Vincennes, Indiana had its
beginning; where Chief Tecumseh walked;
where the first governor of the Indiana Territory and ninth president of the United States lived and worked; where troops mustered for the battle of Tippecanoe;
where laws were passed that still affect Indiana residents today;
and where the first free press in Indiana was born among other firsts.
Some of the historical sites of Vincennes include the Birthplace of Maurice Thompson,
the Indiana Territory Capital, the Print Shop of Elihu Stout, the Log Cabin Visitors Center,
the Old State Bank, and Fort Knox, Sugar Loaf Mound, Jefferson Academy,
St Francis Xavier Church, known as the Old Cathedral., and Grouseland,the home of William Henry Harrison.
VINCENNES, PIONEER CITY OF THE MIDDLE WEST
VINCENNES, Indiana, though a small city of twenty thousand population is one of the pioneer towns of the Middle West,as well as one rich in history of the early days. Here was erected the first church built west of Philadelphia, still in use today and known as St. Francis Xavier cathedral. It was erected in 1702, made of handmade brick and finished in native wood, hewn and dressed by hand. It served as a place of worship, for all the French settlers far up and down the Wabash Valley. Within its walls was held the first public school of the Northwest Territory (now Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois). It is said that Washington paid from his own pocket money as a part of the teachers' pay. With the coming of a larger number of white settlers the school was moved from the old church. It was the center of the small colony of whites, serving the many uses of a public building and in later years served (1778) as a shelter for Clark's soldiers after the capture of the English garrison at Fort Knox. In the east wing of the old church is one of the oldest libraries in the country filled with rare old books. Found on the shelves are rare old geographies published in 1620-1633. It is claimed that our Government has found some of the books very valuable in making maps, and as a reference to early history. There is also a large collection of rare and costly laces. The old cathedral and library is by far the oldest and most interesting building in the old town. Yet, there are several others that are very interesting relics of bygone days. Not far from the old church is what is called the first Legislature, a one-story French type of dwelling, used as a place of meeting by Indiana's first Legislature. This structure is still in fairly good condition and is kept in repair by the city. About one block west of the Legislature building stands the Harrison home, a large structure made of hand-made brick, once the home of President William Henry Harrison; he occupied it at the time of the battle of Tippecanoe. The old house is visited by hundreds of people yearly. One room is filled with various Indian relics—a bed of Francis Vigo,— a portrait of William Henry Harrison painted in Chillicothe, O., more than one hundred years ago. There is a secret passageway to the tunnel which once had an outlet at the river. For many years there was a rumor the home contained a secret room yet unlocated. Many people had hunted for some clue that would lead them to find it, and in September, 1915, it was located by a boy, Erwin Van Kirk, who had heard of the hidden room and had long been trying to locate it. Leading from a lower room is a grand stairway, and he concluded that the only possible entrance must be beneath the heavy floor of the stair landing. He removed several planks from the landing and was rewarded by finding a room of considerable size. Securing a short ladder he descended into the room and by the light of a lantern viewed the floor and walls which no human eye had seen for perhaps a century; the only article found in the room was an old low-cut shoe with wooden heel and metal trim. There was no exit from the room, but there could be traced upon the wall what had once been a door leading into the rear court. Harrison, at that time governor, is believed to have constructed the secret room to be used as a hiding-place for valuable documents. Shortly before the finding of the secret chamber workmen while excavating for street improvements unearthed the remains of the walls of Fort Knox. It had always been known that the old Fort stood somewhere within the city limits, but the exact location was never known until the decayed butts of the heavy logs were uncovered. The complete outlines of the wall could be traced, yet the wood was so decayed that it fell to dust when exposed to air a few hours. Within the lines of the old walls were found several old English coins many in almost perfect condition, a few scraps of metal nearly destroyed by rust and a few bits of broken crockery helped to mark the spot where historic Fort Knox stood while the cathedral,—fort—and home of Harrison stand as proof of the