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William Patterson Letter from West Point, Iowa, 27 Jun 1850


Posted By: John Stuekerjuergen (email)
Date: 10/30/2014 at 08:58:37

A Letter from West Point, Iowa in 1850

Against all odds, the letter exists today. The writer might have chosen not to write it. He might have sent it from Keokuk, where he lived. Or the recipient might have discarded it. But, none of those things happened. As a result, the letter is one of the few that survive with a West Point, Iowa postmark from prior to the Civil War. It was written in ink on thin, blue paper by William Patterson on June 27, 1850 and mailed on July 1. As was the practice at that time, the folded letter served as its own envelope. Postmaster Edward A. Gibbs applied the postmark. He also noted the amount paid (10 cents), as postage stamps were not yet in general use in the frontier communities.

The letter was a request for 25 copies of the Bible Society Record for the congregation of the Presbyterian church. The request was addressed to J.C. Brigham, the Corresponding Secretary of the American Bible Society in New York City. Brigham was a key contact for frontier churches at the time. He tracked their growth and progress, and supplied them with bibles and other written materials.

The writer, William Patterson, and his family had lived in Keokuk since 1846. However, they had moved there from West Point, where he was one of the town’s founders. During his nine years in West Point, he had made quite an impact on the town and developed a strong attachment to its residents. He arrived there in the spring of 1837 from Sangamon County, Illinois, accompanied by Hawkins Taylor and two brothers-in-law, Green Casey and Alexander H. Walker. A year earlier, he had purchased a claim and made preparations for the settlement of his family there. Once in Iowa and pleased with the location, the four men bought the entire town site. Patterson, Casey, and Walker located on farms adjacent to the town. Over time, they improved the site and sold lots. The name of the town was a suggestion of the officers of the garrison at Fort Des Moines (now Montrose), who agreed to purchase a number of lots.

Shortly after his arrival in West Point, Patterson co-founded the town’s Presbyterian church in June 1837. He was soon named the first Elder of the Old School Presbyterian Church in Iowa. Construction of the church building, the first brick structure in town, commenced in 1838. (Note: The original building was replaced in 1860-61. However, the congregation is the oldest of its denomination in Iowa.) Although Patterson later moved to Keokuk, it appears there was no Presbyterian church there at the time. That and the friendships he developed in West Point may explain why Patterson continued his involvement with the church there. Keep in mind that the trip back to West Point for Sunday services would not have been the short, smooth ride it is today.

William Patterson became one of the most accomplished residents of Lee County of that or any time. While in West Point, he was elected a member of the first Legislature of the Territory of Iowa in 1838. While serving, he was particularly helpful in settling a dispute over the boundary line between Iowa and Missouri. The Missouri governor had ordered 10,000 members of the state militia into the field to prepare to take possession of the southern half of Lee County. In response, Governor Lucas of Iowa commissioned Patterson a Colonel of Militia. Col. Patterson was then ordered to raise a regiment and to have a company of mounted, armed men report to Farmington for active service. Fortunately, after ongoing discussions in Burlington (the territorial capital) and Clark County, Missouri, cooler heads prevailed. It was Col. Patterson who had drawn up the compromise legislation that was eventually passed by the Iowa Territorial Legislature over the wishes of Governor Lucas. Soon thereafter, the U.S. Congress made permanent the present-day border between Lee and Clark Counties.

Patterson was elected several times to the Legislature, both to the upper and lower houses. He was also a member of the constitutional convention that convened in Iowa City in 1857. There was even service at the national level as one of the vice presidents of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which nominated General McClellan for President in 1864.

In Keokuk, he became involved in merchandising and pork packing, and was quite successful at the latter. That business was known as Patterson & Timberman, bearing the name of his key business associate. The plant was located at the foot of 4th Street, while Patterson’s residence was on the northwest corner of 7th and Timea Streets. All of those street names still exist. Over the course of more than 30 years, the plant packed between 5,000-30,000 hogs per year. During that time, Patterson remained politically active, being elected Mayor of Keokuk in 1860, 1865, and 1866. He was postmaster for seven years. And he was President of the Northwestern Railroad that ran from Keokuk to Mt. Pleasant.

Patterson was born in Wyeth County, Virginia in 1802, but moved at age 6 to Adair County, Kentucky. There, he received a “common school education” and, at age 20, married Eleanor Johnson. During roughly the same time in Kentucky, Patterson’s sister, Jane, married Green Casey (see above). Jane Patterson Casey is not to be confused with her mother-in-law, Jane Montgomery Casey, wife of Revolutionary War veteran Col. William Casey and a great-grandmother of Samuel Clemens. Another of Patterson’s sisters, Isabella, married the aforementioned Alexander Walker.

William and Eleanor had 11 children, not all of whom survived until adulthood. Seven of those children were born prior to the family’s arrival in West Point. On their 50th wedding anniversary in 1872, William and Eleanor Patterson celebrated in Keokuk with friends and relatives, including two great-grandchildren. William Patterson died on October 3, 1889 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Keokuk.


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