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Anyone who’s ever served on a committee can relate to the old laugh line: A committee is a group of people who keep minutes and waste hours.
Such was not the case, however, in 1820 when 10 Hoosier men were named to a committee to find a new state capital.
They were focused, efficient and prescient.
Traveling from different counties in southern Indiana, they met at the home of William Conner on the west fork of White River near present-day Noblesville. From there they headed out to scour the middle section of the state.
A clerk accompanied them to record their proceedings. Each received an allowance: $2 a day and $2 for every 25 miles traveled.
Their official business resembled a camping trip more than a meeting. In preparation for the task, Joseph Bartholomew of Clark County wrote to John Tipton of Harrison County: “You inform me you are preparing a tent to carry on our route to White River. That is very well, and in order that I may not be entirely dependent, I will carry the coffee kettle ... As for the cooking I know you was formerly a very good cook and if you have forgotten I can learn you.”
From May 22 to June 7, the committee surveyed land options before settling on an area “at the mouth of Fall Creek ... 83 miles from Madison, 108 miles from Corydon, 107 miles from Vincennes and 71 miles from Terre Haute.”
Within a year, the area they described would be dubbed Indianapolis.
At the time, the capital was in Corydon, but from the earliest days of statehood Indiana’s framers expected to move it northward as settlers headed that way, populating former Native American lands. The state constitution set Corydon as the capital only until 1825. An 1816 Enabling Act granted land for a new capital “on such lands as may hereafter be acquired by the United States from the Indian tribes within the said territory.”
In October 1818, U.S. Treaty Commissioners Jonathan Jennings, Lewis Cass and Benjamin Parke met in St. Mary’s, Ohio, with Delaware and Miami tribal leaders and negotiated the “New Purchase” treaty. The tribes gave up their claims on the middle third of Indiana in exchange for promises of annuities, other economic assistance and bushels of salt.
The treaty cleared the way for the Indiana General Assembly to go capital hunting.
On Nov. 29, 1820, the committee delivered its final report to lawmakers: “In discharging their duty to the state, the undersigned have endeavored to connect with an eligible site the advantages of a navigable stream and fertility of soil while they have not been unmindful of the geographical situation of the various portions of the state to its political center, as it regards both the present and future interests of its citizens.”
On Jan. 6, 1821, the Legislature approved the state’s new political center.
The next task was to pick a name for this seat of Indiana government. Although Indianapolis seems obvious now (“polis” means city), it was not without controversy.
Needless to say, the name stuck.
Although the state Constitution expressly prohibited it, slavery existed in early Indiana. Two court cases filed by enslaved black women put an end to the practice.
In the early 19th century, Polly Strong and Mary Clark challenged prevailing attitudes to claim their civil rights as U.S. and Indiana citizens.
In a legal sense, slavery was always forbidden in Indiana. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery’s spread north of the Ohio River into the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
In practice, slavery was accepted by leading citizens. Pioneers moving to Indiana from Virginia or Kentucky, where slavery was legal, considered slaves property and brought them along, sometimes as “indentured servants” whose contracts exceeded their life spans. The 1810 census counted 237 slaves and 393 free blacks in the Indiana Territory.
Any questions about their status should have been settled by the Constitution of 1816, which declared, “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for the punishment of crimes.” But it took two lawsuits to enforce the constitutional protection.
Strong had been a slave since birth and became the property of Hyacinth Lasselle of Vincennes around 1808. Lasselle was a tavern keeper and an officer in the Indiana militia. After Indiana became a state, Strong filed for her freedom in Knox County Circuit Court.
Judge Jonathan Doty’s ruling reflected the attitudes of many who lived in the former territorial capital: Strong was Lasselle’s property because she was born into slavery and had come legally into his possession.
The Indiana Supreme Court ordered Strong be freed. “It is evident that ... the framers of our Constitution intended a total and entire prohibition of slavery in this state; and we can conceive of no form of words in which that intention could have been more clearly expressed.”
In 1821, Mary Clark's case came to the state’s high court, and again the court minced no words.
