Our Iowa Heritage: 1847 – Go West, Young Doctor, Go West.

In truth, when Iowa became the 29th State in the Union, it was the place young entrepreneurs back East dreamed of. Our Boller family, living in Ohio at the time, fully participated with that dream, moving to Johnson County in 1853. Here is the story of yet another one of those dreamers:

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Abram O. Blanding of Seekonk, MA.

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(C-0024) Here’s a personal letter from Abram O. Blanding, dated February 17, 1847 – signed & postmarked (stamp-less) in Philadelphia, PA.

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Personal 4-page Letter to Home: Cousins Maria & Caroline Hunt in Seekonk, MA. This rare personal letter, postmarked in Philadelphia, PA on February 17,1847 is correspondence between Abraham O. Blanding, who is a student at the Homeopathic Medical College in Philadelphia, PA and his cousins, Maria & Caroline Hunt, who live in his hometown of Seekonk, MA. The 4-page handwritten and hand-signed letter was written over several days  (Thu Feb 4, Wed Feb 10, Tue Feb 16, and Wed Feb 17). In the letter, Blanding speaks of attending the Mon Feb 8th gathering of “the annual meeting of the Female Temperance Association of Philadelphia” where Rev. Mr. Chambers, “one of the leading men in the cause here and Mr. Bough were the speakers and Mr. Hutchinson sung for them.”

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Why no stamp? The first U.S. postage stamps were issued on July 1, 1847. Before that date, all domestic mail was “stampless” with the rates, dates and origin of the letter being either written by hand (manuscript) or sometimes in combination with a handstamp device (like it is on this letter). Two years prior, on July 1, 1845, postal rates were simplified: 5 cents for any one-ounce letter traveling less than 300 miles and 10 cents for a letter going over 300 miles. The Postmaster must have been having a bad day, because he charged Mr. Blanding 10 cents (the over-300 mile rate) for mailing his letter the 278 miles between Philadelphia and Seekonk, MA!

Read more about “stamp-less” mail and how postage rates were determined.

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Page 1 highlight (Thu Feb 4):  Philadelphia Feb 4 1847  “Dear Cousins Maria & Caroline. I find my mind not on my books but wandering for a way and joining that circle in which I have spent so many happy hours…(to) lay aside my book for an hour or two and step in at Grandmother Hunts.”

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Page 2 highlight (Wed Feb 10): “On Monday (Feb 8) I attended a temperance meeting at the annual meeting of the Female Temperance Association of Philadelphia. The Rev. Mr. Chambers, one of the leading men in the cause here and Mr. Blough were the speakers and Mr. Hutchinson sung for them. It was a very interesting meeting.”

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Page 3 highlight (Tue Feb 16): “No news from Elm Cottage* for almost four weeks. But no news is good news. It seems to me if I was in Seekonk (MA) I could find more that would interest you…”

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*Elm Cottage/Blanding Farm is a historic house at 103 Broad Street in Rehoboth, MA. The main block of this 2-1/2 story farmhouse was built c. 1800; its rear kitchen ell was added c. 1840. The house was the site of a long-successful local farming operation owned by the Blanding family. One of its early residents was Dr. William Blanding, (Abram’s brother) a physician who also wrote a significant early work on the older houses of Rehoboth.

“Last Sabbath (Sun Feb 14) I attended Mr. Barnes church in the morning and heard an excellent sermon from 1st Timothy 4,5 and in the P.M. (afternoon) went to the corner of Twelfth and Walnut and heard Dr. Ludlo. He gave an excellent discourse from Duet. 23,10 and in the evening I went to Mr. Barnes again. He is preaching a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. I have heard three of them. They are very good.”

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Page 4 highlight (Wed Feb 17): “I trust that this (letter) will soon be answered for it seems to me hardily possible that so interesting a letter as this should fail to call forth an answer soon. I wonder who feeds the pigs and brings in the wood (back home) the cold nights? I am sure it is not me. I hope this will prove an interesting epistle by the time you get it. If you see any of our folks give them love for me and tell them I shall write soon. From your cousin. A O Blanding”

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Why is a personal letter from a medical student in Philadelphia written in 1847 important to Iowa history?

Abram Ormsbee Blanding, M.D., son of James Blanding, Esq., and Elizabeth (Carpenter) Blanding, was born in Rehoboth, MA (near Providence, RI) on April 28, 1823. He attended school in Seekonk, MA (7 miles away) and then the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in the 1840s. After graduating with a medical degree from the Homeopathic Medical College (1850), he practiced “medicine, surgery,” and “dental surgery” in Philadelphia with Dr. Royal Carpenter. Our February 1847 letter was written during Dr. Blanding’s time in Philadelphia.

