Jefferson County Online
The Establishment of Jefferson County

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa - A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement", Volume 1, Pages 13-17, published by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Company of Chicago in 1912 (in 1914 according to some citations).




To the governorship of the Territory of Iowa President Van Buren appointed Robert Lucas of Ohio.

Robert Lucas was not unknown. Already an eventful life had crowned him with distinction. He was born on the first day of April, 1781, in Shepherdstown, Virginia. He removed to Ohio in early manhood. Its settlements were still on the frontier. In the development of this state he was an active force. In the War of 1812 he took an energetic part. To encourage enlistments he became a private in a company of volunteers, although he was at the time a captain in the United States Army and a brigadier general in the militia. He was a member of the Legislature many years, serving both in the House and in the Senate. Twice he was elected governor. At the first National Convention of the Democratic party, held in Baltimore in May, 1832, he had the honor to be selected as both its temporary and its permanent presiding officer. This convention adopted the famous rule requiring a two-thirds vote for the choice of a candidate, nominated General Jackson for president for a second term and Martin Van Buren for vice president. With such training for preparation, he brought a ripe experience in public service to the duties and responsibilities of his position.

On the twenty-fifth day of July, 1838, Governor Lucas began the journey to the distant field which was to be the scene of his future labors. The fifty-eighth year of his life was opening before him, but he possessed still the intrepid spirit of the frontiersman. After a few days' delay in Cincinnati, he started on the first day of August on the steamboat Tempest on the long and tedious voyage down the Ohio and up the Mississippi. Much of the time was spent in reading and study. On the morning of the fifteenth day of August he arrived at Burlington. A crowd of citizens came to the wharf to greet and bid him welcome.

The governor wasted no time in getting to work. Laws were to be enacted for local government. Officers were required to put them into effect. He issued at once a proclamation dividing the nineteen counties of the territory into eight representative districts and calling an election to choose members of the Legislature and a delegate to Congress.

The interval between the issuance of the call and the date of the election was but twenty-five days. There was little division into parties. Issues to give them form and substance had not arisen. Under existing conditions the time was too short for much concerted action, or for making any particular effort in that direction. There were no conventions and no nominations by organizations. Candidates were numerous because there was no selective process. They offered their names to the electors on the stump and through the newspapers where these were available. The subjects discussed related to the immediate needs of the people of the territory. Local interests as ferries, bridges, roads, milldams, boundaries of counties and the locations of county-seats, were the potent influences in determining the vote of each community.

By a census taken in May, Henry County was shown to have a population of 3,058 persons. On this enumeration it was assigned two members of the Council and three members of the House of Representatives. Although its legal boundary on the west was along the line of the Blackhawk Purchase, its jurisdiction had been extended in 1838 across the adjacent Second Purchase to the Indian country. The settlers in this section desired the establishment of a new county in order to secure a government interested in their local needs. Their close neighbors in Henry County joined in this desire. On this issue William G. Coop, a resident in the extreme western part of Henry County, appears to have made his canvass as a candidate for the House.

The announcements of the two aspirants to the House have been preserved in the files of The Fort Madison Patriot. Henry Richey advocated the location of the county seat on the bank of Skunk River, the maintenance of the existing county boundaries and the making of all offices elective. He put his opinions tersely. "When a navigable stream runs through the center of a county as Skunk does through Henry, let common sense determine the location of the county seat. * * * I am opposed to a change of the county lines, or any curtailing of them. * * * I am also in favor of the people electing all or most of their officers." James F. Rice was less positive and willing to subserve the wishes of the pubic. "I am in favor," he wrote, "of sustaining the present boundary lines of this county; on this subject, however, should any portion of the county set forth their greivance by a memorial to the Legislature, asking for an alteration of the county line, and such memorial having a greater number of signers than any opposing one, I should certainly be in favor of such alteration. This is believe would be right, and this I believe is the best way to settle the county boundaries, as the people are the best judges of their wants. I am in favor or organizing a new county west of Henry. There is territory sufficient to form a county as large as the present boundaries of Henry, without taking off the three miles from the west side of it that is spoken of. As to that I would be governed by the memorial as I have stated." When the loss was sustained it proved to be greater than was proposed or Rice anticipated: six miles were taken instead of three.

