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Reminiscences of a Jefferson County Pioneer
Published in the Madison Weekly Courier Dec. 5, 1873 – Dec 24, 1873 – Jan. 7, 1874
My grandfather, John Lewis, came to this country from Wales about 1750 and lost his life when my father was about five years old, in the battle at the fort opposite New London, Connecticut , at the close of the Revolutionary War. He left two sons, John and Oliver. The latter, my father, moved to Trumbull County, Ohio , in 1804. His family then consisted of my mother now residing on Walnut Street, aged ninety-four, one daughter and one son, Chauncey B. Lewis, father of Dr. James R. Lewis. In Ohio, his family increased to three daughters and three sons.
He resided in Ohio during the war of 1812, and was a soldier under Gen. William H. Harrison, and was at the battle of Niagara Falls, Black Rock and River Raisin. My father was sent with others as an escort with an officer to supersede General Croghan at Lower Sandusky fort, and got so near that they heard the gun (a six-pounder) that was so well handled by our men. As fast as the British soldiers filled the ditch leading to the fort, the point of the six-pounder was run out and fired with such effect that it drove them out, leaving the ditch nearly full with their dead.
While my father was in the army, mother would weave cloth for the other soldiers’ wives, while they would tend her garden in turn. I remember, as young as I was, seeing the old, gray-headed men come round to see that all was well, for every able-bodied man had gone to the front to prevent the Indians coming into our neighborhood. When my father returned, it was about daylight. He had lost a thumb in the last battle and it was very painful. That fall he lost his second crop of corn by early frost, and the next fall, 1815, he lost his third. I remember the latter. The whole country was a stench in our nostrils and we could taste it in our mouths. My father was a Methodist, and his Circuit Rider advised him to go to Indiana Territory.
On his recommendation he started in the fall of 1815, in company with Baldwin Clark and family. They purchased a flatboat at Weaver, twelve miles below Pittsburgh , on the Ohio , and, when all was ready, we were marched down to the boat. My father and others united in singing and prayer, committing themselves and their families to their kind heavenly father’s care while on the river, and journeying to their new home.
On our way down the river we stopped at several places. At Cincinnati we stopped over the Sabbath. There was no wharf there then. Under the high bank was a steam saw-mill, and when running the steam would escape, it looked to me, twenty-five feet high, and would whistle like one of the old fashioned hunter’s horns. From Cincinnati down we stopped at Fort Williams, now Carrollton. There George Short took passage with his “kit” of tools. He was a wheelwright and all our old farmers will testify to his good spinning wheels. He settled up on Walnut Street, out of town, and ever after it was called “Georgetown.”
There was no landing then made at Madison . The original sycamore, cottonwood and willow trees were standing under and on the high bank; these grew out into the river, especially the cottonwoods. Col. John Paul had cut the trees from the front of his house, now belonging to the heirs of Mr. Abram Todd. Our first citizens erected houses on the second, or high river bank, and when Walnut, Main, Mulberry and West streets were graded, it left the houses above the street and nearly worthless, for instance, Robert Craig’s and Alois Bachman’s.
Navigation on the river at this time was of the rudest kind. There were no steamboats for several years. Broad-horns could float down, but to go up-stream the keelboat was used, a craft somewhat similar to the present canal boat, but very rude; the guards were about a foot wide and had cleats nailed to the floor, and two or three men on each side with long poles would push it against the current with their shoulders. When the water was deep or rapid, the men looked as though they were all lying down. Six miles were considered a good day’s run.
Now about Madison. The original plat of Madison was laid off from East to West streets. These streets were the eastern and western boundaries of the then “town” of Madison . The streets were in their original state, and as that winter, 1815-16, was warm, they were wet with plenty of mud and misery. There were three ponds in the old town, one on Walnut Street, running south under the market space nearly to the present jail, and to Jonathan Fitch’s corner. Another where A. J. Fisher’s stables now stand on Second Street. The other opposite the Madison Hotel, on Mulberry and Second streets. On the north end of this pond, on the alley between Main Cross and Second streets, was the only barber shop in the place. The sign over the door was hard for boys to read. It ran thus: “SAM-DUNNBARBER.” At the intersection of Main and Main Cross streets, and for some space around, there was a marsh, and the old corduroy is still buried about four feet under the present streets.
There was a large number of Indians about. They had a camp at the north end of Walnut Street, opposite Johnson & Clements’ old starch factory. John Ritchie’s store was opposite Rolla Doolittle’s residence. The Indians used to trade with him. The Indians seldom used saddles or bridles on their ponies. If they got drunk–and they would always do so if they could get the fire-water—one or two would remain sober to take care of the others.
Robert Craig opened a grocery on Second street shortly after, near where Mr. Dickson now has his newspaper depot; Jacob G. Doyle was nearby, and Linas R. Leonard where the mayor’s office now stands.
When John Paul laid off the addition below West street, where the angle is made, there was considerable indignation about “that bend.” It was originally intended for Main Cross to run to the river, so when on the street you could see the point below town on the Kentucky shore. There were written and published in the papers four chapters of “Chronicles” in which Colonel Paul was called “John the Nabob” and “John Paul, Jr.,” “Jack Hoecake,” etc., for altering the original design.
The old Methodist church was built this year on John McIntyre’s land on the east of East Street on the back end of the lot, where St. John’s church now stands. The seats were of the rudest sort, split logs with a block under each end. Dr. Oglesby, Dr. Bigelow and a Mr. Brown (James E. Bacon’s father-in-law) were the original preachers. Shortly after, Allen Wiley was put on this circuit.
Rev. William Robinson was the Presbyterian minister. He lived in a frame house on the ground where Isaac Wagoner now has a livery stable (my father first lived in a log house opposite). Mr. Robinson was in the habit of drinking, and at times to excess. He was an enterprising man, however, and erected a carding machine on the lot on Walnut Street, where my mother now lives. After him, Mr. Searles was pastor, and, after his death, Rev. Joseph Trimble. Both are buried in the old cemetery on Third Street. In 1825 Rev. James H. Johnston, now of Crawfordsville , became pastor. After Rev. Mr. Robinson was sold out, John M. Watson carded wool for the farms and he used to advertise in the old Indiana Republican. The heading was: “The tariff need not distress us, If we have wool enough to dress us.”
In 1817 John Paul gave the ground on Third Street for a burying ground. The first person buried there was a Miss Old. Up to that time the burying ground was up in Fulton, above Greiner’s brewery.
In 1817 my father farmed all the land in Scott’s Garden and lived in the old log house back of John Ross’s tan-yard. A man by the name of William Cole had a tan-yard where Ross now lives. There was a large spring at the foot of the hills on East Street, that was when I was a boy, used to make quite a creek across Walnut street. There was a public well in the front of the courthouse. Old Fathers Thomas and Kirk used to draw water by the day and children were sent to them and they would fill their buckets and send them home. There was another well at Stapp and Branham’s hotel, near Dr. Cornett’s back store door on Mulberry Street. Another well was dug in 1834 or ’35 near the alley by the postoffice. It did not last long. There was another well in the rear of Mr. Albert Scheik’s grocery. It was called “Oldfield’s Well.” Another was under the present wall on Poplar Lane at Judge J. Y. Allison’s residence. This was called “Talbott Well,” as Richard C. Talbott, in 1820, was clerk of the county and lived in that house and kept his office in the corner room. There was another well near the middle of J. F. D. Lanier’s ground, where Alex. Lanier now lives. This was called “Lanier’s Well.” They were all open to the public.
Up to 1828 there was no such thing known as a cast stove. John Sheets brought a seven-plate stove from the east to town for his stove, but there were no cook stoves until 1835 or ’36. It was stipulated when I got my wife that I was to furnish a “cooking stove” for our kitchen.
In 1825 there was no such thing as a wood-saw. We boys had to chop our wood with an axe. And another great trouble was, such things as matches were unknown until about 1835, and then they were of the rudest kind. First you had to have a vial with some kind of a preparation in it and a stick with sulphur on the end and when poked into this vial it would ignite. At last, some man invented our present match. At first they had to have a piece of black sand paper, and when rubbed on this paper it would ignite. These were called Locofoco matches and they gave the name to the old Democratic party in this wise: The Tammany party was divided on some questions in New York City , and when one party found they were in the minority, blew out the lights; the other party was not to be outgeneraled in this way, and fearing this, had provided themselves with these matches, and immediately struck a light and proceeded with their meeting, and Prentice of the Louisville Journal ever after called it the “Locofoco” party. Before these matches were invented, while living in the country, I was careful not to let the fire go out, and, if I did, the next morning, wet or cold, I would have to post off to the nearest neighbor to “borrow” a little fire.
Father Logan was mistaken about Daniel Lyle’s store being the oldest house. It was built in 1838 or 1840. But the brick house across the alley was built in 1818. Andrew Collins’ store was in the front and he lived in the frame part. The house Mr. Schooley pulled down this summer was built in 1823, and was a sample of all the houses then in town. The house on the corner of Third and Poplar Lane with a porch on the east side was built by Josiah Meade in 1818; also the house on the alley adjoining David Wilson’s old residence on Second Street. The house where Mrs. J. G. Marshall now lives was built by Felix Brandt in 1818; in the east room he had a watch-maker’s shop. Mr. William Robinson, father of Mrs. Crane, had a store in the front room of Mr. Verry’s residence. The oldest house now standing in the city is on the alley (east side) on the south side of High street between Main and Walnut streets. Peter Hemphill resided there and was ferryman from this side of the river and Abram King from the Kentucky side. The other house is the little red front on the river bank just above William Phibbs’. The front frame in the house where John Marsh now lives is sixty years old.
The old market house was west of the big pond between Mr. Sering’s residence and the courthouse. It was built by setting four posts with forks in the upper ends and poles laid in them and then covered with clapboards and logs to hold them on. The house used as a courthouse stood where V. Firth’s house now stands. The court was held in the upper room. The stairs were on the outside and west end. The jail, “Old Buckeye,” was hard to beat. It was a house with a house built on the outside so close that nothing could be moved, as the outside held everything in its place. David Kent was jailer.
It was hard to make change in these times, as money was scarce. The old Spanish dollar was universally used, together with half dollars and twenty-five-cent pieces, bits (12½ cents), and fips (6½ cents); the ten-cent pieces passed for 12½ cents, or eight for a dollar. In 1831 or 1832, when Jesse Whitehead opened store, he used to bring out a keg full of ten and five-cent pieces and make change for anyone wanting it, and gave eight dimes and sixteen five-cents for a dollar. So they were soon called “Jesses” and “Half-Jesses.”
Before this, they used to cut the money and so get change. For instance, if I owed a man 6½ cents, I would cut a 25-cent piece into four pieces, and a half dollar to eight, or a half for a quarter dollar and cut the other half into four parts, so on with the dollar, etc. This cut money was called “Sharp-shins.”
The first Sabbath school was in the old Presbyterian church on West street in front of what is now called Presbyterian Avenue. I preferred this school to the private schools because they gave us books to read, besides the red and blue tickets. Mrs. McIntyre had a private school in 1816.
In 1817 a Catholic priest came to town, and he said mass,’ preached, administered the sacraments and baptized several children, some of them large girls and boys. But to me the most singular part of the service was that he married four or five old couples who had children grown. This service was held in the house where Joel Dickey now resides. John Paul built this house and offered the whole square to the county if they would make it the courthouse. Beaumont Park for many years taught the higher branches of education there. Many of our old citizens could neither read nor write. Deal charitably with them, and remember that many had to go two and three miles to school and nearly all the way through the woods, with blazes on the trees to prevent them from wandering out of the way and getting lost. And such school houses! One log left out to light the house, and this in cold winter, for all had to work on the farm during the summer. Another thing will amuse our young people: Whenever there was a night meeting, it was held at “early candle light.” At the appointed time, the heads of each family would take one or two candles in hand; some with a lantern, and as they arrived would light the house, and if but few came, they would of course have poor lights.
Ephriam Kennedy (Old John Brown) and O. B. Lewis went down to the mouth of Crooked creek to fish about this time. Soon they heard a noise like the firing of a gun below the point on the Kentucky shore. About the same time a strange looking craft rounded the point; one mentioned that it was Indians. They immediately dropped all and made for the town. They ran until out of breath, and then hid under the logs for a time, but becoming more alarmed, ran through the woods, greatly excited, into town. They ran until out of breath and reported the Indians coming, and the citizens went to the river to see the first steamboat that came and landed at Madison .
Scape pipes in those days were made very small and great force was necessary to drive the steam through them. For that reason, a noise was made of a very peculiar kind. It would shriek and then bang away like the report of a gun or horn.
In 1824, Abram Wilson’s smith shop, on the ground where Wesley Chapel now stands, was burned down. His brother mechanics turned out to rebuild his shop. They went up the river bank where the Mammoth Cave pork house now stands and were cutting down and hewing the cottonwood trees into logs for the purpose of rebuilding said shop. This was trespassing on John McIntyre’s land (it was under the high bank). McIntyre went around asking them their names. One of them was Jacob Harbaugh, but passed under the name of Jake Hoboy. McIntyre went around asking the men “What’s Jake Hoboy’s first name?”
The first Monday of August in each year was election day for State officers. On the present courthouse corner, and near the public well would be two or three barrels on end, heads out, full of whiskey, with tin cups hung on them. Each party would chalk its name on the outside of the barrel. By evening they would be nearly empty and the men full – yes, “too full for utterance”. At one of these elections, John Paul, Jr., and Brook Bennett were candidates. Paul’s friends were voting and shouting “Hurrah for Paul.” Young John Bennett became indignant and jumped on a stump and hurrahed for daddy.
General Tipton, of Logansport , about 1826 made a treaty with the Indians, and induced them to give lands enough to make a road one hundred feet wide, from Michigan City to some point on the Ohio river. Congress left it to the Indiana legislature to locate said road. All the river towns in the State wanted it, and for two years our legislature was in continual excitement. A few years before this, the Wabash Canal was asking for an appropriation, and they wanted one vote in the Senate and two in the House to pass it through. Jefferson County could do just what it wanted, and our representatives were promised that if they would do so when Jefferson county would come to the legislature and say “ Wabash Canal” every man would go for them. They did so and it was their political death. But this road was to come before the legislature the next winter, and these same men, John Sering, Senator James H. Wallacw, and James Crams were sent back. Cincinnati money was freely spent to take it to Lawrenceburg , and had so far succeeded as to get it to Napoleon. Now James R. Wallace stepped forth from Jefferson County , and reminded the Wabash Valley men of their promises. In a moment a member of the valley moved to strike out Lawrenceburg and insert Madison . On this he moved the previous question, and Madison got the Michigan road. This is what was called “Log Rolling” in our legislature.
The country round Madison was settled before Madison . The name of Madison was at first “Wakefield.” This county and Scott were taken from Clark County and were the same for a time. Jefferson County was named for Jefferson, then president, and Madison was named for President Madison in 1809 or ’10, for he held that office at this time. The above is from memory of what my father used to tell men who came into the county to settle.
The first newspaper published in Madison was the Western Eagle, by Seth M. Leavenworth and William Hendricks. Col. John Vawter told me in Morgantown that it was printed in his kitchen while he lived in Madison . After the Western Eagle, John Lodge started the Indiana Republican. Under the caption was this sentiment: “Where Liberty dwelleth, there is my country.– Franklin .” About 1831 the Banner at Salem was merged into it and it was called Republican and Banner.
Dawson Blackmore was not born in the town of Madison , I think, for Blackmore moved from Madison up into Eagle Hollow in 1810 or ’11 and Dawson was not born until 1812 or ’13. He is of age, let him answer. Judge Blackmore lived there at that time and made and sold hats. David G. Bright, father of Jessie Bright, made hats at the same time, in Dutton’s corner, Main Cross and Mulberry streets.
Eagle Hollow got its name from this circumstance. No steam-boats were running, and the large travel to the Jeffersonville land office was by land, and every few miles a tavern. John Troxall put a neat sign with a large spread eagle on it, and after that it was called Eagle Hollow. All the hollows above that were Bee Camp hollows, for every tree that was hollow near the top was sure to have bees, and I have seen a barrel of honey taken out of one tree, while I was living up there from 1818 to 1821.
