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University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Briggs, Ansel
(February 3, 1806–May 3, 1881)

–first governor of the state of Iowa—was born in Vermont, the son of Benjamin and Electa Briggs. He attended Vermont's common schools and one term at Norwich Academy. In 1830 Ansel moved with his parents to Cambridge, Guernsey County, Ohio, where he became active in establishing and operating stage lines. At that stage of his life he also ran unsuccessfully for county auditor. In 1836, after moving to Davenport, Iowa, he was instrumental in contracting with the post office to establish routes and get the mail delivered between Dubuque, Davenport, and Iowa City. Briggs was so intent on creating a safe route for stage lines in the West that he often drove the stage himself to establish the best route.

    After moving to Andrew, he became deputy auditor of Jackson County. He owned many lots–almost half the town–and was extremely interested in the development of the county. In 1842 Briggs was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives. In 1844 he was elected sheriff of Jackson County and served one term. After Iowa became a state in 1846, he was nominated for governor on the Democratic ticket. He defeated Whig Thomas McKnight of Dubuque in the general election by 247 votes. Even after being elected governor, he maintained his residence in Andrew, although he sold his mail routes in order to concentrate on the issues before him.

    His term as the first governor of Iowa was from 1846 to 1850. Although some had doubted his ability to serve, under his guidance the state government was organized, he skillfully managed the controversial Missouri border situation, and the free school system was created. He was so adamant about the value of the school system that he invested over $2,000 of his own money in the project.

    Ansel Briggs was married to Nancy Dunlap, and together they had eight children. Only two lived to adulthood, and one of them died at the age of 25. After Nancy's death during his term as governor, he married Frances Carpenter. They had no children together.

    Briggs developed a reputation for dedication, frugality, and honesty and continued to be respected long after his term as governor was over. He became ill in 1881 and died on May 3 at the home of his son, John, in Omaha. In 1909 the General Assembly provided for the erection of a monument in Andrew to "the stage driver who became Governor."
Sources The State Historical Society of Iowa in both Iowa City and Des Moines holds some Ansel Briggs papers. See also "Ansel Briggs," Iowa Historical Record 1 (1885), 145–52; Jacob A. Swisher, "The First State Governor," Palimpsest 27 (1946), 357–68; and Loren N. Horton and Timothy N. Hyde, Report: Ansel Briggs Project (1975).
Contributor: Diann M. Kilburg