Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Many consider Edwin Manning to be the founder of Keosauqua, when in fact he was only one of several who helped to establish the community. The son of Calvin and Desire (Gurley) Manning, Edwin was born on February 8, 1810 in Coventry, Connecticut and was one of four children.

The Manning family was an old, established New England family and was identified with the growth and progress of each community it inhabited. Edwin’s parents were consistent and faithful members of the Congregational Church in Coventry.

Manning received a rather primitive education in Connecticut, and at age 16 began working in a store with his uncle, Royal Manning. Six months later he accepted a similar position with his uncle James Manning in Bethany, Pennsylvania where he earned $10 per month in wages. After five years, he entered into partnership with his uncle.

Since his uncle James held several county offices, young Edwin became familiar with the routine of such, and with small town politics. From 1831 to 1836, he and partner J. C. Rose operated a firm called Manning & Rose in Canton Corners, Pennsylvania.

Early in 1836, he disposed of his business interests and took a boat to St. Louis, and began investigating real estate in the west. Accompanied by his uncle and a Mr. Tyler, he made his way to rural places and acquired some real estate leaving Tyler in charge. Being opposed to slavery, he made his way to Lee County, Iowa.

At Ft. Madison, he visited the wigwam of noted chief Black Hawk, who treated him in a very friendly manner, but appeared reluctant to give him much information, as the elderly Indian realized that his power was eroding quickly as more white people moved into the territory.

In January, 1837 Manning, with James Hall, John Fairman and John Carnes purchased the Sigler claim of land at a place in the bend of the Des Moines River known as Keosauqua or Des Moines City, and formed the Van Buren Company. Together, they platted a triangle-shaped town that they named Van Buren.

Manning returned to Pennsylvania, but in 1838 returned to Iowa to attend the first land sale at Burlington, where he purchased several tracts of land for himself, together with quite a large amount of land for others. In 1839, he bought a large stock of goods in New York and brought it to Keosauqua, shipping by way of water to the mouth of the Mississippi, then up the river to the mouth of the Des Moines. Taking seven weeks for the trip, it was the first stock of goods ever delivered to Keosauqua.

He built a flatboat in 1844 and ran the first loaded steamer from St. Louis to Des Moines in 1851. Governor Grimes appointed him Commissioner of the Des Moines River Improvement in 1859. Few works of improvement or progress developed in Keosauqua in the early days without his connection directly or indirectly.

Manning’s first wife was Sarah J. Sample, born in Pennsylvania July 21, 1816. Edwin and Sarah were married in Lee County on March 8, 1842 and were the parents of Calvin, a prominent attorney in Ottumwa; William who engaged in farming; and Anna. Sarah died on June 1, 1857.

On November 3, 1859 Nannie Bryant became his wife. She was born in Indiana Feb. 3, 1832 and was the adopted daughter of Hon. Joseph A. Wright. They had 5 children: Albert, Edward Bates, Stanley, Craig, and Katie. Nannie and Katie were among the most active and faithful members of the Congregational Church in Keosauqua and performed many kind acts of charity in a quiet, unassuming manner.

Edwin Manning was a Whig early in life, but became a stalwart supporter of the new Republican Party once it was organized. He steadily refused to accept public office, however, devoting his time and energy to business interests of which he ran his affairs in a morally sound manner that brought him high regard and praise. Many stories are told of his generosity. He was instrumental in providing land, material and money for erecting the Court House between 1840 and 1842.

He was temperate, frugal, and persevered through hard times with ample competence, working his way upward to prominence. He was very far-sighted, considered to be a man of vision with unquestioned integrity.

Manning operated general mercantile stores in Keosauqua and other villages, and is sometimes said to have been the father of the chain store. He built for himself a large mansion high on a hill above town a few years after the Civil War, now known as the Mansion Inn Bed & Breakfast, operated by Bill and Karen Salter.

His store grew into a hotel, and eventually took on the Steamboat Gothic architecture that made it famous, and still bears the family name. The Manning Hotel is another of Keosauqua’s fine bed & breakfast establishments, now operated by Ron Davenport.

(Portraits & Biographies of the Governors of Iowa, 1885. Chapman Bros., Lake City Publishing: Chicago.)

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick