Iowa’s Secretary Of State & Official Stone Finder.

In an earlier post, we introduced you to Josiah H. Bonney – Iowa’s Secretary of State from 1848 to 1850.

Originally from Steuben County, New York, Josiah H. Bonney came to Van Buren County in southeast Iowa in June 1839. Back in Illinois (1838), Bonney had formed a business partnership with B. B. Rew, and during their first summer in Iowa, they did quite well. Sadly, a large amount of goods purchased in St. Louis that fall got delayed on the Mississippi River because of 1) an early winter, and 2) the political issues surrounding the Border Line dispute – The Honey War – between Missouri and Iowa. Read more here.

Unfortunately, the St. Louis shipment did not reach Van Buren County until spring 1840, and with the partners’ bank notes maturing, the firm failed. Sadly, Rew soon died, leaving Josiah struggling for the next ten years to pay off their company’s indebtedness. Despite the setbacks, Bonney kept pushing forward, being elected County Sheriff (see above right) for two separate terms (1840-42 and 1844-46), and serving – in between – as representative to the Territorial Legislature in Iowa City for the 1843-44 session – the second assembly to be held in the new capitol building.

In 1846, Josiah was elected Clerk of the District Court, and in 1848-1850 served as Iowa’s Secretary of State – working out of the capitol in Iowa City. It was during his term in office when he received this request (below) from Jonas Wescoatt for state reimbursement from Monroe County, Iowa. Read the details here.

Click here to read about Bonney’s co-worker – Morgan Reno – Iowa’s State Treasurer.

(C-0025) October 30, 1849 – An official government letter from Jonas Wescoatt, Clerk of the District Court of Monroe County to Josiah H. Bonney – Iowa Secretary of State. Read more here.

The other rare postal cover in our collection comes from Bonney’s Secretary of State office in Iowa City even after he had “officially” been replaced by the new Secretary of State George W. McCleary. It’s a “form letter,” so to speak, that was sent out to all twenty-nine of the other states in the Union. In our case, the letter is dated January 28, 1850, postmarked in Iowa City the following day (January 29, 1850), and is addressed “To His Excellency the Governor of the State of Connecticut in Hartford.”

(JP-040) This rare postal cover is a stamp-less one. While postage stamps were first used in 1847, it was common for letters from Iowans to still use the stamp-less method into the 1850’s. Read more here.

As you can see from the contents (below), this “form letter” was informing the good Governor of Connecticut – Joseph Trumbull – that two copies of the 485-page publication – Journal of the House of Representatives of the Second Regular Session of the General Assembly of the State of Iowa – had been mailed to him.

Now, as you might imagine, this 485-page book was not light reading, so in most cases, I’m guessing these books went right over from the Governor’s office to the state library for filing under the category of ‘Dry U.S. History’. But if you are so led, fortunately, the entire book is available for you – via Google Books – to peruse… Take a look at the entire 485-page publication here.

For the sake of shortness, here are just a few of the opening pages. Enjoy!

Now, just in case you thought everything J.H. Bonney did during his two years as Iowa Secretary of State (1848-1850) was boring, allow me to close by offering you this rather intriguing story from J.H.’s tenure. Let me start by reminding you about The Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

The nation’s best-known memorial to the first president of the United States is located in the city that bears his name. Today, at 555 feet tall, the Washington Monument National Memorial towers over the nation’s capital. So, here’s how it all began…

In 1832, on the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, the city of Baltimore erected a tall monument to our first president (see above left). One year later (1833), John Marshall, James Madison, and others formed the Washington National Monument Society with the goal of honoring President Washington in the city that bears his name. The Society held a competition in 1836 to find a design worthy of honoring our national hero, and they considered several before selecting architect Robert Mills’ design (above right).

On July 4, 1848, an elaborate cornerstone-laying ceremony took place, attended by President James K. Polk and other dignitaries, among whom were Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, both members of the House of Representatives and future presidents themselves.

Certificates were issued for those who contributed to the Washington Memorial fund.

One of the unique features of the Washington Monument – rarely seen today because of limited access – is the one-hundred and ninety-three Memorial Stones installed along the winding staircase that ascends the tower – on its east and west interior walls.

The Washington Monument’s staircase stones ascend with Maine at the 30 ft level to Alaska at the 450 ft level. The Iowa stone is set at the 110-ft level. With the addition of elevators, today, very few people have access to the original stairway – which was completed in 1888. Fortunately, the National Park Service has provided photos of all 193 stones. See pics here.

Soon after the July 4, 1848 ceremony, the Washington National Monument Society invited all of the existing states (thirty at the time), major cities, and other patriotic societies around the country to contribute memorial stones to help build the monument. The society required that the stones be durable, quarried in the United States, and of the appropriate size necessary for construction. Which brings us back, now, to Iowa’s Secretary of State – J.H. Bonney…

We found historical records that indicate that one of Secretary of State J.H. Bonney’s assignments during the 1848-1849 Legislative Session was to begin the exploration for the stone that Iowa would send to Washington D.C.