More about the Indian Camp up Walnut Street on Crooked Creek. The Indian squaw in camp did not look like the pictures we have seen of them in books, but quite the reverse. They were as to appearance, larger than the men, but short and slovenly. The young squaw has bright, black eyes, but otherwise is not prepossessing. They examined my coat and how it was made very closely. I saw an old squaw hold up the chin and pinch her little papoose’s lips together. I, boylike asked her why she did so. She answered in substance, it would not take cold if it breathed through its nose while sleeping. All the papooses were strapped to boards of bark and set up against trees. About one hundred yards above the point of the hill nearest Walnut Street there was a dam of logs, filling the bed of the creek from bank to bank. Jack Hunt told me it was a beaver’s dam. And for ten years afterward, there was occasionally seen beavers playing in the water.
John Paul took advantage of this beaver dam and built a saw mill there. Parts of the mill were there as late as 1830. He also built a grist mill on the north side of the creek, a short distance above the old burying ground on Third street, and grinding was done as late as 1828 and 1830, until Alexander Washer built a mill where the present Star Mills stand.
The second year after I came to Madison was the great Locust year. They exceeded in numbers anything that has been seen since. They were what we called seventeen-year locusts. One remarkable thing in the early times was that the whole bottom was literally covered with “dog fennel”; in places it was hard to travel around, but it has gradually disappeared, and now a bunch is rarely seen.
In 1825 or 26 David McClure, Sr. lived in what was then called Dorsey’s tavern, just west of the First National Bank. He had just got two or more cords of wood; the wood was about five feet long. This was the length in those days; and when cut in two was the proper length for the then fireplace. On Christmas eve the stars were bright at 10 o’clock, when Samuel David, Marsh McClure, Jim and Napoleon Collins (now Captain in the U.S. Navy), Dick Canby, (General Canby killed by the Modocs) and Jim Lewis – to play a Christmas trick on Father McClure – took this wood and made a fence across Main Cross street. The next morning the snow was about a foot deep, and David McClure and his two brothers had to take down the fence and pile up the wood for a Christmas morning frolic. I don’t believe David has ever forgiven me to this day for that morning’s work. One word for your Carrier Boys; January 1, 1823, they went their rounds with their “Address” and, like the present carriers expected a “quarter”, and as a reason why I give you one verse: “Through wind and rain and frost and snow, For 12 months past I’ve had to go, While you were snuggling and cutting capers, And give you all your weekly papers.”
In 1828 my father was keeping tavern on the Lawrenceburg road, four miles up the river, near where Mr. Wolf’s stone house now stands. The steamboats were not running and travel was on horseback, men going to Jeffersonville to enter their lands, etc. About this time Mr. M. A. Gavitt professed his belief in the Universalist doctrine and preached at different places. On one bright Sabbath morning he was to preach at the schoolhouse near my father’s tavern. Five or six were at the schoolhouse at the appointed time, and knowing the Gavitt was at my father’s came there and by my father’s permission, Mr. G. preached a short discourse. Shortly after, Mr. Jacob G. Doyle brought charges before the Methodist church in Madison, and my father was suspended for permitting a Universalist to preach in his house. A week or so after it came to the notice of Mr. Gavitt and he called to see my father and express sorrow for being the means of injuring my father’s standing in the church. In a week or so Mr. Gavitt called on Mr. Doyle and told him of a remarkable dream he had had, and how he (Gavitt) was very much concerned about it, and it had been repeated three nights. Mr. Doyle was anxious to hear what it was. Mr. Gavitt related the whole matter; “For three nights”, said he, “I dreamed that if I would go to that beech tree in the street in front of the Methodist church, I would find all the members of said church up among the branches of said tree, and that when I put my hand on the body of the tree all the hypocrites would fall. So when I went up and found all the members in the top and on the branches, male and female; and when I put my hand on the tree, Jacob G. Doyle, who was near the top, immediately fell to the ground, and in his fall he endangered nearly half the members. Two or three fell from one branch to another, but caught again, and none came to the ground but Jacob G. Doyle, and he fell so heavy on one of the roots, that like Judas, his ______and he died.” When the next circuit rider came around my father was reinstated.