Clark was born circa 1801 and purchased in Kentucky by B.J. Harrison who took her to Vincennes in 1815. Harrison freed Clark from slavery and signed her to a personal services contract — an indenture — of 30 years.
In 1816, Harrison’s uncle, G.W. Johnston, purchased Clark’s indenture for $350 and employed her as his housemaid. Johnston had served in the Territorial House of Representatives and as territorial attorney general.
In 1821, Clark asked the Knox Circuit Court to cancel her indenture because she had been forced to serve it. Johnston claimed she had signed a contract of her “own free will.”
Although the trial court sided with Johnston, the Indiana Supreme Court found Clark’s service was involuntary in violation of the 1816 Constitution.
The ruling set important precedents. Nationally, the case was a turning point that led to a new understanding of indentured servitude as a form of slavery.
In the rough-and-tumble world of frontier politics, Jonathan Jennings experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Jennings, Indiana’s first governor, was credited with pushing Indiana from territory to statehood, defeating an old guard loyal to William Henry Harrison and insisting the 19th* state would not have slavery.
By the time of his death at age 50, Jennings had suffered political defeat, debt and health problems caused by years of alcohol abuse. He was buried in an unmarked grave and forgotten by history until the 1893 Legislature arranged for a tombstone.
“He was so instrumental in Indiana's statehood,” says Bill Brockman, former manager of the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site. Most memorable, says Brockman, was his rivalry with Harrison, the Indiana territorial governor and military hero who oversaw much of Indiana’s progression toward statehood. The two had different views of what Indiana should become.
“Harrison was generally pro-slavery and anti-statehood while Jennings was just the opposite,” Brockman explains. “Jennings’ faction won out and changed the course of Indiana's future.”
Ironically, Harrison’s popularity as a military hero put him in position to become president of the United States in 1841 (albeit for 31 days) while Jennings’ alcoholism cost him his career. By 1831, “the once premier Hoosier politician ... found himself without a public office,” wrote biographer Randy Mills.
Historians consider Jennings Indiana’s first professional politician. Although he owned a farm, his income came from government service from the time he moved to Indiana from Pennsylvania in 1806 to his last unsuccessful run for Congress.
While living in Vincennes, Jennings found work as a clerk in a federal land office, and planned career moves. He soon realized options were limited in the Harrison-dominated capital so he moved to Jeffersonville, where more citizens shared his political views.
In his first campaign for territorial delegate to Congress, his supporters attacked the Harrison faction as aristocratic and pro-slavery. The latter was a fair charge due to the territory’s Indentured Servant Act, which essentially legalized slavery by permitting contracts with servants that exceeded their life expectancy. The message resonated with voters.
“The 1809 Indiana territorial election for congressional representative featured one of the biggest political upsets in the region’s history,” Mills wrote. Jennings defeated Harrison’s choice: Thomas Randolph, “a 38-year-old Virginian of great refinement.” Jennings was 25.
For the next two decades, Jennings enjoyed spectacular success. He was re-elected territorial delegate in 1811, 1812 and 1814, and he presided over the 1816 convention that drafted the state’s first constitution.
* This column has been changed from the original. Indiana was the 19th state admitted to the Union, on Dec. 11, 1816.
It’s a date every Hoosier should know: Dec. 11, 1816. On that day, Indiana became the 19th state.
We've been observing it formally since 1925, when the Indiana General Assembly passed a law requiring the governor to “issue a proclamation annually designating the eleventh day of December as Indiana Day.”
Indiana Code 1-1-10-1 encourages public schools and citizens to celebrate “in appropriate and patriotic observance of the anniversary of the admission of the state of Indiana into the Union.”
Statehood was the culmination of a lengthy process, set out in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, through which territories proved they had enough population — 60,000 “free white inhabitants” — and enough political experience to govern themselves.
Among the final steps: Petitioning Congress for statehood, passage of an enabling act by Congress, drafting of a state constitution in June 1816 and Aug. 5 elections of state and local officials and U.S. representative.
“A spirited campaign for the governorship was waged between Jonathan Jennings and Thomas Posey,” note the historians John Barnhart and Dorothy Riker in "The History of Indiana." Jennings won by a vote of 5,211 to 3,934 and took office on Nov. 7. He served two terms, and was later elected to Congress.
