As we have reported on other posts, Iowa became the 29th state of the Union on December 28, 1846. Read more here. Up until that point, since 1838, Iowa had been a U.S. Territory – like Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and others are today.
So, on this post, when we say – Ansel Briggs was the first governor of Iowa – we must not forget the three men who served as Iowa’s leaders when we were but a U.S. Territory – Robert Lucas, John Chambers, and James Clark.
So, in preparation of statehood, on December 3, 1846, as the newly-formed State Legislature met in Iowa’s new statehouse, located on Capitol Square in Iowa City, 40-year old Ansel Briggs – a one-time stagecoach driver from the little village of Andrew in Jackson County – took the following solemn oath…
I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Iowa, and that, without fear, favor, affection, or hope of reward, I will, to the best of my knowledge and ability, administer justice according to the law, equally to the rich and the poor.
Ansel Briggs was born on February 3, 1806 in Shoreham, Vermont to Benjamin and Electa Briggs. Ansel’s education started in the common schools of Vermont and continued at the Norwich Academy in Connecticut. While still a young man (age 15), the Briggs family moved to Guernsey County, Ohio, where his father farmed until suddenly dying in an accident (1825). Soon after, the family relocated to Cambridge, Ohio, where Ansel went into the stagecoach business. In Cambridge, Ansel also served as Township Constable, Deputy Sheriff, and Jail Warden of Guernsey County. Here, he also ran, as a Whig party candidate, for the office of County Auditor, but lost the election.
After hearing of all the opportunities in the West, Briggs traveled – in 1839 – to Iowa Territory, settling in Jackson County, where he resumed his stagecoach business, driving the coaches himself much of the time. Soon, Ansel secured contracts with the Post Office Department, transporting mail between Dubuque, Davenport, and Iowa City, which led to more routes, and the successful expansion of his business.
In other posts, we discuss the importance of stagecoaches in Iowa’s earliest days. Ansel Briggs played an important role – contracting with others – helping to develop a network of stagecoach drivers (see map below) across the Territory.
Below is a copy of an early contract – January 1, 1841 – Briggs made with Thomas Dillon and George Atherton – an agreement to work together in delivering mail between Dubuque and Davenport…
Click here to read more about the early stagecoaches that traveled around Iowa in our earliest years.
With the profits from his stagecoach business, Briggs began purchasing land in and around the little Jackson County village of Andrew, reselling it to incoming easterners. Over the years, Ansel became known as Andrew’s best citizen – making many town improvements, building both roads and commercial buildings.
When Ansel Briggs came to Iowa, he decided to be recognized as a Democrat politically, and because of his great exposure to the public through his stagecoach business, Ansel was elected to the Fifth Territorial Assembly – representing Jackson County in Iowa City during the 1842-1843 session. Here, he served on the Committee on Enrolled Bills and chaired the Committee on Territorial Affairs, before returning home to serve the people of Jackson County as Deputy Treasurer (1843-1844), and as Sheriff (1844-1846).
During the formation of a state government for Iowa (1846), Briggs was nominated to run for Iowa’s governorship on the Democrat ticket – running against the Whig candidate – Thomas McKnight – a popular Dubuque businessman.
The general election was held on October 26, 1846, with Briggs winning in a very close race – 7,626 for Briggs, 7,379 for McKnight!
Read more about Iowa’s first gubernatorial election in 1846.
Holding office from 1846 to 1850, one biographer says this about the Briggs administration…
True to his campaign promise of no outsider influence, Governor Briggs sold his contracts with the Post Office Department and his administration was praised as, “one void of any special interest . . .exhibiting an independence of principle, characteristic of his nature”. During his term, the formation of the state government was initiated and a state school system was organized. Briggs’s administration laid the groundwork of Iowa transportation infrastructure: planning and building roads, bridges, and railroads. The Missouri-Iowa boundary dispute which caused a great deal of excited controversy and even almost resorted to arms, was resolved in 1848 with the help of his skillful diplomacy.
Which now bring us to our rare postal cover & letter from the Governor’s desk in July 1847…
In 1846, just as Iowa was becoming the 29th state, U.S. President James K. Polk decided to provoke a war with Mexico – squabbling about land in today’s state of Texas. Below is a brief overview of a U.S. war (1846-1847) that both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant called completely unnecessary.
