You’re looking at a rare stamp-less postal cover (above) postmarked in Iowa City on April 13, 1846. It’s addressed – as you can see – to Laurel Summers who lives in Parkhurst in Scott County, Iowa. And if you’re a stamp collector, you know that U.S. postage stamps weren’t used until 1847, and until then, the postmaster would simply take the letter, stamp it with a postmark, and write the cost of mailing the letter in the upper right corner. Allow me here one last postal cover detail. When the letter’s sender paid for the postage, the postmaster would mark PAID in the upper right – but when the letter was being sent C.O.D. – with the recipient paying the postage – like this one – that means that poor Laurel Summers needed to pay the 5-cents when he received the letter in Parkhurst!
So, let’s look at the contents of this letter – which turns out to be written – in haste – by Thomas Hughes – an Iowa City newspaperman who has been in the Iowa newspaper business for eight years – since 1838. Below, we transcribed Hughes’ letter…
Newspaper Editor Thomas Hughes – Iowa City – was born on September 22,1814 in Catawissa in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. Hughes became interested in the newspaper business at a young age, becoming a journeyman-printer and ending up in Harrisburg and Philadelphia before coming to Davenport, Iowa in 1838. His first job was working with the newly-formed Iowa Sun, but before long, he relocated to Burlington to work with James Clarke on the Iowa Territorial Gazette. After the Legislature adjoined (1839), Hughes moved north to Dubuque (The Dubuque News) before settling in Bloomington (Muscatine) in October 1840. Working with John B. Russell, the duo started The Bloomington Herald – only four days after William Crum & W.D. Bailey began The Iowa Standard. You can read more here.
Eventually moving to Iowa City to publish The Iowa Capitol Reporter, Hughes went on to become a state representative to the Iowa Legislature – representing Johnson, Muscatine and Iowa Counties from 1846 to 1848. At age 47, Hughes signed up as a soldier in the Civil War – August 1862 – serving as a quartermaster of the 28th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry, and was taken prisoner on the Red River expedition, where he was held for fourteen months at Fort Tyler, Texas. Here, Thomas’ health suffered and he became partially blind in one eye as a result of his time in prison. Hughes suffered a stroke in 1865 and again in 1880, finally dying of paralysis of the lungs, at age 65, on March 11, 1881 in Iowa City. Read more here.
Legislator Laurel Summers – Parkhurst in Scott County, Iowa – was born October 2, 1812 in Montgomery County, Kentucky. In 1830, Summers decided to learn a trade and went to Indianapolis, where he became a brick-maker’s apprentice. Having mastered the trade, he secured work as a journeyman and saved his hard earnings so he might travel further west. In 1837, Summers settled in lowa – in what is now Scott County – secured a tract of Government land and embarked in farming. In 1838, Summers was elected by his friends as a Representative of Scott County to the very first Iowa Territorial Legislature in Burlington, and was unanimously re-elected to that position in 1839 and 1840. It was during this time in the Legislative Council (1839), when his one vote made all the difference on locating Iowa’s new capital in Iowa City. Read more here.
In 1844, he was elected to the Iowa Legislative Council, serving two years, and in 1850, was elected to the State Legislature. In 1853, Summers was appointed United States marshal of the District of Iowa by President James Pierce, and reappointed under President Buchanan, serving four more years. After retiring from State affairs, Summers served his home city – now called LeClaire – for four terms as mayor, and was also deputy sheriff for three years. In 1874, he was elected one of the trustees of the Iowa Agricultural College at Ames and served in that capacity for four years. He passed on April 15, 1890 and is buried in Glendale Cemetery in LeClaire.
Now let’s meet some of the other Iowans mentioned in Thomas Hughes’ letter. Yes, this newspaper man is a real name-dropper!
Supreme Court Justice Joseph Williams was born December 8, 1801, at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. He studied law in the office of Chauncy Forward and was admitted to the bar in his native state where he practiced law for a time at Somerset. Upon his appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1838 by President Van Buren, he located in the new Territory of Iowa at Bloomington (Muscatine). Williams served on the Iowa Supreme Court from the formation of Iowa Territory in 1838 and on the State Supreme Court until January 25, 1848; and again from January 15, 1849, until January 11, 1855. For seven years he was Chief Justice. Judge Williams presided at the first court held in Polk County – a session of the District Court in April 1846. In 1857, he was appointed, by President Buchanan, a Supreme Court judge of Kansas Territory and later, by President Lincoln, as Judge of the United States District Court at Memphis, Tennessee. Justice Williams died at Fort Scott, Kansas, March 31, 1870. Read more here.
