In 1843, Iowa City was only four years old, and traveling in or out of the new capital city meant going by foot or by horseback. If you had a lot of extra cash, stagecoach was your improved option – leaving from Chauncey Swan’s Swan Hotel – located near the Capitol Building and right on the National Road (see below). Read more here.
Here’s a rare postal letter – dated April 7, 1843, and written – here in Iowa City – by Edward Eastman. This one-page letter is headed back east to Edward’s uncle – Moses Eastman – Postmaster in Salisbury, New Hampshire.
Sadly, we know very little about Edward Eastman, nor do we know the reason this 55-year old native of New Hampshire has ended up here in Iowa City. Yet, from this unique one-page letter back home, written in April 1843, we do learn a lot about what life was like living in this new Territory called Iowa. So now, paragraph by paragraph, let’s unpack Edward’s comments to his Uncle Moses…
Moses Eastman was born in Salisbury, N.H. on August 11, 1770, making him 72 years old at the time he received this letter from his nephew in Iowa. His first wife, Sukey Bartlett, had died in 1806, and Moses is now re-married to Eliza Swester. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Eastman to the job of postmaster for Salisbury, and after a few years away (1826-1834), in Concord N.H., Moses returned, picking up right where he left off. According to family records, his brother – Benjamin Eastman (Edward’s father) and his family – lived in Salisbury as well.
Apparently, the Prairie Itch is a nasty skin condition (see pic above) caused by several types of mites, and it’s characterized by very intense itching. As Edward states, it’s very common for newcomers from the East to be welcomed to the Heartland with this friendly little skin rash caused by mites. According to medical reports, this stuff also goes by other scratchy names like barley itch, mattress itch, grain itch, straw itch or lumberman’s itch, and fortunately can be treated with calamine lotion.
First observed in early February, The Great Comet of 1843 was so brilliant that it was observed in broad daylight – roughly one degree away from the Sun! It passed closest to Earth on March 6, 1843, and was at its greatest brilliance the following day. The comet was last observed on April 19, 1843 – so when Edward wrote his letter in early April, the comet was, obviously, a topic of much conversation around the country. Read more about The Great Comet of 1874 and its impact on SUI in Iowa City.
Without a doubt, from the moment Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France (1803), Americans had become intoxicated with moving westward. The Oregon Trail was laid by fur traders from about 1811 to 1840 and was only passable on foot or on horseback. By 1836, when the first migrant wagon train was organized in Independence, Missouri, a wagon trail had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. From the early to mid-1830s – and particularly through the years 1846–1869 – the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by about 400,000 settlers, farmers, miners, ranchers, and business owners and their families.
In May of 1843, one month after our letter was written, early settlers in Oregon met at Champoeg – just south of present-day Portland – and passed a resolution to adopt a provisional government. Working from the only law book they had – The Statute Laws of the Territory of Iowa (1839) – the settlers formed sub-committees to draft the proposed constitution, which served these early pioneers until the establishment of Oregon Territory in 1848.
As we said earlier, we don’t know too much about Edward Eastman – the son of Moses’ oldest brother – Benjamin Eastman (see below). Born in Salisbury, New Hampshire on September 12, 1788, Edward was married to Susan Cheeney (1793-1879) of Bristol, N.H. At age 55, when he wrote this letter, there’s no way to know how long Eastman actually stayed in Iowa. We also don’t know if Edward ever pursued his Oregon dream, but apparently, he did eventually move back east before he passed on April 11, 1880 – at the ripe old age of 91. Both Susan and Edward are buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Northfield, Vermont.
(On the left) The nine children of Edward, Sr. & Anna Eastman of Salisbury, N.H. – Benjamin and Moses (the recipient of our letter) were brothers. (On the right) The family line of Benjamin Eastman – showing Edward, Jr. – the author of our letter – as one of three Eastman children (below) and his brother Moses under the list of siblings (far right).
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.