Iowa first governor (1838-1841) – Robert Edward Lucas – was born on April 1, 1781 in, what was then, Mecklenburg, Virginia – today, known as Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He was the son of William and Susannah Lucas, a Quaker family whose roots stretched back to 1679 in Pennsylvania.
Lucas’ father, William (1742-1814) was an American Revolutionary War veteran, and family records indicate that he and his wife, Susannah, had one large family, with Robert having five siblings older than himself – Joseph (1771-1808), the Lucas twins – William, Jr. (1773-1805) and Susannah (1773-1833), Samuel (1775-1813), and Rebecca (1778-1814); with three younger – Lavisa (1783-1865), John (1787-1825), and Abigail (1791-1842). According to his biographer, Robert, as a young man, received some early schooling in mathematics and surveying – skills which would prove invaluable to his future work as a surveyor.
As a farmer with vast amounts of land in Virginia, Robert’s father, William Lucas, Sr., and his parents before him, were slave owners. But over time, as the Quaker movement across America became more and more convinced that slavery was wrong, Lucas, like so many other Quaker farmers in the East, decided – 60 years before the Civil War – to free his slaves, making full provision for them as free people! As a result of that decision, in 1800, the Lucas family sold their land in a slave state, moving westward into the Scioto Valley of the Northwest Territory (see above) – which, in 1803, became Scioto County in south-central Ohio – a free state.
Although southern Ohio was dominated in number by anti-abolitionist settlers from the South, some whites, like the Lucas family, worked to improve conditions for blacks and to aid refugee slaves. Portsmouth became important in the antebellum years (1815-1861) as part of the Underground Railroad. Fugitive slaves from Kentucky and other parts of the South crossed the Ohio River here in Scioto County, with some finding their future in Portsmouth; while others moved north along the Scioto River to reach Detroit, and on into Canada to secure their freedom.
It’s here, in Scioto County (see above), where Robert Lucas, at age 22, got his first job working as a surveyor, and along with Nathaniel Beasley of nearby Adams County, the two men ran the dividing line between these two new Ohio counties. When Ohio joined the Union (1803), Robert decided to join the militia, and in 1810, at age 29, he married his landlord’s daughter, Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Brown, had a daughter, Minerva, in 1811, but, sadly, the following October (1812), Elizabeth died, suddenly, of tuberculosis.
Earlier that year (1812), as a brigadier general under Major General Duncan McArthur, Lucas organized a battalion of volunteers from his brigade of Ohio militia. In General Hull’s campaign against Canada (the summer of 1812), he served in several capacities, holding the rank of captain in the regular army, as well as his position of brigadier general in the militia. After tending to the sudden death of his wife, Betsy, Lucas was appointed lieutenant colonel in the regular army, but grew dissatisfied with that assignment, resigning in June 1813, and returned to his duties with the militia. In 1816, in his final assignment, Robert was promoted to major general, and given command of the 2nd militia division.
After the sudden loss of his first wife (1812), Lucas turned his attention to his military career, but by 1816, Robert had met and married Friendly Ashley Sumner, and over the next sixteen years, the loving couple had seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood. Wanting to settle down with his new bride, Robert purchased 437 acres of wooded farmland located 25 miles north of Portsmouth, near the little village of Piketon in the newly organized Pike County (1817) – named for the War of 1812 hero – Zebulon Pike.
Over the next twenty-plus years, before the Lucas’ left for Iowa, Friendly became known in Piketon for her baked goods and her sweet disposition. Around 1824, in intervals between tours of duty in the Ohio Senate, Robert built one of the finest houses in southern Ohio. Friendly Grove – as he named their home in honor of his wife – is still standing on its original site two miles east of Piketon. Below, historian A.D. Allen writes about Friendly Grove…
It’s certainly no coincidence that Friendly Grove in Piketon (above left) – built in 1824 – has so much in common with Plum Grove in Iowa City (above right) – built twenty years later in 1844. Read more here.
As the war with Britain ended (1815), Lucas turned his attention to politics. He had already served one term in the Ohio House of Representatives (1808-9), and in 1814, as a Democrat, was elected to the State Senate. He continued to represent his district, composed of Scioto County and one or more neighboring counties, in the Senate until 1822, being re-elected in 1824-28 and 1829-30, before returning to the lower house for the 1831-32 session. As a lawmaker, Lucas actively supported legislation favoring the development of canals for improved transportation, the public school system, and a strong militia. Twice, he was a presidential elector (1820 &1828), and he served as chairman of the 1832 Democratic National Convention held in Baltimore (see above), where he nominated Andrew Jackson for a second term as president, and Martin Van Buren as Jackson’s running mate. It’s that close relationship with Van Buren that later led to Lucas being chosen to take over the Territorial governorship of Iowa.
