Correspondence of John and Sarah Kenyon, Delaware County

Correspondence of  Ephraim G. Fairchild, Jones County


Iowa Farm Letters represents two groups of letters written by early Iowa tenant farmers in Jones and Delaware counties. John and Sarah Kenyon wrote the first group to their relatives in Rhode Island. The second group was written by Ephraim G. Fairchild to his relatives in New Jersey.

Both sets of letters describe living conditions in Frontier Iowa. They contain information about farming problems, efforts to obtain food and clothing, illnesses and the pioneers' use of home remedies, the weather and political views. The letters cover the period from 1856 to 1865. Apparently neither family gained enough funds to buy land. They remained tenant farmers through the course of the correspondence.

Delaware and Jones Counties are contiguous, lying in the second tier west of the Mississippi River. Both had been open for settlement for twenty years, so land prices were comparatively high with areas further west. In Jones County, prices reached $11.00 per acre in 1860; in Delaware County, farms were valued at $7.00 per acre.

   The Kenyon and Fairchild families both had relatives living in Delaware and Jones Counties. John Kenyon lived with his father‑in‑law, Richard Ellis, who owned 87 acres of land in Oneida Township, Delaware County. Ephraim G. Fairchild's uncle, Jeremiah Gard, who owned 120 acres in Wyoming Township, Jones County, had evidently provided for his nephew before he moved west, since Fairchild became a tenant farmer for Oliver I. Bill as soon as he reached Jones County.

In editing the letters, Mildred Throne duplicated them as written, except she inserted periods to indicate the ends of sentences. The letters have also been paragraphed where possible. Letter writers in the mid‑nineteenth century used little punctuation or paragraphing, thus often making reading and comprehension difficult.

The two groups contain fifty (50) letters. Attempts by Explorations in Iowa History Project personnel to select specific letters proved futile. The entire collection was viewed as valuable to the study of Frontier Iowa. A subject index has been developed as a guide for students using the letters. Main topics have been identified for each paragraph of the letters. This is intended as an additional student help.

Subject Index

The Kenyon and Fairchild letters in this collection are numbered 1 through 50. Each paragraph of the individual letters are also numbered. The index is keyed to the letters and paragraphs (not pages). Thus 1.1 refers to the first letter, first paragraph; 20.3 refers to the twentieth letter, third paragraph.

Twelve Focus Questions

    In studying, the students and teacher should focus on twelve (12) main questions. These questions may serve as a model for studies of a community, a region, a state, a country, or for a chronological period. For a unit on "Farm Life in Pioneer Iowa," these questions are:

 1. Where was Iowa located?

    Answer in terms of geographic location plus Iowa's relationship to
    other population centers in the United States of 1830.

 2. What was Iowa's natural environment like?

    Answer in terms of topography, native vegetation, mineral resources, water
    resources, animal life, and climate.

 3. What was Iowa's man-made environment like?

    Answer in terms of towns and cities, farms, roads, Indian villages, and U.S.
    Army forts.

 4. What were the ethnic and social characteristics of people who lived
     in Iowa?

    Answer in terms of the origins of Iowa settlers plus their age groups, sex,
   and occupations.

 5. How did people in Iowa satisfy their basic needs of food, clothing,
     and  shelter?

    Answer in terms of the ways Pioneer Iowans obtained and preserved food,
    purchased and made clothing, and the kinds of shelter they built.

 6. What types of economic activities were engaged in by Pioneer

    Answer in terms of the types of occupations found in early Iowa,
    especially farming.

 7. How were Pioneer Iowans organized and governed?

    Answer in terms of the political organization used in Iowa from 1800 to

 8. How did Pioneer Iowans communicate with other people?

    Answer in terms of letters, newspapers, diaries, and journals.

 9. What kinds of leisure activities were used by Pioneer Iowans?

     Answer in terms of dances, bands, shows, group work (house‑raising,
     quilting (bees) activities.

10. What kinds of transportation were used by Pioneer Iowans?

      Answer in terms of vehicles, the advantages and disadvantages of each,
     and the problems related to each type.

11. What kinds of values were accepted by Pioneer Iowans?

     Answer in terms of church groups or religious institutions, work ethic, and
     even those who rejected acceptable values, such as criminals.

12. What changes took place in Pioneer Iowa?

     Answer in terms of the many changes which occurred in Iowa between
    1830 and 1870. Students may focus on population distribution, improved
    agricultural practices, improved technology, education systems, and
    transportation systems.



   In searching for an index topic, find the letter by using the first number, then the second number indicates the paragraph within the letter. Main topics are listed at the right side of each of the letters as a cross‑reference.

Explorations in Iowa History Project
Malcolm Price Laboratory School
University Of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa
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Documents courtesy of the State Historical Society of Iowa