Voters elected 29 representative and 10 senators to the first General Assembly. Most of the winners had political experience as delegates to the constitutional convention or as members of the territorial legislature. Their introductory session began Nov. 4 in the new state capitol building in Corydon. The first order of business was to select the men who would serve as secretary of state, auditor and U.S. senators — positions that would not be chosen by popular vote until the 20th century.
On Dec. 11, President James Madison signed into law the congressional resolution admitting Indiana to the union “on an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatever.” That day has been considered Indiana’s birthday ever since.
If the typical Hoosier does little to celebrate this landmark date, our younger citizens make up for our oversight. Indiana history is taught in fourth grade classrooms, and many students take part in the Statehood Day Essay Contest, which takes place every year in the fall with finalists invited to the Statehouse for a ceremony in the Rotunda.
Corydon is an especially popular field trip destination because its historic buildings tell the story of Indiana’s infancy. The original Federal-style capitol still stands on East Walnut Street; its 40-foot square walls were made of limestone from local quarries, testament to what would become a significant Indiana industry.
Corydon remained the state capital until 1825, when the seat of government moved north to Indianapolis, and the capitol building became the Harrison County Courthouse. The building was restored and opened as a state historic site in 1930.
James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and colleagues spent almost four months debating, writing and editing the document that would become the U.S. Constitution. It took James Brownlee, Benjamin Parke and associates only 18 days to write Indiana’s.
The framing of our first constitution represented the final step in a lengthy and sometimes controversial process that advanced Indiana from frontier territory to full-fledged state. Territorial leaders had hoped Indiana would be admitted to the Union earlier, following a process laid out in the Northwest Ordinance, but financial difficulties and the War of 1812 intervened. By 1816, Indiana was back at bat.
Congress passed an enabling act on April 19, 1816, providing for a May election of delegates to a state constitutional convention. The representatives were to meet the next month in the territorial capital of Corydon. They gathered on June 10, 1816.
“As a group they were men of high quality,” according to an account by the Indiana Historical Bureau.
Patrick Henry Shields was one of them. Educated at Hampton-Sydney College and William and Mary’s law school in Virginia, Shields moved to Indiana around 1804 and served as a judge. He was a private under William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe.
John Boone of Harrison County was Daniel Boone’s brother. Jeremiah Cox of Wayne County was a blacksmith. William Eads of Franklin County was a banker and postmaster.
Two future governors were selected to lead the convention: Jonathan Jennings as president and William Hendricks as secretary.
Their first task, as required by the enabling act, was to determine whether to proceed immediately toward statehood. On June 11, after considerable discussion, the delegates voted 34-8 for Ezra Ferris’s resolution declaring it “expedient, at this time, to proceed to form a Constitution and state government.”
Unlike the Philadelphia delegates, who parsed every clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Corydon convention worked quickly. Most of Indiana’s constitution was copied from the constitutions of Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The convention cost taxpayers $3,076, with $200 spent on printing and stitching the Constitution and journals, $41.50 on books and stationery and $27.50 for tables and benches.
When they weren’t sitting on benches, the delegates could be found under an elm tree. Construction of the State Capitol building was not quite finished, and the log cabin that served as territorial headquarters was miserably hot, so the delegates took their discussions outdoors.
The tree, with leafy branches spanning 130 feet, was dubbed the Constitution Elm and became a symbol of Indiana’s founding.
In 1925, despite efforts to save it, the tree died from Dutch elm disease. The branches were cut into souvenirs. The trunk was coated in black creosote and preserved inside a sandstone monument.
It’s little wonder that today’s political discourse is polarized. The folks doing most of the arguing know so little about the past that they cannot justify their views with historical evidence or data. So they appeal to emotion, name calling, stereotypes and hyperbole.
Indiana state Sen. Mike Delph used his Twitter account to debate HJR 3, a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman. He was immediately attacked by fellow Tweeters as a hater, a bigot and “delusional.”
Name-calling isn’t new. Look at accounts of the election of 1800 and you’ll find nasty rhetoric from supporters of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams weren’t very nice in 1828 either. What’s new is the complete lack of historic perspective on the part of the name-callers.