That same year he oversaw the National Democratic Convention (1832), Lucas secured the gubernatorial nomination for his party, and was elected the 12th governor of Ohio. Robert went on to win reelection to a second term in 1834, and during his tenure, public schools flourished, a series of canals were built for better state-wide transportation, a revision of the state’s militia laws was adopted, and a boundary dispute with Michigan – called The Toledo War – was successfully navigated.
Certainly, Our Boller family had its share of Ohio connections – living in Wayne County (see map) during the Lucas administration (1832-1836) before coming to Iowa in 1853. Read more here.
In 1835-1836, a land disagreement between Ohio and the Territory of Michigan almost caused a war, when each governor claimed ownership of a small piece of land about five to eight miles wide along the northern border of Ohio (see above) – called The Toledo Strip. Tensions got so bad over the issue, Governor Lucas called out his militia and led them to the border to face the forces of the acting governor of Michigan Territory – Stevens T. Mason. Only the intervention of President Jackson and his commissioners averted open war, with Congress finally settling the question in Ohio’s favor (1836), yet compensating Michigan with a large tract of land – today, known as much of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula! Interestingly, this land disagreement between Ohio and Michigan served as a template for Lucas in The Honey War – a similar land dispute in 1839 between Iowa Territory and the state of Missouri. Read more here.
(JP-060) This very rare postal cover and letter comes from Governor Robert Lucas’ nephew William Lucas, Jr. (1806-1837) – who, at age 27, is probably living at Friendly Grove near Piketon, watching over Lucas’ 437-acre estate while his uncle is serving as Ohio’s governor. William – who is sick with a fever, and will eventually die within four years of its writing – is contacting his Uncle Robert about an land purchase offer that he was received from a potential buyer – Howard Palmer. The letter doesn’t indicate how much land Palmer is wanting to buy, nor do we know if this land is in Pike or Scioto County – but his offer is $150 – with $75 paid within one year, and $75 within two. William wrote his letter on August 20, 1833, and apparently mailed it from Piketon, with it being postmarked in nearby Portsmouth on August 23, and received in Columbus, the state capital, on August 26. On the backside of the letter, it appears that Governor Lucas replied to William’s letter on September 6, 1833. Below is the letter and its contents, and its transcription. Enjoy, and know that we’ve added some punctuation and corrected some spelling errors…
In 1836, Governor Lucas declined to run for a third term as Ohio’s governor and retired to his farm in Pike County on December 12, 1836. But, as we discuss in another post, Lucas’ political career was just taking a short break, for by the spring of 1838, a new U.S. Territory was being planned out west. The land was called Iowa, and now that it was being separated from Wisconsin Territory, President Martin Van Buren decided to look to Ohio, hand-picking his friend, the 57-year-old Robert Lucas as Iowa’s first Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Welcome to Iowa, Governor Lucas! Your Iowa story is just beginning…
Read all about Robert Lucas’ time in Iowa here.
This portrait (above) of Governor Robert Lucas by Mary F. Murray (1870) hangs in the Ohio Statehouse.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
General William Lucas, Wikipedia
William Lucas, Jr. , Wikipedia
Robert Lucas, The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, University of Iowa Library
Robert Lucas, Governor, 1832 – 1836, S. Winifred Smith, Ohio History OnLine
The First Presidential Nominating Convention, TLDR Civics
Gov. Robert Lucas, National Governors Association
Portrait of Robert Lucas, The Ohio Statehouse
Robert Lucas, 1781 – 1853 12th Governor of the State of Ohio, The Society of the War of 1812 in the State of Ohio
Friendly’s Frontier: Images from the Life of Friendly Lucas, Iowa’s First ‘First Lady’, A.D. Allen, The Palimpsest, Issue 73(1), 1992, pp 18-31
Friendly Grove – The Lucas Mansion at Piketon, Ohio, RootsWeb.com
Friendly Grove, LandmarkHunter.com
Friendly Ashley Sumner Lucas, Find-A-Grave
Robert Edward Lucas, Find-A-Grave
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