Compiled by Arthur Paul Moser
Mercer County lies on the northern border of the State. It is bounded on the north by the State of Iowa, on the east by the counties of Putnam and Sullivan, on the south by Grundy and on the west by Harrison County.
The permanent settlement of Mercer County was not begun until 1837, and a considerable portion of it remained almost entirely unoccupied for nearly twenty years after that date ... Emigrants from the free States of the East rarely settled in Missouri or the Territories beyond. On the other hand those who came from the Southern States with their slaves did not care to place them in a position favorable for their escape, and this prejudice against the border counties extended to those who owned no slaves, and when, poverty precluded the possibility of their becoming possessed of such property. The first settlers were mainly from Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, many of whom had spent one or more years in some of the older counties of Missouri.
The honor of making the first permanent settlement in Mercer County belongs to James Parsons ... He came to the county in 1837 ... He was a native of Tennessee, an orphan without friends and without means. At the age of seventeen years he came to Illinois, where he remained for a few years.
Settlement of Washington Township. It was one of the first to be settled. Among whose pioneers ... were John Vinson, Harrison Weldon and Thomas Thompson.
Settlement of Morgan Township. It being in the center of the county and containing the county seat, of those who located within its present limits, between 1840 and 1850, were Floyd Shannon and his two brothers, Reese and Russell ...
William and Jesse Miller built a mill on East Fork of Grand River in 1842 ... A little cluster of houses and shops that sprang up on the west side of the river in the vicinity of this mill was named Moscow, and when the seat of justice for Mercer County came to be located this place was strongly argued as an eligible site. Dr. Mangel was a leading citizen of this place. The mill built by Miller Bros. afterwards passed into the hands of William Constable and he operated it until his death. It then fell into disuse and was finally washed away by a flood.
Settlement of Marion Township. This township lies on both sides of Grand Fork of Grand River and being mostly covered with timber, it was settled several years before the territory on either side of it. Among its earliest settlers were James Clark, Joseph Sullivan, and D. L. Berry ...
The land on the Missouri side of the State line opposite Lineville (Iowa) was entered by T. H. P. Duncan who built a small log house ...
An amusing incident is told of the way in which Duncan took advantage of his position to baffle the revenue collectors of both Iowa and Missouri. Upon the surveying of the State line in 1851 one Fortner built a store near the line. Duncan purchased this building, and turned it around so that one end was in Missouri and the other end in Iowa. At that time Iowa levied a heavy tax upon the sale of whiskey, but none upon the sale of merchandise; while Missouri, on the other hand had practically free whiskey, but levied a considerable tax upon merchandise. Duncan, therefore, sold his whiskey in Missouri, and his dry goods, groceries, etc. in the Iowa side, and thus successfully claimed exemption from taxation.
Madison Township Pioneers. The settlement of what is now Madison Township was begun in 1838 when Reuben Hatfield and the Renfros located within its boundaries. Among others of a later date, were Abraham Butcher and John H. Thogmartin.
First Residents of Harrison Township. Harrison Township was the site of the first settlement in the county, James Parsons having located between Goshen Prairie and Thompson's Fork of Grand River. John Hart and James Perkins and others also found homes in this township.
Pioneers of Lindley Township. Lindley was not settled so early as Harrison, little land having been entered prior to 1850 ... Among the pioneers of this townships were James Dykes, E. G. Wiggins, and Rankin McClaren and others ...
Settlement of Medicine Township. Medicine Township contained rough land and was not settled so early as the other townships. The earliest permanent settlement within its limits of which any record can be found was made by John V. Barnes, who came from Pennsylvania about 1844 and located on Haney Creek, two miles northwest of Half Rock. William Kieth also settled near the same place at a little later date.
Settlement of Ravanna Township. Ravanna Township was one of the last settled. It consists chiefly of prairie land ... Probably the first settler in Ravanna Township was a man named James Morgan, who was rather a squatter rather than a settler. He carried on a sort of illegal trade in whiskey with the Indians ... He lived four miles south of Ravanna, where he located until the spring of 1840. He remained but three or four years. among the first permanent settlers in the township were Jeptha Wood, William Pickrill, Hiram Pickett and others ...
Somerset Township. Settlements were made here as early as 1839, when claims were located by H. P. and John D. Sullivan ... In 1854 ... the county was suffering from a drought. All water mills had stopped from lack of water, and nothing was running except a few horse mills. They were, therefore, compelled to go to Alexandria for flour. No road had then been laid out from this town to Princeton, and the way was marked only by a trail across the open country ... (--History of Mercer Co., 1888, Goodspeed, pp. 385, 387, 388, 395, 397, 398, 399, 400, 401.)
The county was formed and organized February 8, 1839. The General Assembly defined the limits of Grundy County as follows: Beginning at the northeast corner of Livingston County, thence north with the section line twenty-one miles or to the corner of Sections 9, 10, 15 and 16, Township 63, Range 22 west of the fifth principal meridian; thence west along the line dividing Sections 9 and 16 to the range line dividing Ranges 25 and 26; thence south with said range line to the northwest corner of Livingston County; thence east with said county line to the place of beginning. This territory was then attached to Livingston County for civil and military purposes, and so continued until 1840, when the county of Grundy was organized.
At the same time it was enacted that all the territory lying north of it should be attached to it for civil and military purposes, provided that the citizens living in the said territory should not be entitled to vote on any question concerning the location of the county seat of Grundy; also, that those citizens should not be taxed for the erection of county buildings.