Dr. Blanding was a very religious man. He joined the Congregational Church in Rehoboth, MA in 1843, under the pastorate of Rev. John C. Paine. He was a “member for life” of the American Bible Society (1860), and his numerous diaries include lengthy Sunday meditations on God, Christianity, and the church services of a “Mr. Barnes,” obviously a pastor in Philadelphia that he highly respected.

Moving back home to Rehoboth, MA, Dr. Blanding married Ellen Cressy of Newark, N.J. on Feb. 21, 1855. In 1856, Blanding headed West to take over the medical practice of a Dr. J.A. Burt (physician and surgeon) in Lyons, Iowa (Clinton, Iowa today); a fast-growing community located on the Mississippi River

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Abram O. Blanding served as a surgeon during the Civil War.

In a letter to his sister (1862) Blanding reveals his intentions to join the 20th Iowa Infantry Volunteer Regiment forming in Clinton County. There were ten companies assigned to the regiment, all ordered into quarters by the Governor on dates ranging from July 15 to August 15, 1862. The companies all gathered at Camp Kirkwood, near Clinton, Iowa, and there, they were mustered into the service of the United States on the 22nd, 25th and 27th days of August, 1862, by Captain H. B. Hendershott, of the U.S. Army. The Infantry traveled by steamboat to St. Louis, stationing at Benton Barracks on September 5. The next day (September 6), Dr. Blanding was appointed assistant surgeon. The regiment remained there but a short time, and then proceeded to Rolla, Mo., arriving there September 14. Two days later, the regiment marched for Springfield, Mo. where it arrived September 24, having covered a distance of 122 miles on foot.

On March 6, 1865, Dr. Blanding was promoted to senior surgeon of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 13th Army Corps. On April 14, 1865 (one day before the Lincoln assassination), the regiment was moved to Mobile, AL, where it was engaged in the performance of provost guard duty until July 8, 1865, on which date it was mustered out of the service of the United States. The regiment was then conveyed to Clinton, Iowa, where it was disbanded July 27, 1865.

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Returning back home to Lyons, Iowa after the war, he married a second time to Sarah A. Nattinger (1837-1912) on Jan. 20, 1876. His son, a highly decorated U.S. military officer, Albert Hazen Blanding, was born in Lyons on November 9, 1876. Blanding moved with his family to the Gainesville, Florida region in 1878 to become a farmer, specializing in the growing of oranges. He died suddenly on July 31, 1892, at 69 years of age, and is interred in the Village Cemetery, Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts.

Lyons (Clinton County), Iowa 1856-1878.

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Lyons in 1868.  Among the first settlers of European origin in the area was Elijah Buell, who built a log cabin on July 25, 1835, and in 1837, established the town of Lyons, named after the French city of the same name. Buell partnered with a John Baker in a successful ferry service across the Mississippi River, at a location called “the Narrows,” between Lyons and what would become the city of Fulton, IL. In 1839, as in most early river towns, Lyons consisted of a sprinkling of cabins, two stores and a tavern.

By 1852, stagecoach lines ran from Lyons to Davenport (30 mi); to Iowa City (71 mi); and to Dubuque (51 mi). That same year, the Lyons and Iowa Central Railroad Company was formed, led by an H.P. Adams. Work began on the railroad almost immediately, and progressed rapidly. However, the funds raised to construct the line were insufficient; some were misused. The venture eventually failed. The railroad was disparagingly known as “the Calico Line,” after the large amount of calico fabric sold in Lyons. But the prospect of a railroad to Lyons, and a likely crossing of the Mississippi at “the Narrows,” sparked rapid growth in the community. Lyons’ population grew from a mere 200 in 1852, to over 5,000 by 1858. This growth is what most likely attracted Dr. Blanding to relocate from the East (1856). The first train crossed from the Illinois shore to Little Rock Island at noon, January 9, 1860, and was ferried from there to the Iowa shore. In January 1864, construction was started on the span from Little Rock Island to the Iowa shore and was completed on January 6, 1865.

Between the 1850s and 1900, the cities of Lyons and Clinton quickly became centers of the lumber industry and were regarded as the “Lumber Capital of the World.” Huge log rafts were floated down the river from Wisconsin and Minnesota, cut into lumber at Clinton, then shipped to the growing communities via the river and the railroads. By 1895, with the logging industry now dried up, Lyons began to shrink in population and officially merged with the City of Clinton.

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