Genealogy Trails

HISTORY OF HAMILTON COUNTY
(by Augusta Finch Shirts 1901)

The First Settlers

The lands within the bounds of Hamilton County, Indiana, together with other lands, were purchased by the Government from the Indians in 1818. At that time there was but one white man permanently located within the present bounds of Hamilton County. This man was William Conner. He was at that time living in a double log cabin with his Indian wife. This cabin was situated four miles south of the present site of Noblesville, on the east bank of White River. His place was called a trading post. In one room of his cabin he kept beads, lead, flints, steel knives, hatchets and such other goods and trinkets as were usually necessary in such a place. These articles he exchanged for pelts taken by Indians and brought to him for trade.

Mr. Conner had a brother named John, then living on or near the present site of Connersville. This brother was the proprietor of a trading post at that point.    Both of these men were taken by the Indians when young, and detained. This explains their presence among the Indians and also the fact that they had Indian wives. John Conner received his supplies from points along the Ohio River, and William Conner received his supplies from his brother John
.

The furs purchased by William Conner from the Indians were dressed, stretched, and then packed in proper form and sent by him by means of pack horses to his brother, and in a like manner the goods furnished William by his brother John were transported from John Conner's post to William Conner's post. At that time there was no road leading from this point in any direction. There was an Indian trail leading from the John Conner trading post to William Conner's place by way of the present site of New Castle and Anderson to the mouth of Stony Creek, thence down the river to William Conner's place. This was the route over which the supplies mentioned were transported. The distance from one post to the other was sixty miles over this trail and no settlement between the points; all were forests, Indians and wild beasts. Soon after the purchase of these lands by the Government the people began preparations for moving to the lands called the "new purchase" for the purpose of selecting suitable homes to be purchased by them when the lands could be bought.

A white man, one Marshal, lived with William Conner a short time before the Conner Indians left.   When John Conner's Indian children left, this man Marshal went with them in the late fall of 1818. My father, George Shirts, moved his family from or near the present site of Connersville, on pack horses, to the William Conner place, in the month of March, 1819. My father made a trip from the William Conner place on horseback to the John Conner trading post at Connersville. On his return trip to this county he was joined by Charles Lacy, who came with my father and camped upon an old Indian field, now known as the Tunis Gerard farm. Mr. Lacy did not bring his family with him. He came for the purpose of building a cabin and putting out a small field of corn. The implements brought with him were carried on his horses, pack-saddle fashion.

On the first day of April, 1819, Solomon Finch, his wife Sarah, his daughters Rebeccah, Mary and Alma, and his sons James and Augustus, then living near the present site of Connersville, left their home for the horse-shoe prairie, two miles southwest of Noblesville. Their route was over the Indian trail, spoken of above. With them came Israel Finch, Amasa Chapman, James Willason, William Bush and two sons hardly grown. William Bush and Israel Finch were married men, but left their families at their home until cabins could be built for them. Solomon Finch was the only one among them who was accompanied by his family. Wagons and teams were used; to these wagons two yoke of oxen were attached. But very little household goods were bought. A few tools and implements, a few sacks of meal, and the children, too small to walk, were all the wagons contained. Some cattle, two horses, a few sheep and one or two brood sows comprised the stock outfit. Aaron Finch drove the team. Solomon Finch and one or two of the men with him were constantly, when moving, in front of the team, axes in hand, cutting out a road and removing logs and brush
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James Finch, son of Solomon Finch ,rode one of the horses. I don't know who rode the other. Those on foot looked after the stock. The weather during their journey was very inclement, raining or snowing almost every day. When they came to Blue River, that stream was so badly swollen from recent rains that it could not be forded, and they were compelled to bridge the stream. This required two days. This trip to the mouth of Stony Creek occupied nineteen days. When they came to White River they found it could not be forded, so they hunted up a canoe or two and ferried their goods, including their wagons, over to the west side of the river; and then and there the settlers went into camp.

