Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 2 - Page 21, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, May 1, 2012

Judge Williams Was Outstanding Figure

One of the outstanding personalities of early Muscatine history was Judge Joseph Williams, Philosopher, poet, devout church member, talented musician and one of the ranking jurists of his day. He enjoyed the distinction of a close friendship with President john Tyler. He was distinguished also as a man of exceptional wit and extreme dignity when the occasion demanded. Concerning him an early county history record related:

    “He allowed no man to surpass him in the practice and dignity of a gentleman or in his support of those principles of temperance and morality, which are the ground work of a well ordered society. He was not a profound lawyer but had the quickness and sagacity to see the right of every question, as well as the courage and manhood to seize upon it and to declare his convictions irrespective of parties and favorites.”

Judge Williams won lasting fame mainly through his service as an Iowa supreme court justice, though he also held many other high judicial offices during a lifetime of outstanding accomplishments. For nearly a decade he served as chief justice of Iowa. Later he served as one of the district judges for the territory of Kansas and during the Civil war he filled the vital role of judge in the district court at Memphis, Tenn.

Judge Williams struck up a close friendship with President Tyler during a trip to Washington, D. C., late in the 1830s. With his objective the securing of a reappointment to the Iowa supreme court, the jurist worked up an acquaintanceship with a lady traveler which later proved profitable. This lady, it developed later, was Mrs. John Tyler, wife of the president, and through this acquaintanceship the judge became fast friends with the president. Thus, the task of securing a reappointment was an easy one.

* * *

Born in Westmoreland county, Pa., in 1801, Judge Williams came to Muscatine while still a young man and started his service as district judge. In 1838, he and a friend, Charles A. Warfield, were granted authority by the territorial legislature to operate a ferry across the Mississippi at Bloomington, which later became known as Muscatine. But the ferry was never started, and the privilege lapsed. In the same year, he played a prominent part in the founding of the Methodist church in Bloomington. A year later he purchased a farm a few miles west of the city and for a number of years operated a horse power mill at that spot.

When the first corporate election was held in Bloomington during May, 1839, Judge Williams was elected president of the village board by a nearly unanimous vote. He was also first named on the list of incorporators for the Bloomington and Cedar river canal company.

* * *

Judge Williams was named chief justice of Iowa in 1846, not long after Iowa had been admitted to the Union. He served in this capacity until 1848, when he was succeeded by Seranus C. Hastings. Later, however, he regained the position, and served until 1855.

In 1857, the judge was appointed by President Buchanan to serve as one of the district judges for the territory of Kansas. During his service in that capacity he made some land purchases in the vicinity of Ft. Scott which later increased in value and made him a man of independence in later life.

During the early days of the Civil war, President Abraham Lincoln requisitioned the legal services of Judge Williams, with the result that he was soon established in a judgeship at Memphis, Tenn. Following the war, he returned to Iowa, and for a few years resided at his old home near Muscatine. In February, 1870, during a business trip to Ft. Scott, Kas., he became ill and died on March 31 of that year. Judge Williams and his wife, who was Miss Mary Rogers Meason prior to her marriage in 1827, were buried side by side in a cemetery at Muscatine.

* * * * * * *

Richman A Leader in Early Days

One of Muscatine’s best known pioneer lawyers played a prominent part in laying the foundation of the state of Iowa following its admission to the Union in 1846. He was J. Scott Richman, who was born in Ohio in 1820 and who came to Muscatine in 1839, and won outstanding recognition through his work as a barrister. Seven years after his arrival in Muscatine, Richman was chosen as a member of the convention that framed the first constitution of Iowa. A year later he was elected chief clerk of the Iowa house of representatives.

Mr. Richman started his law practice in Cedar county in 1840, but later moved to Muscatine and formed a partnership with his brother, De Witt C. Richman. At other times during his career, he was engaged in partnerships with S. Clinton Hastings in Muscatine, and E. E. Cook at Davenport. He served several terms on the district bench in Muscatine.

During his later years in Muscatine, Judge Richman was associated in practice with Messrs. Burke and Russell. He died May 17, 1908.

* * * * * * *

Long, long before dentistry was a popular profession in Iowa – before the painful whir of the drill would send shivers down the spine of martyred patients, the newspaper editor sought to give friendly aid to those suffering from aching molars.

Captioned – “CURE FOR THE ACHING TOOTHACHE” – a Muscatine Herald editor published this advice, gratis:

    “Mix alum and common salt in equal quantities, finely pulverized. Then wet some cotton, large enough to fill the cavity, which cover with salt and allum and apply it. We have the authority of those who have tested it, to say it will prove a perfect remedy.”
The cost was merely the regular subscription rate to The Herald.

* * * * * * *

Practiced Law

An early practicing attorney in Muscatine was Jacob Butler, born in Franklinton, near Columbus, O., Aug. 14, 1817, and resident here from 1841 to 1873. His first wife, Sarah Cummings, died in 1848. Leaving Muscatine, he moved to Chicago. Death occurred April 23, 1874, at Mt. Pleasant, Ia.

* * * * * * *

First civil township lines in Muscatine county were laid down on Jan. 7, 1842 when the county commissioners established Montpelier, Sweetland, Bloomington, Cedar, Wapsinonoc and Moscow township. Originally these six townships included all the land in Muscatine county excepting that which is now Wilton and Fulton townships.

* * * * * * *

Return to Centennial Table of Contents Page

Back to the Muscatine Co. IAGenWeb, Index Page

Page created May 4, 2012 by Lynn McCleary