white man's first improvement of the western wilderness. The red man who was there before him left, to mark his first efforts to imitate the white man, an orchard of several hundred trees. This orchard was of full fruiting age when the first Frenchman reached the banks of the Wabash, The location of the orchard was a few miles southeast of the then Indian village which is now Vincennes. The orchard lived for many years after the coming of the white men and bore fruit in abundance. This is perhaps the only case on record of the Indians of early days planting fruit orchards. This Indian orchard was of seedling fruit, strong long-lived trees; it is only a few years past that old trees that had sprouted from the original stump could be seen. It was supposed that the Indians had secured apple-seed from the early orchards of the Eastern Settlements, and had planted them near their western home. For several miles south and west of Vincennes can be found here and there Indian mounds showing that the Wabash valley was a favorite hunting ground of the red men. To the south among the sandstone bluffs in southern Illinois can be found numbers of camping grounds, shown the burnt walls of sandstone where the winter's fires were kept burning. The hills. are strewn with flints, and broken pottery. Vincennes appears to have marked the chief camp, of the various tribes of the Wabash valley. A short distance below the city is a small wooded island in the Wabash, here the waters are shallow, passing over a bed of stone; this was the crossing place of Clark's force and it is claimed they rested upon the island a few hours before they marched upon Fort Knox. ST. FRANCISVILLE, ILL. THOMAS M. CISEL
Letter Written By Maurice Thompson On Alice of Vincennes and why he wrote it.
To M. PLACIDE VALCOUR M. D., Ph D., LL. D. MY DEAR DR. VALCOUR: You gave me the Inspiration which made this story haunt me until I wrote it. Gaspard Roussillon's letter, a mildewed relic of the year 1788, which you so kindly permitted me to copy, as far as it remained legible, was the point from which my imagination, accompanied by my curiosity, set out upon a long and delightful quest. You laughed at me when I became enthusiastic regarding the possible historical importance at that ancient find, alas! fragmentary epistle; but the old saying about the beatitude of him whose cachinations are latest comes handy to me just now, and I must remind you that "I told you so." True enough, it was history pure and simple that I had in mind while enjoying the large hospitality of your gulf-side home. Gaspard Roussillon's letter then appealed to my greed for materials which would help along the making of my little book "The Story of Louisiana." Later, however, as my frequent calls upon you for both documents and suggestions have informed you, I fell to strumming a different guitar. And now to you I dedicate this historical romance of old Vincennes, as a very appropriate, however slight, recognition of your scholarly attainments, your distinguished career in a noble profession, and your descent from one of the earliest French families (if not the very earliest) long resident at that strange little post on the Wabash, now one of the most beautiful cities between the greet river and the ocean. Following, with ever tantalized expectancy, the broken and breezy hints in the Roussillon letter, I pursued a will-o'-the-wisp, here, there, yonder, until by slowly arriving increments I gathered up a large amount of valuable facts, which when I came to compare them with the history of Clark's conquest of the Wabash Valley, fitted amazingly well into certain spaces heretofore left open in that important yet sadly imperfect record. You will find that I was not so wrong in suspecting that Emile Jazon, mentioned in the Roussillon letter, was a brother of Jean Jazon and a famous scout in the time of Boone and Clark. He was, therefore, a kinsman of yours on the maternal side, and I congratulate you. Another thing may please you, the success which attended my long and patient research with a view to clearing up the connection between Alice Roussillon's romantic life, as brokenly sketched in M. Roussillon's letter, and the capture of Vincennes by Colonel George Rogers Clark. Accept, then, this book, which to those who care only for history will seem but an idle romance, while to the lovers of romance it may look strangely like the mustiest history. In my mind, and in yours I hope, it will always be connected with a breezy summer- house on a headland of the Louisiana gulf coast, the rustling of palmetto leaves, the fine flash of roses, a tumult of mocking-bird voices, the soft lilt of Creole patois, and the endless dash and roar of a fragrant sea over which the gulls and pelicans never ceased their flight, and beside which you smoked while I dreamed. MAURICE THOMPSON. JULY, 1900.
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