On the next morning the pioneers gathered up their stock, put their wagons together, yoked their cattle and harnessed their horses and started in a northwesterly course across the horseshoe prairie for the timber, when they came to the first rise in the land above high water mark. They went into camp and decided that in that vicinity they would build their cabins and there make their future homes. Before they had had time to build a cabin a severe storm of wind and rain came upon them. A large limb from a tree near by was broken off and fell upon a tub of dishes belonging to Mrs. Solomon Finch, breaking most of them. This was a great loss, as they were all the dishes they had in the camp, and none could be had nearer than Connersville, sixty miles from this point.

After the storm had passed all hands began preparations for the erection of a cabin for the family of Solomon Finch, a location having been determined upon. Some of the men began clearing the ground; others began cutting logs, and others began making the boards for the roof, loft and doors. The following is a list of the tools used: One mattock, one cross-cut saw, one hand saw, two augers, one maul, one iron and several wooden wedges, one broad ax, one chopping ax for each man and one hatchet. The ground being cleared, the logs, boards and puncheons for the floor being on the ground, they were ready to begin the erection of the cabin. The size was usually 18x20 feet, story about eight feet. The sills were placed in position; the corner men, as they were called, took their positions, ax in hand. The first thing done was to make what was called a saddle at each end of each sill. These sills were twenty feet long. The next thing was to notch each end of the short log to fit the saddle on the sills and place them in position; then another saddle for the next log, and so on up until the main body of the building was up. The two last logs were on the narrow part or end of the building, and were about three feet longer than the others and were called eaves bearers. These logs projected over the wall, and a hole was bored in the end of each of them and a stout wooden pin driven into each. Just inside of these pins the piece of timber called the eave log was placed. The log for this place was split, the split side being next to the building, and against this the first tier of boards rested. From the eave to the comb, ribs, as they were called, were placed at proper distance, upon which the boards rested. These ribs rested upon logs placed under them that constituted the gable. This done, the first tier of boards was laid. Three pieces called knees were laid on the boards, one at each end and one in the middle, the lower ends resting against the eave log. Above the knee a pole called a weight pole was laid to hold the boards down, and so on to the top. Joists inside were placed about three feet apart and boards for the loft placed on them. The door was of boards riven out and fastened with wooden pins to cross pieces and hung on wooden hinges. Wooden latch sleepers, from eight to ten feet apart, were placed to hold the puncheons for the floor.   A log was cut out for a window, some small sticks arranged across the space; white paper, well oiled, was fastened to these sticks. A space in one end of the house was cut out for a fire place and a frame of wood was placed outside of this space. Against this frame the mud jams and back wall were placed and a hearth was made of the same material. This was topped out with a stick chimney laid in clay. A suitable place in one corner of the cabin was found for a bed. Holes were bored in the walls, one post set on the floor with holes bored in it, connected with the walls by poles sharpened at each end; boards were laid across the top for a cord and all were covered with grass. Two or three benches, a half dozen stools and a dresser for dishes were made by boring holes in the wall, driving pins into them and laying boards across them, with chinking between the logs daubed with mud, the cabin was complete and the Finch family ready to move in.

The attention of all was next directed to getting in a crop. Some went to clearing, some to making rails and building fences, others to plowing and planting. After the planting was done cabins were built for those who had left their families behind, including Mr. Lacy. The pioneers brought meal enough with them to last until their crops would mature. Some time in June or July they found their meal had all spoiled. Connersville was the nearest place where meal could be got; so they purchased   a   few bushels of corn from William Conner. They secured a log about three feet long and about two feet across. They set this block on end, cut a hole in the end, burned it out smooth and cleaned it out, shelled a part of their corn, placed it in the hole in the log and procured a piece of timber about three feet long and shaped it into a pestle. They then pounded the corn until it became as fine as it could be made, and then run it through a sieve, using the finest of it for bread and the balance or coarser part they cooked and ate with milk. They soon became tired of the mortar and pestle, so one of the pioneers, Mr. Bush, secured two good sized stones, faced them, drilled holes through them and rigged them up in such manner to make meal out of their corn. This corn, wild onions, greens, milk and butter, and such wild game as came in their way, constituted their bill of fare. In this way, however, they lived until some time in the fall of the year, when John Finch, a brother of Solomon, came, bringing with him the families of those who had come early and left their families behind, and also some other pioneers whose names I do not now recollect. After the new arrivals had been domiciled, John Finch, who was a fine mechanic, and a good blacksmith, with the help of Israel Finch, built a horse mill. This mill was a small affair, but it answered the purpose for all the new settlements, including those who settled at Indianapolis in 1820. This mill was run by horse power, and all persons wanting to grind corn had to furnish their own horses and pay six cents per bushel toll. But the settlers were all glad to do this, for the reason that it was their only chance to get meal.


