HISTORY OF HANCOCK COUNTY
Hancock county, Indiana, is
little east of the geographical center of the state. It is in latitude
40° north, and longitude 86° west, of Greenwich, or 90 west
from Washington, and is in townships fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen
north, and ranges five, six, seven, and eight east. In size it is about
an average county of the state, being composed of 307 sections, or
square miles, and containing about 196,480 acres. It is bounded on
the west by Marion and Hamilton, on the north by Madison and
Hamilton, on the east by Henry and Rush, and on the south by
Shelby, Rush and Henry. It is chiefly bordered, however, by Marion on
the west, Madison on the north, Henry on the east, and Shelby on the
south. Hamilton forms only one mile of the western boundary and four of
the northern ; Rush forms six miles of the eastern and two of the
southern, and Henry forms but one mile of the southern
boundary. The greatest length of the county is nineteen miles east
and west, and its greatest width seventeen miles north and south.
Hancock county was cut off from
Madison and organized in the year 1828, and named in honor of John
Hancock, president of the convention that adopted the
immortal " Declaration of Independence.
At the time of the organization of
the county it contained but few inhabitants, and they were
scattered. At the first presidential election held in the county, which
occurred November 3, 1828, the whole number of votes cast were 101, and
now the whole number is, according to the census of 1880, 4,170. Then
the entire population of the county was about 400; now it is 17,123.
Then there were, perhaps, 135 children of school age in the county ;
now there are 5,646. Then there was but one clock in the county ; now
there is one in nearly every household. Then there were no broad fields
of golden grain, cut with a self binder and threshed with a steam
thresher, but only here and there a small patch cleared in the green,
cut with a sickle and threshed with a flail. Then our whole territory
was almost one unbroken wilderness, in which were numerous Indians,
wild deer, bears, panthers, wild cats, rattlesnakes, wolves, owls,
turkeys, opossums, raccoons, and porcupines. This condition' of affairs
has changed. The Indian has bid adieu to his native hunting grounds ;
the church bell has taken the place of the warwhoop; the poisonous
fanged serpent, at the sight of civilization,, has faded away as if
under the benign influence of St. Patrick. What changes have taken
place! The old landmarks are nearly gone; but few of the early
pioneers, our grandfathers and their sires, are left, and they, one by
one, are fast passing away. Our progress, from a small beginning to our
present status has cost untold toil, hardships and privations, not
fully appreciated by the young of the present generation. This book is
written, in part, that their names, and the trials they underwent, may,
to some extent, be perpetuated. We shall show, step by step, the
progress made decade after decade. This chapter is only intended as a
bird's eye view of the territory, preparatory to a more detailed
account, in which the townships will be considered separately, and
elaborated thoroughly, when our minds will be carried back to the brave
pioneers, to learn their names and mode of living, and to follow them
up amidst the hardships incident to pioneer life to balmier days and
more pleasant surroundings even to the present time.
Hancock county is quite flat, there
being but few hills, except in the immediate vicinity of the
water-courses, and several of these have no banks worthy of the name.
Blue River and Sugar Creek have considerable banks, and Brandy
wine at places. Blue river and Sugar creek townships are rolling, and
somewhat undulating, but the county, on the whole, is remarkably level,
and was once considered "low and wet; but since it has been so
thoroughly drained by tile ditches, and good roads built, we hear but
little complaint in that direction.
It is now considered healthful, and
as free from malaria and miasmatic diseases as any of its border
counties; though there was once a great deal of ague and fever, bilious
fever, and considerable milk sickness.
Our soil, generally speaking, is
exceedingly fertile ; indeed, almost exhaustless in resources. The
black, low grounds, which in the early history of the country were
considered almost worthless, and were, therefore, the last entered, are
now, since being drained, found to be the richest and most productive.
The first settlements in the county were made on the uplands, hills and
knolls, if possible. Thirty years ago, about a hundred feet above
Blue River, in the midst of a small field, there stood a tiny log
cabin, without roof, window, chimney, or floor, unfinished, decaying,
which the writer passed hundreds of times when a boy, and then learned
that it was begun long years since for a pioneer cottage; but in the
-'raising/' there being little help, the proprietor was crushed by the
falling of a log on nearing the gable.
The principal exports of the county
are wheat, corn, hogs, cattle, horses, oats, potatoes, flaxseed,
apples, hay, and sheep.
Hancock county's first exports were
ginseng, venison hams, firs, flax and tow linen.
The statistical returns of 1880 show
that our county produced, on 27,752
acres, 580,207 bushels wheat; on 37,072 acres,
1,187,328 bushels corn; on 1,665 acres, 45,129 bushels oats. The same
year we produced 16,752 bushels Irish potatoes, 51,160 bushels
flaxseed, 42,028 bushels apples, and had in our county 5,228 head of
horses, 285 head of mules, 9,609 head of cattle, 9,340 head of sheep,
and 23,400 head of hogs old enough to fatten. The county was once
heavily timbered with a large per cent, of the best kinds of saw
timber, such as walnut, poplar, oak, ash, and cherry. Walnut timber of
the finest quality was once not only used for fencing and fire-wood,
but was deadened and burned in log heaps, to get it out of the way.
