State Archives celebrates Black History Month
New exhibit tells story of early African American family in Iowa

For immediate release February 20, 2008


Contact: Jeff Morgan,, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) – The State Archives is celebrating Black History Month with an exhibit about the family of Martha “Patsey” Triplett, an early African American in Iowa. 

The exhibit is on display in the State Historical Library & Archives Reading Room at the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines’ Historic East Village. The Reading Room is open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. More information is available at

“Not only does the exhibit celebrate Black History Month by telling the Triplett family history, it also showcases the rich, diverse historical collections available at the State Historical Society of Iowa,” said Cyndi Pederson, director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “Our staff incorporated state government records, manuscripts, photographs and publications as well as museum artifacts to showcase the wide variety of resources we offer.”

Archivist Sharon Avery, with assistance from Archives Associate Bruce Kreuger, created the exhibit after providing reference assistance to a Minnesota woman researching her family history. During that process, Avery discovered Triplett’s story – an African American woman, born a slave in Kentucky, who came to Iowa with her six sons soon after it became a territory.

The presence of an African American family living in Iowa in 1839 is notable – there were only 333 African Americans in Iowa according to the 1850 census. Triplett was one of only six African American women who owned real property in that year.

The exhibit tells how the Tripletts moved in April 1839 with the family of Indian agent Joseph M. Street from Prairie du Chien to the newly established Sauk and Fox Indian Agency in present-day Wapello County. The Tripletts stayed in the area after the agency closed and the area was opened to settlement in 1843.

In 1848, Triplett purchased two lots in the town of Agency. A decade later, she left Wapello County and moved to Keokuk. During the Civil War, three of the Triplett sons joined the 1st Iowa Colored Infantry – reorganized as the 60th U.S. Colored Infantry; one son died during the war.

Avery and Kreuger used a variety of SHSI holdings to create the exhibit: the original township survey plat that includes the location of the Sauk and Fox Indian Agency; a sketch of the Indian agent’s residence; a newspaper article; census records; property records; town plats; marriage records; military service records; grave registrations and other sources containing information about Triplett family members from ca.1800 to 1906.

“Anybody doing research at the State Historical Society might uncover a similar body of information about the history of his or her family,” Avery said.

The exhibit also includes a photograph of the regimental flag of the 1st Iowa Colored Infantry and model 1855 accoutrements – a leather cartridge box, cap pouch and belt such as those issued to soldiers of the unit.

The exhibit will be on display through March.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit or call 515-281-5111 for more information.

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