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The seal of the City of Jefferson is made up of three graphic images on a plain background symbolizing people, places and events important to the history of the city. The date, 1825, appears at the bottom of the seal indicating the year of incorporation of the City of Jefferson.
Two of these symbolic images are familiar to almost all of us. We readily recognize Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, who was responsible for the purchase of a large tract of land from France which nearly doubled the size of the United States at the time of its purchase. It is symbolic of the creation of the state of Missouri and the capital of Missouri, the City of Jefferson.
The second symbolic image is that of the dome of the current Capitol of Missouri, with construction completed in 1917 and officially dedicated Oct. 6, 1924. The image represents the government of this state which has been located in the City of Jefferson since 1826 and has been the focus of the city and provides the framework which continues to provide us with the facilities and freedoms that we Missourians enjoy.
The third symbolic image is that of a steamboat with the name of the steamer emblazoned on its side, Iatan. Few if any of us recognize the symbolism of this steamer.
The steamer Iatan was built in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1858 for Capt. H.S. Eaton and others for the Missouri River trade. During its brief lifespan, it served on the Missouri, Mississippi and White rivers and was dismantled in 1868.
Missouri entered the Union as a slave state with most of the early settlers of the area along the Missouri River originating from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas. The counties along the north side of the Missouri River, from Callaway County westward to Clay and Jackson counties, were strongly pro-southern and generally known as Little Dixie. Strongest resistance from southern sympathizers during the Civil War would come from the Little Dixie counties.
In the months of October and November in 1860, the year preceding the secession of the southern states, meetings were held locally and at county level to decide whether they would prefer to remain with the Union or secede should war come. Almost universally, these counties voted to remain with the Union. In February 1861, a constitutional convention was elected to amend the Missouri Constitution and decide the matter of secession. In March 1961, the convention voted 98-1 to remain with the Union and not to supply arms to either side should war break out.
With the imminent approach of the Civil War, the recently elected governor of Missouri, Claiborne Fox Jackson, and a previous governor, Sterling Price, had a bill passed in the Legislature which created a force responsive to state government. That force was located in the St. Louis area for the purpose of capturing the armory at St. Louis and providing those arms to the Confederate cause. The plot, known as the Jackson Affair, failed and the violence that ensued was ended only after martial law was imposed.
On June 11, 1861, Gen. Lyon met with Jackson and Price at the Planter’s House hotel in St. Louis. They argued for four hours before Lyon abruptly ended the meeting, declaring that “this means war.” Jackson and Price returned to the state capital at Jefferson City and then fled northwest to join newly assembled State Guard troops near Boonville. In response, Gen. Lyon commandeered two steamboats named the Swan and Iatan, and advanced with a large contingent of federal troops upriver in pursuit of Jackson and Price. Nine companies of the Second Regiment Missouri Volunteers under Col. Boernstein were onboard the steamer Iatan and were landed on June 15, 1861, at Jefferson City.
A correspondent for the magazine, “Harper’s Weekly” was aboard the steamer Iatan and reported the following: “On the morning of the 15th, ten miles below Jefferson City, General Lyon transferred his regulars to the IATAN, and proceeded with that boat, leaving the SWAN to follow in his wake. A bar has formed at the regular landing, and we were obliged to run out our gang plank below the penitentiary. The steep, rough bank prevented the debarkation of our artillery, but the infantry scrambled up in fine style.” Gen. Lyon boarded the Swan and proceeded with the balance of his force on the Swan to engage Jackson at Boonville.
The Iatan symbolically represents mode of transportation that helped build the western states and the Union force which prevented the plot to deliver the state of Missouri to the Confederacy. The military force effectively preserved the Union in the state of Missouri and maintained the Union by occupation of the Capital for the balance of the Civil War.
The seal for the City of Jefferson was created by Rebecca Kurtz and accepted by the city on Dec. 22, 1982.
Wayne Johnson is a Jefferson City native and retired engineer and chemist. For the past two decades, he has worked closely with local historical societies, locating cemeteries, setting up websites, digital imaging, search and retrieval of those images and now compiling histories of people, places and events in Callaway and Cole counties’ early history.