Governors of Iowa

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 135


SAMUEL MERRILL, Governor from 1868 to 1872, was born in Oxford County, Maine, Aug. 7, 1822. He is a descendant on his mother's side of Peter Hill, who came from England and settled in Maine in 1653. From this ancestry have sprung most of the Hills in America. On his father's side he is a descendant of Nathaniel Merrill, who came from England in 1636, and located in Massachusetts. Nathaniel had a son, Daniel, who in turn had a son named John, and he in turn begat a son called Thomas. The latter was born Dec. 18, 1708. On the 4th of August, 1728, was born to him a son, Samuel, who was married and had a family of twelve children, one of whom, Abel, was taken by his father to Boston in 1750. Abel was married to Elizabeth Page, who had five children, one of whom, Abel Jr., was the father of our subject. He married Abagail Hill June 25, 1809, and to them were born eight children, Samuel being the youngest but one. At the age of sixteen Samuel moved with his parents to Buxton, Maine, the native place of his mother, where his time was employed in turns in teaching and attending school until he attained his majority. Having determined to make teaching a profession, and feeling that the South offered better opportunities, he immediately set out for that section. He remained, however, but a short time, as he says " he was born too far North." Suspicion having been raised as to his abolition principles and finding the element not altogether congenial, he soon abandoned the sunny South and went to the old Granite State, where the next several years were spent in farming. In 1847 he moved to Tamworth, N. H., where he engaged in the mercantile business in company with a brother, in which he was quite successful. Not being satisfied with the limited resources of Northern New England he determined to try his good fortune on the broad prairies of the fertile West.

It was in the year 1856 that Mr. Merrill turned his face toward the setting sun, finding a desirable location near McGregor, Iowa, where he established a branch house of the old firm. The population increased, as also did their trade, and their house became one of the most extensive wholesale establishments on the upper Mississippi. During all these years of business Mr. Merrill took an active part in politics. In 1854 he was chosen on the abolition ticket to the Legislature of New Hampshire. The following year he was again returned to the Legislature, and doubtless had he remained in the State would have risen still higher. In coming to Iowa his experience and ability were demanded by his neighbors, and he was here called into public service. He was sent to the Legislature, and though assembled with the most distinguished men of his time, took a leading part in the important services demanded of that body. The Legislature was convened in an extra session of 1861, to provide for the exigencies of the Rebellion, and in its deliberations Mr. Merrill took an active part.

In the summer of 1862, Mr. Merrill was commissioned Colonel of the 21st Iowa Infantry, and immediately went to the front. At the time Marmaduke was menacing the Union forces in Missouri, which called for prompt action on the part of the Union Generals, Col. Merrill was placed in command, with detachments of the 21st Iowa and 99th Illinois, a portion of the 3d cavalry and two pieces of artillery, with orders to make a forced march to Springfield, he being at the time eighty miles distant. On the morning of January 11, 1863, he came across a body of Confederates who were advancing in heavy force. Immediate preparations for battle were made by Col. Merrill, and after briskly firing for an hour, the enemy fell back. Merrill then moved in the direction of Hartville, where he found the enemy in force under Marmaduke, being about eight thousand strong, while Merrill had but one-tenth of that number. A hot struggle ensued in which the Twenty-first distinguished itself. The Confederate loss was several officers and three hundred men killed and wounded, while the Union loss was but seven killed and sixty-four wounded. The following winter the regiment performed active-service, taking part in the campaign of Vicksburg. It fought under McClernand at Port Gibson, and while making the famous charge of Black River Bridge, Col. Merrill was severely wounded through the hip. He was laid up from the 17th of May to January, when he again joined his regiment in Texas, and in June, 1864, on account of suffering from his wound, resigned and returned to McGregor. In 1867 Mr. Merrill was chosen Governor of the State, being elected upon the Republican ticket. He served with such satisfaction, that in 1869 he was re-nominated and accordingly elected.

Under the administration of Gov. Merrill, the movement for the erection of the new Srare House was inaugurated. The Thirteenth General Assembly provided for the building at a cost of $ 1,500,000, and made an appropriation with which to begin the work of $150.000. With this sum, the work was begun, and Nov. 23, 1871, the corner stone was laid in the presence of citizens from all parts of the State. On this occasion the Governor delivered the address. It was an historical view of the incidents culminating in the labors of the day. It was replete with historical facts, showed patient research, was logical and argumentative, and at times eloquent with the fire and genius of American patriotism. It is a paper worthy of the occasion, and does justice to the head and heart that conceived it.

During the gubernatorial career of Gov. Merrill, extending through two terms, from January, 1868, to January, 1872, he was actively engaged in the discharge of his official duties, and probably no incumbent of that office ever devoted himself more earnestly to the public good, standing by the side of Gov. Fairchild, of Wisconsin. The two were instrumental in placing the slack-water navigation between the Mississippi and the Lakes in the way of ultimate and certain success. The Governor treated this subject to great length and with marked ability in his message to the Thirteenth General Assembly, and so earnest was he in behalf of this improvement, that he again discussed it in his message to the Fourteenth General Assenbly. In the instigation of the work the Governors of the different States interested, called conventions, and through the deliberations of these assemblies the aid of the General Government was secured.

Samuel Merrill was first married to Catherine Thomas, who died in 1847, fourteen months after their marriage. In January, 1851, he was united in marriage with a Miss Hill, of Buxton, Maine. She became the mother of four children, three of whom died young, the eldest living to be only two and a half years old.

After the expiration of his public service he returned to McGregor, but shortly afterward removed to Des Moines, where he is now residing, and is President of the Citizen's National Bank.

Thus briefly have been pointed out the leading features in the life of one of Iowa's most prominent citizens, and one who has made an honorable record both in public positions and private enterprises. He is highly esteemed in the city where he resides and is regarded as one of the faithful representatives of the sons of New England. In stature he is fully six feet high and finely proportioned.

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