The Dubuque Miners’ Express reports on Bonney’s search by publishing a brief letter from the Honorable Joseph T. Fales – State Auditor and a long-time servant to the Iowa Legislature. Read more here.

October 5, 1849

The Hon. J. H. Bonney and myself have lately been examining various specimens of rock from several portions of the State, and particularly on the Des Moines River, for the purpose of preparing a block of marble for said Monument, but have not yet met with any that can be obtained of sufficient thickness and fineness of texture combined that would be sufficient for the purpose.

Mr. Bonney has been fully authorized to make the selection, and have it forwarded to the Building Committee at Washington City.

Hon. Joseph T. Fales

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to find Bonney searching the Des Moines River valley for the best stone, since that area of Iowa had been his home since 1839!

In May of 1850, The Iowa Republican reported on its front page that a proper stone had finally been found “from Braddock’s field.” Sadly, we can’t find any information where Braddock lived, but, according to the records of the Monument Society in Washington, the finished Iowa stone safely arrived in Washington D.C. in May 1853. Why it took three years to get there, remains a mystery as well.

May I present to you – Iowa’s Memorial Stone for the Washington Monument

Iowa’s level in the monument is at 110-ft. Donated in 1853 – the stone is limestone, cut to a block measuring 2′ x 4′ and is inscribed – Iowa. Her affections, like the rivers of her borders, flow to an inseparable union. Documented material history written on June 3, 1853 states – “The following blocks have been received during the month of May … one of marble from the State of Iowa … The state of Iowa has sent a block of fine native lime stone.”

Five years after the Iowa stone was received in Washington D.C., all construction was halted on the Washington Monument for 22 years (1858-1880) – due to a lack of funds, a struggle for control over the Washington National Monument Society, and the Civil War. During the first period of construction (1850-1858), ninety-two commemorative stones – including the State of Iowa stone – were set into place as integral components of the monument walls.

In 1876, with the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, President Ulysses S. Grant approved legislation to complete the project, helping to gain public support. Now, with adequate funding and a revised design by Lt. Colonel Thomas Casey of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the monument was completed with the installation of the 3,300-pound marble capstone on December 6, 1884. And although a dedication ceremony occurred February 21, 1885, the internal ironwork and the installation of the remaining Memorial Stones was not completed until October, 1888.

Here’s yet another stone with Iowa connections that was donated to be amongst the 193 stairway stones. The Grand Lodge of Iowa traces its roots back to Michigan in 1826, with the first lodge in Iowa beginning in 1840 in Burlington. The stone is granite and sits at the 210 foot level. It was donated in 1876 and was placed in the Monument during the 1885 final construction. Read more here.
(L-0093) In 1932 – on the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, the USPS issued this colorful stamp series. And here’s a rare First Day Cover with the entire set of Washington stamps (12) on the Mt. Vernon embossed envelope. Click here to see more “Presidential” stamps and covers.

Today, the Washington Monument doesn’t resemble Robert Mills’ original design (below left) – which called for a huge colonnade surrounding the base of a nearly flat-topped, four-sided 600-foot obelisk. The colonnade was to house statues of Revolutionary War heroes and to be topped with a statue of Washington in a chariot. But, what does remain is the distinct color difference near the 156 feet level (see pic below). When work stopped in 1858 and began again 22 years later, the stone used was brought from a different quarry thus making for the difference in color.

So, here’s a salute to George Washington, his towering Washington Monument in Washington D.C., and to Iowa Secretary of State J.H. Bonney – who helped find that perfect piece of Iowa limestone that went into its construction.

Good job, Mr. Bonney – good job!

Click here to read a full biographical report on Josiah H. Bonney.

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

The Convention – The Result, Iowa Capital Reporter, August 17, 1844, p 2

Journal of the House of Representatives of the Second Regular Session of the General Assembly of the State of Iowa, Ft. Madison Statesman, 1849, Google Books

History of The Office, Iowa Secretary of State,

Representative Josiah Hinman Bonney, Van Buren County, Assembly 6, The Iowa Legislature

October 5, 1849, Letter, Weekly Miners’ Express, October 17, 1849, p 2

Washington Monument, The Iowa Republican, May 22, 1850. p 1

Washington Monument, Washington D.C.,

Washington Monument Commemorative Stones,

State of Iowa stone, Washington Monument,

Masons. Grand Lodge of Iowa stone, Washington Monument

The Washington Monument – A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones, Judith M. Jacob, National Park Service, 2005

The Washington Monument, The Iowa City Citizen, June 2, 1919, p 2

14 Fun Facts About The Washington Monument, November 26, 2019,

Josiah Hinman Bonney, Find-A-Grave

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