Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part I

Historical Narrative






A Decade of Expansion 1850 to 1860



            Few movements better illustrate the restless energy of American life than the rapid settlement of the vast region west of the Mississippi River. Under the French and Spanish regimes this land had lain almost untouched by white men—a land of quiet, disturbed only now and then by the passing war cry of the red men of the plains, or the mighty stampede of bison herds. Then came the Anglo-Saxons—restless, eager, thrifty—looking here and there for homes. As if by magic all was changed within the span of a single century and the great West is now the home of over 28,000,000 souls.(79)

            By the middle of the nineteenth century, the settlement of Iowa was well advanced. By this time also the Quakers were rapidly making a place for themselves in the young Commonwealth. Until about 1850 the busy town of Salem had served as the chief point of entry for the stream of Quakers which poured into the southeastern part of the State and settled in the fertile valleys between the Des Moines and Skunk rivers. While settlements were thus rising one after another in quick succession, a new gateway was opened to the northeast, and at Bloomington (now Muscatine) the ferrymen became familiar with the Quaker salutations, “thee” and “thou”.

            The first Friend known to have entered at this new gateway was Brinton Darlington,(80) who bought a farm near Muscatine in 1843. Then came Laurie Tatum, who pressed on about thirty miles to the northwest and settled in Cedar County in 1844. Close upon his coming followed J. H. Painter and family in 1845. Thus as at Salem, hardly had the waving prairie grass been touched by the first Quaker until it was pressed by the foot of the second. The track then made was soon to become a beaten path across the prairie, then a well defined road, and finally a veritable highway for immigrants.

            As has been seen in connection with the visit of Robert Lindsey and Benjamin Seebohm to the Cedar County settlement (the known as Oakley) in the winter of 1850, the Friends in that locality were rapidly building up a prosperous community. A year later in the month of August, William Evans, a Philadelphia Friend, on a religious visit to the meetings in Iowa,(81) came into the Oakley settlement, of which he wrote the following description:


            The residences of the settlers in this place scattered over prairie land, are chiefly of buildings; the settlement being several miles in extent. In the summer season, while the grass is green, the country, with the cabins and little surrounding improvements dotted over it, has a picturesque appearance; yet to a stranger, it gives a sensation of lonesomeness.(82)


                    The first collective religious meetings to be held among this new group of Friends began in the “fore part of 1849”, and were held as the occasion suited at the homes of Laurie Tatum or J. H. Painter. By the year 1852, however, the community had increased in numbers to such an extent that it became necessary to erect a building for “meeting purposes; and to that end a concrete house with a flat roof was built. On April 9, 1853, in this the second house erected in Cedar County for religious purposes,(83) was established the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting later to be known far and wide as Springdale, with Brinton Darlington as its clerk.(84)

            The composite nature of this new center  of Quakerism in Iowa and the rapidity with which it grew are well shown by the records of the Monthly Meeting for the first eight months of its existence. At the time of its organization in April the committees appointed show that there were no less than thirty-four men members of the meeting. By the close of the year there had been received by the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting sixty-six certificates of membership, representing 322 men, women, and children These certificates show that the new arrivals came from Maine, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. For the next four or five years the movement continued strong. In the year 1854 alone eighty-four certificates of membership were received, likewise from very divergent sources. The Red Cedar meeting was over-crowded, and then the immigrants moved on to the northwest, settling the region to such an extent that for many years the fertile divide between the Iowa and Cedar rivers to the northwest of Springdale for some miles was known as “Quaker Ridge”.

            That the population of Iowa should jump from 192,214 in 1850 to 674,913 in 1860(85) and that the Friends should be ready for the founding of a Yearly Meeting in this State by that time is not surprising when one reads as follows from the pen of an eye witness: “The immigration into Iowa the present season [1854] is astonishing and unprecedented. For miles and miles, day after day, the prairies of Illinois are lined with cattle and wagons, pushing on towards this prosperous State. At a point beyond Peoria, during a single month, seventeen hundred and forty-three wagons had passed, and all for Iowa.”(86) What with the advertisement of Iowa lands by great land companies, the frequent descriptions of the country which appeared in both secular and religious newspapers, and the multitude of personal letters to friends in the east from those how had already settled beyond the Mississippi, the fame of this new State(87) was spread in a manner that kept the inflow of settlers steady and strong for many years.

            Moving on to the north between the Iowa and Cedar rivers the Quakers invaded Linn(88) and Jones counties,(89) and then pushed on to the northern border of the State as far as Winneshiek County. From this point on the 3rd of March, 1855, a Friend wrote:


            The general face of the county is handsomely rolling or undulating, and along the streams approaching to what may be called broken. The prairies of this county are generally of moderate extent, and unsurpassed in beauty and fertility, by any that I have ever seen.

.           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .


            The first family of Friends that located in this county, arrived here in the 9th month 1853. There are now about twenty families, and some others have purchased land, and are expecting to move here this spring…Friends here are situated in two settlements, about nine miles apart. We get no established meetings, but hold one for worship in each settlement regularly twice a week. The upper or northern settlement, is near the northern line of the county. The meeting there, is held at the house of Tristram Allen, an approved minister, from the State of Michigan. Our meeting in this settlement, is held at the house of Ansel Rogers, also an approved minister from Michigan.(90)


            It was from this far northern settlement that a letter came to the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting on February 7, 1855, requesting the establishment of two Preparative Meetings, to be named Winneshiek and Springwater, and the two to compose a new Monthly Meeting to be called Winneshiek. The letter was urgent in its appeal and bore the signatures of forty-seven Friends.(91) “After a time of deliberation” on the part of the Red Cedar Friends, a committee of eight(92) was appointed to “consider the subject”, and to “visit them if way should open”. A short time after their appointment, all arrangements having been made for the proposed visit to their brethren, six members of the committee set off in two carriages.(93) Snow-clad wind-swept plains stretched away one hundred and fifty miles before them. Of the hardships of this long winter journey but little is known. The only report which has been preserved reads as follows: “A part of their number [the committee] had visited them & were united with them in their request”.(94) Thus was Winneshiek added to the roll of Quaker centers of settlement and influence in the West.

            While the Quaker settlements of Red Cedar and Winneshiek were rising into prominence, the movement along the older channel had continued strong, so that community after community had been formed in the heart of the State with a rapidity which far outstripped the earlier settlements of this sect either in Ohio or in Indiana. On his second visit to Iowa in 1858,(95) Robert Lindsey, who was this time accompanied by his wife, Sarah, had the unusual experience of being present at the opening of two new Quarterly Meetings within the brief space of a single month. One of these was the former little settlement of Oakley, now Red Cedar; and the other, bearing the appropriate name of Western Plain, was at a place where to a single Quaker was to be found on Lindsey’s former visit in 1850.

            Much had transpired in Iowa in eight years. Under the hand of the pioneer the barren prairie had been transformed into prosperous farms; where before had been cross-road taverns and nameless trading posts there were now growing villages and towns: and along with all this transformation and growth the Quakers in Iowa were rapidly coming to the point where their increased numbers demanded the establishment of a Yearly Meeting west of the Mississippi River.


Notes and References


79- See census returns of 1910 for the States west of the Mississippi River.


80-Brinton Darlington, long one of the most prominent members of the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting, was born in Pennsylvania in 1804. He was successful in business, being a partner in a large woolen mill. This mill burned late in 1841, and Darlington moved to Iowa with his family in the spring of 1842.—Memorials Concerning Deceased Friends, Members of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Philadelphia, 1872), pp. 15, 16.


81- On this trip William Evans visited the Friends meetings in the vicinity of Salem, Pleasant Plain, and Richland, as well as the Oakley settlement, but did not go into the more central part of the State.


82- Journal of the Life and Religious Services of William Evans (Philadelphia, 1870), pp. 525, 526.


83- This concrete meeting-house at Red Cedar was claimed by some to be the first building erected for religious purposes in Cedar County, although there seems to have been an earlier one at Tipton. See Aurner’s A Topical History of Cedar County, Iowa (Chicago, 1910), p. 127, and note 105 on p. 515.


84-Minutes of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting of Friends, 4 mo., 9th, 1853, p. 1.


85- Hull’s Historical and Comparative Census of Iowa, 1880, pp. 198, 199.


86-The Friend, Vol. XXVII, p. 319.


87- Iowa became a State on December 28, 1846. See Shambaugh’s History of the Constitutions of Iowa, p. 327.


88- In The Friend for July 23, 1853, the editor notes “an account furnished…more than a year ago [by a Friend who had settled in Linn County], descriptive and recommendatory of a settlement that he and some others were then about making far off in the prairies of that State.” Among the reasons given by the editor for withholding this account are “the loss experienced by members of our Society who settle remote from the body of Society, and are in some measure freed from the restraint, which, through its meetings and the oversight of the rightly concerned, it exerts over them. We…think Friends everywhere ought to be well persuaded that it is in the ordering of Truth, before they break loose from the neighborhood and meetings where they have been long living, and where perhaps they may be most likely to prosper in best things.”—The Friend, Vol. XXVI, p. 359.


89- At the first and opening meeting of the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting (4 mo., 9th, 1853, p. 2) the following minute was recorded: “The Friends of Lynn and Jones counties request the privilege of holding a meeting for worship….and a preparative meeting…. To be known by the name of Fairview”.


90- Friends’ Review, Vol. VIII, p. 45.


91-Minutes of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting of Friends, 2 mo., 7th, 1855, pp. 107-109.


92- Minutes of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting of Friends, 2 mo., 7th, 1855, p. 107.

            The committee appointed to visit the Friends in Winneshiek County was made up of Enoch Peasley, Jeremiah A. Grinnell, Asa Staples, Amos Hampton, Brinton Darlington, David Tatum, Elisha Stratton, and James Schooley.


93- See the printed sketch by Laurie Tatum, entitled Early History of the Settlement of Friends at Springdale, Iowa, and their Meetings, pasted into the book of Minutes of Springdale Monthly Meeting of Friends for 1892, pp. 217, 218, 228.


94- Minutes of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting of Friends, 5 mo., 9th, 1855, p. 121.


95-On this second trip Robert Lindsey was among the Iowa Friends from April 29 to July 19, 1858. The copy of this journal in manuscript form was loaned to the author by the Haverford College Library through the interest of Professor Rayner W. Kelsey. A transcript was made and is now in the possession of The State Historical Society of Iowa.



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