in organizing first the Liberty Party and then the Free Soil Party in Wisconsin. In 1852, he was elected to one term in the Assembly from Waukesha as a Free Soiler. Additionally, Winchel took an active role during the Civil War. In 1863, he was appointed paymaster in the army by President Lincoln, and was stationed at St. Louis.

After the war, Winchel used his influence to establish the Reform School located at Waukesha. As an acting commissioner, he had charge of the school’s accounts and disbursed the money until the school was opened. For several years he was a trustee of the State Insane Hospital, and he also served as a trustee of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum. He was president of the Waukesha Agricultural Society for several years, and also served as a member of the Chicago University’s Board of Trustees for several years. He was also a member of the Masonic Order of the Knights Templar.

In his later years, the former teacher was afflicted with a heart condition. At the age of 78, Winchel passed away at his home on March 20, 1894. He is buried in Prairie Home Cemetery in Waukesha County, Wisconsin.