My dad’s notes on Jacob & Catharine Boller and family.
Probably the best place to start Our Boller Story about Jacob B. Boller is to again remind you of our strong Mennonite background. Since their small beginnings in the 1500’s in Europe, Amish Mennonite communities have always been known for their strong sense of family. Unlike our present-day society where everybody fends for themselves, the Mennonites take very seriously their God-given responsibility for not only caring for their own immediate family but watching out for the larger community around them as well. It is very common even today for Mennonites to live in close proximity of one another, sharing one another’s joys and burdens in life. When one family has a need, the whole community of believers will quickly pitch in with whatever he or she can provide so their brother or sister in need can make it through.
Amish Mennonite barn razing.
Maybe you’ve seen pictures of an old-fashioned barn razing. This is where all the Mennonite or Amish community would gather on a farmer’s property and in one day build a massive barn that might otherwise take a family several months to complete on their own. In this sunrise to sunset event, all the men and young boys would labor on the barn while the women and younger children would co-labor in the kitchen assembling a magnificent feast of country-fresh food…enough to satisfy dozens of men and their families! Working together for the common good was a high priority in the Amish Mennonite community and every child growing up in this environment took these values with them wherever life took them.
For Jacob B. Boller, born to George F. & Elizabeth Boller on February 28, 1825 in East Union Township of Wayne County, Ohio, it probably didn’t take long for him to understand the Mennonite values of community. Being the fourth child in the family and the third son, Jacob was actively involved with the many daily chores of farm work on the Boller farm located near Wooster, Ohio. Jacob’s name appears in the recorded list of those who were actively involved with the Oak Grove Mennonite Church located in nearby Green Township of Wayne County. Certainly, home and church life filled the greatest amount of this young man’s daily life as he grew up in the 1830’s.
1840’s The Mennonite community moves west-ward.
As the American frontier moved west, so did some of the Wayne County Mennonite families. As reports came back of the fertile farmlands further west, some families moved to Indiana while many took up the Government’s offer to buy cheap prairie land in less settled areas like Iowa.
Our family records show that in 1848, Jacob’s father, George F. Boller purchased thirty or forty “acres of Government land in the Territory of Iowa, the title deed of which bears the signature of Pres. Jas. K. Polk.” Obviously, the option of moving west was on the minds of the Boller family. With seven children, four of which were sons, father George F. Boller was probably looking ahead to the day when at least some of his sons might move westward to Iowa and settle with their families on a piece of fertile farmland they could call their own.
During the 1840’s, the prairie lands of Iowa were beginning to give way to settlers clearing the tall prairie grasses to cut out farmsteads. In 1803 the U.S. Government had purchased the Louisiana Territory (which included Iowa and most of the nation’s heartland) from France. Throughout the early and mid-1800’s the government offered hundreds of acres of land at “dirt-cheap” prices to any man who would be willing to work that property into productive farmland. Until the late 1830’s the area known today as Johnson County, Iowa (located in southeastern Iowa) was a prairie wilderness, serving as a bountiful hunting ground for the Fox and Sac Indians.
Tradition says Iowa, in Native American language, means “beautiful land.” But, according to historians, it just ain’t so. Read more about this.
Sadly, American expansion took this “beautiful land” away from its original settlers, who had lived here for centuries before the white man came. While past generations of our Boller family largely ignored this ugly part of our history, I’m so glad there’s an awakening to these truths today, allowing us to become much more aware of and sympathetic to those “first-nation” peoples who lived here long before we ever set foot on it. Click here for more about this part of our story.
All the Boller family land owned over the years (late 1840’s-present) was purchased by the U.S. Government from the Sauk and Fox tribes in 1832 & 1837. In 1832, following the Black Hawk War, the U.S. Government purchased land west of the Mississippi River (about fifty miles wide stretching from the Neutral Ground to the north to Missouri on the south). Burlington, the first state capitol, was in this parcel of land, as was Dubuque to the north, and Henry County (home of Mt. Pleasant & Wayland) as well. This land was called the Black Hawk Purchase. In 1836, the government added a small strip of land named Keokuk’s Reserve, 400 square miles running alongside the Iowa River. In 1837, a third purchase of land (approx. 25 miles wide in the middle and tapering off to the north and to the south) was secured from the Sauk and Fox tribes. This land included what became Johnson County (Iowa City and the Boller farm land), Washington County (Kalona), and Linn County (Cedar Rapids).