Curtis Bates – Johnson County (far left) was born on March 8, 1806, in Connecticut. Bates went with his family to Trumbull County, Ohio, when he was 3 years old – there he passed his youth and early manhood, and began the practice of law. Soon after commencing practice, he was elected State Senator, as a Democrat, but his opponent contested the election, when it was shown that he was ineligible to the office, being less than twenty-five years old. During the contest, however, he became eligible, was re-nominated, and elected by nearly a unanimous vote. He came to Iowa City in 1841, and opened a law office. While at Iowa City, he was admitted to the Polk County Bar in 1849, became interested in Fort Des Moines, and resolved to establish a newspaper with Barlow Granger. The press and material were hauled from Iowa City on wagons, and July 24, 1849, the first issue of The Iowa Star, the first newspaper in Des Moines, was made. He died on May 12, 1879, and is buried at Woodland Cemetery Des Moines, Iowa.
J. Scott Richman – Muscatine County (middle left) was born March 11, 1820, at Somerset in Perry County, Ohio. Richman passed his youth on a farm in Bucks County, PA, where his mother made her home, and attended the subscription schools during the winter months until 14 years of age, when he engaged as clerk in a country store, continuing in that employment until he was eighteen. He then started westward, stopping a short time at Knoxville, Ill., where he began the study of law, but in the summer of 1839 came to Muscatine, Iowa, where his elder brother John W., resided, and was engaged in the wholesale grocery business. Richman pursued his law studies at Muscatine, was admitted to the bar in September, 1839, and engaged in the practice of his profession at Rochester and Tipton in Cedar County, Iowa. Returning to Muscatine in the fall of 1840, Richman began business in the city by forming a law partnership with Hon. S. C. Hastings, afterward a member of Congress. Richman was a Whig, and served as a member of the Legislature in the Fifth special session, acting on several important committees.
Socrates H. Tryon – Linn and Benton Counties (middle-right) was born on January 24, 1816 in Pawlet Township, Vermont. He was educated at Castleton Medical College in Rutland County, graduating in the spring of 1836. Tryon later moved to the Iowa Territory where he lived in Linn County and served as the clerk for the United States District Court (1840). The Territorial governor had appointed him as sheriff of the county in January 1839, but he declined the position. After serving on the 1846 Constitutional Convention, Tryon moved to California with his wife, Frances Safley, and son, Socrates Hotchkiss Tryon, Jr., before moving north to Oregon Territory. There, he was one of the first professionals in Oregon, settling a land claim in 1850 near what later became the city of Lake Oswego. Tryon died May 15, 1855, in Oregon.
Samuel A. Bissell – Cedar County (far right) was born in Saratoga, New York, in 1813. Bissell was a practicing attorney and was postmaster at Rochester, Iowa, in Cedar County, Judge of Probate, and a county judge. He was one of the few delegates to attend both Iowa Constitutional Conventions – 1844 and 1846. Bissell was married November 16, 1839 to Abbie M. Bennett, and served in the 1st Iowa General Assembly in 1846 representing Cedar, Linn and Benton counties.
By now, you might be wondering why this letter has so much historical significance. Let me answer by reminding you of the time frame when this letter was written…
In earlier posts, we discussed how more and more Iowans, as the Territory grew (1838-1846), wanted to move from being a U.S. Territory to becoming a U.S. State. Three times prior to December 28, 1846 (when Iowa finally became the 29th State), attempts were made by state legislators to achieve statehood, but each time – 1840, 1842, & 1844 – the voters said no. Read more about the 1844 attempt at statehood here.
You see, in 1845, the U.S. Senate and President Polk had already signed off on Iowa Statehood – including Florida in the deal – but the proposal was narrowly voted down by Iowans on April 7, 1845 because the legislators in Washington D.C. insisted on adding in a silly map (see above right) that we Hawkeyes simply refused to accept! But now, it’s one year later – the map issues have been resolved – and on election day – Monday, April 6, 1846, Iowa voters approved thirty-two delegates to go to Iowa City with the instructions to write up a revised version of the State Constitution – one with an improved map option. Read more about the failed 1844 version here.
The whole process was to be done quickly – beginning on May 4th – because no one wanted to miss this opportunity to seal the deal for Statehood with the U.S. Senate before those shifty politicians in D.C. changed their minds!
So, here we are – one week later – Monday, April 13, 1846 – and the election results are in, the Constitutional Convention is coming to the new capitol building in Iowa City, and Thomas Hughes, the curious newspaperman, is all over the story – asking a few probing questions of Representative Laurel Summers about the latest election results – particularly those surrounding the counties nearest Iowa City – Johnson, of course, Linn & Benton, Muscatine, and Cedar (see chart above). Curious minds, as you know, want to know!
So, here’s the rest of the story. When those thirty-two delegates met in Iowa City in early May, this Iowa Territorial Convention quickly approved a revised State Constitution on May 18, 1846. The people of Iowa voted in favor of it on August 3, 1846, and the Governor signed it on September 9, 1846! So it was full speed ahead, Iowa! Statehood is on it’s sweet way! Read more here.
Thanks to Thomas Hughes, we have a nice piece of Iowa statehood history – all wrapped up in one small postal cover package!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.