Dear Iowa City – Build Us A Road!

Iowa Territory in 1845.

As we have discussed in other posts, when Iowa became a U.S. Territory (1838), one of the highest priorities for the new governor – Robert Lucas – was to create roads that would connect Iowans with each other and with the outside world. The first move in that direction was the creation of Iowa’s Military Road (below left) – which opened up in 1840, running from Dubuque, in the far north, through the new capital city of Iowa City, and then southward toward the Missouri border, connecting with Mt. Pleasant (Henry County) and Keosauqua (Van Buren County).

By the mid-1840’s, other roads had been constructed (above right) – connecting most of the existing communities of the Territory, including a route that wandered as far west as Ft. Des Moines. In 1842/1843, newly-formed counties – such as Davis, Appanoose, and Kishkeekosh (Monroe) – began to open up to new settlers, and as you can see from the enlarged map below, these counties had no territorial roads – other than the one that connected Keosauqua in Van Buren County and Ottumwa in Wapello County with Ft. Des Moines in the west and other points to the east.

Which brings us, now, to our very rare 1846 postal cover from Bloomfield in Davis County

(JP-069) This very rare postal cover & petition letter was written on December 27, 1845 by the Davis County Clerk – Stiles S. Carpenter, was mailed on January 4, 1846 from Bloomfield, and was addressed to George W. LesterMember of H R – House of Representatives – one of the three Territorial Legislative Representatives from District 2 – meeting at the time in Iowa City, Iowa Territory.

If you look at the map below, you’ll see that four Iowa counties, in 1845, ran along the southern-most border between Iowa Territory and the State of Missouri. From east to west, we have Lee and Van Buren Counties (both settled in 1836), followed by Davis and Appanoose Counties (both settled in 1843). In 1839, this border line was so hotly contested, it almost provoked a Civil War – called The Honey War – between Iowa and Missouri. Read more here. But, by 1845, that issue had been sent off to Washington D.C. for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide, so, in the meantime, the new settlers of Van Buren, Davis and Appanoose Counties were given a new precinct name in the Iowa House of Representatives – District 2.

And, as you can see from the map & listing above, three representatives were chosen to go to Iowa City in December 1845 to represent the new District 2 in the Territorial House of Representatives – Frederick Hancock, David Ferguson, and George W. Lester – the recipient of our letter and postal cover. According to historical records, Lester was a farmer – born in Kentucky sometime around 1807. We don’t know when Lester and his wife Rhoda Johnson moved to Iowa, but they eventually ended up in Davis County (circa 1843), serving as a Representative for District 2 in the 7th & 8th Legislative Assembles (1845-1846) in Iowa City. Records indicate that G.W. and Rhoda lived in Davis County the remainder of their lives, having seven children, and dying in 1880 (age 73) and 1902 (age 84) respectively and are buried in Lester Cemetery in Drakesville Township of Davis County.

As you can see from the letter below, forty-one good citizens of Davis County in District 2 were sending a signed petition, requesting the Eighth Legislative Assembly in Iowa City to approve the construction of a new Territorial Road in their neck of the woods. Let’s take a look at the details…

To the Council & House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa:

We the undersigned petitioners respectively represent that a Territorial Road is very much needed to run in a South Westerly direction from Ottumwa, Wapello County to the Chariton River at a point where the Territorial Road leading from Iowaville to the Missouri line crosses it. We therefore humbly ask your honors that a Territorial Road be located to start at the town of Lewisville (Ottumwa) running from thence on the most suitable ground to the crossing of Soap Creek at Ritchey’s Mill, thence by way of Joseph Jump’s on the Fox River divide, to the aforesaid to the point on the Chariton River.
So, let’s unpack this request for a new Territorial Road, using this map (above) from 1846. Click here to read about the debate over a new Territorial Road in Lee County.

X1 – Notice that the starting point for the proposed road – Ottumwa in Wapello County – is not on the map! But, don’t worry. Ottumwa does exist, being formed In May 1843 when several investors, going by the name of the Appanoose Rapids Company, staked a claim to 467 acres of land, calling it Lewisville – which, if you look closely at our letter – is the name still being used when describing Wapello County’s county seat!

X2 – Our letter calls for the proposed road to cross Soap Creek at (Power) Ritchey’s Mill. Notice that the 1845 map calls it – Keokuk’s Creek – named for the Meskwaki/Fox chief who relocated here in the mid-1840’s.
Today, Soap Creek still exists, getting its start in Monroe County, and wandering through Appanoose & Davis Counties before heading back north to empty into the Des Moines River near Eldon – a spot very close to Iowaville on the 1846 map.

X3 – Next we jump over to Appanoose County – Joseph Jump’s on the Fox River. The Fox is a tributary that runs through Davis, and Van Buren counties, before heading south into Clark County in Missouri, where it dumps into the Mississippi River. Jump’s name appears regularly in the early history of Appanoose County.