1832 Black Hawk Purchase: Henry County (Mt. Pleasant & Wayland). 1837 Purchase: Johnson County (Iowa City, Johnson County farm), Washington County (Kalona) and Linn County (Cedar Rapids).
The Territorial Capitol Building in Iowa City (1854).
By 1838, Iowa had been established as a U.S. Territory. When the First Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa met at Burlington, Iowa in May, 1839, a bill was approved to locate the seat of government for the Territory of Iowa within the boundaries of Johnson County, and it was to be named Iowa City. The first capitol building of the Iowa Territory was built out of huge blocks of limestone cut from the nearby Iowa River bed. Above are pictures from Iowa City taken in 1854, one year after the Bollers came to Iowa!
1845-1851 The Mennonites & Johnson County, Iowa.
In 1845, Mennonite half-brothers from Ohio and Maryland (Daniel P. Guengerich and Joseph J. Swartzendruber) traveled to Iowa City and then trekked southwest into what would eventually become Washington Township of Johnson County, Iowa. Along the banks of Deer Creek, they found fertile soil giving life to magnificent hickory groves and clear running streams. The next year, the Guengerich and Swartzendruber families, joined by a third family, came west by boat on the Ohio River (to Missouri), north to Muscatine, Iowa on the Mississippi River, and then by wagon to Iowa City. A week later they arrived at the place they had discovered the previous year. The families began clearing and tilling the soil and building log cabins and household furniture from the surrounding woodlands. Two of the men walked to Dubuque, Iowa (nearly 100 miles one way!) where they officially entered their land claims with the U.S. Government. By 1851, other families from Ohio and elsewhere had settled near Deer Creek and the first Amish Mennonite church was established with twenty-seven charter members.
1849 Jacob marries Catharine Smucker of Alsace-Lorraine, France.
Back in Ohio, in 1849, Jacob married a 24-year old Mennonite woman named Catharine Smucker. Catharine* was apparently living in Wayne County when they met, but the couple was married in Butler County in southwestern Ohio. Born on July 2, 1825 in Alsace-Lorraine, France, Catharine came from a very similar background as the Boller family, an Amish Mennonite people who migrated to America in the early 19th century. We have no records of Catharine’s parents which might mean that they remained in France, but we do know that Catharine united with the Amish Mennonite church in her native land at the age of 12, and then at age 18, moved across the Atlantic to Ohio in 1843. Catharine is mentioned in the Oak Grove Mennonite Church historical records, which means that she did spend some time in Wayne County prior to her marriage to Jacob on November 18, 1849 in Butler County, Ohio.
1849-1853 Butler County, Ohio.
We don’t have any family records that show when and why Jacob moved from Wayne County, Ohio to Butler County (southwestern corner of Ohio, just north of the Ohio River). All we know is that Jacob and Catharine were married there in 1849 and settled in Fairfield Township of Butler County (near Hamilton, Ohio), where their first two children, John J. Boller (1851) and Joseph Boller (1853) were born. We assume that Jacob followed in his father’s footsteps and was a farmer by trade, working farmland in Butler County, Ohio until their move to Iowa in 1853.
1850 Census Records from Butler County, Ohio.
One interesting aspect about Jacob’s move from Wayne County to Butler County is its location in relationship to the Ohio River, which was the fastest mode of transporting early settlers westward in the early to mid-1800’s. Like other Mennonites from Ohio, the river system (the Ohio to the Mississippi, and then north) was the most likely route Jacob took to begin his move westward to Iowa.
* in family records, Catharine (Catherine) Smucker’s name is found with both an “a” and an “e”…but her tombstone uses an “a”…so we went with that spelling in this report.