Some time in August. 1819, probably the last of it, these pioneers were attacked with chills and fever. This resulted mainly from the stagnant water in the ponds. The water could not get away then as now. Men, women and children were all attacked. There were not enough well persons to wait on the sick whilst the chills and the fever which followed lasted. When we consider that it was sixty miles to a place where medicine could be procured, and no one able to go for them, we must admit the situation was serious; but there were roots and barks with some medical properties that were well known to the settlers. These were utilized as far as possible.


Another difficulty was a lack of delicacies, such as our sick of the present may have. True, their garden products were now ready for use, but they were hardly palatable to the sick. However, they got along until cold weather, when the sickness subsided. The settlers raised a fair crop of corn, but they were not able to gather it. So it stood out all winter, except what they and their new neighbors used. For what they sold they received fifty cents per bushel in the field.


Indians were plenty all around them, but they were friendly and came with baskets, moccasins, dressed deer skins and venison  to  sell.   As the settlers had some money, they bought a sufficient quantity of the dressed deer skins to make moccasins for all, both great and small, and to make leather breeches for such of them as did not own sheep. The hand cord, the spinning wheel and loom, which by this time had been provided, furnished woolen clothes for those who had brought sheep, the most of them, however, wearing the buckskin breeches, and jackets of the same material.


My father was expert in dressing deer skins, and he taught the settlers the art. The process is as follows: The deer skin with hair on, after all flesh has been removed, was placed in weak lye at intervals until the hair would slip, then the hair was removed. A sufficient amount of brains of animals was then secured and soaked in water until a liquid was formed similar to the liquid extracted from oak bark. This liquid was then placed in a trough and the skins placed in it. From time to time the skins were drawn out and rubbed dry, or nearly so, and this process was repeated until the skin became perfectly pliable, and was considered finished.


After this the settlers bought no more dressed deer skins from the Indians.


A man by the name of Baxter came to this settlement in 1820; he built his cabin south of the road running east and west from the old mill, in the fall of 1821. This man Baxter sowed the first wheat ever sowed by white people in this county.


The first graveyard, used exclusively by white people, is situated a little north and west of the point where Solomon Finch's cabin was built. Two of Curtis Mallory's children were buried there, two Finches, one Chapman and one Willason, this is all the names I can recall. Coffins were made from walnut timber, split as fine as could well be done. The broad-axe was used to dress the timbers, and they were pinned together with wooden pins. Some small trees indicate the location of this graveyard, south of this settlement.


A spring branch came from the west, through the land now owned by Peter Paulsell and Mr. Voss, and flowed into the river. North of this branch, on the river bank, was an Indian graveyard, and south, near the Gerard farm, was an Indian village. At one time, it was said, this village was destroyed by General Harrison and his men in one of his raids against the Indians.


When the Government bought this land, in 1818, the contract to survey it was let to a man by the name of Wallace Wallace sublet the work to McLaughlin, and the Government gave notice that as soon as the survey was completed the land would be put upon the market. There was no homestead law then, but there was an understanding among pioneers that where a bona fide settler selected a piece of land and improved it he would have the right to enter it. This was the idea and intent of the pioneers of whom we have been writing. These lands were placed on the market in 1822. The land office was at Brookville, Ind. John Conner lived at Connersville and was wealthy. He secured the numbers of all the lands selected and improved by these pioneers, except Lacy and Willason, and entered all of it. The first the settlers knew of this was notice by Conner for them to vacate. They had cleared, fenced and broken about 300 acres of land, and it is said that John Conner refused to pay for any of the improvements.


Three incidents connected with the trip of the pioneers from near Connersville to the mouth of Stony Creek are worth relating. Before starting out one of the men was selected, whose duty it was to see that fire would be on hand at the time of going into camp each day. Israel Finch was selected and directed to attend to the matter. It is recorded that he carried fire from day to day in a kettle.


