Our Iowa Heritage: 1849 – Show Me the Money.

1849-Wescoatt Jonas
Jonas Wescoatt of Monroe County, Iowa
1849 BonneyLetter
(C-0025) October 30, 1849 – An official government letter from Jonas Wescoatt, Clerk of the District Court of Monroe County to Josiah H. Bonney, Iowa Secretary of State

This 1849 government-related manuscript/letter reports the annual expenses for the Monroe County Criminal Prosecutions Office. Apparently there were no convictions for the county for the year ending November 1, 1849, so the expenses needing to be reimbursed by the State of Iowa was only $18.59. The letter was written on October 30 and mailed November 27. Even though the use of postage stamps began in 1847, stamp-less folded letters like this were still allowed and is marked at the 5-cent rate (under 300 miles), docketed in the upper right corner.

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1849 BonneyLetterA
1849 BonneyLetterB
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Josiah Hinman Bonney – Iowa Secretary of State 1848-1850.

Born on February 14, 1817, in Steuben County, New York, the youngest of five children. His father died when he was two and a half years of age, leaving the children dependent upon their mother, who supported them by her work at the loom and needle and by keeping toll-gate. At eight he went to live with Joseph Lyon, agreeing to work for him six years for his food and clothing and three months’ schooling each year, his mother having married again. At fourteen he entered a mercantile house in Elmira, remaining four or five years. He was a self-taught and self-made man, having no schooling after the age of fourteen, and no assistance but his own energy and industry in making his way in the world. At the age of twenty-one (1838) he emigrated to Illinois. On reaching Cass County he found himself with only eighteen and three-fourths cents in money, and was obliged to sell his trunk to pay the expense of bringing his baggage from Aurora, he having walked from there. In the spring he formed a partnership with B. B. Rew and came to Iowa with a small stock of goods, which they had purchased in St. Louis on credit. They settled at Rochester on the 9th day of June, 1839. They prospered the first year, but in the fall or early winter their larger order was unfortunately frozen up in the Mississippi river, owing to delay caused by the boundary line dispute between Iowa and Missouri. The goods could not reach Rochester till spring, and, their notes in the meantime maturing, the firm failed. Mr. Rew soon died, and Mr. Bonney, after struggling for ten years, paid off their indebtedness. In 1840 the political parties for the Territory of Iowa were formed. Mr. Bonney took a very active part in this matter and became a nominee of the Democratic Party for the office of Sheriff (Keosauqua, Iowa), then for the first time an elective office. He was elected, being thus the first Sheriff elected by the people of Van Buren County. In 1843, he was elected by the Democratic Party to a seat in the Territorial Legislature, and in 1844 again became Sheriff. In 1846, he was elected Clerk of the District Court, an office which prior to this had been filled by appointment from the Judge; in 1848 he was elected Secretary of State; and in 1853 he became one of the commissioners of the Des Moines River Improvement. For seven successive years – 1871-78 – he was steward of the county poor farm. Mr. Bonney married Orpha F. Stanard, at Rochester, on May 20, 1841. In July they settled in Keosauqua, which became their permanent home. To them were born eight children, two of whom died in infancy.  Mr. Bonney was an Odd Fellow and a Mason, a life-long Democrat, and was educated under Methodist influence, though not a member of any church. On September 12, 1887, at the age of seventy, his useful life was ended by death. He had set an example of industry and integrity, and being a gentleman of intelligence his influence was marked and lasting. Memories of his character and deeds will ever be pleasant.

Jonas Wescoatt – Clerk of the District Court – Monroe County 1848-1849.

Jonas Wescoatt was one interesting man.  In 1838, the Wescoatt family (Joseph, wife Sarah, and three sons; Jonas, Nelson & Riley), moved from the Tippecanoe battle ground in Indiana to Van Buren County in Iowa. Sometime after Monroe County opened to settlers in 1843, Jonas and his brothers relocated there and started their life’s work. By 1847, there were but four families in the little village of Albia. Two of these families occupied the log courthouse – the Flints and the Marcks. Dr. Flint had two charming daughters — Amy and Nancy. Jonas Wescoatt won the heart of Amy, and Robert Meek, who for many years since was one of the proprietors of the well-known woolen mills of Bonaparte, Iowa, wooed the equally charming Nancy. The wedding was to be a double affair held on October 10, 1847. Our letter was written two years later in October of 1849, while Jonas was serving his one year stint as the Clerk of the District Court of Monroe County.

By 1850, Jonas, his brother Nelson, and their families moved to Lucas County once again helping establish a new community (Chariton). There he became Lucas County’s first county judge/clerk and held that position until 1854. Nelson was the first county surveyor, platting Chariton, and also served as its first postmaster. Their brother, Riley, apparently joined his brothers here, too, during those early days of Chariton. At the time the Wescoatts were helping to found Chariton, it sat astraddle the Mormon Trail, forged during 1846 by LDS pioneers headed for Utah. By 1853, after gold had been discovered in California, the Trail (which stretched from SE Iowa, through Iowa City, and west to the Missouri River) was the main route for gold-seekers and land-hungry settlers.

Nelson and Catherine Wescoatt headed for the gold fields first, about 1851; and then in 1853, Jonas and Riley began assembling their party, buying cattle from Lucas and Monroe county farmers and looking for young men in both counties interested in gold and looking for the best way to get to California to find it. In the spring of 1853 Riley and Jonas Wescoatt and their families were off to California. Upon their arrival, The Wescoatt brothers realized a profit of more than sixteen thousand dollars for their cattle, some of the choicest cows bringing $150 each and the heavier oxen $300 a pair. Jonas Wescoatt and wife, Amy, soon returned to Chariton, Iowa where Mr. Wescoatt served for many years as a judge. After the death of his wife, he returned to California, living in a hotel in San Francisco, where he lost his life in the destruction of that city by earthquake (April 18, 1906). You can read the full story here.

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