Our Iowa Heritage: Iowa Territory 1838-1846.

The Great Seal of The Territory of Iowa.

Establishing the Territory of Iowa – February 6, 1838.

Below is an important 5-page document from U.S. Senate/House of Representative records. In the 25th Congress/2nd Session on February 6, 1838, the proposal of establishing a new U.S. Territory (Iowa), separate from the existing Territory of Wisconsin, is given. These pages record the entire legal transaction within the U.S. Senate and House.

W. Barrow’s Map of Iowa Territory – 1845. Click here to see more maps of Iowa from our earliest days.
Wisconsin Territory – as it appeared from 1836-1838. All that changed on July 4, 1838, when the new Iowa Territory came into existence.

Click here for a complete timeline on Iowa’s “territorial” history (1803-1838).

On July 4, 1838, Iowa, which had been part of Wisconsin Territory since 1836, officially became a separate U.S. Territory, and President Martin Van Buren looked to Ohio, hand-picking Robert Lucas as Iowa’s first Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. When Governor Lucas arrived in Iowa, later that summer, the Territory had 22 counties and a population of 23,242.

Illustration by S. Briggs – State Historical Society of Iowa.

Click here to read more about Robert Lucas.

Since Burlington, Iowa had been chosen in 1837 as Wisconsin Territory’s “temporary” capital (replacing Belmont, Wisconsin while a new capitol building was being constructed in Madison City), Governor Lucas announced that the small river town located near the new territory’s southern border would remain the temporary capital until he could arrive in Iowa and “officially” call for a duly-elected territorial legislature to be formed.

For more on how Iowa City came into being, click here.

1840 – the surveyed section of Iowa Territory – published by J.H. Colton.

Our First Families – 1840 (pictured above) – an oil painting by Iowa City artist Mildred Pelzer (1934) was donated to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in 1992. As of 2021, Our First Families still awaits the costly restoration process. Click here to read more about Mildred Pelzer’s amazing murals.

1841 J.B. Newhall’s Map of Iowa – Compiled From the United States Surveys, Exhibiting the boundaries of Counties, Township-lines, Ranges, Prairies and Timber Lands; The location of Cities, Towns, Indian Villages, Post and Steam Boat Routes.
Iowa Territory map by H. S. Tanner published by Carey & Hart in 1841 within Tanner’s Universal Atlas. As you can see the “surveyed” section of Iowa Territory was very small compared to the entire territory that extended into Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Click here to read more about Iowa and the early maps that helped settlers find their way across this beautiful land.

1841 Public Survey – State Historical Society of Iowa.

In the 1948 reprint of John Plumbe‘s Sketches of Iowa and Wisconsin (1839), William J. Peterson (Superintendent of the State Historical Society of Iowa) wrote this about this new territory called Iowa… 

(In) a space of four years from 1836 to 1840, the “Iowa District” had quadrupled in population, catapulting from 10,531 to 43,112.  Such sensational growth was not disregarded in the East, where the seaboard states saw their population being siphoned off by the lure of rich, cheap, and abundant land.

A Sketch of the Public Surveys of Iowa – surveying the new territory.

John Pulmbe’s map of the surveyed section of Iowa Territory in 1839.

In my office hangs a very rare survey map of Iowa Territory dating back to about 1845. As Iowa was opening up to new settlers from the east, a public survey map like this was very important in charting out land plats. This surveyor’s map indicates the progression.

Note that Iowa territory extended west only to about Des Moines, indicating the dividing line of land secured from the Sac and Fox tribes in 1842.

From Dubuque in the north to Iowa City.


From Burlington in the south to Iowa City.


Our Future Boller Homestead. Here’s the Boller farmstead as surveyed in 1845. (+) sign in Washington Township of Johnson County indicates the land has not yet been surveyed, nor platted, and nothing yet recorded in the General Land Office in Dubuque.

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