Doubtless to aid Coop's candidacy and to commit the other candidates for the Legislature to the cause of the proposed county, a grand barbecue to which they were all invited was held at Lockridge. The important attractions were the feast and the speeches. A fiddle in skillful hands added to the entertainment. A stag dance increased the enjoyment. In the hilarity of the moment it was resolved that they would vote for no man who did not take part in the dance. This was hard on Jesse D. Payne, a Methodist preacher, who aspired to the Council. Out of respect for his clerical obligations it was finally decided to relieve him from the requirement. L. B. Hughes, another aspirant for the Council, having made the excuse that he could not dance, was snubbed and ignored till (sic) an opportunity offering he proposed that some one pat Juba and let him try a Virginia jig. At this he so pleased the crowd by his antics that he was called out again and again. It is stated that he received every vote cast in the precinct.

The election was held on the second Monday in September, the tenth day of the month. Coop was successful, leading all candidates for the House of Representatives. According to the official returns, he received 293 votes. Fourteen votes were returned for William Tillford, also resident in the western part of Henry County, which suggests they may have been cast as a protest against Coop and his purpose.

William Green (sic - Greer) Coop was born on the twenty-sixth day of February, 1805, in Greene County, Virginia. His parents were of migratory habits. Between and including the years 1809 and 1830, the family passed through the states of Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Indiana, residing for times of variable length in each, and in the last year indicated moving to Macoupin County, Illinois. In 1829, he was married to Nancy F. (sic - Nancy Ann) Harris of Lexington County, Kentucky. His first public employment was to deliver under a government contract a drove of cattle to the soldiers stationed at Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was a difficult undertaking, but sucessfully accomplished. On his return from this expedition, he was elected captain of a company of volunteers. He was soon after made colonel of a regiment called out to serve in the Blackhawk war. On the twenty-eighth day of January, 1832, Governor Reynolds commissioned him a major general in the Illinois Militia. For six consecutive terms he was elected sheriff of Macoupin County. Then the spirit of unrest and a desire to better his condition seized him and brought him to the Blackhawk Purchase to make his future home. On the sixth day of June, 1836, with his wife and three children he settled on a claim near the western line of Demoine County. The claim was in the part a little later set off as Henry County. These were the salient events in his life when chosen a member of the first Territorial Legislature of Iowa.

The Legislature consisted of a Council with thirteen members and a House of Representatives with twenty-six members. Of the thirty-nine men in this body but one might be termed old; the others were young or in their lusty prime. They were natives of twelve states: nine of Virginia, eight of Kentucky, two of North Carolina, one of Maryland, one of Tennessee, four of New York, four of Pennsylvania, four of Ohio, two of New Hampshire, two of Vermont, one of Connecticut, and one of Illinois. Their occupations were varied. There were twenty-three farmers, four lawyers, four merchants, two physicians, one surveyor, one miner, one gunsmith, two whose specific calling is not known, and one who, till a short time previous, was an officer in the United States Dragoons stationed at Camp Des Moines.

Three of the lawyers in after life rose to a high distinction. Stephen Hempstead became the second governor of the State of Iowa. Serranus Clinton Hastings became a representative in Congress, a chief justice of Iowa and a chief justice of California. James W. Grimes became the third governor of Iowa and a United States senator from Iowa.

The Legislature convened at Burlington on the twelfth day of November. The sessions were held in "Old Zion," a Methodist church. The Council met in the basement; the representatives, on the main floor. William H. Wallace, of Henry County, was speaker of the House; Jesse B. Browne of Lee County, president of the Council.

The governor in his message to the Legislature voiced his deepest convictions. It expressed the sober judgment of his experience in public affairs. Treating of a country in the beginning of its formative stage, it necessarily dealt with a multiplicity of subjects. He placed most stress on the need of township organization as the proper basis of action, but he called attention in positive terms to the need of schools, of courts, of roads, of a criminal code, of militia, and of a permanent seat of government.