In a speech last year, the historian Gary W. Gallagher said, “Ignorance about the American past gets in the way of fruitful public debate about current issues of surpassing importance. This ignorance affects what passes for discussion of politics and other issues on the 24-hour news channels, on the Internet and in newspapers. A shrill tone often dominates in all of these settings, frequently set up by ‘analysis’ that is strikingly uninformed.”
The immigration debate is one such example, he said. On one side, opponents argue that illegal immigrants are an economic drain; on the other side that they are an economic contributor. One side says they take jobs no one else wants; the other side that they take jobs away from U.S. citizens.
“Often lost is awareness that percentages of foreign-born residents are not remarkably high right now,” Gallagher said. During the 1890s, about 15 percent of the U.S. population was born outside the United States. Today the percentage is 12.9. Throughout America history, there have been periods of heavy immigration (the early 1900s, 1910s, and 1990s), but over time numbers rise and fall somewhat cyclically.
This is the kind of knowledge that makes for informed and scholarly debate. But few Americans can claim anything close to historic or civic literacy.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests student knowledge in various subjects every few years. In 2010, only 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors were considered grade-level proficient in American history.
Sad to say, both American history and civics education are losing ground in our nation’s schools because neither subject is considered essential by policymakers.
An informed public is the best antidote to polarized and uncivil discourse, yet as Gallagher, and so many others have warned, we are moving in the wrong direction.
Three states claim Abraham Lincoln as a favorite son, but only Indiana can take credit for his formative years.
During this period, Lincoln handled an ax “almost constantly,” as he himself recalled. He read voraciously. He practiced carpentry, even helping his father build a coffin for his mother. He took a ferry to New Orleans on business and witnessed a slave auction that troubled his soul. He listened and learned from political debates at the local general store.
“Many of the character traits and moral values that made Abraham one of the world’s most respected leaders were formed and nurtured here,” according to National Park Service historians at the Lincoln Boyhood Home Memorial.
The site is Indiana’s most significant tribute to the 16th president, preserving some of the original acreage where Lincoln lived from age 7 to 21.
Lincoln's Indiana years began in late 1816, just as Indiana became a state, when Thomas and Nancy Lincoln moved with their son and daughter from Kentucky to Spencer County, which was still a forested wilderness. The Lincolns built the first of several cabins on a knoll in the midst of a 160-acre claim near Little Pigeon Creek, and Abe and his father set about clearing land to ready it for planting. “It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods,” Lincoln wrote.
The family had been in Indiana two years when Lincoln’s mother contracted a fatal case of milk sickness. The illness was caused by drinking milk or eating meat from a cow that has ingested a toxic plant called white snakeroot.
In 1819, Thomas Lincoln went back to Kentucky to marry a widow, Sarah Bush Johnston, and the two returned to Indiana with her three children in tow. She also brought a small library, including Aesop’s Fables, "Robinson Crusoe," "Pilgrim’s Progress" and "Sinbad the Sailor."
Those stories inspired Lincoln, as did Parson Weems’ "The Life of Washington" and Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, which demonstrated the sacrifices the founding fathers had made to create the United States. Lincoln received only a year or two of formal schooling. His stepmother encouraged him in his attempts to better himself, which he did by studying books and practicing oratory.
In 1830, Thomas Lincoln moved his family again, this time to Illinois in pursuit of more productive farmland. Abe struck out on his own, settling first in New Salem and later Springfield, where he enjoyed a successful law practice. In 1834, he launched a political career that would take him from the Illinois Legislature to the White House.
A strong work ethic. A love of learning. A clear sense of right and wrong. A gift for gab and the intellect to back it up. Lincoln’s formative years prepared him well for the Civil War that would consume his presidency.
For one shining moment in the early 19th century, a group called the Harmonists achieved utopia on the Wabash River. Two hundred years later, their experiment continues to inspire visitors to New Harmony, Ind.
Founded in 1814 by 800 German Pietists and carefully ordered by their leader George Rapp, New Harmony was an exercise in both religious freedom and economic innovation.