By Section 4 of an act passed February 22, 1843, this territory was named Mercer County, "in honor of General Mercer of Revolutionary fame." It was not, however, until 1843 that this county was organized. The act providing for the organization defined the boundaries as follows: "Beginning at the northeast corner of Grundy County; thence due north to the Northern boundary of the State; thence due west 21 miles, thence due south to the northwest corner of Grundy County; thence east with the said county line to the place of beginning."
At the organization of the county it was divided into six townships, Marion, Morgan, Harrison, Washington, Madison and Scott. In May, 1848, the county court issued an order creating the new township of Medicine ... (--Ibid, pp. 401, 402, 403.)
The State Boundary Question
One of the most interesting subjects connected with the history of the border counties is that of the disputed boundary line between Missouri and Iowa. From the organization of Iowa until 1851 the location of its southern boundary line was a subject of dispute. The act of Congress of March 6, 1820, providing for the formation of a State Government by the people of Missouri Territory, described its boundaries as follows:
"Beginning in the middle of the Missouri River, on the parallel of 36 degrees north latitude; thence west along that parallel to the St. Francois River; thence up and following the course of that river, in the main channel thereof, to the parallel of 30 degrees 30 minutes; thence west along the same to a point where the said parallel is intersected by a meridian line passing through the mouth of the Kansas River where the same intersects the Missouri River; thence from the point aforesaid, north along the said meridian line to the intersection of the parallel of latitude which passes through the rapids of the River Des Moines; making the said line to correspond with the Indian boundary line; thence east from the point of intersection last aforesaid along the said parallel of latitude to the middle of the main fork of said River Des Moines to the mouth of the same where it empties into the Mississippi River; thence due east to the middle of the main channel thereof; thence south to the place of beginning."
In 1837, in accordance with an act of the Legislature of Missouri, a survey of the northern boundary line was made by commissioners on behalf of the State, who located it on the parallel of 40 degrees, 44' 6", north latitude. But this line did not coincide with the Indian boundary line. The commissioners asserted that the line described was an impossible one, for the reason that the parallel passing through what they contended was the rapids in the Des Moines River, would not coincide with the Indian boundary line. They therefore located it upon the parallel passing through the rapids disregarding the Indian boundary line.
The line as subsequently run by commissioners on behalf of Iowa was made to correspond with the Indian boundary line. The territory in dispute was a little over eight miles in width at the east end and eleven miles in width at the west end. Over this territory both States claimed jurisdiction, and in some of the eastern border counties the conflict of authority produced open war.
The territory north of Mercer County was very sparsely settled prior to the final location of the line, and nothing of a serious nature resulted. The people in the disputed territory participated in the elections in Mercer County, but no taxes were collected there. Lists of taxable property were made out and filed away each year, so that had the territory been finally decreed to belong to Missouri, the delinquent taxes could have been collected.
H. B. Duncan, who lived in the debatable land in 1848-50 represented Mercer County in the Legislature of Missouri, and a few years later, without changing location, was elected a member of the Iowa Legislature.
The question in dispute at last went to the United States Supreme Court, where it was definitely settled, and in 1851 the line was surveyed and the boundary marked by iron posts set ten miles apart. (--Hist. of Mercer Co., 1888, Goodspeed, pp. 404, 405.)
Township Formation and Organization
Prior to the organization of Mercer County the territory therein had been laid off into townships by Grundy County, but, as the early records of that court have been lost, the boundaries are not definitely known. Lafayette Township occupies the southwestern part of the county and Scott Township the northwestern part, including a portion of what is now Wayne County, Iowa. Clark Township lay east of Scott, and the territory south of this included the northeast part of Grundy County ...
At the organization of the county it was divided into six townships, Marion, Morgan, Harrison, Washington, Madison and Scott. The last named lay north of the present State Line, and was consequently cut off in 1850 ... In May, 1848, the county court issued an order creating a new township by the name of Medicine with the following boundaries; "Beginning at the south line of Mercer County where the divide between Muddy and Honey Creek crosses said county line; thence north with said divide to the south line of Morgan Township; thence east to the county line of Mercer." (--Ibid: p. 403.)
Lindley Township is bounded on the north by the State of Iowa, east by Marion Township, south by Morgan and Harrison, and west by Harrison County.
Marion Township is bounded on the north by the State of Iowa, east by Somerset Township, south by Ravanna and Morgan Townships and west by Lindley Township.
Somerset Township is bounded on the north by the State of Iowa, east by Schuyler County, south by Ravanna Township and west by Marion Township.
Harrison Township is bounded on the north by Lindley Township, east by Morgan Township, south by Madison Township and on the west by Harrison County.
Morgan Township is bounded on the north by Lindley and Marion Townships, on the east by Ravanna Township, south by Washington Township and west by Harrison Township.
Ravanna Township is bounded on the north by Marion and Somerset Townships, east by Schuyler County, south by Madison Township and on the west by Morgan Township.
Madison Township is bounded on the north by Harrison Township, on the east by Washington Township, on the south by Grundy County, and on the west by Harrison County.
Washington Township is bounded on the north by Morgan Township, on the east by Medicine Township, on the south by Grundy County, and on the west by Madison Township.
Medicine Township is bounded on the north by Ravanna and Morgan Townships, on the east by Schuyler County, on the south by Grundy County, and on the west by Washington Township. (--New Atlas of Mo., 1874, Campbell, Map 15.)
Mercer County was organized February 14, 1845 and was named in memory of General Hugh Mercer, who fell at the battle of Princeton, in trying to rally his broken troops, January 3, 1777. He was brought to the ground by the butt of a musket. He was afterward bayoneted and left for dead. He was afterward found to be alive and cared for, but he died January 12, 1777. Congress intended to erect a monument in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in his memory but failed. (--Naming Missouri Counties, Towns, and Streams, David W. Eaton, p. 194.)