There are large beds of sand and
gravel in various parts of the county. At least seven out of the nine
townships have sufficient gravel, of good quality, to make all her
roads, public and private, in good order.
The county is well watered with
numerous streams, springs and wells of excellent limestone water.
Blue River, the largest stream in the
county, a fine, clear, lasting mill stream, runs across the
south-eastern corner of Blue river township, entering Shelby county
just below Bacon's mill. Its bottoms are broad and exceedingly fertile.
Sugar Creek, the next in size, is a
clear, rapid, medium size mill stream. It rises in the western part of
Henry county, near Elizabeth City, enters Hancock county within a few
rods of the north-east corner, and runs in a southwest direction
to within half a mile of Warrington ; thence northwest, dipping into
the edge of Madison a few rods; thence in a general south-westerly
direction through Brown, Green, and across the corner of Vernon ;
thence through Center, Buck creek, and Sugar creek townships, entering
Shelby county a mile and a half south of New Palestine.
Brandy wine Creek, a rather
small sized mill stream, rises in Brown township, about a mile west of
Warrington, and runs in a south-westerly direction through Brown and
Jackson townships, and to the central northern middle
portion of Center township, four miles north of Greenfield ; thence
nearly south through Center and Brandy wine townships, entering
Shelby county six miles south of the county seat.
Buck Creek, a small, sluggish stream,
rises in Vernon township, about a mile and a half south-west of
Fortville, runs south-west through Buck creek township, across the
north-west corner of Sugar creek township, entering Marion county one
mile south of the south-west corner of Buck creek township.
Nameless Creek is a small stream.
Rising in the central portion of Jackson township, it runs south-west
in Jackson, and empties into Blue River on the B. P. Butler farm.
Six Mile Creek rises in Henry county,
flows south through Jackson, past Charlottesville, across the corner of
Rush county, entering Blue river township at its central eastern
border; thence -south-west, emptying into Blue river on the Wm. Cook
Little Brandywine Creek rises near
the boundary line between Center and Jackson townships, runs
south-west, and empties into Brandywine two miles south by
southeast of Greenfield.
Little Sugar Creek, a small, sluggish
stream, rises in the north-west part of Center township, and running
south by south-west, empties into Sugar Creek.
Flat Fork of Lick Creek rises in the
south-east part of Vernon township, runs north by north-west, enters
Hamilton county one mile west of Fortville, and empties into Lick
Creek. These small streams have all been ditched and cleared out near
Swamp Creek is a sui generis
stream, taking its rise in Madison county. It runs nearly south,
crossing Lick Creek in Madison comity and Sugar creek in Hancock
county; crossing the National road at the Robert H. Ross farm, and
finally losing itself in Brandywine Creek. This stream presents the
general appearance of the bed of a lost river, being from forty to
eighty rods wide, filled with decayed and decaying vegetable matter,
more or less soft and yielding, and with a tiny, turbid stream running
"through the center thereof.
Little Swan Creek rises in the
south-western part of Center township, runs south by south-west,
crosses Brandywine township, and enters Shelby county at the
southern extremity of the boundary line between Sugar creek and
There are numerous other small
streams, unworthy of notice, in various parts of the county.
Hancock county is reasonably well
supplied with good gravel road turnpikes, there being one hundred and
eighty miles of the same, 104 of which) are now incorporated and pay
taxes, and seventy six of which were once taxed, but have since
rescinded their charters and gone back to the public. These pikes are
several in number, and were built at an average cost of $1,200 per
mile, making a total cost of $216,000. Her public roads are generally
graded, and in many places graveled by her citizens in working out
their road taxes, and personal privileges.
Hancock county originally consisted
of three townships, to-wit: Blue-river,
Brandywine, and Sugar-creek.
These townships were organized in
1828, at the time of the separation from Madison county, and each
extending to the county line.
Blue-river township was reduced in
size and located in the south-east part of the county in 1831, with
thirty sections. Jackson township was the name assigned to the
remainderf of Blue-river, and was located in the northeastern part
of the county, by the commissioners, in 1831.
Brandywine township was reduced to
thirty sections in the same year, and located in the central southern
portion of the county.
Center township was, in 1831, located
north of Brandywine township, extending three miles north and
south and six miles east and west, and containing eighteen sections.
Harrison township was also organized
in the same year, and composed of the remainder of Brandywine north of
Center to the north line of the county.
Buck-creek was cut off fgom
Sugar-creek in 1831, and made to extend from congressional line sixteen
to the north county line.
Green was taken from the north part
of Jackson and Harrison in 1832, and composed of that part of the
county north of congressional line seventeen, and consisted of sixty
sections; being the same territory now embodied in Brown and Green.
