Caleb P. Barns
Caleb P. Barns
Caleb P. Barns, Burlington Historical Society
for Wisconsin State Assembly
1. 1850 2. 1855 – 1. 1851 2. 1856
|Born||January 12, 1812|
Owego, New York
|Died||October 29, 1866 (aged 54)|
|Resting place||Burlington, Wisconsin|
|Children||3 beyond infancy|
Caleb Paul Barns (January 12, 1812 – October 29, 1866) was an American lawyer, businessman, and legislator.
Born in Owego, New York, Barns (or Barnes as it was spelled much of the time) grew up in the western part of New York, most likely in or near Chautauqua County. Little is known of his boyhood, although a couple vague clues exist. One addresses his "good scholastic and legal education," while another indicates that he was "early thrown upon his own resources." After describing Barns as a person of "extreme reticence," a writer continued, "few men have lived so long in one community as he did of whose personal history so little is known by their neighbors generally."
Migration to Wisconsin
As a young man, Caleb Barns moved to Wisconsin Territory, settling in Burlington, Wisconsin. Local history sources claim that he journeyed to Wisconsin prior to 1840, returning to New York to marry his future wife. Other sources date his arrival as 1842. David L. Wells of Utica, New York brought his wife, the former Cornelia Eddy, to Burlington at about the same time. Wells, destined to become Barns' brother-in-law, was appointed postmaster. The close association between the Barns and Wells families continued for decades, as the families became increasingly intertwined.
In 1845 Barns married Elizabeth Ann Eddy, of Troy, New York, a daughter of Asa Eddy and Lucy (Shepard) Eddy. Elizabeth had been a student at the Emma Willard School for Girls in Troy, New York, a pioneering institution in women's education. It is not known whether they knew each other in New York or were introduced through family connections in Wisconsin.
Caleb Barns and his wife, Elizabeth, were parents to three children who survived infancy: Cornelia, born about 1852, Frederick W., born in November, 1860, and Charles Edward Barns, born in July, 1862. Their first two children and their fourth died in infancy and are buried in the family plot at Burlington. These were Alfred A. Barns (February 1847 – 26 August 1847), Lucy Shepard Barns (1848 – 20 October 1849) and Elizabeth Barns (January 1855- 16 July 1855). Lucy Shepard Barns was named for Elizabeth Eddy Barns' mother.
In the early 1850s, David and Cornelia Wells, and their two young sons, Asa Eddy Wells and Frederick Elisha Wells, left Burlington and settled near Sutter Creek in California. Their departure was believed influenced by Cornelia Well's physical state, as she was then suffering from tuberculosis. In spring of 1856, Cornelia Eddy Wells died from her illness. Compounding the tragedy, several months later David Wells was thrown from his horse and died next day. The two orphaned sons, aged 9 and 11, were placed on a ship bound for New York, and then escorted by relatives to Burlington. There they joined the Barns family, making it a family of five. As noted above, Caleb and Elizabeth Barns gave birth to son Frederick W. Barns in 1860, followed by Charles E. Barns in 1862. There were now five children in the home, three Barns and two Wells.
As Caleb Barns established himself in his new community, he opened a law practice. At first he partnered with James Strang, whom he had known in New York. Strang was a recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and would soon move to Michigan with his followers. Barns constructed a bank in 1847, establishing his office on an upper floor.
Years later, a short obituary published by the State Bar Association of Wisconsin credited Barns' "great success" as a lawyer to the following characteristics that he exemplified:
complete self reliance, untiring industry, a vigorous and unclouded intellect, a good scholastic and legal education, quick perceptive faculties, and especially a profound knowledge of human nature and character, which latter greatly enabled him to conduct the examination of witnesses with remarkable success. He was very cautious in giving advice, and very few of his clients, if any, complained that he excited hopes and expectations which were not realized by the result.
Another writer continued:
His preparation of his cases for trial was most complete. Although his mind was so constituted that he seemed to grasp almost intuitively the principles involved in a case, yet he was never satisfied with this, but with patient industry he investigated it to its most minute details, and was therefore able to predict with reasonable certainty the results of the trial.
