1850’s – Surveying This New Land Called Iowa.

To better explain the history of this land the Boller family moved to in 1853, let me start back in 1832, six years before Iowa became a U.S. Territory…

In 1832, following the Black Hawk War, the U.S. Government purchased land west of the Mississippi River (about fifty miles wide stretching from the Neutral Ground to the north to Missouri on the south). Burlington, the first territorial capitol, was in this parcel of land, as was Dubuque to the north, and Henry County (home of Mt. Pleasant & Wayland) as well. This land was called the Black Hawk Purchase (yellow on map above).

In 1836, the government added a small strip of land named Keokuk’s Reserve, 400 square miles running alongside the Iowa River (green on map above)

In 1837, a third purchase of land (approx. 25 miles wide in the middle and tapering off to the north and to the south) was secured from the Sauk and Fox tribes. Some historians call this the Second Black Hawk Purchase (blue on map above).

By the early 1840’s, the Public Land Survey System was created by the United States government for the purpose of surveying, platting, and mapping this newly-acquired land in the west.

(M-0036) Circa 1845 – Sketch of the Public Surveys of Iowa Territory map. In my office hangs a very rare survey map of Iowa Territory dating back to about 1845.

These surveyors maps – like the one above – were vitally important for an accurate distribution of land. Once admitted to the Union in 1846, Iowa set its direction to development and organized campaigns for settlers and investors, boasting the young frontier state’s rich farmlands, fine citizens, free and open society, and good government.

In 1854, The Iowa Capitol Reporter told this story…

(M-0099) In our office hangs an original woodblock engraving (above left) – the cover from the Saturday, March 17, 1855 edition of Ballou’s Pictorial. Our copy has been hand-colored by artist Paula Perdue. Also in 1855, N. Howe Parker published an informative book, Iowa – As It Is (below left) – offering readers across the nation a comprehensive view of this new U.S. state called Iowa. (B-002)

Books like Parker’s helped in promoting Iowa as a beautiful new home in America’s untamed West. When my gg grandparents, Jacob & Catharine Boller, arrived in Johnson County, Iowa in 1853, they were part of “the great Stream of Humanity” that Parker speaks of – pioneers from back east who were pouring into our new state throughout the 1850’s.

(M-0037) Map No. 2. Sketch of the Public Surveys in Iowa. An original surveyor’s map of Iowa as filed in Dubuque on October 21, 1852 by George B. Sargent, Surveyor General. Created only six years after Iowa became the 29th state (1846), this George Sargent map illustrates the latest report of townships surveyed throughout the new state of Iowa.

If you look closely at our 1852 map (above), each township is labeled using a single capital letter. These letters indicate each township’s status with regard to the cataloguing process of the Surveyor General’s Office. For example, any township labeled with a ‘C’ has completed the checklist, meaning that it has been surveyed and platted, the plats have been copied, descriptive lists of the township have been made, and field notes have been recorded and transcribed. Townships labeled with an ‘I’,’S’, or ’P’ however, were in various stages of that lengthy process, while townships that have an ‘O’ or are left blank have only had, or are having, their exterior boundaries surveyed.
Our Future Boller Homestead. 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! Click here for more early maps of Iowa City.
(M-0037) This rare Iowa map (which hangs in my office), was created by the Surveyor General’s Office in Dubuque and is dated October 21, 1853. It was published in the Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, 1853 by George Barnard Sargent – see below for more info on him…

George Barnard Sargent Surveyor General – Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin 1851-1853. Born in 1818 in Boston, Sargent moved to Iowa in 1838, where he married Mary Perin, eventually having ten children. In 1847, he opened the banking house of Cook and Sargent in Davenport, and was appointed Surveyor General in Dubuque on March 24, 1851 by President Fillmore. He served in that capacity from May 8, 1851 to April 1, 1853. In 1857, Sargent was elected Mayor of Davenport, opening a new banking house on the corner of Main and Second streets. In 1869, the Sargent family moved to Duluth, Minnesota, where he died in 1875.

Here’s a tip of the old hat to George Barnard Sargent Surveyor General and the Public Land Survey System team who surveyed, platted and mapped out the Hawkeye State – making way for the Bollers and thousands of others in the 1850’s.

Above is a complete list of General Surveyors working with Iowa land – from the office’s creation in 1835 – in Cincinnati – to 1838 – in Dubuque – to 1866 when the office moved to Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Read more about Sargent’s predecessor – Caleb H. Booth here.

(JP-034) In a rare postal cover and letter from July 20, 1853, we find James B. Harlan trying to work out some surveying problems with a piece of land in Calhoun County with Warner Lewis – General Surveyor for Iowa & Wisconsin. Read more here.
(L-0004) (L-0060) In my office, I also have attained two additional maps: an 1854 Surveyor’s Map of Iowa and an 1855 Surveyor’s Map of Iowa. These two maps are identical to our 1852 map but are updated to October 21, 1854 and October 21, 1855, indicating the name of the new surveyor in charge: Warner Lewis.

Our six generations of the Boller family, this map (above) displays all we need to know about Our Iowa Heritage. Above right, we’ve marked all six locations in eastern Iowa where our Bollers have lived since first coming to the Hawkeye State in 1853. Johnson County (Iowa City and the Boller farm land) Washington County (Kalona) Henry Counry (Mt. Pleasant and Wayland) Linn County (Cedar Rapids).

Click here to continue.

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

Iowa As It Is, N. Howe Parker, Keen and Lee, 1856, pp 25, 52, 71-72

Survey of the Iowa-Minnesota Boundary Line, IAGenWeb, Annals of Iowa, Vol. XVI, No. 7 – Jan 1929, pp 483-503.

Misc. graphics, 1851 Iowa Township Map Info, Iowa Dept of Transportation

1850s Surveyor Kit, PBS-Iowa

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Click here for a complete INDEX of Our Iowa Heritage stories…