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Historical Essay

Rosaline Peck's Violin

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Rosaline Peck's Violin | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeRosaline Peck's Violin

Rosaline Peck's violin, 1830s

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1969.304.2,a

EnlargeDetail of the violin

Detail of the violin, 1830s

Detail view of the Peck violin’s hand-carved lion’s head scroll. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1969.304.2,a

EnlargeRosaline Peck

Rosaline Peck

Portrait of Rosaline Peck, 1874. As this image suggests, Mrs. Peck endured a difficult life in Wisconsin. Her husband abandoned her in the 1840s, leaving her to raise and support the family by herself. View the original source document: WHI 38795

Violin and bow played by Madison, Wisconsin pioneer Rosaline Peck, 1830s.
(Museum object #1969.304.2,A)

Rosaline Peck, the first white woman settler of Madison, played this violin at gatherings inside her public house cabin located near Capitol Square. As she played, boarders, residents, travelers, and notables such as Territorial Governor James D. Doty danced on her hardwood floors. Born in Vermont in 1808, she moved with her husband, Eben, to Blue Mounds in the Wisconsin Territory in 1836 and to Madison in April 1837. While the cabin was still under construction, she boarded travelers, territorial legislators, and workers constructing the first Capitol building in Madison.

Mrs. Peck and her brother-in-law, Luther Peck, were considered excellent violin players and in great demand for any festivities in the pioneer town that had limited entertainment sources. A 1913 newspaper account notes that "Virginia Reel" and "Monie Musk" constituted the chief numbers of these impromptu dances. She provided the entertainment with her violin at the first wedding in Madison, held at the cabin in April 1838, stopping only to take part in the dancing. Earlier that day she, as a justice of the peace, presided over the wedding ceremony. Later that year the Pecks hosted a New Year’s Eve party where once again Mrs. Peck played for all. The event purportedly lasted two days and two nights.

Throughout the summer and fall of 1838, a pregnant Mrs. Peck worked hard to establish the cabin and tend to its boarders. That fall she gave birth to the first white child born in Madison, a daughter named Wisconsiana Victoria Peck. Two years later the Pecks moved to Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Because Mrs. Peck became a famous Wisconsin resident, her children in later years gave many of her possessions to the Wisconsin Historical Society including her apron — with its hidden money pouch, a dress, and a set of jewelry. During her lifetime Mrs. Peck likely did not see herself as famous, though. In 1855 she was characterized in the Madison business directory as a mere fiddler which angered her. In response she purportedly said, "Bah, did you ever hear such trash."

In 1860 Mrs. Peck wrote a long letter to the "Baraboo Republic" in response to an unfavorable account of her Madison public house recently published by the Wisconsin Historical Society. A visiting Englishmen wrote the account which did not have kind things to say about Madison's earliest days. In her letter a frustrated Peck laments how she was never appreciated for all effort helping to establish Madison.

In 1870 Rosaline Peck wrote a poem that more succinctly expressed her feelings:

Ho Madison:
And its once starved and hungry crew,
With stomachs expanded so wide,
Who, now, in their pride, can gulp down their stew,
And Oysters, and turkeys beside.They should
Look back a few years and remember their mother,
Who perspired to give them relief
And have charity more for sister and brother
Whilst gorging their pie, cakes and beef.

[Sources: Mollenhoff, David V. "Madison, a History of the Formative Years, 2nd ed." (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003); "Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, vol. XI" (Madison, WI: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1908); unidentified newspaper clipping from WHS Museum accession file 1969.304.]

JEK

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Posted on April 06, 2006