Iowa City Press-Citizen
Iowa City, Johnson County, Iowa
1939 July 01, page 28 of 61


THE FIRST CENSUS--Check In 1838 Revealed Johnson County Boasted Population of 237 Persons

[column 1]
By 128 In
100 Years

  Boasting a population of 237 inhabitants, Johnson county had its first census taken in
the spring of 1838.  Census-taker was Deputy Sheriff Samuel C. Trowbridge, who had been
appointed by James W. Tallman, sheriff of Cedar county.
  In December, 1837, the Wisconsin Legislative Assembly had ordered the "second census or
enumeration of the inhabitants of the Territory of Wisconsin" to be taken in May, 1838;
it was to serve as a basis for the apportionment of representatives in the Territorial
legislature.  Johnson county had been formed or designated as to name and boundaries by
an act of the Assembly approved December 21, 1837, but was not yet "organized" as the
time for the schedules census approached.
        *  *  *

  Thus since Johnson county was nominally under the authority of Cedar county, or
"attached to Cedar county for civil purposes," it was the privilege of the sheriff of the
latter county to appoint an assistant who would attend to the business of assessing and
collecting taxes as well as the matter of taking the census as ordered by the Legislative
Assembly.  Mr. Trowbridge, in fulfillment of this appointment, was killing two birds with
one stone, for the names listed in the census schedule were those of "master, mistress,
steward, overseer, or other principal persons,"  while the tax list included only those
persons who had some taxable personal property.  Because no man had yet obtained title to
his land claim, there could be no real estate tax at this time.
        *  *  *

  Mr. Trowbridge's carefully compiled tax list was never used, however, ostensibly
because the residents of Johnson county, feeling that their independent organization was
not far off, were unwilling to contribute tax money to the coffers of Cedar county.
First published in 1883, the list reveals that in May, 1838, Johnson county had 39 male
residents subject to taxation.
  At this time there were in the county 22 horses and 106 working cattle over three years
old, but only four hogs and no sheep.  There were seven watches and nine clocks scattered
among the settlers.
        *  *  *

  Cash on hand was scarce, apparently, for only three settlers were thus blessed, the
aggregate amount being $190.  The total tax was $46.74 on an assessed valuation of
$9,298.50.  Richest man in the county was Judge Pleasant Harris, the assessed valuation
of his property being $828.50.
  As for the census, Mr. Trowbridge had been assigned to the counties of Johnson and
Keokuk, as far as they were south and west of the Cedar river.  The normal rate of
compensation for the census taking was set at $3 per hundred persons counted; thus
Trowbridge probably received a little more than seven dollars for counting the noses in
Johnson county.  It is doubtful as to whether he received anything for his fruitless
search of Keokuk county, which proved innocent of human inhabitation.
        *  *  *
  In arrangement the census report conformed to the schedule specified by the Legislative
Assembly.  It consisted of 10 columns captioned in the following order: "names of master,
mistress, steward, overseer, or other principle person," "names of townships or
divisions" (in this case, Johnson and Keokuk counties), "heads of families," "white
males," "white females," "free males of color," "free females of color, "total amount"
and "remarks."  In this final column Mr. Trowbridge tabulated the number of male
inhabitants over 21 years of age, thus showing that of the 237 inhabitants, 84 were men.
  "The count of negroes was apparently designed to exclude persons in bondage," one
writer comments, "perhaps because slavery was not legal in the Iowa country."  Likewise
omitted from the enumeration were Indians " not taxed and who do not live as civilized
white men" together with officers and soldiers of the regular army who were not actual
residents of the Terrieory [sic].
  Heads of families included both husbands and wives in Trowbridge's report, the total
number of "heads" being 77.  That women were comparatively scarce, as in any frontier
settlement, is indicated by the fact that the white males outnumbered the white females
157 to 80, a ratio of very nearly two to one.
        *  *  *
  According to the law, the census takers were to begin their

[column 2-4]
[photo of handwritten Johnson County 1838 census page 1]

[photo of handwritten Johnson County 1838 census page 2]

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duties on the first Monday in May; within 30 days they were to complete the count and,
after posting copies of the returns in "two conspicuous places in each county," to send
the original report to the Secretary of the Territory.  Though the date on Mr.
Trowbridge's report is far form distinct, it bears a faint resemblance to "this 2nd day
of June, 1838."
        *  *  *

