The history of the Comstock family in the West properly begins with the career of Joab Comstock, of Connecticut, who was born April 4, 1768, and died April 14, 1827. In that State he married Eunice Willey, and they decided to try their fortunes in the then new country of Ohio. Loading their household goods upon a two-wheeled cart drawn by a yoke of oxen, they started on the long journey overland, traveling by short stages on account of their slow-paced team, occasionally halting to cook food or to rest by the way, but always looking hopefully forward to their destination, and pushing on with high courage and resolution day after day, in spite of the hardships they were forced to endure. Thus they finally arrived in Hamilton county, Ohio, near the new city of Cincinnati. There they cleared a space in the virgin forest, established their humble home, and began the work of tilling the soil and sowing the seed which was to bring forth rich harvests in due season to repay them for all their toil.
At that early outpost of civilization the pioneers resided for a long term of years, and there on Feb. 9, 1804, was born to them a son, Joab, who was to become the father of our subject. As the boy grew unto the estate of manhood, he exhibited unusual abilities, and by hard study qualified himself to enter the ranks of the profession of medicine. Shortly after he began medical practice he wedded Miss Jane Lemmon, who was a native of Ireland, whence she emigrated to America with her parents at a very early date. They first settled in Maryland, but afterward removed to Ohio, where she met and married Mr. Comstock. The young physician continued his professional duties for a time after his marriage, but the heritage of his pioneer ancestry led him to look with longing eyes toward the vast new West that was then being opened to settlement beyond the Mississippi River, and he determined to ascertain for himself the measure of its possibilities. He therefore set forth on horseback, rode through the trackless forests of Indiana, across the broad prairies of Illinois, and made his way to Iowa. He was much impressed with the country, and returned to Ohio with very favorable accounts of its natural resources. In consequence of this trip he brought his family to Iowa in 1839, coming by the river route, and arriving in April of that year, and at once purchased a farm in Section 20 of Union township, Des Moines county. Having purchased a farm, Mr. Comstock set about the duties of his new life with his characteristic energy. He erected a comfortable dwelling and a few necessary buildings, and engaged in farming, which he continued for many years with remarkable success. He also gave special attention to stock-raising and fruit-growing, in both of which he was signally successful. From time to time he purchased additional land, as opportunity offered, until he had increased his holdings to approximately six hundred acres of productive lands, comprising some of the most fertile soil in the Mississippi valley. He was a man of adamantine character, and as an influential member of the Republican party was a number of times honored by election to the various township offices. He and his wife were throughout life devoted to works of religion and charity, and were faithful and active members of the Wesleyan Methodist church. He himself entered the ministry of that denomination, and by the eloquence of his oratory, the strength of his character, and especially by the purity of his life, did much for the advancement of public morals, a fact which entitles him to be especially remembered and honored among the pioneer ministers of Des Moines county. He was eminently public spirited, and was always ready by any honorable means in his power to encourage any movement or assist any enterprise designed to enhance the interests of the community in which he lived. As a pioneer in a new and undeveloped country he was necessarily called upon to endure many privations, but he ever bore his part manfully and well, and thus he earned for himself the respect and gratitude of succeeding generations. Among the men of his own day he ever enjoyed high honor, and everywhere his name was spoken with peculiar respect. Late in life he retired from the conduct of active affairs, and removed to Burlington. In that city the remainder of his days were passed in ease and comfort, and there his death occurred when he was approximately seventy-eight years of age. His wife died when about seventy-three years of age, and both are buried in Union township. They were the parents of twelve children, four of whom still survive. Mrs. Comstock was a woman of beautiful Christian character, and ably seconded her husband in the many good works to which he devoted so much of his life.
Joab C. Comstock, the subject of the present review, is a native son of Des Moines county, and was born Feb. 2, 1843, on the original farm purchased by his father, Joab Comstock, in Section 20 of Union township. His early knowledge of books was gained in the rural district schools near his home, but desiring further advancement along educational lines he later became a student in Knox College, at Galesburg, Ill., and also for a time attended business college at Poughkeepsie, N. Y., thus securing an excellent preparation for the actual duties of life. He has always been especially interested in the cause of education, a taste which he shares with his brother, Milton L, Comstock, who for many years occupied the chair of mathematics in Knox College, and is still a resident of Galesburg.
