Iowa Territory 1838-1846.

Since its inception as part of the United States (1803), the Louisiana Purchase, the land of Iowa had always been part of something else:

  • 1803 – Louisiana Territory – Northern Section.
  • 1812 – Missouri Territory.
  • 1821 – Unorganized Territory.
  • 1834 – Michigan Territory.
  • 1836 – Wisconsin Territory – Iowa District.

All that changed in 1838, when the new Iowa Territory came into existence.

W. Barrow’s Map of Iowa Territory – 1845. Click here to see more maps of Iowa from our earliest days.

Below is an important 5-page document from U.S. Senate/House of Representative records. In the 25th Congress/2nd Session on February 6, 1838, the proposal of establishing a new U.S. Territory – Iowa) – separate from the existing Territory of Wisconsin, is given. These pages record the entire legal transaction within the U.S. Senate and House. (L-0061)

On July 4, 1838, Iowa officially became a separate U.S. Territory, and President Martin Van Buren looked to Ohio, hand-picking Robert Lucas as Iowa’s first Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. When Governor Lucas arrived in Iowa, later that summer, the Territory (see map below) – which included much of today’s Minnesota and half of the Dakotas – had 22 counties and a population of 23,242. Click here to read more about Robert Lucas.

Illustration by S. Briggs – State Historical Society of Iowa.

While Iowa was a U.S. Territory (1838-1846), we had three different Territorial Governors, all appointed by the U.S. President: Robert Lucas (1838-1841) appointed by Martin Van Buren; John Chambers (1841-1845) appointed by John Tyler; and James Clark (1845-1846) appointed by James Polk.

In 1849, Artist/Entrepreneur Henry Lewis included Burlington in his Mississippi River Panorama. Click here to read more.

Since Burlington, Iowa had been chosen in 1837 as Wisconsin Territory’s “temporary” capital – replacing Belmont, Wisconsin while a new capitol building was being constructed in Madison City – Governor Lucas announced that the small river town located near the new territory’s southern border would remain the temporary capital until he could arrive in Iowa and “officially” call for a duly-elected Territorial Legislature to be formed. For more on how Iowa City came into being, click here.

Albert Lea’s map of Iowa District in 1835 (above left) shows two counties – Dubuque (north) and Des Moines (south). By 1840 (above right), on a map by J.H. Colton, the surveyed section of Iowa Territory now indicates nineteen counties with more planned.

1841 J.B. Newhall’s Map of Iowa – Compiled From the United States Surveys, Exhibiting the boundaries of Counties, Township-lines, Ranges, Prairies and Timber Lands; The location of Cities, Towns, Indian Villages, Post and Steam Boat Routes. Click here to read more about Newhall’s Sketches of Iowa book in 1841.
Iowa Territory map by H. S. Tanner published by Carey & Hart in 1841 within Tanner’s Universal Atlas. As you can see the “surveyed” section of Iowa Territory was very small compared to the entire territory that extended into Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Click here to read more about Iowa and the early maps that helped settlers find their way across this beautiful land.

John Pulmbe’s map of the surveyed section of Iowa Territory in 1839.

In the 1948 reprint of John Plumbe‘s Sketches of Iowa and Wisconsin (1839), William J. Peterson – Superintendent of the State Historical Society of Iowa – wrote this about this new Territory called Iowa… 

(In) a space of four years from 1836 to 1840, the “Iowa District” had quadrupled in population, catapulting from 10,531 to 43,112.  Such sensational growth was not disregarded in the East, where the seaboard states saw their population being siphoned off by the lure of rich, cheap, and abundant land.

In my office hangs a very rare survey map of Iowa Territory dating back to about 1845. As Iowa was opening up to new settlers from the east, a public survey map like this was very important in charting out land plats. This surveyor’s map indicates the progression. Click here to read more about the surveying process.

Note that Iowa territory extended west only to about Des Moines, indicating the dividing line of land secured from the Sac and Fox tribes in 1842.

Here’s the Boller farmstead as surveyed in 1845. (+) sign in Washington Township of Johnson County indicates the land has not yet been surveyed, nor platted, and nothing yet recorded in the General Land Office in Dubuque.

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