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Few phases of the history of the world so strongly and so steadily excite the imagination as the swarmings of the races of mankind across the surface of the earth. Mongols and Tartars in Asia, and Huns, Goths, Norsemen, Moors, and Turks in Europe: these and other peoples successively supplied much of what is spectacular and fascinating in the chronicles of the Old World. Equally striking and picturesque is the migration by land and sea of whole tribes of barbarian Angles and Saxons from the forests of northern Germany, and of Danes and Normans at a later day, to make their homes in the British Isles.
To Americans who like to claim British and European origins as their own, the early wanderings of the world's great human family extend a powerful appeal; but more intimate and personal is the story of the peopling of the New World, not only by hordes of emigrants from the Old World but also by their American-born descendants. Covering a period of four centuries that extraordinary story, though now complete in its main outlines, has never been fully told and can not be so long as the American continents continue to drain the population reservoirs of older lands.
For reasons chiefly economic and religious, millions of the sons and daughters of Europe have abandoned their ancestral haunts to seek better homes in the vast open spaces of settlements overseas. Other millions, lured by the call of the wild and moved by the spirit of adventure, likewise forsook friends and kindred to try their fortunes beyond the Atlantic. In North and South America they braved the hostility of scattered- tribes of aborigines and the hardships incidental to pioneering in the wilderness. The struggle to conquer nature, begun by these enterprising colonists generations ago, has been continued by their descendants, constantly reenforced by fresh accessions from all the racial stocks of Europe.
Pausing to look back over the years consumed in the long process of subduing and occupying a continent, anyone who reflects upon man's ceaseless battle with the forces about him must be impelled to take pride in the results already achieved: cities and towns and farms, raised as if by magic from the soil, now stand as monuments to commemorate three centuries of human achievement.
Impressed by what has been done to convert a wilderness into the abode of more than one hundred millions of people, every citizen of Iowa who lets his fancy wander back into the century not yet ended since permanent settlements in his State began naturally inquires who the first inhabitants of his neighborhood were, where they came from, and what part they played as builders of the State and nation. From a contemplation of the Iowa pioneers he may go even farther back and seek to discover who his paternal and maternal ancestors were, where they dwelt, and what they did in their workaday world; and being somewhat of a genealogist at heart, he would, if he could, construct his family tree with roots striking deep into the remotest past, not altogether from reasons of family pride but because he finds here a panorama of bygone days that pictures life itself.
There is, to be sure, in all this nothing suggestive of the practical or materialistic; but as the passing years awaken State and local pride, popular interest in such matters is almost certain to increase. In Iowa, long called the garden spot of the Mississippi Valley, historians have not yet followed all the streams of native-born Americans and of foreigners that have poured into its fertile fields: no one has fully told of the expansion of the American people from the Mississippi River westward to the Missouri. Much remains to be done before the Iowa chapter in that remarkable romance of immigration and settlement, begun less than ninety years ago, can be called complete.
For more than a century and a half after its discovery, the Iowa country continued to be little more than the home and the haunt of a few thousand Indians. To this wilderness primeval, white men - French, British, and later Americans - had resorted to trade with the native inhabitants; some had come to explore the prairies and valleys; and just a few had established homes in the neighborhood of Keokuk. The real invasion and occupation of the Iowa country, however, did not begin until the government of the United States opened wide the gates to immigration in the month of June, 1833.
The march of the frontier of civilization from the Mississippi River westward and from the State of Missouri northward forms the Iowa chapter in the fascinating story of the expansion of the American people across the continent. By what means and agencies the vast domain acquired from the Red Men was eventually placed in the hands of settlers, who the original grantees of land patents were, and whence the pioneers came - these are some of the questions to which the future historian of Iowa must find answers.
The two studies presented in the following pages are designed as contributions to the larger task. The first treats in a more or less general way of the British element in the population of the Commonwealth of Iowa; and the author believes it should inspire those who would like to have a more detailed and intimate view of the subject with the possibility of further historical investigation in that field. The second study relates to the interesting episode of the coming of several hundreds of Britishers to that portion of Iowa which was the last to be occupied by homeseekers. This part relates largely to northwestern Iowa though settlements were also made in Minnesota.
Nine years ago the author began gathering information on the British invasion of northwestern Iowa, but not until the summer of 1921 could time be found to finish for the press what other activities had so long delayed. In the pursuit of his task the writer sought and obtained help from many sources, and acknowledgements are due Mr. C. W. Pitts of Alton; Mr. Ed Dalton, Judge C. C. Bradley, and Mr. Adair G. Colpoys of Le Mars; and Mr. S. R. Watkins of Chicago, Illinois. Especial thanks. are due Mr. James C. Gillespie, publisher of The Le Mars Sentinel, for permission to use the files of old newspapers in his possession. Without the frequent quotation of "scoops" and gossipy news items from those volumes the author feels that contemporaneous American interest in the "colony" centering about Le Mars could never have been fully grasped.
The author is grateful also to Mr. John W. Probert, manager of Close Brothers and Company of Chicago, for an outline sketch of the general history of the firm and corporation with which he has been connected almost from the beginning. Mr. Probert's account, though based on memory, tallies closely with the facts as acquired from other sources. In answer to an inquiry after the books of account of the early years of the firm in Iowa, Mr. Probert replied that the records were all gone by now. Consequently, the author can not vouch for the accuracy of statements about the extent of the company's operations, derived as they are from contemporaneous newspaper announcements. Authentic information on the operations of a typical land company in that part of the Iowa wilderness which was the last to be brought under the dominion of man would have been especially valuable because, so far as the author knows, no such matters have yet been made the subject of investigation and permanent record in Iowa and perhaps not in any other part of the Middle West. In passing, one can not help but regret that valuable materials on the history of the settlement of the State such as the books of account of land companies are being lost or destroyed.
In conclusion, the author wishes to acknowledge the encouragement received from Professor Benj. F. Shambaugh and the assistance rendered by William B. Close, Esq., the founder of the British "colony'", who has for many years been living in England. His excellent pamphlet on farming in northwestern Iowa, published in 1880, contains a great amount of indispensable material; and his letters from a London hospital, in the autumn of 1921, when he was recovering at the age of nearly seventy from the effects of an operation and a bad attack of influenza, furnished many facts not otherwise discoverable. Mr. Close stated that al though it seemed rather strange to him that so much interest should be taken in his old settlement he was glad to aid in every way. To Mr. Henry H. Drake, an old Oxonian and for forty years a resident of northwestern Iowa, the author is greatly indebted for his kindness in helping to round out the story in many respects.
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
IOWA CITY IOWA
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