Meservey, William N.
Manuscript Letter Copy Book of attorney William N. Meservey, Esq., of "Meservey & Bassett," of Fort Dodge, Iowa, 1857-1861

Quarto, 289 pages, plus index and blanks, bound in ¼ leather, cloth backed boards, back-strip lacking, re-backed at some point with black tape, corners and edges of boards bumped and worn through, boards scuffed, stained, and somewhat warped, otherwise the text is in good legible condition, most letter copies are clear and readable. The letter copies are copied onto tissue paper and are often multiple pages in length, and at other times either two letters to a page, or a single page, the letters are dated August1857 to August 1861.

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"Meservey & Gregory," later: "Meservey & Bassett," and still later: "W. N. Meservey"

Meservey & Gregory was a law firm comprised of William N. Meservey and George Gregory. They were located in Homer, at that time the capitol seat of Webster County, Iowa, and were in business for at least the year 1857. Gregory had been picked, in 1855, to fill a vacancy that came up in the Clerkship of the District Courts at Homer. Gregory was a master mason in the same Masonic lodge as Meservey. Later, when the county seat was moved to Fort Dodge, Meservey also moved to Fort Dodge. There, in 1858, he formed another partnership, this time with George W. Bassett, founding the firm of Meservey & Bassett. This firm lasted until February of 1861, at which time the firm was dissolved and Meservey worked on his own.

    The letter copy book offered here begins in August 1857, when Meservey was still associated with George Gregory. This association lasted until at least 28 January 1858, before the firm of Meservey & Bassett was founded. The Meservey & Gregory letters take up the first 66 pages of the letter copy book, after which point the letter copies of Meservey & Bassett begin. Once George W. Bassett entered into Civil War service, Meservey began signing his letters with his own name, indicating that he was the successor to "Meservey & Bassett." This occurs in February of 1861, on page 266 of the letter copy book Meservey makes note in a letter: "P.S. I am now alone Mr. Bassett and myself have dissolved our partnership..." The letter copies continue under the name of W.N. Meservey until August 1861 on page 289, thus the volume covers the years of the firm of Meservey & Bassett, and as other periods.

George W. Bassett (1827-1896)

    George W. Bassett was born in Canada West in 1827. His mother's father lost an arm at the Battle of Bennington during the American Revolution. Bassett's parents returned to the United States when Bassett was a child and settled in the West. Bassett attended Wabash College. After college he entered the law school at Cincinnati, and upon graduating he went to Des Moines, Iowa in 1856 and entered into the law office of the Hon. John A. Kasson. In 1858, he went to Fort Dodge, Iowa, and formed a law partnership with Judge W. N. Meservey, which continued until Bassett enlisted in the Union Army in 1861, in a Fort Dodge Company, which was attached to the Pennsylvania Cavalry. He served in the army of the Potomac as a Lieutenant of his company and was twice wounded in battle and so disabled that he was mustered out in 1862. He returned to Fort Dodge in the fall of 1863 and was elected to the State Senate (1864-1866), representing the 43rd district, which at that time embraced twenty-eight counties of northwestern Iowa, more than a third of the entire territory of the State. For twenty years he was general agent for the lease and sale of the lands embraced in the Agricultural College grant to Iowa, handling more than 200,000 acres to the satisfaction of the State and College. After failing health, he moved to California, where he died in Elsinore, California, on 6 February 1896. He left a wife and a child, a little girl five years old.

     Judge William N. Meservey (1820-1878)


      William N. Meservey was born on 16 November 1820 at Dearborn County, Indiana. In early youth he attended the public schools in Cincinnati for a few years, and after leaving them engaged in the wholesale dry goods business in that city where he remained until he was twenty years old. He then entered the law office of Amos Lane, of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and having completed his studies, was admitted to the bar in Cincinnati in 1842. He moved to New Orleans where he followed the profession of law until 1848, when he returned north and located in Clinton, Illinois. He remained at Clinton until 1853, when he went to Iowa, settling at first in Homer, at that time a county seat. On the removal of the Webster County seat to Fort Dodge, Meservey relocated to Fort Dodge and made it his home until his death in 1878.