In 1843 Caleb Barns was nominated for Representative by the Whig Party. The newspaper declared, "it is a good ticket, and a friend from that county, says it will be elected by a handsome majority." Unfortunately for Barns, the Democrats took Racine County positions by a margin of over 200 votes. Barns switched parties, and in 1848, the year of Wisconsin's statehood, ran as a Democrat for the Assembly from the district of Yorkville, Rochester and Burlington. He lost by three votes to the Whig nominee, Samuel Chapman. The following year, he again ran as a Democrat. This time he, three other Democrats, and an independent were elected.
In 1850 Barns entered the Wisconsin State Assembly for a one-year term. He was elected again and served another term in 1855. In 1862 he was a Democratic nominee for the Wisconsin State Senate. This time, his opponent was a Republican, who subsequently won the election. The following year Barns served as a delegate to the Democratic State Convention, one of two delegates seated from the Racine District. His commitment to politics was long-standing and far-reaching.
In later years as his health deteriorated, Barns turned to banking, which proved quite profitable for him. A colleague described the transition,
Admonished by his failing health that he was no longer equal to the demands of active professional life, he several years ago gave up the practice of law, and entered into financial business. The same qualities that brought to him success and eminence in his profession rendered him successful in his new employment . . .
Barns also applied his financial skills in service to his community. When the Burlington's first school board was organized in 1858, he volunteered to serve as its treasurer.
After less than two decades of marriage, in February 1864 Elizabeth Eddy Barns died from tuberculosis, a disease that had taken her sister eight years previously. The young Barns boys were two and four years of age, respectively, daughter Cornelia was twelve, and the Wells boys nearly 18 and 20. The household stayed together, although Cornelia Barns lived much of the next decade with a grand aunt in Long Island, New York.
For nearly a quarter of a century he has occupied a prominent position in our midst, a position, which now that he has left us cannot easily be filled. He was long our trusted counselor and advisor, and valued personal friend, and we cannot yet fully appreciate the extent of our loss.
He was 54 years of age, the head of his household, a businessman, and a community leader. His children and nephews would embody his legacy.
The Next Generation
Caleb's and Elizabeth's older son, Frederick W Barns, was rising in the banking business at Oakland, Nebraska, when he died suddenly of typhoid fever at age 22. He was a graduate of the Racine Academy  and entered Williams College, where its president is said to have considered him "one of the most industrious and excellent students in all the college classes."  Fred was manager at A. E. Wells & Co. Bank, working with cousin Asa Eddy Wells at the time of his death.
"He bore a Good Name. He acknowledged his responsibility to God and lived a useful life."
Cornelia "Nellie" Barns spent considerable time on Long Island with a relative and as a young woman traveled and studied in Europe. In May 1885 she married Hector Baxter in a ceremony at the Meinhardt residence in Burlington. Hector Baxter was a young attorney from Canada. For many years she was prominent in the Episcopal Church.
Charles Edward Barns graduated from the Racine Academy and entered the Columbia University Law school. He found himself drawn to interests in science and writing, and became a newspaper writer for the New York Tribune. After traveling in India, China and Japan, He returned to Flushing, New York and published short stories, poetry, and drama-novels. He married Mabel Balston and together they raised three children. Late in life, he became chiefly known as an astronomer.
- "Obituary". Burlington Standard. 30 Oct 1866.
- State Bar Association of Wisconsin (1905). Proceedings of the State Bar Association of Wisconsin. Madison, WI: Wisconsin State Bar Association. pp. 243–244.
- "Honeymoon Home Built Century Ago By David Wells is New Bus Station". Burlington Free Press. 15 April 1954.
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- Forty-Fourth Annual Report of the Minnesota Branch of the Woman's Auxiliary to the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Minnesota. p. 34.
- 'Proceedings of the State Bar Association of Wisconsin,' Wisconsin State Bar Association: 1905, Biographical Sketch of Caleb P. Barns, pg. 243-244
- 'History of the Bench and Bar of Wisconsin,' Vol. 1, John R. Berryman, H.C. Cooper, Jr.: 1898, Biographical Sketch of Caleb P. Barns, pg. 360
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- Dyer, Charles E. (1883). In Memoriam, Fred W. Barns.
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- Sawyer, Eugene T. (1922). History of Santa Clara County, California. Los Angeles: Historic Record Co. pp. 1111–2.