"The subject of providing by law," he wrote, "for the organization of townships, the election of township officers, and defining their powers and duties, I consider to be of the first importance and almost indispensable in the local organization of the Government. Without proper township regulations it will be extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to establish a regular school system. Im most of the states where a common school system has been established by law, the trustees of the townships are important agents in executing the provisions of the laws. To them are entrusted the care and superintendence of the school lands of their respective townships, the division of townships into school districts, and various other duties relating to building schoolhouses, the organization of school districts, and the support of schools in their respective townships."

"There is no subject," he wrote again, "to which I wish to call your attention more emphatically, than the subject of establishing, at the commencement of our political existence, a well digested system of common schools; and as a preparatory step towards effecting that important object, as well as the consideration of numerous other advantages that must flow from the measure, I urge upon your consideration the necessity of providing by law for the organization of townships."

Upon another subject which was to occupy a prominent place in the labors of the lawmakers he wrote strongly. "When we take into consideration the local excitements that frequently arise in neighborhoods, on the subject of division of counties, the alteration of county lines, and the location of county seats, I am satisfied that much benefit would result to the community, were the whole of the surveyed part of the territory laid out into counties of a uniform size, and so bounded as to preclude any subsequent subdivision, or alteration of the boundaries; and the seats of justice established in each (where such seats of justice have not already been established by law) by disinterested commissioners to be appointed for the purpose."

To these opinions the governor adhered to with vigorous tenacity. His earnestness in these matters was not at first fully appreciated. William L. Toole of Louisa County planned to add to his county the northern half of the adjacent township in Des Moines County. Hawkins Taylor of Lee County proposed to make the channel of Skunk River the line to separate the counties of Lee and Des Moines. Each introduced a bill to accomplish this purpose. They joined forces and made the passage of their bills a common cause. Together they called upon the governor for the purpose of persuading him not to exercise a veto should their bills pass. Toole in his smoothest manner led the conversation up to the object of their visit. The governor's stiff hair, so the incident is recorded, seemed to be stiffer than usual as he responded, "No, sir; I will not sign any bill that divides townships." The Hawkins Bill was on his hook. Pointing to that, he continued, "There is a bill I will veto if it passes. Township organization and public schools are the life and protection of a free people. Of all things, public schools are the most important to the people and they can only be properly organized by townships. No, sir, I will allow no townships to be divided."

Early in the session Representative Coop introduced a bill to accomplish the purpose for which he was elected. His proposal was "That all that tract of country lying west and attached to the County of Henry, viz.: beginning at the southeast corner of section thirty-three, township number seventy-one north, range eight west, thence north on said line until said line strikes Skunk River, thence up the main channel of said river until said line strikes the line dividing townships number seventy-four and seventy-five, thence west on said line until said line strikes the line dividing ranges twelve and thirteen, thence down the main channel of said river until said line strikes the township line dividing townships number seventy and seventy-one, thence east to the place of beginning, be and the same is hereby constituted a separate county to be called Jefferson."

It will be noticed that this proposal seriously and directly violated the canons set up by Governor Lucas. Despite this patent fact, as Coop was considered a good fellow, he readily secured a favorable vote in both houses. But like Toole and Hawkins he had not taken proper measure of the governor's attitude. On the last day of the year the bill was returned to the House of Representatives where it had originated. "My objections to the bill in its present form," he governor's message reads, "are, 1st, that it extends into the Indian country, 2d, that it divides surveyed townships, which I think ought in all cases to be avoided. I would therefore recommend a modification of the boundaries so as to bound it by township lines and the Indian boundary line. With these modifications the bill will meet my cordial approval."

The bill was altered to conform to these suggestions. After some strange vicissitudes, it again passed both houses and on the twenty-ninth day of January, 1839, was signed by the governor. The act went into immediate effect. For judicial purposes, however, it remained attached to the County of Henry until its officers could be appointed and elected and the county organized in the manner prescribed by law.

This page was created on 16 August 2015 and is copyrighted. This page may be copied and used for personal purposes but can not be republished nor used for commercial purposes without the author's written permission.

I am the County Coordinator and the Webmaster, the one who is responsible for the IAGenWeb project for Jefferson County, Iowa. Please contact me if you would like to contribute to this database or if you note any problems with these pages.

Return to the 1912 History of Jefferson County Contents Page

Return to the Jefferson County Main Page