On the conclusion of his formal education Mr. Comstock returned to his parental home, where he assisted in the work of his father's farm until 1864. In that year, having gained his father's consent, he enlisted for the defense of his country in Company G, Forty-fifth Iowa Infantry, in which he served, being employed in guard duty, until the autumn of the same year, when he received honorable discharge and was mustered out of the service at Keokuk, Iowa. His military record further includes his connection with the Burlington contingent of the Iowa State militia, in which he afterward received appointment as first lieutenant. After leaving the army he once more returned to the home farm, on which he has ever since resided, and once more took up his task of mastering the principles and details of agriculture. He did not confine his efforts to simple farming operations, however, although always highly successful in this branch of his work, and on his large farm of one hundred and fifty-four acres in Sections 16, 17, and 20 he now has an orchard of five hundred young apple trees, all of choice selected varieties, and promising a very handsome profit in the near future, besides a large orchard of three hundred trees now in the full tide of bearing. These latter yield each year many times the cost of their planting and maintenance, and for his wide foresight and well-timed enterprise Mr. Comstock deserves all praise, for his success has encouraged many others to imitate his worthy example, and thus the productive powers of the farm are being more intelligently exploited throughout this section today than ever before. In addition to farming and horticulture, he has had very flattering success in the raising of high-grade stock. All the improvements on the farm have been installed by himself at various times, and their perfection constitutes one of his chief claims to consideration. He has erected a large and substantial residence building, besides a large barn and other necessary structures, and modern machinery is used throughout.
Into the life of Mr. Comstock there early entered an element of romance, which has tinged with its roseate hues the whole of his after years, and has no doubt been one of the most important influences in shaping his character. Near his boyhood home there lived another pioneer family, people of distinguished ancestry and of the highest standing in the community, and one member of that household was a little daughter, to whom he was attracted almost in infancy. The families dwelt less than a mile apart, and the two children were almost constantly together, being reared in an intimacy closer than that which often exists between brother and sister. Playmates in early childhood, they afterward became schoolmates and classmates in the little rural school, entering hand in hand, so to speak, upon the pleasant paths of learning, and remaining fond companions and playmates still. Happy in their school work and in each other's society, they failed to note the changes wrought by passing years, but more and more the boy came to admire his girl friend for her beauty of face and of character, while she learned to look upon him as the embodiment of her noblest ideals, and thus, at the dawning of that golden age called youth, they found that without their knowing it their childhood comradeship had grown into a sentiment of warmer and deeper regard, that of their first and only love. He knew that he could not claim her hand in marriage for many years to come, but, fearful lest they should become estranged, or that the prize should be won by another, he solicited her promise when she was but sixteen years of age, with full confidence that although they might be separated by circumstances unforeseen, yet she would remain true to her plighted troth. It was not until the 26th day of April, 1866, that Miss Nancy A. Avery and Joab C. Comstock were united in bonds of holy matrimony, the ceremony being performed at the home of Rev. W. F. Baird at Burlington.
Mrs. Comstock was born in Union township, Des Moines county, Iowa, a daughter of Henry and Mary (Ogle) Avery. Her parents were among the early pioneers and leading land owners of this section, and as the family is descended from old Puritan and Revolutionary ancestry, and attained a position of prominence in Des Moines county, it has been deemed advisable to devote a separate article to its history and genealogy. To Mr. and Mrs. Comstock have been born four sons and two daughters, as follows: Henry Lewis, born April 9, 1867, now residing in Union township, where he pursues the trade of carpentering, married Miss Lizzie Delap, of Lee county, Iowa, and they have one child, Rolland: Ella, born Aug. 29, 1868, and educated at the University at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, resides at Lewiston, Mont., where she is engaged in teaching music and dressmaking; Milton E., born May 9, 1870, now following the carpenter's trade in Union township, where he resides, married Miss Minnie Zimmerman; Flora J., born Oct. 31, 1872, is the wife of Frank Roberts, a farmer of Henry county, Iowa, and they have six children, Everett William, born Nov. 23, 1895, Howard Frank, born Dec, 26, 1896, Mary Alice, born Jan. 22, 1890, Flora Grace, born Sept. 13, 1900, Opal Belle, born Sept. 18, 1902, and Elizabeth Ella, born March 5, 1905; Fremont I., born Sept. 1, 1878, who conducts a ranch at Lewiston, Mont.; and Jesse J., born May 3, 1886, who is a member of the parental household. A11 the children of Mr. and Mrs. Comstock enjoyed excellent educational advantages, and in the world of practical affairs have exhibited commendable enterprise and marked ability. Mr. Comstock himself has devoted his talents almost exclusively to business, with what result is already well known. On the other hand, he has never been indifferent to the public welfare, being an active supporter of the Republican party in both local and national contests. For President Lincoln he cast his first vote in the fall of ‘64, and has voted the straight Republican ticket ever since: and while he has consistently refused to seek the honors of high political office, he has at the urgency of his friends accepted the supervisorship of highways and the direction of public schools at various times, being a director of his school for fourteen years, thus rendering very efficient service. In his fraternal relations he is a member of Matthies Post, No. 5, Grand Army of the Republic, of Burlington. His integrity as a citizen and as a man have never been called into question, and he commands the uniform confidence and good-will of all with whom he has been associated. His position among the substantial and progressive citizens of Des Moines county is one of the very highest, and by reason of his successful career, his representative character, and his wide acquaintance, he is well deserving of a prominent place in a work of the present nature. The names of Mr. and Mrs. Comstock are spoken with respect and esteem in innumerable homes, and their friends are legion. Long and far have they journeyed together, their lives ever with truth and loyalty marked, and with self-sacrifice and mutual helpfulness gloriously crowned.