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Nathaniel Fellows Chapter NSDAR
Iowa City, Iowa

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Nathaniel Fellows, Sr.

Mr. Fellows was born in 1758 in Dorchester, New Hampshire, the son of a Revolutionary War soldier, Captain Samuel Fellows. At the age of 17, Nathaniel enlisted and served as a private in Colonel Beldell’s regiment. The regiment was given the Order of Congress to harass the British by invading Canada and carrying out daring raids. They had hoped to liberate all of North America from British rule. Even though the mission failed, Nathaniel Fellows had shown great fighting spirit.

At the age of 24, Nathaniel married Mercy Flanders, the daughter of a Revolutionary War soldier. They had four children - Nathaniel Fellows, Jr., Elizabeth, Judith, and Mercy. Nathaniel's wife, Mercy, died in New Hampshire in 1836.

In the spring of 1837, the Fellows family, consisting of Nathaniel Sr., age 79, his son Nathaniel, Jr. age 47, his daughter-in-law, Polly, and two children, loaded an ox wagon with all of their belongings and left New Hampshire to journey westward. The family had no destination in mind, but simply planned to travel until they found the “right” land and water. They traveled by wagon train across the states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Late in 1837, they arrived in Portage, Indiana, where they ran out of food and money. The two men were cobblers by trade, and they set up shop to make and mend shoes for travelers. The men charged $1.50 for a pair of high top shoes, $2.50 for a pair of fancy boots, and $.63 for mending shoes. They were able to build up their finances for the continued trip westward.

In the spring of 1838, they joined a train of 40 ox teams and continued moving west. They crossed the state of Illinois and crossed the Mississippi River at what is now Muscatine, Iowa. There, the family left the ox train and followed a rough road with ruts and mud holes that slowed their progress. They finally came to the Iowa River.

Traveling along the east bank of the Iowa River, they came to a spot opposite Indian Lookout just south of what is now Iowa City, Iowa. Here, Chief Poweshiek and his Sac and Fox Indians had their camp. The family had hoped to ford the river, but soon realized the river was swollen and current too swift for fording. They needed help to cross and without a ferry or any other white men in the area, they turned to Chief Poweshiek and his people.

While Chief Poweshiek was unlikely to harm a white man, he was adamant that he would not allow any settler to cross the Iowa River to the land he controlled on the other side. There is no known account of the meeting between Poweshiek and the Fellows family, but it probably was tense at first. The family parleyed with Poweshiek, and apparently impressed him enough that he finally granted the family permission to cross the river, so they could push westward into land not yet open to white settlers. For $1.00, an Indian brave carried the family across in his canoe, one person at a time. It took them all day. Nathaniel drove Buck and Bright, his oxen team, and his milk cow across the water. The wagon was completely dismantled and with its contents, ferried across the water piece by piece.

They had carried the contents of their wagon a thousand miles and most of the belongings were important for their survival. They had corn, wheat, oat, vegetable seeds, and potatoes. They had the tools to plant, harvest, and clear the land: scythes, a grain cradle, an ax, a grindstone, and a crude plow. Mrs. Fellows had her spinning wheel, shears and sewing tools, cooking implements, including her “spider” -- a long handled skillet with legs – and her “starter” for bread. She also had her herb medicine for combating illnesses. All of which were transported across the river that day.

At the end of the day, they camped just south of the present day Iowa City Airport. On the morning of May 6, 1838, the Indians helped reassemble the wagon. According to his daughter Elizabeth, that morning Nathaniel told his wife, Polly, he was going to “walk to the top of the ridge” and see if there was a valley or timber on the other side. When he came back he told the family it was a good place to go and so they hitched the oxen to the wagon and traveled over the ridge. At the top of the ridge, they had one more encounter with Indians – a band of 50 – that scared the family and the oxen, but did not stop them from continuing with their journey.

At Clear Creek, now Coralville, they took notice of the unusually, clear, clean water in the stream and the family was captivated by the rich bottom land adjoining it. These factors prompted a decision to make this their home. Here they made camp and broke ground for planting of corn and potatoes. They found one other white man, Bowen Wright, living nearby in a small hut built out of tree bark. He was a hunter and a trapper and had been there a short time. He helped the family build a 10 x 12 foot cabin. Clear Creek provide them with drinking water and Wright kept them in venison and wild game.

Nathaniel Fellows, Sr., who was not yet 80 years old, became weak from the hardships of the two successive long journeys and died on July 12, 1838. Bowen Wright helped Nathaniel Jr., build a casket from a walnut tree. They had no nails or screws, so they pinned it together with wooden pegs. Original internment was at the center of what is now old Highway 6 and Fifth Street in Coralville.

For three years, the Fellows family lived peaceably beside the Indians, until in 1839, Chief Poweshiek moved his people to a new village in the west part of the county. Poweshiek granted the Fellows family the 260-acre farm they had staked out. Because it was a gift from the Indian chief, it was not entered into the Federal records, until it was surveyed much later. The land transaction was unique for the state of Iowa. The farm later became known as the Evergreen Farm and was owned by the Dennis family - Isaac Dennis having married Elizabeth Fellows in 1843.

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Last Updated 26 August 2017
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