Residents believed they were God’s chosen people and devoted themselves to preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. They renounced private property and practiced celibacy.
Unlike other millennialists, who abandoned worldly activities and took to the rooftops to wait for Jesus, the Rappites felt called to create a good and just society on Earth.
“That is still the lesson of New Harmony,” says Connie A. Weinzapfel, director of Historic New Harmony. “How do people come together for the success of the town where they live?”
By modern standards, the Harmonists were successful indeed. In the course of a decade, they built more than 180 log, frame and brick structures, including community centers, a granary, a tavern and a church. At its peak the Harmonie Society had close to 900 members.
The Harmonists grew crops and raised merino sheep, planted vineyards and orchards, established a library and school and started businesses that made pottery, shoes, cloth and rope. “Their economy was balanced and nearly self-sufficient, and it was very profitable,” writes the historian James Madison in "The Indiana Way."
The architecture was especially notable at a time when 70 percent of their frontier neighbors lived in one-room log cabins. A typical Harmonist family dwelling was a two-story frame and brick home modeled after the traditional German hall-kitchen design known as flurkuchenhaus.
Rapp and his followers immigrated to the United States in 1803 after being persecuted in Germany for their pietist and pacifist views. The group initially settled in Pennsylvania, but they outgrew that property and wanted better shipping access, so they moved west and acquired 20,000 acres on the Wabash River in what was still the Indiana Territory.
Citing scriptural reasons, Rapp decided to move the community back east to the Pittsburg area in 1824. He sold the town for $135,000 to Robert Owen, a wealthy industrialist of Welsh descent, and William Maclure, a Scottish philanthropist.
The two were seeking a ready-made location to launch their own utopian experiment — this one secular and socialist. It lasted only two years, likely because there was little incentive for people to work and no religious commitment to bind them together.
Owen's children remained in Indiana and helped create a culturally and scientifically vibrant community that thrived until the 1850s. Many years later the wife of Owen descendant Kenneth Dale Owen was influential in restoring landmarks from both utopian experiments.
On Sept. 3, 1812, a Native American war party killed more than 20 settlers living in a wooded outpost near present-day Scottsburg. Motivated by bounties offered by the British, the perpetrators scalped women and children, torched their log cabins and left the village in ashes.
The massacre at Pigeon Roost is the most notorious example of frontier violence in Indiana history. To this day, it is shrouded in mystery.
This much is clear: The massacre left settlers on guard as the War of 1812 raged in their own backyard.
The United States had declared war on Great Britain in June 1812 in response to British harassment of American ships, occupation of forts and alleged incitement of Native Americans in the Old Northwest, including Indiana. Indians generally sided with the British, and were encouraged after the fall of Detroit to conduct raids on pioneer settlements throughout the Midwest.
Pigeon Roost was one such place, named after passenger pigeons that used the area as a roosting site where they fertilized the soil and provided a plentiful poultry supply. The village was founded in 1809 by Revolutionary War soldier William E. Collings, who had moved north from Kentucky with family and friends.
Early histories of the episode seem culturally biased if not inflammatory — by 2014 sensibilities. Lizzie Coleman’s 1904 History of the Pigeon Roost Massacre referred to “bands of savage redskins.” George Cottman’s 1915 Centennial History and Handbook of Indiana described the massacre as “the most diabolical event in our Indian history.”
Some believe Pigeon Roost was a random but easy target because most men were away in the military service of Gen. William Henry Harrison, which left remaining residents vulnerable to attack. Some say Pigeon Roost was specifically chosen by the war party of mostly Shawnees.
"A 1909 History of Clark County," by Lewis Baird, claimed bad blood existed between the Collings family and local Indians because “the Collins [sic] boys had stolen a fawn from the Indians and refused to give it up.” The elder Collings was home at the time of the massacre and provided the only armed resistance to the Native Americans, killing at least two of them.
In 1888, the Indiana Historical Society published an account of the incident by Judge Isaac Naylor, a member of the Indiana Territory militia, who had arrived at the site the following day.
“Oh, what a mournful scene of desolation, carnage and death met our vision as we beheld the smoking ruins of log cabins and the mangled bodies of men and women and children,” Naylor wrote.