So, when Ansel Briggs took office in December 1846, the war with Mexico was still raging, and in a letter addressed to G.S. Hampton – Iowa’s acting Secretary of State – written on July 15, 1847, the Governor is approving the commissions of three officers who have been serving in the Iowa Infantry at Fort Atkinson since the war broke out in the summer of 1846.
Records show (below) that all three men – James M. Morgan, John H. McKenny, David S. Wilson – were a part of Iowa’s Independent Company of Infantry Volunteers, and were recruited in July 1846 when the war with Mexico broke out. The term of service for each officer was for one year, so on July 15, 1847, Governor Briggs commissioned these three for continued service at Fort Atkinson through September of 1848. Fort Atkinson was first created in the early 1840’s and was located in Washington Township of Winneshiek County (see map above).
Read the annual report from the Iowa State Prison Warden sent to Governor Briggs in November 1848.
Ansel Briggs was married twice. His first wife, Nancy M. Dunlap, whom he married in 1830 while he was starting his stagecoach business in Ohio, died suddenly in December, 1847; and sadly, out of their five children, only one son – John S. Briggs – lived into adulthood. Two years later, in October 1849, Governor Briggs re-married.
Frances Creveling Carpenter was born in West Portal, New Jersey on February 1, 1799, and was the daughter of Jacob & Christina Creveling. Frances married Samuel D. Carpenter, had eight children, and in 1822, the family moved, first to Mackinac, Michigan, and then, Green Bay, Wisconsin, where Samuel was employed by the Hudson Bay Fur Company. In 1827, the Carpenters moved again, this time to Galena, Illinois where Samuel opened the Mansion House Inn and was engaged in the smelting of lead. Carpenter suddenly died in 1845, so Frances moved to Andrew – in Jackson County, Iowa – where her daughter lived. Through her son-in-law, the widow met Ansel Briggs, and in October 1849, the two were married, though they had no children. Sadly, Frances, who was seven years older than Ansel, died in 1859 at age 60, after only ten years of marriage.
Content with his accomplishments as governor, Ansel Briggs declined to run for a second term in 1850 and returned to his business interests in Jackson County. After Frances’ death, Briggs became interested in mining, making a trip to Colorado during the 1860 silver rush, and in 1863, with his son – John S. Briggs – relocated to Montana, where Ansel remained in mining until the late 1860’s. Returning to Iowa, Briggs moved to Council Bluffs, and was one of the founders of the town of Florence, Nebraska.
In 1881 – May 5 – after a very brief illness, Briggs died, at age 75, at his son’s residence in Omaha, Nebraska, due to ulceration of the stomach. His death was greatly mourned all over Iowa, and Governor John Gear issued a proclamation reciting his services to the State, and ordering half-hour guns to be fired and the national flag on the State capitol to be put at half-mast during the day of the funeral. Although he was originally buried in Omaha, Ansel was re-interred in 1909 in Andrew Cemetery in Andrew, Iowa, where his wife Frances was buried in 1859.
In 1909, the General Assembly of Iowa also voted to erect a monument in Andrew with the plaque reading…
The Stagecoach Driver Who Became Governor.
Here’s a tip of the old hat to Iowa’s first state governor – Ansel Briggs.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Report: Ansel Briggs Project, Loren M. Horton, Manager, Iowa State Historical Department, May 1975
Nathaniel Butterworth House, Wikipedia
Travel by Stagecoach: Read Beyond the Beaten Path, SCblogger, The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center of the Davenport Public Library, July 16, 2022
Briggs 1841 Stagecoach Contract, from Tavern Days in the Hawkeye State, Inez E Kirkpatrick, 1987
Representative Ansel Briggs, Iowa State Legislature
Ansel Briggs, The Burlington Hawk-Eye, October 1, 1846, p 2
Ansel Briggs, The Burlington Hawk-Eye, October 22, 1846, p 2
Legislature of Iowa, The Burlington Hawk-eye, December 10, 1846, p 2
Ansel Briggs’ Inaugural Address, The Burlington Hawk-eye, December 10, 1846, p 3
Iowa’s Connections to the Mexican War, Pieces of Iowa’s Past, January 22, 2014, Legis.Iowa.gov
Old Fort Atkinson, Winneshiek County, Iowa, IAGenWeb
Frances Creveling Carpenter Briggs, Find-A-Grave
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