  The act to organize Johnson county was passed later that month at a special session of
the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, held at Burlington, whereupon Gov. Henry Dodge
appointed Trowbridge sheriff of the new county by and with the advice and consent of the
legislative council.  His commission was dated at Burlington June 22, 1938 [sic], and the
appointment was renewed by Governor Lucas January 18, 1839.  Thus Johnson count's first
census taker became her first sheriff.
  Although the census of 1838 revealed little information about the settlers save their
number and the names of "principal persons" (omitting such interesting details, for
instance, as their nationality, occupations and economic conditions), it served the
purpose for which it was intended, i. e., reapportionment of territorial legislative
representation.  Prospective settlers, too, could in some measure decide from these
reports which counties seemed most attractive.
        *  *  *
  Ensuing census reports for Johnson county are less significant and less valuable than
this very earliest enumeration, but

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it is interesting to note how rapidly the population grew during the decade that followed
those first pioneers' venture into that vicinity.  In 1840 the total number of
inhabitants was 1,504; four years later it had increased to 2,940, while in 1846

[column 4]
the count came to rest at precisely 3,000.
  Most recent census figures available for the county give a total of 30,276 residents...
nearly 128 times the number painstakingly assembled by Samuel C. Trowbridge 101 years

[column 5]

In 1838

  Trowbridge's list of "principal persons" of Johnson county included 41 names, many of
them scarcely decipherable to eyes unaccustomed to the 1838 mode of handwriting.  Here
are the
names, as they appeared in the accompanying engravings:
    Millins F. Shattuck
    Nathaniel Thellows
    Allen Baxter
    Benjamin Miller
    Wm. C. Massey
    Yale Hamilton
    Jacob Witter
    William Ward
    Jonathan Harris
    Salim Taylor
    Pleasant Harris
    John Gardner
    James W. Massey
    Jacob Earhart
    Samuel P. Hamilton
    John J. Royal
    Elias Secord
    Elijah Parson
    Joseph Weaver
    Joseph Stover
    Elizabeth Ralston
    John Smith
    John A. Cane
    Samule Walker
    George W. Hawkins
    William Sturgis
    William Kelso
    David Sweet
    John M. Lucas
    Philip Clark
    John Gilbert
    John A. Street
    Green Hill
    Henry Felkner and
        Eli Myers
    Henry G. Reddout
    Nathaniel W. Reddout
    Isaac N. Lesh
    Silas W. Lesh
    Michael Ritter
    Wheaten Chase
    John Morford
  It should be noted that the list contains but one feminine name; that of Elizabeth
Ralston.  Also, Mr. Trowbridge  seems in several cases to have used a purely arbitrary
method of spelling.  His Nathaniel "Thellows," for instance, was as well if not better
known as Mr. "Fellows."  Other writers refer to Elias Secord as Elias "Cecord," Mr. Cane
as Mr. "Cain," Mr. Sweet as Mr. "Sweat," and so on.

1841 Saw First
In Johnson County
  First naturalization of aliens in Johnson county occurred June 1, 1841, when "James
Wicks, John Mullin, Hugh Deen, Harmon Luken, Francis Kerr, Patrick Smith, Jeremiah
Driskel, Michael Keff, William Croty, Andrew McWilliams, John Hurley, John Conboy,
solemnly swore allegiance to the United States and abjured their further allegiance to
"Her Majesty, Queen of Great Britain."

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       Spelling Was Not a Long Suit
  Common and Proper Nouns Alike Suffered Some Most Weird Mutilations

  That spelling was not a long suit with many of our Pioneer fathers is indicated by the
earliest county records and public documents, wherein common and proper nouns alike
suffered weird mutilations.
  A most notable case is that of "Wheaton," "Wheten," "Wheaten" and "Wheton" Chase, as he
was variously called!
  Mr. Chase (who came to Johnson county in 1837 as representative of the American Fur
Company after John Gilbert had resigned the local agency) may have been at fault
primarily for the liberties which contemporary as well as subsequent writers took with
the spelling of his name; e. g., here is an exemplary document which occurs among the
earliest records:
  "Received of Wheaten Chase ......... dollars as moneys rendered to the county treasury
in pay for a permit to keep a tavern and store until the next subsequent meeting of the
Board of County Commissioners.  Napolian, April 20, 1839.  WHETEN CHASE."
  Set down in what apparently was Mr. Chase's own handwriting, the above item would seem
to indicate that the gentleman in question was himself none too certain

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(or at least very democratic) about the spelling of his Christian name.
  Such are the intricacies of early Johnson county history, the details and
embellishments of which

[column 8]
require considerable attention and thought before one may safely conclude, for instance,
that there is but ONE Mr. Chase, be he Wheten, Wheaton or Wheton, at cetera ad infinitum.