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First black settlement near Marshalltown?

February 18, 2013 - Mike Donahey
A copy of a nearly 70-year old Times-Republican newspaper clipping shed light on what may have been the county’s first black settlement northwest of Marshalltown.

Evidently, a number of blacks moved into the county shortly after the Civil War, according to a Feb. 10, 1945 Times-Republican article.

The unauthored story reported comments of W.E. McLeland, a former county auditor (1902-05), and state legislator, who had spoken of a freed slave settlement established in Marshall County after the war which flourished for several years. “Shortly after the war, many Negroes who had been held in slavery endeavored to establish colonies in northern and western states, and several such were founded in Iowa and Kansas,” he said. “As a boy, I heard much of the colony established in Marshall County, northwest of Marshalltown, near what is now known as the Cakerice farm. The slaves who came to Marshall County built a dozen or more cabins and made homes in a free country for their families. The colony must have existed for several years, or, until many of the families moved out to establish themselves in larger communities where greater opportunities offered.”

McLeland said he believed two black families that later became widely known in Marshalltown were in the original group. These were the Cotton and Walker families.

"Tom Cottons, a great hulk of a man, who long was known as the strongest man in Marshalltown, whose feat of strength still are legendary among the older residents, was one of the outstanding figures in the settlement. Later, he moved into town where he lived until his death," McLeland said. "A son, Walker, is believed to reside in Des Moines."

However, no historical records of the settlement had ever been found. McLeland urged the historical society to look into the matter as "some historical researcher might do well to write the history of the colonists."



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