Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


By the time surveyors came through Van Buren County in 1837, the tiny village of New Lexington had formed along the Des Moines River in what is now Bonaparte Township, located about one mile west of the present town of Bonaparte, in the southeast corner of section seven on the Kenneth Warner farm. 

On April 6, 1837 a post office was put into operation bearing the name New Lexington. Five years later, this post office was abandoned. According to Sarah Welsh Nossaman who lived in New Lexington with her family, letters were not prepaid as they are at present. Instead, if a letter arrived at the post office for one of the settlers, the recipient had to pay a quarter to retrieve his mail. Money was not a widespread commodity in the territory in those days, thus letters often went unclaimed. 

Sarah Nossaman relates that William Turner and his wife operated a store in New Lexington. William’s brother was Dr. James Turner, the man who later decided to steal Black Hawk’s skull from his burial site in Iowaville. From Sarah’s writings it can be concluded that the population of New Lexington once exceeded fifty people. Sarah moved to Wisconsin Territory with her father and mother in 1835, locating first near Reed’s Creek about one mile below present-day Bonaparte. Sarah was only ten years old, thus she called everyone “uncle.” Her neighbors were very few, but included Indian trader Uncle Jimmy Jordan, Uncle Sammy Reed and his brother Isaac. Black Hawk, Keokuk, Wapello, Hard Fish, Kishkakosh, Black Hawk’s son Naseaskuk, and a score of other Sac and Fox Indians made up the rest of the neighborhood. 

Sarah relates that the area where Bonaparte now exists was one very large maple sugar grove. She and her family moved to New Lexington when it was laid out early in 1837, and at that time Judge Meek came from Michigan looking for a place to locate a mill. He stayed in New Lexington for a few days, then bought out a claim from Robert Moffatt on which land he built his mill. Finally, she said, a neighbor arrived with money! 

Meek’s mill put money into circulation for the first time in this area of the territory and men and women finally had a chance to buy store-bought clothing. Sarah worked for the Meek family and received seventy-five cents per day, the best wages ever paid at that time in the entire territory! 

Sarah’s father helped clear the sugar grove. The proprietors of the town of Bonaparte laid out lots, but it took three years to slowly clear the land, thus most of the early settlers lived in New Lexington before building in the new town of Bonaparte. Sarah and Robert Meek’s wife cooked for forty-two men that first summer!

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