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Early History of Madison, Indiana

By John Vawter

Father, with six or eight other Kentuckians from Franklin and Scott counties, visited what was then called the New Purchase at a very early date. A part journeyed by land and a part by water. The land party crossed the Ohio River at Port William (Carrolton), the others descended the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers in a pirogue to a point opposite Milton. The pirogue answered the double purpose of carrying forward the provisions of the company and enabling the men to pass from one bank to another, swimming their horses alongside. The company made their headquarters in the river bottom in the western extremity of the city limits of Madison. In the day, the company divided into two parties, exploring the adjacent highlands to the head of Crooked creek and the neighboring lands of Clifty. They met at night and reported their discoveries. To Crooked creek, they gave the name of Mill creek; to Clifty, Hard Scrabble; but subsequently on learning the name of each stream, the red man's name prevailed with the settlers.

At that time, December, 1805, Elder Jesse Vawter selected the spot where Judge S. C. Stevens now resides on the hill. (This place is now, 1915, occupied by Dr. William R. Davidson.) He returned home and made every arrangement for taking possession of his new home early in the spring of 1806. He, with others, made the first settlement in and about Madison. Nearly all the settlements made in that year and the two or three succeeding years were made on the highlands. Among the first settlers in the county were Elder Jesse Vawter, James Underwood, Joshua Jockson, Colby Underwood and James Edward, all of the Baptist denomination. East of Crooked creek were Col. John Ryker, Paul Froman, Ralph Grifiin, Joseph Lane and others, the last two families being Baptists. West and southwest were Col. Samuel Smock, James Arbuckle, Michael and Felix Monroe, Isaiah Blankenship, Amos Chitwood and others. The first corn was raised in Jefferson County in the year 1806, most of it being planted as late as June.

The first settlement made in the river bottom near Madison was by William and John Hall in 1806 or 1807, a little above Isom Ross's tan-yard (purchased by Johnathan Lyon in 1808). The second was made by John H. Wagoner on the high bank a little west of Main street, in Madison. (Main Street, as it was then called, is now known as Jefferson Street). Wagoner unloaded his boat on the tenth day of May, 1808, and immediately commenced building a house to live in. The third person who settled in the limits of the present city was Robert M. Trotter, afterwards a justice of the peace. The fourth was Joshua Wilkinson, a single man. The fifth was Joseph Strickland, afterwards justice of the peace, and with Strickland came a man by the name of Schofield, and perhaps others not recollected. Next came John Booth, the first inn-keeper; then John Sering, Samuel Burnet, the second inn-keeper; then Charles Easton with a number of others, which brings us down to the time of the first sale of lots in Madison in February, 1811. During all the above time, all the preaching for twenty or thirty-five miles up and down the river and through the county was of the Baptist order. The first sermon ever delivered within the chartered limits of Madison was by Elder Jesse Vawter, among the cottonwoods on the river beach, a little above the stone mill. The text was the first verse, first chapter of the gospel of St. John. It was a funeral occasion, the death of Widow Slack. Mrs. Jonathan Lyon, mother of Philemon Vawter, closed the service. This was the first death and funeral preached in the vicinity of Madison.

After the land sales in May, 1808, and the sale of lots in Madison in 1811, the town and country commenced filling up pretty rapidly with settlers.

I was first justice of the peace within the vicinity of Madison while it was in Clark County. My commission bears the date of the sixteenth of July, 1808. The first judges for Jefferson County were Gen. William MacFarland, president of the court of common pleas, Samuel Smock and John Paul, second clerk, Richard C. Talbott, first sheriff, John Vawter. I am not certain but that Basil Bently was second sheriff in Jefferson County but very soon retired from office. The third sheriff was Thomas T. Stribling. The first court ever held in Jefferson County was held in a log cabin owned by John H. Wagoner, in February, 1811. The sale of the first lots in Madison (old town) was in the same month; the first proprietors. Col. John Paul, Jonathan Lyon and Louis Davis. The first addition west was surveyed by me for Col. John Paul. The first courthouse, called the Buckeye House, was built by myself for the proprietors. The first jail was a square log house, builder's name not recollected. First public house was kept by John Booth, second by Samuel Burnett, third by Major Henry Ristine.

The first store was owned by John Sering & Co., a drug store was started about the same time by Dr. Drake & Co., the third store was opened by S. C. Stevens, the fourth by myself, fifth by J. & N. Hunt, sixth by McCabe and Co., seventh by Mr. Clarkston, eighth by John McIntyre. The first physician was of the name of Fiske, second, James Hicks, third John Howes, fourth David H. Maxwell. The first attorney-general, Alex A. Meek, second a man by the name of Oulds, third. Gen. William Hendricks. The first dray ever used in Madison was owned by Simeon Reynolds, and managed by his most excellent son, William W. Reynolds.

I was personally acquainted with the first proprietors of the town. A more excellent or upright man than Colonel Paul was hard to find. He was one of Gen. George Rogers Clark's bold adventurous soldiers, who aided in the capture of Kaskaskia and Vincennes. He was elected one of the representatives from Clark County in the year 1810. This was previous to the formation of Jefferson County and Colonel Paul then resided at Madison.

I was crier of the first sale of lots in Madison, but had nothing to do with the surveying or laying out of the same. I laid out the first addition west of Broadway for Colonel Paul in the winter of 1814-15. Had nothing to do with any addition to the town.

My second visit to Indiana was in May 1806. I came in a pirogue and landed a little above the stone mill opposite Milton, visited the highlands east and west of Crooked creek, continued at my father's half faced shanty until near the middle of June in order to assist him in getting his corn planted, returned in the same craft with my mother and other relatives to Frankfort, Kentucky. In September, 1806, my father moved his family from Kentucky to Mount Glad, the place where Judge S. C. Stevens now resides. In December, 1806, I made my third visit to Indiana in company of John Branham. He aided in driving my father's cattle and fattened and stock hogs from his Kentucky residence to his new home in what was then a wilderness. At this time, I made a selection of a place to move my family to in the spring. It was the identical spot where the depot and machine shops of the railroad company are now on the hill. In March, 1807, I arrived with my family, wife and one child at my originally selected site in the woods. In 1808, I built a house on the hill (Michigan) nearly opposite Godman's creek and resided there until 1812. In this year, I purchased property in Madison and moved to it. The property purchased by me was two lots on Main Cross Street, east of Polley & Butler's iron store and west of Mulberry Street. In 1814, I sold both lots to Mr. David McClure. In the winter of 1815, I purchased of Colonel Paul the corner now owned by George M. Phelps, and built a large farm house, large for the size of Madison. Had the water conveyed by pipes, in connection with Colonel Paul, from the hill at Kites. In the same year, I sold it also to David McClure, moved to Vernon in November, 1849, with my family. Since November, 1849, I have resided in Morgantown, Morgan County, Indiana.


Source: Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. XII March, 1916

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