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1809 John Paul, founding father of Madison

After the Revolutionary War a flood of humanity began to surge into the newly formed Northwest Territory. Among them was John Paul, a former Pennsylvanian and a veteran of the George Rogers Clark expedition in Indiana and Illinois. Paul was a visionary who could see the potential of the vast wilderness west of the Alleghenies. In 1808 John Paul came from Xenia, Ohio, a town he had instituted in Ohio, and he entered at the land office in Jeffersonville a large tract of land where the city of New Albany now stands. However, after closer inspection he deemed the land “unhealthy”. He then scouted the vicinity for more suitable land on which to settle. He chose a point along the Ohio River that offered good landings for river traffic, an expanse of flat land for a settlement and rich forests and farmland just beyond. Pronouncing this a good place for settlement, in 1809 he again traveled to the land office and there purchased several tracts of land in and around Jefferson County. On one of these tracts of land Paul erected a home on an elevated site overlooking the Ohio River and moved his family from Ohio to Indiana. Here he determined he would establish a town and he would call it Madison.

The piece of land Paul had chosen to build his town on encompassed the area between East and West Streets and from the Ohio River to Fourth Street. It was soon laid off in lots and in 1811 John Paul and associates, Lewis Davis and Jonathan Lyons began selling lots in the town. Lewis and Lyons faded from the scene but John Paul continued to be a benefactor to the city during his lifetime, giving plots of land for the establishment of public buildings and creating the city cemetery.

In 1811 he and Jonathan Lyons established the first ferry from Madison to the Kentucky shore in anticipation and preparation for emigration from that state and points beyond. This same year he became the first clerk and recorder of Jefferson County. He established a grist mill and a saw mill and his future seemed to be secure but in 1812 his plans were interrupted for a time during the War of 1812 when he enlisted as a volunteer, defraying his own expenses and drawing no pay. In 1813 Paul found himself once more a civilian and he established the second newspaper in Indiana, The Western Eagle. The first edition was published May 26, 1813. In about 1814 he, through the construction of a series of wooden pipes, brought water from the hills above Madison to his home and wells in the town, bestowing on it the first public water system in the state. By this time John Paul was about 55 years old, and could no doubt have slowed his pace and enjoyed his life as a wealthy, respected elder of the town but the territorial government in 1814 authorized a bank to be established and located in Madison. John Paul accepted the appointment of President of the bank and discharged his duties in an honest and professional way. He served as Indiana State Senator from Jefferson and Switzerland Counties from 1816 to 1818. His energy and endurance were truly amazing.

Perhaps no one could have been more qualified and dedicated to Madison than John Paul. His initial participation in establishing the town and his continued support of it earned him the title of “Founding Father”. It was a title well earned.
Blanche Goode Garber in her writings about John Paul described his final passing. In the Indiana Magazine of History, Vol 13 published in 1917 she said, “His fatal illness resulted from a trip to the western part of the county to look at some horses he was thinking of buying. Heavy rains delayed his return, and filled more than bank-full the creek from Clifty falls. His horse swam the creek, but fell on the slippery bank, striking the rider’s head on a stone. He was found unconscious hours after, his clothing saturated by the swollen creek. Three years of helplessness from rheumatism resulted, and caused his death in Madison June 6, 1930.” What a tragic ending for such a dynamic individual. He was originally buried in the city cemetery but he and his family’s burial sites were moved to Fairmount Cemetery when the John Paul Chapter of the D.A.R. acquired “the old burial grounds” and turned it into a park. The name of the park is appropriately called John Paul Park.