Thisis the southwestern township of the county. The surface is generally even and unbroken, and the soil as fertile as any in the county or State. A number of small but beautiful groves, pleasantly distributed, constitute the only timber-land in the township. It is well watered by the north and the south fork of Walnut Creek and their tributaries.
The township is one of the best agricultural districts in the county, the farmhouses are good, and the farmers thrifty and prosperous. Among the early settlers of this township were John Armstrong, deceased; Amos Breed, deceased; Jonathan Raver, deceased; T. O. Bishop, A. S. Miller (J. G. Hakes was an early settler of Fairview, but now resides in Greenfield), James and I. Curtis, Ira Mead, R. D. Stephens, John Arnold, A. and E. Peet, Valentine Newman, Robert Murfield, Jonathan Goudy, Amos and John Cole, the Millers, Rosses and others.
Thefollowing, from the pen of the late R. J. Cleaveland, will be read and appreciated by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Mr. Cleaveland was born in Boston, Mass., in November, 1805, and died at his residence in Olin, Jones County, on the 7th of September, A. D. 1877, at the age of nearly seventy-two years. He graduated at Harvard University in the class of 1827, and was a ripe scholar, a genuine patriot and an honest man. At the outbreak of the civil war, he sought to enlist as a volunteer, but was rejected because of his age. He was finally admitted to the ranks of the famous Iowa ninth, and, with that regiment, served until it was mustered out of service. It was due to his acquaintance at Boston that the ladies of that city presented to the regiment the magnificent colors, the details of which are related in the war history of the county, elsewhere.
The historical sketch here published was written by Mr. Cleaveland and printed in the Olin Times, a newspaper that was established at Olin, in the year 1874, by Messrs. Stickle & Arlen, but was discontinued at the end of a few months. After completing the history of Rome Township, Mr. Cleaveland, at the request of many, wrote a portion of the early history of the county, but, as the facts give by him are the same as those given elsewhere by Barrett Whittemore and others, we have thought it not necessary to repeat it in this connection.
Among the early settlers of Rome, no one now living has been more successful in material accumulation, or is held in higher esteem as a citizen, than John Merritt.
|REMINISCENCES OF ROME—1840–1841
By R. J. Cleaveland
"On the 9th of September, 1840, a cold, misty rain falling, my wife and I, after fourteen days' ride, in a lumber wagon, from Logansport, Ind., arrived at the log cabin of Norman B. Seeley. This dwelling stood near where the town-well now is. Here the hearthstone and one log still remain to mark the spot. Mr. Seeley's house, saw-mill, and blacksmith-shop were the only structures here-the latter roofed with a rag carpet.
"My wife was an only daughter, and the motive which prompted this long journey was to give her mother (old Mrs. Seeley) a home with us. Thirty miles from our destination, we learned that Mrs. S. had died in July of that year. But we came on, though with ardor dampened-hopes withered. The country appeared in consonance with our feelings, a dreary waste of prairie-except Walnut Creek and Wapsie timber, 'Sugar Grove' and 'Big Woods'-to the north and west. The beautiful groves of young timber on the right bank of Walnut from the bridge to Sibballs, Creek was then all prairie, and the view without obstruction.
"On the left, above the bridge from Mr. Gilman's house to far above Moore's, was a large and fine grove of white oak long since cut down by the greedy pioneer.
"Here I commenced my first lesson in chopping, plowing, mowing and farm work in general. Here we succeeded, though poor, indeed, we both were, in all except brave hearts and strong arms, in gaining a home in these then Western wilds. I had but $2 left when we arrived.
"The Indian, wolf, and deer, and other wild animals were almost the sole occupants of the soil. N. B. Seeley, John and Joseph Merritt, Isaac Simpson, Moses Garrison, Orville, Cronkhite, George Saum, Thomas Green, Horace Seeley, Francis Sibballs, E. Booth, the Reeds, Browns, Joslyns, and others, were in Jones County before me.
"At that time, there were no railroads west of Buffalo, N. Y., and no telegraphs. The mails crept slowly and sadly along in stage-coaches, and letters were subject to 25 cents postage. There were no bridges nor stores away from the 'Father of Waters.' Many a time I have walked to Dubuque and back, bringing a pack of thirty to fifty pounds of groceries for myself and neighbors.
"The generation of to-day can hardly dream of the obstacles to be overcome-the hardships borne at that time. Difficulty is the element and resistance the work of every true man or woman. I now thank God for casting my destiny in this glorious and most beautiful State, where half my life has been passed. I glory in being a pioneer of Iowa.
"As remarked, my wife's mother died on the 9th of July, 1840, only two months before our arrival. The first American flag hoisted in Jones County was hoisted at Rome in 1840, and made by this aged lady. She allowed no other fingers to work thereon but hers, and this was her last work. Here, and at this time, was also the first liberty pole raised, the first post office located, and the first district school instituted in the county. The school was taught in the 'Sugar Grove' by T. Stivers, Esq., who was the only blacksmith here, and also Deputy Postmaster.
"The town was located by N. B. Seeley, and surveyed, platted and recorded by William Hutton, County Surveyor, in 1840. At this time, the U. S. Surveyor had just finished his work, and the corners and subdivisions were readily found.
