Peter H. Engle

Peter Hill Engle (January 10, 1808 – February 7, 1844) was an American lawyer,[1] judge, and Iowa pioneer. He served as the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Wisconsin Territory after it was established, when it still contained the territory of the future states of Iowa and Minnesota. He later served as a judge of the St. Louis County, Missouri, Court of Common Pleas from 1841 until his death.

The Honorable
Peter H. Engle
Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for St. Louis County
In office
February 5, 1841 – February 7, 1844
Appointed byThomas Reynolds
1st Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Wisconsin Territory
In office
October 25, 1836 – November 6, 1837
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byIsaac Leffler
Representative to the Legislative Assembly of the Wisconsin Territory from Dubuque County
In office
October 25, 1836 – November 26, 1838
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Personal details
Peter Hill Engle

(1808-01-10)January 10, 1808
Chester, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedFebruary 7, 1844(1844-02-07) (aged 36)
St. Louis, Missouri
Resting placeBellefontaine Cemetery
St. Louis, Missouri
Political partyDemocratic
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/serviceWisconsin Territorial Militia
Years of service1836–1838


Engle was born in Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, in 1808. He moved to Dubuque in 1836 and was one of the first lawyers in the county. This region was then part of the Michigan Territory, but was just beginning to transition to the newly designated Wisconsin Territory. An election was held to establish a territorial legislature and select a congressional delegate. In all, the Iowa District, that is, the portion of the Wisconsin Territory west of the Mississippi River, sent twelve delegates. Engle, although he had only been in the county for five months, was elected as one of Dubuque County's five representatives to the first Legislative Assembly.[2]

Wisconsin AssemblyEdit

At the assembly, held in Belmont, then part of Iowa County, in the fall of 1836, Engle was elected as the Speaker for the 1st session of the legislature.[3] He was also appointed Colonel of the territorial militia by Governor Henry Dodge.[2] As a member of the Assembly, he was part of a commission which made the selection and purchase of the collection for the first library of the Wisconsin Territory, funded by a $5,000 appropriation from Congress. After the separation of Iowa from Wisconsin, the library, located in Iowa, became the property of the Iowa Territory.[4]

Engle's Dubuque delegation had been elected on a platform of pursuing a capitol near Dubuque, on the western bank of the Mississippi River, and attempting to forestall a division of the territory. They were unsuccessful on both priorities, as the Des Moines delegation broke with them and secured a temporary capitol at Burlington, then in Des Moines County. After the failure of their initial platform, Hill was one of the delegates, to the 1837 Burlington Convention which laid out recommendations for a new Iowa Territory composed of the western half of the Wisconsin Territory. In June 1838, the Iowa Territory was officially established by Congress as a separate entity from the Wisconsin Territory.

1838 Iowa congressional electionEdit

Just days after separation, Engle announced he would run for delegate to the 26th United States Congress on behalf of the new territory, to succeed his friend George Wallace Jones, who had been elected the representative of the Wisconsin Territory for the previous congress. Engle was aided by allies of Jones in the local press, which accused his main Democratic rival, William W. Chapman, of being unsupportive of the Democratic agenda in Washington, D.C. Letters between Jones and Wisconsin territorial governor Henry Dodge also demonstrate their personal dislike for Chapman.[5]

There would ultimately be nine candidates in the race, but, in addition to Engle and Chapman, only two others campaigned seriously for the role—fellow-Democrat David Rorer and Whig candidate Benjamin F. Wallace. Engle had the strong support of the northern counties as he made an issue of the southern representatives' betrayal of Dubuque in the Wisconsin Assembly.[5]

He was seen as a strong favorite to win the election that summer, but his campaign was derailed by an incident in August, when he nearly drowned in the Wapsipinicon River.[2] His life was saved by a passing American Indian, but he was sick from the incident and unable to campaign for the final weeks before the election, held on September 10, 1838. A rumor spread that he had died from the incident and he ultimately fell 36 votes short of Chapman.[6][7]


Shortly after the election, Engle left the Iowa Territory for Missouri, settling in St. Louis. In July 1839, he is seen as one of the co-signers on a letter of support for Missouri's Democratic U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton.[8] Again, in Missouri, Engle became involved in public affairs, and, in 1841, he was appointed Judge of Common Pleas for St. Louis County by Governor Thomas Reynolds.[9] In 1843, he along with other "northern" Democrats supportive of Benton and former President Martin Van Buren started a partisan newspaper, the St. Louis Standard to advocate their politics.[10]

Judge Engle died in St. Louis, February 7, 1844, at age 36, after an illness of several months. He was interred at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.[11]

Electoral historyEdit

Iowa Territory's At-Large Congressional District Election, 1838[7]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
General Election, September 10, 1838
Democratic William W. Chapman 1,490 33.32%
Democratic Peter H. Engle 1,454 32.51%
Whig Benjamin F. Wallace 913 20.42%
Democratic David Rorer 605 13.53%
Independent Lawrence Taliaferro 3 0.07%
Whig William H. Wallace 3 0.07%
Whig Isaac Leffler 2 0.04%
Independent H. Craighton 1 0.02%
Independent John Foley 1 0.02%
Total votes 4,472 100.0%
Democratic win (new seat)


  1. ^ Stiles, Edward H. (July 1912). Harlan, Edgar R. (ed.). "Prominent Men of Early Iowa: Associate Justice Thomas S. Wilson". The Annals of Iowa. Vol. 10 no. 6. Des Moines, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa. p. 440. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Oldt, Franklin T., ed. (1911). History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association. pp. 251, 323–326, 448. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  3. ^ Heg, J. E., ed. (1882). "Annals of the Legislature". The Blue Book of the State of Wisconsin (Report). State of Wisconsin. pp. 161–174. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  4. ^ Brigham, Johnson (October 1912). Harlan, Edgar R. (ed.). "Pioneer History of the Territorial and State Library of Iowa". The Annals of Iowa. Vol. 10 no. 7. Des Moines, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa. pp. 482–483. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Colton, Kenneth E. (Spring 1838). "W. W. Chapman, Delegate to Congress From Iowa Territory". The Annals of Iowa. Vol. 21 no. 4. pp. 283–296. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  6. ^ Johnson, Jack T. (September 1, 1938). "Pioneer and Politician". The Palimpsest. Vol. 19 no. 9. pp. 350–359. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Pelzer, Louis (1908). Shambaugh, Benjamin F. (ed.). "The History and Principles of the Democratic Party of the Territory of Iowa". Iowa Journal of History and Politics. Vol. 6 no. 1. Iowa City, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa. p. 10. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  8. ^ "Political". Niles National Register. St. Louis. November 23, 1839. p. 15. Retrieved May 15, 2020 – via
  9. ^ "Appointments by the Governor". Boon's Lick Times. Fayette, Missouri. February 27, 1841. p. 3. Retrieved May 15, 2020 – via
  10. ^ "The St. Louis correspondent of the Madisonian gives the following as the names of the individuals who have control of the 'St. Louis Standard,' the organ of the Van Buren, Benton, hard money dynasty in this state". Boon's Lick Times. Fayette, Missouri. August 5, 1843. p. 2. Retrieved May 15, 2020 – via
  11. ^ "Death of Judge Engle of St. Louis". The Radical. Bowling Green, Missouri. February 24, 1844. p. 2. Retrieved May 15, 2020 – via