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Interview with Judge Harry E. Nichols

(The) earliest visitor, George Logan passed the present site of Madison on the last day of February 1801. He traveled by flatboat and landed below Hanover Landing and the next day cut his name on two Beech trees. (He) remained but a short time and returned in 1815. (He) came with a view to enter land he trod on but found Christopher Harrison had preceded him and already entered this part of Jefferson County. Christopher Harrison moved from Jefferson County to Salem, Washington County, Indiana. He became the first Lieutenant Governor of the state of Indiana in 1816.

In the year George Logan came back, he came back with the intention of buying land which he purchased from Mr. Harrison, paying $10.00 per acre, all cash. He did not find the Beech trees on which he had inscribed his name until the year 1859.

About the years 1805 and 1806 Jesse Vawter and six or eight associates located on the eastern side of the present city of Madison, hence, to them belongs the honor of being the first actual settlers. That is where the town, settlement, of Fulton (was). It used to be a regular town. They had a school there on the corner of Ferry Street and Main Street for many years. Jesse Vawter’s house stood on the ground occupied by the residence of Judge S. C. Stephens. He removed his family from Kentucky one year after selecting his home.

Now I have the names of quite a number of early settlers that came and where they settled in various communities. One was east of Crooked Creek on what is now known as Ryker’s Ridge. This settlement was made by Colonel John Ryker, John Fromas, Ralph Griffen, Joseph Lame, William Lowe, Colonel Samuel Smock, James Arbuckle, Michael and Felix Monroe, Isaiah Blankenship and Amos Chitwood.

Now, later on the following people located in the village of Canaan:
Samuel Ryker, Robert Stout, father, Mark Stout, Peter Ryker, George Kendall, James Christian, John Weatherford, who is the grandfather of Chester Weatherford, now living in this city, J. Abraham Lewis, John_______, Moody Folcomb and William Robbins. And the early settlers in the town of Kent, about eight miles below Madison, came there about 1810 and they were: William Chambers, Joshua Tull, James Smith, Thomas Ramsey, the Blankenship family, Robert Miller, William Fixteen (garbled), Robert Marshall, John Latimore, William Sage, Gabriel Foster, James McCartney, George Campbell, William Whitesides, Patrick Wilson and Thomas Alvin. I happen to know, have known, in my day, several sons of these early settlers. One Ramsey built the first mill at Kent in the year of 1810.

Jefferson County was organized by an act of the Territorial Legislature passed November twenty-third, 1810. It was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. The act organizing the county did not take effect until the first day of February, 1811. Prior to this time it formed a part of the Territory of Clark County. On the fourteenth day of June, 1812, the common pleas court of Madison met and proceeded at once to transact the business of the county. It continued to act in this, as well as its own capacity, until the organization of the state when the board of commissioners was appointed. The circuit court did not convene for almost two years after the court of common pleas. It convened in Madison on November the seventh, 1814. The judges of these courts were Jesse Holman, presiding, and Samuel Smock, William Cotton and Williamson Dunn, associates. The earliest case tried was that of James McCoy, charged with assault.

In 1816 Indiana was admitted as a state to the Union. Out of the constitution of this new state, county business was to be transacted by a board of county commissioners instead of a probate court. The county commissioners first met in Jefferson County on the tenth day of February, 1817. Those present were James Stout, Nathaniel Henning and Achilles Wilhite-that’s the way he spelled his name. The first business of this board was the organization of Graham, Lancaster, Pittsburg and Saluda Townships and ordering the following selections for the Justice of Peace as follows: Graham Township election to be held at the house of Thomas Roseberry, Monday, March 1st, 1817; Lancaster Township at the same time, Jacob Cullin, inspector; Pittsburg, same time, the election to be held at a place called Pittsburg; Saluda Township at the same time where Franklin Perry was appointed inspector. The county officers elected were: John Paul, clerk; John Sering, treasurer and John Vawter, sheriff. The prosecutor was Jesse S. Holton. In 1816 the county commissioners appointed and was composed of the following men: James Stout, Nathaniel Henning, Achilles Wilhite. There was a township, Pittsburg, but it’s evaporated. I know very little about what happened to Pittsburg Township but it was eventually absorbed by some of the other townships.

Now John Paul was named as the first clerk. He also was the first recorder of Jefferson County. He was doing double duty and he was the man who laid out and caused the organization of the town of Madison. He was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on November 12, 1768 and died in Madison June 6, 1833. He was 72 years. He came to Indiana first in 1809 and decided upon this site as a suitable site for a town. During that year he went to Jeffersonville and bought the sixty acres now laying between East and West Streets upon which he opened the first lot sale on June 12, 1812 and the proceeds of that sale made him a rich man, he is reputed to have bought this site at the government land sale for $500 and he realized, at a minimum, $50,000 from the sale of that land. He reserved for his own home a site at the corner Jefferson and First Streets where the post office now stands. It was rather a hill, a kind of a high hill there and it stood right in the center of this hill-a beautiful place-and the old house was torn down and the hill was removed to make this present site of the post office.

After the first sale of lots here he also went into partnership with two other men, one of them was from Cincinnati by the name of Davis and they bought other tracts of land and opened up other sections of the city. Colonel Paul, before coming here, had served in the army and was one of George Clark’s men in the expedition against the British in Detroit, Michigan and Kaskaska, Illinois. He was at the capture of Vincennes February 24th, 1779. He and his wife and their daughter, Mrs. Stevenson, are now buried at the Fairmont Cemetery on the Michigan Road.

