Source: REGISTER OF OLD SETTLERS , BOOK One, page 56, 57, 259
submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, Aug. 30, 2007

JOHN McGREW , living a few miles down the Slough road is said to be the oldest resident of Iowa. He came to the territory in 1834. If any of you fellows editing papers outside of this county, can beat that, show your hand. Mr. McGrew has resided on the same place during all his years in Iowa.

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The Oldest Settler
Journal Dec 3 1874

John McGrew, of 76 township, claims to be the oldest resident of this part of Iowa. In December, 1834 --- just forty years ago --- Mr. McGrew, then twenty years of age, crossed the Mississippi at New Boston to explore this region. He stopped at an Indian village opposite New Boston known as Blackhawk. In reply to inquiries, the Indians, who were quite friendly, showed him a trail going north and told him that about twenty miles above he would find two white settlers. Following the trail, in company with an Indian, both traveling on foot, McGrew came in due time to the newly erected cabins of Levi and Err Thornton, who had staked out claims and had saved a crop of hay. They were living on the slough, 12 miles below the site of Muscatine. After staying two days at the Thornton settlement, McGrew pursued his journey north, following the Indian trail. He found Col. John Vanatta keeping a little trading house near the mouth of Pappoose creek, on the present site of this city. There was no other house or settlement of any kind here, and none to be found along the river as far up as the site of Buffalo, where McGrew crossed to the east side of the river and returned to New Boston.

The following February (1835) he returned to the Thornton settlement and commenced work by making rails. In March, he staked out a claim and erected a cabin on the place now owned by Philip Wagner, near Lettsville. This was the first settlement made on “High Prairie.” Mr. McGrew married in 1836 and remained on his pre-emption till 1842, when he sold out to Philip Wagner and bought the farm he now owns in 76 township of Col. Kincaid. He has remained on the farm ever since, and has outlived all of those who settled in the county before or during the year he came to the country, except Err Thornton, who many years ago removed to the Illinois side of the river and still lives in Drury township.

Mr. McGrew, it would therefore appear, is the oldest resident of Iowa now living in this county. He is sixty years of age and in vigorous health, being a fair specimen of the pioneer, though modest and retiring to a fault. In giving us the above particulars he requested us to “make no blow about it,” and so we havn’t.

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Died June 12, 1889

One of the most shocking runaway accidents that has occurred in the city for a long time took place a little after 11 o’clock this forenoon and resulted in instant death to John McGrew, Muscatine county’s oldest male settler, and serious injuries to his wife, who was with him. They were driving down Chestnut, in their one-horse buggy, and nothing unusual was noticed until shortly after they passed the alley, near B. Schmidt’s show store, when Mrs. Phil Bernius, who was the only witness to the entire affair, says the horse suddenly sprang forward and started on a dead run towards Front, and on nearing this street it whirled suddenly to the left, throwing both out, Mr. McGrew going head first against the sidewalk and in the culvert beneath the street crossing, while Mr. McGrew was landed upon the hard rocks a few feet from the gutter. In an instant a number of persons were at hand and drew Mr. McGrew out of the culvert, death having been instantaneous from a broken neck. He was otherwise cut about the head. Mrs. McGrew was picked up and carried into Henry Bodman’s grocery where Dr. F. H. Little waited upon her and dressed her wounds, which are of a severe nature. When she was able to be removed she was taken to her daughter’s, Mrs. Henry Miller, in South Muscatine, where she is resting as comfortably as can be expected. The body of Mr. McGrew was picked up and carried to E. P. Day’s undertaking establishment where it was properly dressed and taken care of.

What ailed the horse cannot be surmised. Mrs. Bernius says there were no cars moving on Front street, nor was there anything around that she could see to frighten it. She was looking directly at them when it started and she cannot say what started it. It is a sad affair and is to be sincerely regretted.


The deceased was born in Montgomery county, Ohio, in 1815, consequently was 74 years of age. His parents were among the early settlers of that county and in 1820 removed to Wayne county, Indiana, which was their home until death. Their death occurred from cholera in 1851, while visiting t the home of their son John, now deceased, in Seventy-Six township. In 1835 the deceased left the parental home and came to this county, pre-empting one-fourth of a section in Louisa county bordering on this county, where he lived for ten years and then removed to the farm now owned by him. In 1836 he was married to Lydia A. Willetts, a native of Mercer county, Ill. He was the father of eight children, four of whom are still living, Mrs. Araminta Vanatta, Mrs. Almina Miller, Mrs. Jesse Kerr. Mrs. McGrew died of cholera at the time his parents died. In 1853 he was married to Louisa Adams, by whom he had one child, Mrs. Harriet Willetts, who also survives him. His second wife died something over fifteen years ago, and a few years later he was married to his present wife, who was with him to-day, and sustains such severe injuries.

The remains will be taken to Seventy-Six township for interment.

Mrs. McGrew at 4 o’clock was resting easy. She is badly bruised, the worst injury being to one of eyes, which is swollen shut and badly hurt.

The funeral will occur from the family residence in Seventy-six township next Sunday morning at ten o’clock.

** * * * *

    July 13th, 1889

The Old Settlers met at the City Hall pursuant to call. President Walton called the meeting to order, and Samuel McNutt was appointed Secretary.

The President having stated the object of the meeting the Secretary presented the following tribute to the memory of Mr. McGrew, which, on motion of Mr. J. J. Hoopes, was adopted as the action of the meeting:

About 11 o’clock yesterday forenoon the writer of this met our old friend, Mr. John McGrew, near the post office, and had a friendly chat with him. He was in good health, and in speaking about the death of another old settler, one of his neighbors, Mrs. Barbara Holmes, who had been conveyed to her tomb only a day or two before, Mr. McGrew remarked that Mrs. Holmes had suffered thirteen years of sickness and pain before death came to her relief, and that if it pleased Providence he would prefer to die suddenly than to linger in pain as she had lingered. This expression was among his parting words, and in less than an hour, on his starting homeward, his horse took fright, and he was thrown from his buddy on his head, his neck broken and he was instantly killed. Truly in the midst of life we are in death. No one can tell what an hour may bring forth.

In the death of Mr. McGrew, the said to be oldest settler of Muscatine county, is no more. He came here in 1835, and consequently lived here fifty-four years. He was born in Montgomery county, Ohio, in 1815 and was4 years of age at the time of his death. He was one of the upright, honest and reliable citizens of this county. He was a man of excellent personal habits, of pure life, and a good constitution, and might have lived to the age of a hundred years had no accident befallen him.

“Green by the turf above thee,
Friend of my early days;
None knew thee but to love thee,
None named thee but to praise.”

    Resolved, That, in the death of John McGrew, the Old Settlers of Muscatine county have lost one of their best and noblest fellow citizens, among the first of our pioneers, a friend to all who needed a friend, an advocate of every moral and elevating movement in society, and a good and worthy citizen in all the relations of life. And we now tender our sincere and heartfelt condolence to the bereaved widow and relatives of the departed, and will attend his remains to their last resting place.

    On motion, a committee consisting of Peter Jackson, Joseph Bridgman and William Gordon was appointed to draft resolutions in relation to the memory and death of Mrs. Susannah Beumont and report the same to the city papers

    On motion, adjourned.

    J. P. WALTON, President
    SAMUEL McNUTT, Secretary.

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