If At First You Don’t Know . . .

Sometimes all it takes is one misprint to throw our sense of history off for over 131 years.

For at least that long, it was believed that George Colt was the first City Marshal of Davenport.  This was reinforced by page 721 of the 1882 History of Scott County, Iowa, which, under the List of Officers From the Date of the First Charter To The Present Time, names Mr. Colt as the 1839 Marshal.

However, if one was to read the two paragraphs right above that list, one would find a brief explanation of the incorporation of Davenport, including a discussion about the persons elected at the first council meeting on April 20, 1839. Interestingly, it states that W. H. Patton was elected Marshal.

So who was the first Marshal of Davenport? Was it George Colt or W. H. Patton?

We found both men living in Davenport during the 1840 census. Our next step was to check the April 20th city council minutes. In original handwriting, W.H.H. Patton is written down as the first Marshal.

It was possible that Mr. Colt replaced Mr. Patton before the next election, which would explain his name in the list . . . but a quick review of meeting notes from April through June 1840 doesn’t show a change of Marshal.

But we were still uncertain.  Sometimes we just want a little more proof.

Then we finally received it.

The Iowa Sun was the local paper of the late 1830s into the early 1840s. It would certainly mention the election . . . but unfortunately, our Center had never been able to secure a microfilm copy.

Recently, though, a reel became available and we jumped at the chance to purchase a copy. And on that specific reel is an April 24, 1839 account of the April 20 town council meeting, during which   W.H. Patton was elected Marshal.

We now have two primary resources stating that W.H. (H.) Patton was elected Marshal of Davenport in 1839. The only source we find stating it was George Colt, a well-to-do Davenporter, was written in 1882, over forty years later.

So why wasn’t this mistake noted and corrected sooner?

We all admit looking at a broken down list is quicker than reading a short account of Davenport’s incorporation and once the discrepancy was noticed, we had no way of confirming the information—for many years the original council book was difficult to read and The Sun was not part of our collections.

But now the original council books are on microfilm along with The Sun are easily accessible in our Special Collections department.

And now we can correct our timeline and confirm the name of the first elected Marshal of Davenport : Mr. W. H. Patton.

(Posted by Amy D).

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