Col. John Vawter
Reminiscences of a Jefferson County Pioneer
Written April 13, 1850
Published in the Madison Weekly Courier – Apr. 8, 1874
Father, with six or eight others, 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, the others descending 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 the other, swimming their horses by the side thereof. The company made their headquarters in the river bottom in the eastern extremity of the city limits of Madison. In the day, the company, divided into two parties, explored the adjacent highlands to the head of Crooked Creek and the neighboring lands of Clifty. They met at night and reported their discoveries to each other. 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 for his residence the spot where Judge S. C. Stevens now resides on the hill. 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 Jackson, Colby Underwood and James Edwards, all of the Baptist denomination. East of Crooked Creek was Col. John Ryker, Paul Froman, Ralph Griffin, Joseph Lane and others, the last two families being Baptists. West and southwest were Col. Samuel Smock, James Arbuckle, Michael and Felix Monroe, Isaiah Blankinship, 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 preaching in the early settlements within the bounds of Jefferson and Switzerland counties was by Baptist ministers. Elder Jesse Vawter, John Taylor, Philemon Vawter and John Reese were early settlers and the only resident ministers at that time in the vicinity of what is now the city of Madison. From the year 1805, their first visit, until 1810, the Baptist was the only organized church in the limits of what is now Jefferson and Switzerland counties. In March, 1807, at the home of Jesse Vawter, a Baptist church was organized called Crooked Creek Church, afterwards Mount Pleasant Church.
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 tanyard (purchased by Jonathan Lyon in 1808). The second was made by John H. Wagoner on the high bank a little west of Main Street, in Madison. Wagoner unloaded his boat on the 10th 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 innkeeper; then John Sering, Samuel Burnet (second innkeeper); 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 to 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 John’s Gospel. 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 within the vicinity of Madison.
After the land sales in May, 1808, and the sale of lots in Madison in 1811, the town and the country commenced filling up pretty rapidly with settlers. The first man who preached in Madison, other than Baptist, was of the name of Hawkins, a hell reductioner who afterwards became a convert to Baptist belief. Some time after the establishment of courts in Madison, and during the sitting of the court, Elijah Sparks, an attorney at law and Methodist minister, and Jesse L. Holman, a Baptist exhorter, both of Dearborn County, during the court week, preached for the people at the house of Philemon Vawter, near the Crooked Creek graveyard. This was the first Methodist Preaching in the immediate vicinity of Madison. After public buildings were erected in Madison, Col. Brown, a Methodist preacher, preached in Madison, and another by the name of Frame; and so did old Dr. Fiske. About this time, if I mistake not, Dr. Oglesby commenced preaching in Madison, also a man by the name of Strange, also Squire Strother (of Kentucky) and Amos Chitwood. In the year of 1812 or 1813, not earlier, a Methodist meetinghouse was built in Madison, and from that time Methodism began to take root and grow in the country. About this time Elder William Robinson, a Presbyterian preacher, moved into Madison and commenced preaching, and soon organized a church of his order. He was succeeded by a man by the name of Sean. So much for the early religious denominations about and in Madison.
I was the first Justice of the Peace within the vicinity of Madison while it was in Clark County. My commission bears the date the 16th of July, 1808. The first judges for Jefferson County were Gen. William McFarland, president of the Court of Common Pleas, Samuel Smock and William Colton, his associates. The first clerk and recorder was Col. John Paul; second clerk, Richard C. Talbot. First sheriff, John Vawter, commissioned such the 14th of December, 1810, retired from the office by virtue of a commission dated 29th of July, 1813, as United States Marshal for Indiana Territory. The second sheriff was James Vawter (I am not certain but Basil Bentley was second sheriff in Jefferson County, but very soon retired from office). The third sheriff, Thomas T. Stribling. The first court ever held in Jefferson County was held in a log cabin owned by John T. 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, Lewis Davis and Jonathan Lyon; the first addition west, surveyed by me for Col. John Paul.
The first courthouse, called the Buckeye House, was built in 1811. It was built by myself for the proprietors. The first jail was a square log house, builder’s name not now recollected; first public house was kept by John Booth; second, by Samuel Burnet; 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; fourth by myself; fifth by J. & N. Hunt; sixth by McCabe & Co.; seventh by Mr. Clarkston; eighth by John Mclntire. 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; the 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 L. Reynolds.
I was personally acquainted with the first proprietors of the town. A more excellent or upright good man than Col. Paul was hard to be found. He was one of Gen. Roger 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 Col. Paul then resided at Madison. He was also one of the members for Jefferson County who formed the present constitution of Indiana. 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. Laid out the first addition west of Broadway for Col. Paul in the winter of 1814 and 1815. 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 with John Branham, a brother-in-law, and James Vawter. We 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 myself and family to in the coming Spring. It was the identical spot where the depot and machine shops of the railroad company are now upon the hill. In March 1807, I arrived with my family, wife, and one child, at my original selected site in the woods. In 1808 I built a house nearly Opposite Godman’s pork_house on the hill 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 and 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 Col. John Paul the corner now owned by George M. Phelps, and built a large frame house (large for the size of the houses in Madison). Had the water conveyed by pipes, in connection with Col. Paul, from the hill at Hite’s tanyard to the same, expecting to live and end my days there. In the same year I sold it also to David McClure, moved to Vernon in November, 1815, and continued to reside there until November, 1849, with my family. Since November, 1849, have resided in Morgantown, Morgan County, Indiana.
April 13, 1850