Friday December 11, 2015 at 1300hrs/1pm; the Washington County Board of Commissioners would like to extend an open invitation to all of our county’s citizens to attend a public gathering on the North side of the Washington County Courthouse, to honor the 199th anniversary of Indiana’s admittance as the 19th state of the Union. The Washington County Historical Society would like to encourage our members to be well represented at this historic event. We hope to see you all there! Here is a little history on the convention and the men who represented our territorial county.
At the conclusion of the War of 1812, a census was conducted throughout the Indiana Territory, proving the population satisfied requirements to petition the federal government for admission in the Union. On May 6, 1816 the U. S. Congress passed an act enabling Indiana to form a government and officially join the United States as a state. The territorial counties were instructed to hold elections to select delegates to draw up a state constitution, which would convene at the capital, in Corydon. This election was held the last week of May in Washington County, where five men were selected to represent our pioneer settlers at the convention.
Prior to these events, two separate factions began to emerge in the territorial government of Indiana. The first was affiliated with William Henry Harrison and identified with the early settlers who believed in the institution of slavery and felt the prohibition of 1787 was impeding the development of the territory, this included Harrison’s successor, Governor Thomas Posey. This group became known as the Virginia Aristocrats. While serving as territorial governor, Harrison and three judges found a way to circumvent the anti-slavery ordinance, by adopting a Virginia law that allowed for indentured servitude. The highly controversial law was repealed, in an effort by territorial congressional delegate, Jonathan Jennings in 1810.
Jennings, a New Jersey native, who eventually settled near Charlestown, would emerge as the leader of the second faction of men who were all opposed to slavery and were determined to wrest control of the government from those who favored a society patterned after the plantation south. Since there was so little time between the act passing and the date of the elections to choose delegates, there was not enough time to conduct a campaign and this was said to have greatly favored Jennings’ constituency. William Henry Harrison was away fighting in the War of 1812 and his supporters fell under the leadership of Territorial Governor Thomas Posey, who seems to have been out maneuvered by the Jennings’ group, as they won two-thirds of the county delegate elections. The majority of representation at the constitutional convention by the Jennings’ party insured the possibility of an antislavery constitution for the state.
All five of the men elected to represent Washington County were members of the popular party who supported Jonathan Jennings. At least four of them were affiliated with the Indiana Militia, two of the men belonged to Jennings’ inner-circle of six confidantes, who aided him during the convention and another was a younger brother to a member of this group. Jennings’ closest allies had previous connections with the old ‘Trans-Appalachian Movement’, five were natives of Pennsylvania, and while the sixth was a Quaker from Kentucky and the Quakers were a significant element to popular party.
The pioneer citizens of our county selected by popular vote, the following delegates;
1.) General John DePauw, of Salem, who had migrated here from Kentucky and was the son of Charles DePauw, who served on General Lafayette’s staff during the Revolutionary War. General DePauw was appointed first commander of Washington County’s 9th Indiana Militia; he laid out the town of Salem, upon formation of the county in 1814 and built our first courthouse. He later served twice as a Justice of the Peace in our county and in 1821 was elected Washington County Clerk. John served two separate terms in the Indiana House of Representatives and was elected to the State Senate several times; he was a prominent citizen of Salem, who is interred at Salem’s Crown Hill Cemetery. Later his grandson, Newland DePauw donated the land that would be named in the general’s honor and become DePauw Park in the city of Salem.
2.) General Samuel Milroy, who had migrated to Franklin Township in 1814, after responding with a force of 350 men from Kentucky, to the Pigeon Roost Massacre in 1812. He had listed his opposition to slavery as one of his primary reasons for relocating across the Ohio River. Samuel was a Pennsylvania native, whose parents, John Henry and Martha (Bruce) Milroy, were reputed to both be direct descendants of Robert the Bruce, first King of Scotland. He was a renowned leader of men and brought many other pioneer families with his, when they relocated to Washington County, some of these were; the Hustons, the Wilsons and the Thompsons, who would also significantly impact the history of our county. Samuel was a veteran of the Indian Wars in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, who also rose to the rank of General with the 9th Indiana Militia; he would become a State Representative, Speaker of the House and State Senator. He was said to have been the first man to navigate flat-boats down the Muscatatuck River to the port of New Orleans, circa 1824, opening new commerce opportunities for many residents of the area.
In 1825, General Milroy was appointed to the commission who selected the county seat for Tippecanoe County and the following year he and his family left Washington County with a large group of settlers, migrating north, where he organized Carroll County in 1828 and founded the town of Delphi. In 1832, he was a delegate to the country’s first ever Democratic National Convention, in Baltimore, Maryland. Samuel served in both the house and the senate again in the late 1830’s, before being appointed Indian Agent to the Miami and Pottawatomie Indian Tribes in 1839 by President Van Buren. He would negotiate the deal for the federal government to purchase the last of these tribes’ lands in 1840 and was a commissioner to select the county seat for Benton County that same year. He died in 1845 from erysipelas, while serving as Indian Agent for President Polk. Milroy Township in Carroll County and the town of Milroy, in Rush County, Indiana were named in his honor.