I might say that at that time there were no public roads in Indiana and no public schools, whatever. There was a trail starting at the Ohio River where there was a landing for flatboats and canoes and river boats that were hand powered and the site known as London Bottoms in which another town was laid out and I’ll get into that sometime later. This town disappeared as well as all the inhabitants and all the buildings. John Paul had to follow that trail. It came out about where Chelsea is now located on Road 62 and he followed that all the way into Vincennes. These trails were made by wild animals, deer in some locations, bear and very small animals and also Indians. At one time, this whole area was pretty much infested with the Indians but by the time the early settlers had arrived here, the Indians had pretty well been driven out of this community. However, when my great grandfather, John Bodem, came here, he came in the early part of the eighteen century, he bought land between the Graham and Michigan Roads about two and one-half or three miles north of Madison and at that time there was a big spring that came out of the hillside near his place where it gave out a lot of water and at the time there were still a few roving bands of Indians in this territory and they used to come to this spring for water. However, the Indians that remained around this section of the state were friendly and were not troublesome and a number of the white settlers here married some of the Indian girls and one of them, I believe, was mentioned in one of the Miller boys articles in the paper here a few weeks ago about one of his early ancestors married an Indian girl and I don’t know too much about that. There’s just not too much history about those things.

One of the most outstanding, if not the most outstanding men of his time was William Hendricks. He came here from Pennsylvania as a young man. He first located for a short time in Cincinnati then came to Indiana and this location in 1812, just about the time the town of Madison was laid out. He brought with him a printing press and he put out the second newspaper in the State of Indiana. The Western Eagle it was called. Mr. Hendricks had no college education. He had no formal education at all. He only had a common school education but he was probably one of the most brilliant men of his time that ever lived in the State of Indiana. When the first constitutional convention was held in Corydon in 1816, although he was not a delegate to the constitutional convention, he was elected as the clerk of the convention and did all the recording of the minutes and the adoptions of the various sections of the constitution. Following that, he published and printed the constitution of the State of Indiana. He was the first man to print and publish the constitution of the State of Indiana right here in Madison.

Well, when the state became a state in that year, he was elected as the first congressman and he was the only congressman-they only had one congressman and two United States Senators and he was the only congressman. When he went to Washington, he had to go according to some of his descendants that told me years ago, that he had to go by horseback to Cincinnati and his wife also accompanied him on all his trips and one time he had their youngest son with them who was an infant. Mr. Hendricks carried the boy for a while and when he got tired, he turned it over to the mother to carry and that’s the way they got into Cincinnati. Then they had to leave Cincinnati in a stagecoach, making a number of transfers at various locations before they reached the city of Washington.

Well, after he had served his two or three terms in the House of Representatives, he was elected to be governor of the State of Indiana. He was the second governor elected, although, the first governor had resigned before the end of this term and was appointed United States Senator. He was succeeded as governor by the man that I mentioned earlier in my talk from Salem Indiana who became the governor. After Hendricks was elected governor toward the end of his term, he was also elected United States Senator from the State of Indiana and, at that time and up to 50 years ago, the United States Senators were elected in every state senate of the state legislatures of the various states. Well, he served out his term as governor and he came back here and resided in a nice home right on the southeast corner of Elm and First Street, east of the Lanier building. He and J. F. D. Lanier were very good friends and neighbors and he built a house right across the street from him which he gave to his oldest son, John Hendricks as a wedding present and his son, John Hendricks, was killed in a battle in Missouri on his fortieth birthday during the Civil War and that present residence in now occupied by Mr. Brown, the man who has the photographic supply store on Mulberry Street. The house was torn down a number of years ago. I don’t recall the house but there’s a house now on the site occupied by Mr. James Sheik. However, Hendricks did have a farm on the top of what is known as the Ryker’s Ridge Road that goes up Ryker’s Ridge. It was right at the head of the road on the right side across from where Mr. Howard Clemens used to reside and he supervised the farm but didn’t live there. However, he built a concrete and stone vault on the side of the hill and his wife was placed in there, I think before he was. It had big iron doors on the vault. I remember the vault very distinctly and after he died-he died on the farm there early in May 1850,and his remains were put in this vault. The vault became marked up and damaged by vandals at different times and Mr. Joseph Cravens told me that 35 to 40 years ago that his father, Judge John R. Cravens, (who) was related by marriage to Governor Hendricks had Governor Hendrick’s and his wife’s remains removed to Fairmont Cemetery on a lot just east of the Cravens lot.

He also had a number of children who were buried on this lot later and I happened to be looking through some records here just within the last two weeks and I found that when Madison was made a city instead of a town in 1846, his son, William Hendricks, Jr., was the first city clerk elected to the city of Madison (The interviewer now asks if this was his youngest son.) I really don’t know. He had quite a large family; quite a number of them are buried there. However, about thirty years ago he still had one granddaughter living here, Miss Ann Hendricks, who lived about the second house west of the Vail Memorial Home. I knew her very well and carried papers to her as a boy and I called her one day and asked if I could come down and talk to her about her grandfather and get some facts for a historical sketch which I was writing. Well, she said sure, her memory wasn’t very good but she said, “I’ve got two sisters, one from Huston, Texas, and one from Chicago that’s going to visit me this coming summer.” She said, “When they’re here I’ll call you down and have you interview them”. (The interviewer asks what her father’s name was.) Her father was the one they carried to Washington on horseback. But, anyhow, I never had such a pleasant afternoon in my life. I spent about two hours talking to the ladies. They were both past eighty years of age. Their hair was just as white as snow, but they both were very bright women. I can’t recall their names now, that’s been over thirty years ago. I did make some notes at that time but I’ve never been able to find the notes. But, anyhow, the family was a very prominent family here. William Hendricks married a daughter of John Paul, the founder of Madison. Now that’s just about all I can tell you about William Hendricks. He had quite a long history-it would take an afternoon to go into all of it.