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Nathaniel Fellows Chapter NSDAR
Iowa City, Iowa

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Nathaniel Fellows, Sr.

Nathaniel Fellows Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution honors one of the earliest settlers of Johnson County. As one of the original "38ers" settling in the new lands of Iowa, Nathaniel and his eldest son's family established their new home on the banks of Clear Creek just west of Coralville on May 6th, 1838.

Nathaniel was born on February 1, 1764, in Gloucester, Essex County, Massachusetts, to Samuel Fellows and Mercy Treadwell. Nathaniel was baptized on February 5, 1764, in Fifth Parish Church, Sandy Bay, in Gloucester. Samuel and Mercy had another son, Samuel, baptized in the Fourth Parish church at Gloucester on August 4, 1765, where they were members.

Mercy Treadwell Fellows died when her children were still young. The boys grew up in Essex County, Massachusetts. Samuel Fellows Sr. served as a customs officer for the British crown during the late 1760s and later, a ship captain patrolling the waters off the ports to enforce British tariffs. Sometime around the beginning of the Revolution, Samuel resigned his commission with the American Board of Customs and moved his family west to become a gentleman farmer.

Nathaniel Treadwell Fellows was about thirteen years old when his father bought their first known property in Dorchester, Grafton County, New Hampshire, on November 10, 1777. Shortly after Nathaniel Treadwell Fellows turned twenty-one years old, and most likely with an inheritance left by his grandfather, he made his own land purchase in Dorchester on March 8, 1785.

Nathaniel married circa 1795 to Mercy Flanders, daughter of Jesse Flanders Sr. and Ruth Webster. Mercy was born March 28, 1762, in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Their first child, Nathaniel Fellows Jr., was born May 1, 1796, in Dorchester, Grafton County, New Hampshire, and died April 23, 1864, in Coralville, Johnson County, Iowa. They had four other known children: Ruth Webster Fellows born June 26, 1798 (died October 16, 1867); Samuel "3rd" born c. 1800 (died April 18, 1870); Gustavus born 1802 (died November, 19 1820); and Hannah born 1804 (died May 2, 1824).

Nathaniel Treadwell Fellows Sr. lived most of his adult life in Dorchester, Grafton County, New Hampshire, as a gentleman farmer. His wife, Mercy Flanders Fellows, died in the Dorchester area sometime before 1830. Their eldest son, Nathaniel Jr., married Olive Polly Foss on December 29, 1816, in Dorchester and they had a daughter, Elizabeth, born March 6, 1826, in Dorchester. In the late 1820s, Nathaniel Jr. sold off his property in Grafton County, New Hampshire, and moved his family to Perry Township, Geauga County (now Lake County), Ohio, where they were listed in the 1830 Census. Their second daughter, Judith, was born there June 29, 1829. His father, Nathaniel Sr., was still living in Dorchester, along with his younger brother, Samuel "3rd", and his family. Nathaniel Treadwell Fellows sold off his remaining property in Dorchester in the early 1830s and probably joined his eldest son's family in Ohio until 1837.

The following account from Elizabeth Fellows Dennis was given later in life and details their journey to Indiana and Iowa. In spring 1837, the Fellows family, consisting of Nathaniel Sr., age 73; his son Nathaniel Jr., age 41; his daughter-in-law, Polly, age 40; and two granddaughters, Elizabeth, age 11, and Judith, age 8. They traveled first to Portage, Indiana, where the two men spent a year as cobblers saving money to travel further west. They set up shop to make and mend shoes for travelers, charging $1.50 for a pair of high top shoes, $2.50 for a pair of fancy boots, and $0.63 for mending shoes.

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 the 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 these items 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 the 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 73 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. His original internment was at the center of what is now the intersection of old Highway 6 and Fifth Street in Coralville.

For three years, the Fellows family lived peaceably beside the Indians, until Chief Poweshiek moved his people to a new village in the west part of the county in 1839. 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.

Research Updated September 13, 2018 - Dr Melissa Stewart

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Last Updated 26 August 2017
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