"We lived the first two years in a little cabin opposite Smith's mill. In the winter of 1840-41, my wife taught school in our cabin six hours each day, while I was absent cutting timber for fencing and for building a home. I look back on those two years as the happiest spent time of our lives; hope was strong and bright within, and physical vigor perfect.
"In the spring of 1841, there were ferried across the Walnut two barrels of Illinois whisky. These arrivals were succeeded by more of the same spiritual character for about fifteen years.
"In the year 1841, the patriarch who dealt in the spiritual articles aforesaid built the house now occupied by Uncle Holden. The building now occupied by F. O. Carpenter, and the one where the widow of Thomas Connelly now lives, were also built the same year.
"In the same year, John Hannon, who was a skilled bricklayer, stonecutter and mason, also took up his abode here. He and Seeley blasted a prairie bowlder, and by much hard and constant labor made therefrom a set of buhrstones, which ground excellent corn-meal and very fair flour. This was indeed an eventful era in the lives of the settlers here, as previously they had to go a great distance, most frequently to the Mississippi River, in order to reach a mill. But after a few years this mill was discontinued on account of a defective dam and lack of water.
"One most important character of this period I must not omit-the Methodist circuit-rider, who has done so much for religion and humanity, who defied the elements and the hardships of this new country, and dispensed the bread of life to the hardy pioneer, men of culture as they were, counting comfort and ease as dust compared to the happiness of saving souls. Elders Rathbone and Hayden were among the first of these, and labored here in 1841. The former now resides at Marion. Both were men of culture, urbane in manners and never weary in doing good.
"In July, 1842, the house now owned and occupied by N. M. Everhart, Esq., was erected by myself. It was for some years the largest house in the county. We occupied it before completion, and passed with only a cooking-stove the severest winter experienced in our lives. I feel confident that the few old settlers remaining will never forget the winter of 1842-43.
"I think it was in the fall of 1841 that the first court was held in the county, being in a log Court House in Edinburg, not far from the present county Poor House. All who attended court then went prepared to camp out and do their own cooking. The United States Marshal attended to the paying of jurors, which was about all the coin that came into the territory for six years. Wheat was then the common medium of barter and exchange. We always had uncommon lively and jolly times in attendance at court then among some very remarkable and sage worthies, some of whom I shall have occasion to mention hereafter. Judge Wilson, of Dubuque, officiated, always coming with gun and dogs to enjoy a little shooting as well as to attend to his graver (legal) duties. But the most remarkable person at that time was Uncle Francis Sibbalds, an Irishman, with all the odd, racy and peculiar characteristics of his countrymen. He lived at that time just over the town line, in what is now Hale Township. If his conduct and character were singular, his appearance was no less so. He talked with the richest brogue, ardent in his friendship as in is hatred, illiterate, but warm-hearted and outspoken. In short, there was so much unison between us that we were warm friends as long as be lived. Previous to coming to Iowa, he had committed matrimony with an elderly Yankee lady-a school-marm, sometimes called old maid-a lady very peculiar, as such ladies generally are, but of fair literary attainments for that day, and of high moral and religious character, and who was justly reverenced and respected by her husband. I wish, for the sake of truth, it were possible for me to give a clear and accurate personal description of Uncle Sibbalds, but nothing I can say will do him justice! A man of medium size, with rather a worn appearance, indicating hard labor and exposure to the elements, rather past his prime, but on first sight all these were swallowed up and lost sight of in viewing his mouth; so vast, yawning and capacious was it, that when opened, it extended nearly from ear to ear! No less remarkable than the nose of the Grand Duke of Choss Johannisberger, only it was in this case his mouth instead of his nose, and unfortunately being somewhat deaf, he kept it open more than was safe or expedient, in order to hear better. And this brings to mind a good joke they got on him while at court in Edinburg. One of the lawyers, an unusually small but carefully-dressed gentleman-in short, a perfect little Petit Maitre-being called for by the Judge, everybody hunting for and nobody able to find him, the precious time of the court wasted, an awful pause pervading the court room, a wag had the temerity to tell His Honor he believed old Uncle Sibbalds had greased and swallowed him, as he (Sibbalds) had told him over an hour ago that he felt quite hungry! The court room rang with laughter, Judge, jury and all, and, as bad luck would have it, the little lawyer coming in at that moment, and ignorant of the cause, little dreaming that he was partly the subject of it, served only to add to the uproar to such a degree that it could not be stopped. The Sheriff had to clear the house, and all business came to a stand for the rest of the forenoon. If I should live centuries, I can never forget the scene. The little lawyer stupefied with amazement and anger and outraged dignity, and Uncle Sibbalds grinning wider and more ghastly than before. In the midst of the uproar, another wag coolly suggested, 'If that had actually happened, the good man had got more law in his belly than all the other lawyers had in their heads.' And this remark did not tend to lessen the noise and shouting, but rather to increase it.
"At the time I am now attempting to describe, indeed during the decade from 1840 to 1850, intemperance ruled with despotic sway the early settlements of Iowa, and yet there prevailed a far more friendly spirit than now.
"We exchanged frequent and friendly visits with Denson, where Massillon now is, and ten miles below, near Toronto, with Samuel Solesby, of Pioneer Grove; Capt. S. P. Higginson, of Mariner's Grove, near Tipton; with Col. Preston, Mayor McKean, and others, of Marion. Neighbors were then few and far off, but kind and true, and selfishness little known or practiced.
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