A monument commemorating the victims was dedicated in 1904 and became a state historic site in 1929.
Following the massacre, settlers in the areas of Clark, Scott, Jefferson, Harrison and Knox counties lived in a state of fear until the Treaty of Ghent ended war with England on Dec. 24, 1814. For frontier men and women, the treaty symbolized the defeat of the Indians and the barrier they posed to westward expansion.
In the drizzling pre-dawn rain of Nov. 7, 1811, on high ground near modern-day Lafayette, Gen. William Henry Harrison squashed Tecumseh’s dream of an Indian confederacy that could resist the white man’s westward advances.
The Battle of Tippecanoe was a defining moment in U.S.-Native American relations. “It was on this spot the Native Americans lost their grip on the fertile Midwestern lands they had roamed for thousands of years,” according to interpreters at the Tippecanoe Battlefield national historic landmark.
Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, are familiar figures in Indiana history — Shawnee brothers who tried to unite 50 tribes into a coalition to oppose the U.S. government. Their base of operation was Prophet’s Town along the Wabash River, so named in honor of the younger brother’s role as a prophet or spiritual leader of his people.
Tecumseh wasn't present for the showdown. He was in the South recruiting other tribal nations to join his confederacy. Harrison was aware of Tecumseh’s absence when he marched 1,000 troops north from the territorial capital of Vincennes. His army set up camp where the Wabash River meets Tippecanoe Creek, about a mile west of the Indian settlement.
Most histories say Tenskwatawa was directed in a vision to conduct a sneak attack on Harrison’s camp, ignoring his brother’s warnings to avoid hostilities until his return. A more recent account suggests U.S. sentinels accidentally engaged warriors on night patrol.
By sunup, Americans claimed victory. The Indians “quit the battle and melted away into nothingness,” said historian Richard J. Reid. Harrison lost 37 men; Native American casualties were not recorded but deemed comparable.
Although the battle lasted a mere two hours, it had been brewing for two decades.
In 1795, after a decisive U.S. victory over Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Tecumseh refused to sign a treaty he considered outright theft of Indian lands in the Ohio region. The treaty opened up the Midwest to a flood of settlers.
In 1808, Tecumseh and his brother moved their headquarters from Ohio to Tippecanoe County (Keth-Tip-Pe-Can-Nunk) at the invitation of the Delaware and Potawatomi tribes living there.
In 1809, Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory, negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne that purchased 3 million acres from Delaware, Shawnee, Potawatomi and other tribes. This infuriated Tecumseh, who took a delegation of warriors to Vincennes in 1810 to meet with Harrison and demand the treaty be rescinded.
Tippecanoe became known as the opening salvo in the War of 1812, which pitted Great Britain against the infant United States. Tecumseh and most Native American groups fought with the British.
On Oct. 5, 1813, Harrison led U.S. troops against British and Native American fighters along the Thames River in Ontario, Canada. Tecumseh was killed on the battlefield, his vision of an effective Indian resistance movement dying with him.
In 1796, John James Dufour left his native Switzerland to seek a new life and opportunity in the United States. Less than a decade later, he opened the country’s first successful winemaking business – in southeastern Indiana.
It was still the Indiana Territory at that time, but the settlement would soon become the town of Vevay in Switzerland County. It was briefly a popular destination for Swiss immigrants fleeing revolutionary Europe.
Dufour had done his homework. As a teen, he studied viticulture and worked the family vineyards in Canton de Vaud, Switzerland. Upon his arrival in America, he visited private vineyards, including Thomas Jefferson’s at Monticello, to study grape types, soil and climate.
In an 1826 book detailing his experiences as a vintner, Dufour recalled the time he resolved to come to America.
“I was but 14; and I came to this determination by reading the newspapers, which were full of the American Revolutionary War and contained many letters from the officers of the French army aiding the republicans, which complained of the scarcity of the wine among them, in the midst of the greatest abundance of everything else ... By inspection of the maps, I saw that America was in the parallel of the best wine countries in the world — like Spain, south of France, Italy and Greece.”