3.) General William Lowe was a lawyer, Indiana Militia officer and territorial judge, who had relocated to our county from North Carolina. He was strongly opposed to slavery and although he was not a birthright Quaker, he was very adherent to the beliefs of that faith. The Quakers were said to have formed an important element in the popular party and he would likely have been affiliated with this group, he was also somewhat associated with Jennings prior to the delegate elections. After the convention for statehood, Lowe served Washington County as an Associate Judge and was one of the original County Commissioners, but he left the area upon formation of Monroe County in 1818. There he would serve on the original Board of Trustees, for the establishment of Indiana University in 1820; he also served as a judge, county clerk and Post Master before his death in September of 1840 at 70 years of age. He is buried at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington, IN.
4.) Robert McIntyre was also a lawyer and territorial judge, who came to Washington County in the spring of 1811 from Chester County, Pennsylvania, settling near Hardinsburg. He was a veteran of the Battle of Tippecanoe, was wounded in the fighting and also served as a sergeant in the War of 1812. Robert was also an adversary of the institution of slavery and openly spoke out against it, regardless of who was present. Prior to the elections he had served Washington County as a Justice of the Peace in 1814, later he was elected as one of the first County Commissioners and served a term as a State Representative in 1828.
In his later years, Robert returned to his native Pennsylvania where he passed away March 1st, 1844 in Brandywine Township of Chester County.
5.) William Graham was another native of Pennsylvania, who had relocated to the Vallonia area in 1811, amidst severely tense relations with the Indians living along White River. Five months prior to the election this area was still part of Washington County and was known as Driftwood Township, so William was in fact representing two counties with the formation of Jackson in January of 1816. William was a land surveyor, a farmer and had been a member of the Territorial Legislature. After the convention he was elected to five consecutive terms as a State Representative for Jackson County and during one session was the Speaker of the House, afterwards he served for twelve consecutive years in the Indiana Senate. In 1837, Graham was elected to the United States House of Representatives from the 3rd Congressional District, as a member of the Whig Party. After failing reelection he returned from Washington D.C. to Vallonia and resumed farming, until his death in July of 1858. The Honorable William Graham was interred in the Driftwood Cemetery in Vallonia, in ground he had donated for the Driftwood Church and would be joined the following year by his devoted wife, Eleanor.
Once the election results were in, the 43 delegates elected to represent the Indiana population were instructed to meet on June 10th, at the State Capitol Building in Corydon. Their first act was to select a president to supervise the convention and Jonathon Jennings was easily elected to this position. He began to appoint a number of committees to deal with the various aspects of the constitution and as previously mentioned, was greatly aided by six close political confidantes, two of which were, Washington County Delegates; Samuel Milroy and Robert McIntyre, another was John L. Graham from Corydon, whose brother was our delegate, William Graham of Vallonia. With these men’s inner-circle connections, General Lowe’s affiliation with the influential Quaker element and General DePauw’s reported influence amongst the 10 delegates who had previously resided in Kentucky, assuredly all five of our county’s delegates played a significant role in securing a state constitution that prohibited slavery and indentured servitude, to the degree that it could never be repealed, not even by an Act from the U.S. Congress. Aside from this, Indiana’s constitution was very similar to those of Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, except it made significant strides towards establishing an educational system funded by the state government.
The men worked throughout the month of June, the summer heat often forcing the delegation outdoors, where they worked under the shade of a giant elm tree, that would eventually be dubbed the Constitutional Elm and made into a memorial, which still preserves the trunk of the tree today. A large section of this tree was given to the Washington County Historical Society in the 1960’s and is currently on display at the Stevens Museum in Salem.
The constitution was adopted by a simple majority vote of the delegates, two-thirds of which were Jennings’ supporters, on June 29th, 1816; it remained unchanged until the second constitutional convention in 1851, which was largely called to readjust the length of the terms the elected officials served. Article 8 that strictly forbid slavery or involuntary servitude was copied verbatim into the second constitution.
In August of 1816, the first official elections were held to fill the seats of our state government; Jonathan Jennings, of Clark County was elected the first Governor of Indiana over opponent, Thomas Posey and Christopher Harrison of Salem was chosen as the Lieutenant Governor. The United States Congress acknowledged the statehood of Indiana, in a joint resolution, on December 11, 1816.
Governor Jennings and his political constituency, including his contacts in Washington County, were fundamental in the founding of our great state, instrumental in establishing it’s government and extremely significant to its history.