Johnson County, Iowa is located in the fourth tier of counties north of the
lowa-Missouri line and in the third row west of the Mississippi. It is bordered on the north by Linn, on the west
by Iowa, on the east by Cedar and Muscatine and on the south by Washington and Louisa counties. The Iowa river
enters from the west in the northern half of the county, flows half way through, then turns in a large bend to flow
south and leaves the county forming the boundary between Fremont, an extended township and Washington county. In
topography the county is gently to sharply rolling. Iowa City, Coralville and University Heights together
comprise a city of 56,000 in the center of the county.
The early histories of Johnson County, Iowa City, the University of Iowa and the State of Iowa are
inextricably tied together, so that, to study the history of one of them is to study the history of all four.
The boundaries of Johnson County were fixed and approved 21 December 1837 according to the laws of
Wisconsin Territory of which Iowa was then a part. The county was organized in the fall of 1838 following
authorization by Governor Lucas, of the newly organized Territory of Iowa, given to Samuel C. Trowbridge when he was
commissioned as Sheriff. Trowbridge called an election at Gilbert's trading house on the 10th of September at
which time Henry Felkner, Abner Wolcott and Samuel Sturgiss were elected commissioners.
An important matter commanding the attention of the first session of the Territorial Legislature of Iowa
in Burlington in November 1838 was the location of a permanent seat of government for the Territory, to be called Iowa
City. Governor Lucas favored a central point, north and south. Robert Ralston of Des Moines County, John Ronalds
of Louisa and Chauncy Swan of Dubuque were chosen commissioners and instructed to locate the Capitol in Johnson County
and on the Iowa River. They selected the present site of Iowa City in May 1839. After the site had been
selected the commissioners found that an act of Congress dated March 3, 1839 required that the location be made on
surveyed lands. They immediately sent the President a request for a special survey of two townships in Johnson
County which the seat of government had been located, which request was granted. The special survey was started
nearly two months following the location of the town. Thomas Cox and John Frierson were in charge of the survey
party and L. Judson was in charge of drawing the plats. The special survey was completed when the bounds of the
town were closed on the survey lines. A permanent mark was erected at the southeast corner of the surveyed
section, which mark still stands at the corner of Summit and Court streets in Iowa City.
John Gilbert is believed to have been the first white settler in Johnson County, Iowa. His real
name was John W. Prentice, a cousin of George D. Prentice of the Louisville Journal. A native of the State of New
York, he had lost heavily in canal contracts which, together with some other troubles, induced him to leave his home at
Lockport, N.Y. and to change his name and address. Gilbert entered the service of the Green Bay Trading Co. of
Michigan, where he learned the Indian language, and earned the confidence of the company by his capacity, faithfulness
and integrity. He was sent to various places among the Indians to establish trading posts and came to be among
the Fox Indians on the Iowa River. John Gilbert west with these Indians to Rock Island in 1836 at which times they sold
the Keokuk Reserve to the U.S. Government. This was a tract of land on both sides of the Iowa River from its
mouth to the point where it crossed the Black Hawk Purchase.
When at Rock Island, Gilbert became acquainted with Philip dark and Eli Myers of Elkhart County, Indiana
who were seeking for a place to settle in the new territory. Upon his advice, they went with him to what is now
Pleasant Valley Township, where they staked out land claims and then went back to Indiana to return the following
spring with their families and friends.