Red-skinned children were born in what is now Iowa County long before Father Marquette looked upon the land of Iowa in June 1673; Iowa long remained in the “Far West” and it is of more than passing interest to know that the first white child born in Iowa County is still a resident of Iowa County, his home is in Dayton and his name is Michael F. Convey.
But Dayton township was not Mike’s birth place, that honor belongs to old York for it was within the boundaries of what is now York township that Michael Convey first saw the light of day on May 1st, 1844 - 65 years ago.
The parents who gave the first white baby to Iowa County were Mr. and Mrs. John Convey. They were natives of County West Meath, Ireland. They started to rear their family in their native land but landlords, rack rents and poor crops sent them out on the great tide of exiles whose brain and brawn contributed so largely to the making of this country what it is.
John Convey was as brave a Celt as ever crossed the ocean’s watery waste and in his breast there burned a feverish longing for a home that he might call his own. The frontier beckoned him and camp after camp he passed until he reached Iowa City, then the western point of civilization. Here he resided for a few years and, in company with Michael Duffy, another of York’s first settlers, worked on the old State Capitol. In 1843 they, the Conveys and the Duffys, pushed out to the front and located in what is now York township, thus becoming its first settlers. Iowa County was then attached to Johnson County and none of its land was yet open for settlement except a small strip along its eastern border. Not a line had yet been run by the surveyor. Ed Ricord, the first settler in Iowa County, lived over in what is now Greene township and John Furlong, the parent of the John Furlong who now lives in York, was among the very first settlers in Iowa County locating in Greene township in 1841. In 1844-45, the Evanses and Hansons located in what is now Troy township. But a better idea of the newness of the country can be had from the fact that when Iowa County was organized in 1845 there were just two polling places in the county, one at Ed Ricord’s home in Greene township and the other at the old trading house in Iowa township kept by Robert Hutchison. The first election was held on the 4th of August 1845 and 36 votes were cast in the county, 22 at the Hutchison’s and 14 at Ricord’s. The names of the voters at the Ricord polling place are recorded in the poll book in the following order:
The old Convey home was in the southwest corner of what is now York township and was on the bank of Convey’s Creek, the name which the stream still bears. The old farm is now occupied by Mrs. Catherine Griffin. When John Convey located here it was the heart of a virgin forest, abounding in game, consisting chiefly of deer and turkeys. To the northwest lay the open prairie, wrapped in the solitude of ages and trackless as a sea. Once each year over this vast expanse rolled and roared the fierce prairie fire and more than once the Convey home was threatened with destruction. And when winter came what brave hearts were required to withstand the long siege of frost and churlish wind. Across these prairies the “cavalry of the wild blast” led the hosts of winter and the keen-edged sabres of the frost cut deeper than the sting of hate or envy.
But the Convey home flourished, five stalwart sons and two daughters made up the family. The father for several years was engaged in freighting from Muscatine to Iowa City and then came the dark and soul–trying days of 1861 when the nation’s heart throbbed wildly at the sound of fife and drum. The strife made a heavy toll on the Convey home. In 1861, at the first call for men, Lawrence, John and James Convey went to the front. Lawrence and John were members of Berge’s Sharpshooters and James was killed in action at Silver Creek, Mo. In 1862, Michael, around whom this sketch is written, enlisted in Company 1, 6th Cavalry and for several years he patrolled the frontier and fought “bad” Indians who were murdering defenseless settlers.
When Michael returned from the army he went to the old home and here he resided for several years. In 1870 he was united in marriage to Miss Ella Fay and to this union were born twelve children. Two died in infancy, one son a few years ago and the nine remaining are John of North English, Mrs. Estella Powers and Mrs. Mary Cronse who live near the Dayton home and at the home are Anna, Ida, James, Frank, William and Clara, the last two being twins. Mr. Convey moved to Dayton township in 1894 where he has a fine farm not far from Armah. He is a princely man as free from guile, trickery or deceit as any man living. Around him still lingers the old simplicity and honesty bred in the days of the pioneer. In stature he is of giant build, to the top of his head is more than six feet, his shoulders are a yard wide, and the ram-rod of a gun is not straighter than his form.
It is more interesting than a novel to hear Mike Convey tell about the “old days”. He has a memory like steel handcuffs and the old, unwritten chronicles of York and Greene townships are to him the events of yesterday. He and Joseph Duffy were inseparable companions as boys. They hunted and fished together, sported in the same swimming pool and danced with the same girls at the country socials. He can tell all about the days of “hominy” and how, when they became tired of this fare, they would take a sheet of old tin, punch it full of nail holes and on the “rough side” they would “grate” the corn and from the coarse meal thus obtained, they would feast to fullness. Ten miles away was close for a neighbor and the nearest post office was at Iowa City a distance of 20 miles.
Not many received a letter in those times and when one was received it cost 25 cents to get it out of the office and then it was passed through the whole “settlement” for reading.
The first school in Iowa County was over in Greene township near the Ricord home. It was, of course, built of logs, had greased paper for window lights and the ground for a floor. Michael attended this school and he remembers when William Watson, W.H. Berry and Iola Ricord taught the sons and daughters of the old settlers. There were no churches in Iowa County then and only at long intervals could the settlers attend divine services.
Of the old Convey family, only three remain. Mary Ann (Mrs. M. Conlon) resides in Des Moines, Jane, now Mrs. Wright resides near Keswick and Michael still resides in the county of which he has the honor to be the first born child with a white skin.
Here’s to the old pioneer and may he be spared to tell for many years to his children and his children’s children the story of the county’s birth, growth and development.