Dufour initially settled near Lexington, Ky., and was joined by extended family members. There they planted 35 grape varieties, most of which fell victim to disease because they were European species not suited to American growing conditions.
Uncomfortable with legal slavery in Kentucky, the family moved to Indiana and tried again, dubbing the area “New Switzerland,” and this time focusing on the two grape varieties that had flourished in Kentucky: Cape and Madeira.
Congress in 1802 granted 2,500 acres to Dufour on credit, and he later bought 1,200 more for the community’s expanding vineyards. He resold parcels to other French-speaking Swiss, including Louis Gex Oboussier, who purchased a tract of 319 acres along Indian Creek, which was renamed Venoge by the Swiss after a river in their native land. The first wine was produced in 1806 or 1807 and sold in frontier cities including Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis.
In the end, the wine business did not prove economically viable. It was eclipsed by hay, which was in high demand as livestock feed and easy to load onto riverboats passing through Vevay on their way down the Ohio River.
Today the Musée de Venoge stands as a testament to southern Indiana’s once thriving grape culture. The farmhouse dates to about 1805 and is a rare example of French colonial architecture that would have been favored by the Swiss immigrants.
“It was slated to be burned down” in the mid 1990s when local preservationists stepped in to save it. “We realized it was an important piece of architecture in Switzerland County,” Donna Weaver says.
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson asked Meriwether Lewis to lead an exploration of the Louisiana Territory in search of a Northwest Passage. Lewis invited William Clark to join him. It would become one of the most famous partnerships in history, and it started in Indiana.
“When they shook hands, the Lewis and Clark expedition began,” wrote Stephen Ambrose in "Undaunted Courage," the best-selling account of the trans-continental journey.
Lewis was working at that time as Jefferson’s private secretary in Washington, D.C. Clark was living with his brother, George Rogers Clark, in Clarksville in the Indiana Territory.
The two met up in Clarksville on Oct. 14, 1803, and used the Clark cabin overlooking the Falls of the Ohio River as base camp while making final preparations. On Oct. 26, the duo and their initial crew members pushed off down the Ohio River in a keelboat and red canoe and headed west to St. Charles, Mo., the expedition’s official starting point.
“In practical terms the partnership of Lewis and Clark may be said to have begun during a 13-day interlude before they set out on Oct. 26,” says Stephanie Ambrose Tubbs, author of "The Lewis and Clark Companion."
Clark recruited the nucleus of the Corps of Discovery from the area around Clarksville and Louisville after being directed by Lewis “to find out and engage some good hunters, stout, healthy, unmarried men, accustomed to the woods, and capable of bearing bodily fatigue in a pretty considerable degree.”
One of those recruits was Sgt. Charles Floyd, after whom Floyd County is named. Floyd lived in Clarksville and was the first constable of Clarksville Township. His death on Aug. 20, 1804, near Sioux City, Iowa, likely from a ruptured appendix, was the only fatality among the 33 members in the permanent party of the 1804-06 expedition.
Two others had Indiana connections. Pfc. John Shields was the oldest enlisted man at 34 and a friend of Daniel Boone. His skills as a blacksmith and gunsmith were considered critical to the trip’s success. Afterward he settled near Corydon. He died in 1809 and was buried in Little Flock Cemetery in Harrison County.
William Bratton was a skilled hunter who moved to Indiana after the expedition and became active in military and government affairs. By 1822, Bratton and his wife lived in Waynetown and had 10 children. In 1824, he was appointed justice of the peace in Wayne Township and served as a local school superintendent. He died in 1841 and was buried in the Old Pioneer Cemetery in Montgomery County.
Indiana’s role in the expedition is often overlooked by historians, though Clark’s cabin and the crew’s departure site are popular attractions for Lewis and Clark enthusiasts. The Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville has an interpretive center where visitors can learn not only about Lewis and Clark but also the Devonian fossil beds exposed at the riverbank.
The park entry features 10-foot bronze figures of Lewis and Clark mounted on a 16.5-ton slab of Indiana limestone. The sculpture depicts the moment when Lewis and Clark greeted each other in Clarksville to begin their 8,000-mile trek.
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