The Last Muster: The warmly contested Presidential election of 1824 between Henry Clay, John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson was over, and Adams was elected by the House of congress. The fourth of July following, we Madisonians agreed to celebrate its anniversary, and that no political matter should be admitted. We dined at Thomas Bishops, on the Springdale Cemetery ground. After a good dinner, and all the regular toasts were drank, and many volunteer, just as the close, Alexander Davison, Lieut. Col., 6th Ind. Regiment, offered the following toast:
Behold the great of Kentuck State
Has run his race and got no grace,
A joyful thing indeed.
(He was a Jackson man). This of course was hissed down by all. That fall, by rule he would have been elected Colonel; but this so maddened the Adams men that they brought out Capt. Wm. Powell, of the 1st Artillery, 6th Regiment, Indiana Militia. On Saturday (the election was on the next Monday) some of Davison’s friends got out a writ to put Powell in jail for debt, and had him arrested. By ten o’clock p.m. Saturday night he had completed his schedule, made his all over to his creditors, and took what was then called “the benefit of the act”. On Monday following he was elected Colonel. This so elated Powell, a few days after he was going round Craig’s corner and met Malachi Dodge, and asked him before a dozen men how he got out of the gutter the Monday before. Dodge answered “swore out like you did out of jail.”
Not more than a month after Colonel Powell reviewed the 6th Indiana Regiment, and this was its last muster. (It was said the Colonol had some African blood in Him.)
In this 6th Indiana Regiment was the Madison Light infantry, Captain Dan Comstock, and another uniformed company and eight (what was called “flat-foot”) companies, not uniformed, with cornstalks for guns. Many of the captains and other officers resigned and we elected men who would not serve. When at last the colonel resigned we first elected Alois Bachman (Not eligible) and then victor King, who would not accept. After several years the Legislature repealed all the military laws, and the oldest citizens were not required to muster ever after.
Mrs. Joseph G. Marshall must have been the first child born in Madison, daughter of John Sering. At her birth, Capt. Powell of the Madison Artillery, ordered out one of his guns and fired three rounds in honor of her, the first child born in Madison. It was either her or Mrs. Wm. Driggs, both now living.
In closing, let me say I have spent 58 of 63 years in Madison on the 20th of this month, December. I have seen this city grow from a few log houses to a city of 12 or 15 thousand. In place of the old horse racks before every store door, with no sidewalks but a “puncheon” laid on to walk on, now the best streets and sidewalks of any city in the State. The harder it rains the cleaner the streets. Our boys are amongst the best merchants in all our Western cities. Forty or fifty of our young men are now preaching the gospel to their fellow men. One church “Second Presbyterian) has sent out fifteen.
Some of our men have given character to the whole State. Hon. Jeremiah Sullivan successfully contended with Samuel Judah of Vincennes that the slaves in Indiana, under Gen. Clark’s treaty with the French, could not be transferred to other parties and so make Indiana a slave state. Samuel Judah had brought Amos Phillips as a servant with him to the Legislature. Sullivan brought said Phillips to Madison and Judah brought suit, and it ended in the freedom of Amos. All our old citizens remember Amos. Contrast this with Judge Taney’s decision in relation to Dred Scott – “that a Negro had no rights a white man was bound to respect.”
One man, Hon. Williamson Dunn, has done more to promote sound learning in Indiana than any other in it. He first founded Hanover College, (Indianapolis offered half a million for it last fall.) and while Land Agent at Crawfordsville gave his land and his money to found Wabash College. The State owed him a debt of gratitude it never can pay. Such men as Sullivan and Dunn died poor, but their memory how precious. Other worthies ought to be mentioned, but these will suffice.
JEFFERSON COUNTY PIONEERS
This was a series of articles that appeared in the Madison Courier. Some were first hand accounts by the early settlers and others were taken from autobiographies from other sources. They are reproduced in their entirety by the Jefferson County Historical Society and with their permission we offer them on our website.
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