When the pioneers arrived at the present site of Anderson they found the great Indian chief, Anderson, encamped there with a part of his tribe, but as they were friendly the pioneers had no fear. Amos Chapman, one of the pioneers, was the owner of a fife and could play well. So, after supper, Chapman proceeded to furnish music. This pleased the Indians so well that they proposed a dance. Anderson's wife was present with her baby boy, and she decided that her boy should do the dancing.    Prior to this time some person had cut a large tree, leaving the stump smooth. The Indian boy was placed upon this stump. Chapman furnished the music and the Indian boy did the dancing.


One morning James G. Finch, son of Solomon Finch, was placed upon a gray pony and told to ride it that day. Soon after starting a snow storm came upon him. The boy was only ten years old and but thinly clad. He was soon suffering severely and when discovered was in a bad condition. He was taken into a wagon and cared for and soon recovered. This same boy, now a man past ninety years of age, lives in Kansas and is the only survivor of that pioneer band.


I have related the manner in which the pioneers secured their winter wear, but not their summer clothing. It was soon discovered that nettles grew in great abundance in the river and creek bottoms and that the lint on them was equal to flax or hemp. So they cut and cured the nettles just as they would flax. They hackled, broke and cleaned it in the same way. The spinning and weaving followed in the usual way, so that they did not lack for summer wear until flax could be raised.


Early in 1820 Mr. Audrick came to the settlement and built a cabin. James Wilson came about the same time, but he built his cabin on the east side of the river just below the mouth of Stony Creek. About the fourth of May, 1820, Curtis Mallory came to the settlement.    In the spring of   1820  John and Israel Finch started a blacksmith shop. The settlement had now assumed considerable proportions and they proposed raising corn on the prairie, and improvements generally began to be made. By this time iron and steel had been brought from Connersville. They made plow shares, fluke shovels, shovel plows, steel hoes, knives, hatchets, axes and many other things. Evidences of this industry can be found there today.


The first school taught in Hamilton county to white children was taught this year by Sarah Finch in a small cabin, built for that purpose near the settlement, and in this house Curtis Mallory organized the first Sunday school. The first sermon preached to white settlers was preached this year at the house of John Finch, and the services were afterwards had at long intervals as long as the settlement remained in this condition. The Fourth of July was celebrated this year by the reading of the Declaration of Independence, making speeches and the singing of patriotic songs. When this was over a dance was proposed. So all hands went to work with a will, building a bower of bushes and clearing the ground, under the bower, of all obstructions, and thereupon the darce was enjoyed by all.


The settlers raised a fine crop this year. One or two persons settled at Strawtown in 1820 and a great many at Indianapolis, so they found sale for their crop at fair prices. When the Indians sold their land, they reserved the right to occupy it for three years.   Many of them, including the wife and children of William Conner, left in 1820, and in December of that year William Conner and Eliza Chapman were married. This was the first marriage of white people in this settlement.


In the early spring of 1821 a man by the name of Foster built a mill called a corn cracker, on the north bank of Stony Creek, a few rods below what is known as the Dill mill dam, and built a cabin on the hill on the south side of the creek. This was the first water mill built in Hamilton county, and although a small affair, was patronized in 1821 by the people of Indianapolis, as well as the settlers of Hamilton county.


Soon after the purchase by John Conner, from the Government, of the lands described above, he let the contract for the digging of a mill race, and the construction of a dam across White River, and employed all of the men in the neighborhood who were willing to work for him, in getting out timber for a large grist mill and saw mill. He also moved his family into one of the cabins heretofore mentioned. He also brought from the East skilled workmen, such as millwrights and carpenters, and put them to work on this mill.


The settlement up to this time had not been increasing in number very fast. People had been waiting for the land to come upon the market. The pioneers were moving along in the old routes, some of them wearing their moccasins and some their buckskin breeches. A few of them had begun to tan cow hides and hog skins by the oak bark process. This was done by securing a large trough, bark was stripped from oak trees, water put into the trough, skins soaked, hair taken off, and the skins then laid in the water, with a layer of bark pounded as fine as it could be, between each piece of hide. This bark was replaced by fresh bark at intervals of about four weeks until the hides were tanned. This changing process, however, never occurred in the winter season. In this way the first leather ever made by actual settlers in Hamilton County was made in this first settlement.


