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…
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…
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.
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
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
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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