In the year 1833, Brown township was
dissevered from Green, and made to consist of thirty sections, its
In 1835, Center township was
increased one tier of sections, taken from the northern part
Vernon township was cut off from the
north part of Buck-creek north of congressional line seventeen, and
made to consist of thirty-one sections.
Jones township was formed in 1838, by
taking two tier of sections from the north part of Sugar-creek, and a
like number from the south part of Buck-creek, and composed of
Union township was made up from the
eastern part of Buck creek, the western part of Harrison, and the
southeast corner of Vernon, in 1838, and composed of twenty sections.
Worth township was composed of the
north part of Jackson and the north-east corner of Center, and
organized in the year 1850.
At the March term, 1853, the
commissioners divided Jones township between Sugar creek and Buck
creek; Union township between Buck creek, Vernon and Center; Worth
township between Center and Jackson, and attached Harrison to Center;
thereby obliterating Jones, Union, Worth, and Harrison, and leaving
nine civil townships, as we now have them.
Blue river township is located in the
south-east corner of the county; Brown in the north-east; Brandy wine
in the south middle ; Buck creek in the west middle; Center in the
middle ; Green in the central northern portion ; Jackson in the eastern
middle portion; Sugar creek in the south-west corner; and Vernon in the
north-west corner of the county.
Thus it may be seen that the county
is composed of nine civil townships, arranged in three tiers of three
townships each. The eastern division, composed of Brown, Jackson and
Blue river, constitutes the first commissioner's district; Green,
Center and Brandywine the second; Vernon. Buck creek and Sugar creek
the third; the present commissioners of which are. respectively,
Augustus Dennis. Ephmim Bentley and John Dye.
Hancock county was first settled about the year 1818. Previous to the
United States survey of 1819. Andrew Evans and John Montgomery, with
their families and Montgomery McCall, came into this county, and
settled in Blue River. At the same time, Platt and James Montgomery,
brothers of John, and Isaac Roberts, with their families, and David
Stephenson, settled in Center township. In 1820, Elijah Tyner, Harmon
Warrum, Joshua Wilson, and John Foster, with their families, also
settled on Blue River. In 1822, Solomon Tyner. John Osborn. and
George Penwell. with their families, came and settled with the others
on the same historic stream. The above, and a few others, were all in
the county at and before, Eta
organization. After this time the
immigrants were more numerous, the more prominent of whom we will
notice in the proper place in their respective townships.
Among the early incidents, which are
more numerous than were the pioneers themselves, we will note the
The first school-house in the county was a log one, diminutive in size,
and exceedingly rude in architecture, erected near Elijah Tyner's old
place, on Blue River, in the year 1823.
The first male teacher who taught in the county was Lewis Tyner.
Green township claims the honor of furnishing employment to the first
female teacher, Mrs. Sarah Gant.
In 1818, the first log cabin was built by Andrew Evans.
In 1824, Joshua Wilson built the first grist mill, located on the banks
of Blue River. This mill was a small, one story log structure, which, soon after being
erected, was sold to Henry Watts, on account of some difficulty about
the obstruction of water.
In the neighborhood of John Hinchman's old farm, in Center township,
now owned by Abram Hackleman. was organized, in 1820. by the
Methodists, the first religious society in the county.
The first blacksmith in the county was Thomas Phillips, who had his
shop on Blue River, in about 1822.
Among the first taverns in the county, was one erected by Andrew
Jackson, near Greenfield, in about 1825.
Elijah Tyner, on Blue River, had the first store in the
county. He was also the first to set out an orchard.
The first road in the county was an old Indian trail, known as the
"Napoleon Trace." which extended through Blue river, Jackson, and Green
townships, crossing Blue River near Warrum's old home, and Sugar Creek
near 'Squire Hatfield's, at a place known as the " Stover Ford."
When the Montgomery, McCall, and Evans, first settled, they had to go
to White Water lo mill, where Connersville now stands, some forty miles
McCall. when he first came to the
county, cleared a few acres of ground by yoking his oxen to the grubs
and pulling them out by the roots. He then climbed up the surrounding
trees, and trimmed oil" the branches to considerable height, and with
them constructed a fence around his little patch, thus making the first
fence in the county.
It has been said, in illustration of the capacity of one of the rude
mills, erected in what was then Vernon township, but now Center,
on Sugar Creek, that Rev. Wiley Pilkenton. who was a zealous,
long-winded, old school Baptist. would put in the hopper a two-bushel
grist of corn, attend a two days camp-meeting, and return in time to
loll it. This mill was located just above the Sugar Creek bridge, on
the Noblesville road. In size, it was about sixteen feet square, one
story high, constructed of small logs, or poles, and covered with
chipboards. A stranger was passing this mill, on a certain occasion,
when he vociferously ordered the girls
to "hold that danged
thing till I get by !"