      Meservey was a "pioneering settler" of Fort Dodge, moving to Fort Dodge about the year 1855. Meservey was elected in April of 1854 as a judge in Hamilton County, Iowa. In 1862 he was appointed to a position in the United States treasury department, and stationed at Monroe, Louisiana, where he remained four years. Returning to Fort Dodge at the close of the war, he soon assumed the editorial charge of the Fort Dodge Messenger, which he conducted until 4 June 1874 when he transferred his interest in that paper to Albert and Pauline Swalm. In February of 1877, he took the editorial control of the Webster County Gazette until his death in 1878, making it one of the strongest and most widely circulated papers in Northwestern Iowa. He was twice elected County Judge of Webster County. He was a very outspoken man, which compelled him to frequently face the fierce and oftentimes unrelenting opposition of his political opponents. Meservey at one point acted for a time as the treasurer of the Iowa Press Association.


      William N. Meservey is buried in an unmarked grave in the Oakland Cemetery, Fort Dodge, in Webster County, Iowa. He was a member of the Episcopal Church, Odd Fellows, and the Knights Templar.


      W.N. Meservey married Amanda C. Robbins. One of their children was Stillman T. Meservey (1848-1927), a three time mayor of Fort Dodge, two time member of the Iowa state legislature, and an early promoter of the gypsum deposits in the area, helping to form the Iowa Plaster Company and was later secretary of the United States Gypsum Company. He had interests in banks, utilities, and other companies and his gypsum mill was the first such mill west of the Mississippi River.


       Description of Letter Copy Book

The various letter copies in the volume show that Meservey, and his partners, were doing a considerable amount of legal work around land warrant issues. He is either having land warrants located, or entered in his name (acting as power of attorney), or in the firm's name, and helping his clients to buy, or sell these warrants. He also pays the taxes due for them, or the recording fees and other fees associated with land warrants, less his own fees. 

One area where they are working was in Missouri, particularly with land warrants in Benton and Putnam Counties. The land warrants are likely military bounty land warrants, given to veterans over the years for their service in different wars from 1789 to 1858 (Rev War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Indian Wars), or they could also be land warrants for land in the public domain.

Overall, the letters offer a glimpse of a law firm's practice in the early years of Fort Dodge and the period leading up to the American Civil War. The letters are dated are from August 1857 thru August 1861, overlapping the outbreak of the war by several months.

Sample Quotations:

  "Fort Dodge Aug 28/57 Mr. John Thomas, Richmond, Ind.

Dear Sir,

Your of June 23d has been received sometime. We delayed answering as Mr. Gregory has been in Missouri locating warrants. Warrants cannot be located in Kansas on by preemption. There is no land subject to entry in Iowa. The only chance we know of is in Missouri. We are pleased with the prospect of Missouri lands. We are making arrangements to be at the Warsaw office in Missouri as soon as the office opens which will be in next month. Should you wish any locations made in Missouri you can mail direct to us at Warsaw, Benton Co, MO and also advise us at this place. Land in Missouri can be got near timber on settlement and the county is very fast setting up. May we hear from you...Yours truly Meservey & Gregory, J. Gregory"

"Fort Dodge, Sept 23d/57, Mr. T. G. Naughton, Wales, Mass.

Yours of the 11th inst is at hand. The County Tax on your lots are all current. The Treasurer has made up his delinquent list and your lot is not on said list. The School House Tax has not yet been returned to the Treasurer. The amt is but small but we will attend to it. We shall be in Webster City in a short time and will see what figures they will give for your lots and advise you of the same.

Yours truly, Meservey & Gregory, J. Gregory"

"Fort Dodge, Nov 1st [1859] Messrs Ellis &Pollard, Bloomfield, Iowa


Yours of Oct 7th has been received. Enclosed please find draft on Chemical Bank for $31.00. Amount of note on C. & H. Dimler for $33.33 less our charges and exchange.

Truly yours,

Meservey &Bassett"

"Fort Dodge, Dec 19th, 1859, John Mitchell, Esq., Fort Des Moines, Iowa

Dear Sir,

Yours of Dec 15th with papers in case of A.F. Bond vs. Williams [Henn] & Co. came safely to hand. We saw Mr. Duncombe their atty, and he agrees to accept service for all the parties. He says also that he presumes the amount is justly due. If you wish us to [xxxxxx] send the docket fee, or designate some person here that will become security for the same. It must be some person not an attorney as by rule of this District attys are not received as security for clerk's fees; otherwise we would be good security. Your respect. Meservey & Bassett

[P.S.] It will be advisable to reply soon as Duncombe leaves this place in about one week on Tuesday. M&B"