The living of the pioneers at this time was somewhat improved. They relied upon corn for bread, wild game and fish for meat and on butter, milk and vegetables.


About this time Josiah F. Polk, a lawyer from the East, came to this settlement, or rather to the trading post, kept by William Conner. He and Mr. Conner concluded that the county seat would be located at or near the present site of the city of Noblesville. So they entered all of the land necessary for such location, in order that they would be in a condition to offer inducements by way of donations for public buildings and the like. Subsequent events proved the correctness of their views.


At this time the nearest cabin to the present site of Noblesville was the cabin of James Willason, situated at the mouth of Stony Creek, one mile south.   During the latter part of this year many persons from the East came here for the purpose of examining into the condition of the country, quality of the land, and future prospects, with the view of entering the land, if conditions were favorable.

William Conner, George Shirts and Charles Lacy settled in what is now Delaware Township, but they were in the settlement known as the Horseshoe prairie settlement. In 1822 Josiah Brooks, Michael Wise, Peter Wise, Silas Moffitt, William Wilkinson, John S. Heaton, Aquilla Cross, Joseph Eller and John Deer entered land below the William Conner place near the river and on both sides of it. Ben-Hur Park is situated upon the .land entered by Joseph Eller. In 1823 these persons, and probably some others, formed a settlement on both sides of the river, extending from the Eller and Moffitt land almost to the south line of the county.

Moffitt's land was immediately opposite the Eller land, but was on the west side of the river. The river cut this settlement in halves, but the settlers overcame this by the use of the old fashioned canoe. When the river was too high to ford communication was kept up by using the several canoes owned in the settlement. The men forming the settlement were all farmers, and they gave their entire attention to erecting buildings for their own protection and the protection of their stock, and in clearing and fencing their ground. Their manner of living was about the same as other pioneers who came before and after them. They depended upon the corn crib for bread and on the forest and streams for meat, their cows for milk and butter, and their gardens for vegetables. From this time on until 1825 the following list of names was added: Thomas Barrow, 1823; Colonel Daniel Heaton, 1824; Thomas Morris and Abraham Williams in 1825.

A notable incident in connection with this township was the business relation and its dissolution between William Conner and his Indian wife. Mr. Conner had been married to his Indian wife at the time the Government bought the lands of her tribe. It was said that she was a daughter of an Indian chief and Conner had dealt with them and made a great deal of money. When the tribe to which Conner's wife belonged removed to the West, Conner's wife went with them. It has been said that she was attired the nicest of any of the Indians and that she owned and took with her sixty ponies. It was also said that these ponies constituted a part at least of the division of the property between them, but there must have been other considerations. Two sons had been born to them during their married life. The plat book of land entries for Hamilton County shows that over 600 acres of land were entered in the name of William Conner and his heirs by an Indian wife. This would indicate a business arrangement between them at the time of their separation.

I here note that George Ketcham, an Indian chief, remained in Delaware Township. For some years after the removal of most of the other Indians a part of his tribe remained with him. Of him I will have more to say hereafter.

A Frenchman by the name of Brennett settled near what is now known as the south line of Hamilton County. Before the Indians sold their land he was an Indian trader, and made a great deal of money. He remained at the post until Ketcham and his Indians removed, but he was never considered in connection with the white people, who came for permanent occupancy. His purpose was to make money and to get away with it.

Other notable events happened within the period of which I have written in connection with this township, viz.: The opening of the Winchester State Road from Fort Wayne to William Conner's, where it intersected a road running from William Conner's house to Indianapolis; the starting of a horse mill and distillery by William Conner and the killing of one of the pioneers of this settlement, he being thrown off his horse during a race.

No schools were taught or churches held in this township until 1829, and no mills were built within this period.   These will be noticed in their order as to time.
This settlement was formed with a view to benefits. Each settlement put their forces together in the erection of buildings, rolling logs, and any and all work that required more force than belonged to the pioneer owning the land where the work was to be done. They were also banded together as a rule for mutual protection and for school and church purposes. This settlement, however, did not differ in these respects from other settlements in the county. Of this township and the people who settled therein I will have more to say later on.



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