X4The Chariton River is the longest river/creek of the three mentioned in our letter. Beginning in Clarke County, the Chariton winds its way through Appanoose County before heading south into Missouri. A 218-mile-long river, most of it is found in The Show Me State, and there, it’s called the Grand Divide, since all rivers west of the Chariton dump into the Missouri River, while those east of it run into the Mississippi. Notice that the ending point of the road is simply stated as the point on the Chariton River. We’re guessing that this language is less clear, because the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to decide on where the border line between Iowa and Missouri “officially” was – though in the minds of local farmers, they knew it would be located on the Appanoose County side of the Chariton River as it passes from Iowa into Missouri. Read more here.
Forty-one different pioneers from Davis County – District 2 – signed this petition – requesting a new road to be built in their part of Iowa Territory. Notice the signatures include Thomas Bare, Lafayette Bear and Powers Ritcheywho are mentioned elsewhere in our letter.

Certainly, no empty space on our letter went unused. On the backside of the petition (see below), the Davis County Clerk Stiles S. Carpenter wrote a explanation “cover letter” telling the Iowa City delegation more details about their suggestion for a local road.

Notice on the right side – when the letter reached Iowa City, it was notated – Petition of Thomas Bare + 40 other citizens obliging for a road from Ottumwa to Ritchey’s Mill and categorized under Roads + Highways.
Bloomfield 27th Dec/45

My Dear Sir. I am requested to forward the within petition to & ask your attention. The petition suggests that George Reynolds of Wapello Co, Ira Claflin of Van Buren, Lafayette Bear of Davis be appointed commissioners to build IT (Iowa Territory) Road.

Yours in Haste, To the Delegation, from Davis, VB (Van Buren) and Appanoose Counties.

Stiles S. Carpenter

Stiles S. Carpenter was the Clerk of the First District Court of Davis County – organized in Bloomfield on September, 23 1844 – being appointed by Judge Charles Mason. Carpenter took a prominent part in the organization of Davis County and its early affairs, and was perhaps, the first lawyer in that part of Iowa Territory. He was the first prosecuting attorney of the County after its organization in 1844. Captain Hosea B. Horn, speaking of Carpenter in his series of articles on the early history of Davis County, appearing in the 1864 Annals of Iowa, says:

“At the time of the organization of the county, Stiles S. Carpenter, Esq., held the office of Clerk of the District Court of our county, by appointment of Honorable Charles Mason and under the law of the Territory had considerable to do with setting the machinery of the new county in motion. The persons elected at the first election received their certificates and were sworn and regularly inducted in office by him. He was from Vermont, a gentleman of public spirit and private enterprise. He was a Colonel of the Iowa militia in early days and held the office of District Clerk from the settlement of the county until after the adoption of the State Constitution, and then refused a nomination tendered him by a Democratic county convention for the Clerkship and accepted that of Prosecuting Attorney. To this latter office he was triumphantly elected over his shrewd competitor, Powers Ritchey, a very prominent citizen of our county. The Colonel removed to Texas in 1857, where he died soon afterwards. The little town of Stiles (Iowa) or Stilesville, as it was called, was named after him.”

There’s good news for the good people of District 2! According to the records of the 8th Legislative Assembly (above), their petition was acted upon, and approved by both the Council (Senate) and the House of Representatives on January 17, 1846. According to the report, the road commissioners – George Reynolds, Ira Claflin, and Lafayette Bear – met in Ottumwa on or about May 1, 1846 to begin the process of building the proposed road. The only bad news is Sec. 3 – the commissioners and those they hire to survey for the road’s construction won’t be paid by the Territory. Ouch!

A salute to the forty-one citizens of Davis County and, of course, Representative George W. Lester, for moving things along in Iowa City. Your 1845 petition seems to have paid off royally, even though the Legislators didn’t shell out any money for the commissioners!

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Mitchell’s 1846 Map of Iowa, Art Source International

1846 Iowa Map, S.A. Mitchell, Internet Archive

Representative George W. Lester, The Iowa Legislature

George W. & Rhoda Lester burial site, Lester Cemetery, Davis County, IAGenWeb/Davis County

G.W. Lester, S.S. Carpenter, Thomas Bare, Lafayette Bear, Powers Richey, 1847 Census, Davis County, Iowa, Head of Households, IAGenWeb/Davis County

Rhoda Johnson Lester, Find-A-Grave

George W. Lester, Find-A-Grave

Ottumwa, Wikipedia

Soap Creek (Des Moines River Tributary), Wikipedia

Fox River (Mississippi River Tributary), Wikipedia

Joseph Jump, History of Appanoose County, Western Historical Company, 1878, pp 354, 357, 366

Iowaville, Iowa, Wikipedia

Chariton River, Wikipedia

Stiles S. Carpenter, IAGenWeb/Davis County

Stiles History, IAGenWeb/Davis County

Chapter 95, Road From Ottumwa, Laws of Iowa, Iowa Legislature, p 702

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