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Henry Hastings Sibley, first governor of the U.S. state of Minnesotamarker, was born in Detroit, Michiganmarker on February 20, 1811. He was the son of Judge Solomon Sibley (1769 1846) and Sarah Whipple (Sproat) Sibley, and the grandson of Reuben and Ruth (Sibley) Sibley, and of Col. Ebenezer and Catherine (Whipple) Sproat. He was a descendant of John Sibley, who sailed from England in Winthrop's fleet in 1629, and settled in Salem, Massachusettsmarker.

Early life

Sibley's House at St. Peter, now Mendota
's father, a native of Sutton, Massachusettsmarker, moved to Detroit, Michiganmarker in 1797, where he became prominent in the early history of the city and state. Henry studied law in his father's office, and, in 1828, was employed in a mercantile house in Sault Ste.marker Mariemarker. From 1829 1834 he was a supply-purchasing agent of the American Fur Company at Mackinacmarker. In 1834, Sibley became a partner in the company and relocated to their headquarters in St. Peter's (now called Mendotamarker), Minnesotamarker, where he lived from 1834 1862.

In 1836, Sibley built the first stone house in Minnesota in Mendota overlooking Fort Snelling. On May 2, 1843, Sibley married Sarah Jane Steele, daughter of General James and Mary (Hume) Steele, who lived at Fort Snellingmarker. The political boundaries changed so frequently in the period from 1836 through 1862 that although all of Sibley's children were born in this house, they were all born in different political units: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota Territory and finally, Minnesota State.In 1862, he moved to St. Paul, Minnesotamarker.

Political career

Sarah Jane Steele Sibley
started his political career in 1838 when he was appointed the first Justice of the Peace west of the Mississippi River by the governor of Iowa Territory, John Chambers. He was elected a delegate from Wisconsin Territory to the 30th congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John H. Tweedy. He served in the 30th, 31st, and 32nd congresses from January 15, 1849 to March 4, 1853. His influence in the 30th Congress included causing a part of Wisconsinmarker and a tract west of the Mississippi River to be separated as the Territory of Minnesota. He was a member of the territorial legislature, convened from January to March 1855, as the representative of Dakota Countymarker. He was a member of the Democratic wing of the first Minnesota constitutional convention assembled July 13, 1857, which resulted in adoption of the constitution as framed on October 13, 1857. He was elected as the first governor of the state and served from May 24, 1858, until January 2, 1860. After narrowly defeating Republican Alexander Ramsey in the first state gubernatorial contest, Sibley declared in his inaugural address, "I have no object and no interests which are not inseparably bound up with the welfare of the state." He did not seek reelection.

Railroad bond issue

When directed by the legislature to issue bonds to the railroads, he refused as the railroads did not give priority of lien on their property to the state. He was then ordered by the supreme court to issue state bonds to railroads, and was also requested to market the bonds in New Yorkmarker. Although he made an effort to do, as the capitalists refused to buy them, they were subsequently repudiated by the state.

Military career

In uniform
The U.S. Dakota War of 1862In 1862, he was appointed colonel of the state militia, and was sent up the Minnesota River to protect the exposed points from the Sioux Indians. After the massacre at Actonmarker, August 18, 1862, he was involved in the following engagements:

This last engagement was a decisive battle and resulted in the release of about 250 white settlers and the capture of 2,000 Indians of both sexes. Of these captives, 321 were tried for capital crimes and 303 were condemned to die; thirty-eight of whom were hanged at Mankatomarker, December 26, 1862. He was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers, September 29, 1862, for "gallantry in the field." He established his headquarters at St. Paul and created a new military department which included Minnesotamarker, Dakota Territory, Iowamarker, and Wisconsinmarker, all of which he fortified with posts and garrisons. He led a second successful expedition against the Sioux in Dakota Territory in 1863, including the battles of Big Mound (July 24), Dead Buffalo Lake (July 26), and Stony Lake (July 28).

He was employed in conducting measures for the defense of the western frontier, 1864 1865, and, on November 29, 1865, was brevetted as major-general of the volunteers for "efficient and meritorious services." He was relieved from the command of the district of Minnesota in August, 1866.

Post-military career

After being relieved of command, he was active in settling several Indian treaties. Upon reentering business life in St. Paul, he served as president of the chamber of commerce, as well as the president of several railroads, banks, and other large corporations. He became a member of the Minnesota Historical Society in 1849—eventually serving as president. He also became a member of the Old Settlers' association of that state in 1858, and of the board of visitors to the U.S. Military academy in 1867. He was also president of the board of regents of the University of Minnesotamarker, president of the Board of Indian Commissioners from 1875 1876, and received an honorary LL.D. from the College of New Jersey, in 1888. He also contributed to the collections of the Minnesota Historical society, to Spirit of the Times, and to Turf, Field and Farm.

He died in St. Paul, Minnesotamarker, on February 18, 1891.


Sibley is memorialized in numerous places including: Sibley County, Minnesotamarker, Sibley, North Dakotamarker, Sibley, Iowamarker, Hastings, Minnesotamarker, Sibley State Parkmarker, and Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, Minnesotamarker.


  1. Wisconsin Magazine Of History Archives
  2. History of Wisconsin - Chapter 2 - Wisconsin as a Territory

External links

  • Retrieved on 2008-12-01

See also


  • Pedersen, Kern, Makers of Minnesota: An Illustrated History of the Builders of Our State. St. Paul: Minnesota Territorial Centennial (1949)

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