Lawrence County Indiana

Palestine, Indiana



The following is the substance of an article published several years ago, in the Indianapolis News, written by Hon. James H. Willard, and may be relied upon as authentic:

The story of Palestine, the first county seat of Lawrence county, is romantic and mournful. Since the days when Oliver Goldsmith wrote "The Deserted Village," a tinge of melancholy reminiscence has surrounded those abodes where men had experienced the hope, the disappointments and vicissitudes of life, had made their homes for years and then relinquished them to silence and decay. The story of Palestine is indeed a strange one, for it is of a town that at one time promised to be a metropolitan city, but was abandoned by man and reclaimed by nature. Green meadows and forest trees now occupy its former site and not even a foundation stone tells of a vanished town.

Palestine was situated on a high bluff on the north side of White river, near in the center of Lawrence county. The conical hill which it surmounted is so high that the view over many miles of the broken country is magnificent.

The land on which the town was situated, two hundred acres in extent, was conveyed to the newly created county of Lawrence in the early part of the year 1818 by Benjamin and Ezekiel Blackwell, Henry Speed and Henry H. Massie, in consideration of the location of the seat of justice on the site. The site was accepted by the county and the land was laid off by a county agent into two hundred and seventy-six lots, surrounding a public square, on which the court house and jail were to be built. A sale of lots was ordered, the proceeds of which were to be devoted to the expenses of the new county.

The first sale of these lots was advertised to take place on May 25, 1818, the following newspapers being the mediums employed in giving notice to the public: The Louisville Correspondent, the Indiana Gazette, the Western Sun, the Salem Tocsin and a newspaper printed at Madison, Indiana, the name of which has been lost. Not one of these newspapers, except the Western Sun. is in existence at the present time.


About the year 1818 there was great excitement regarding the relocation of the capital of Indiana, it being evident that Corydon, the first capital of the new state, was much too far south. The beautiful situation of Palestine on the high bluff, with its proximity to White river, so that it was accessible to the commerce of those days, impressed land speculators that in all probability this town would be chosen as the capital of Indiana and as a result they flocked to the sale of the lots from all quarters and the bidding of non-resident speculators was spirited and heavy. From all the sale of lots in Palestine there was realized the sum of $17,826, partly in cash and partly in notes, and speculation was so rife that many of the first purchasers made great profits on their investments*

The following account rendered to the county may give an idea of the fees of real estate agents at that time:

Laying out 276 lots in Palestine $132.00
Selling 249 lots, bond, etc I3-5O
Drawing 432 notes at six and one-fourth cents 27.00
Superintending erection, courthouse 7.00
Taking bonds, advertising, etc 10.00
Taking bond advertising jail 6.00
Clearing public square 4.00
Letting1 building of stray-pen 2.00
Total $201.50

Immediately after receiving the contract for the court house, the contractor began its erection. It was known that on a certain day in January, 1819, he was to begin the cutting of the timber to be used for it. In order that he might have the occasion properly celebrated, he went to a settlement near where the Valonia now stands, to secure a good supply of whisky. Some of the young bloods of the new and ambitious town, knowing that he would not return until after nightfall and by a road cut through the dense forests, conspired to get the liquor. One of them was quite tall, was dressed in a bear skin, with a pair of horns on the top of his head. He met the contractor as he came through the woods, near the river, a little after dusk and, with awful groans, rushed toward him. The contractor fled. The boys were drunk for nearly a week, while every able-bodied inhabitant of the young town was entertained many days by the contractor's tale of his meeting Satan in the forest and the last, but not the least, result was that the cutting of the' timber for the new court house was celebrated by those who participated in the ceremony without the customary formalities.

The father of Hon. Joseph A. Wright, afterward governor of Indiana, cut and laid the stone for the foundation for the Palestine court house. The governor, in early life, attended court at Palestine with his father, and it is said that it was here that he acquired the nickname "The Walnut-hiller."

By this he was ever after known in his campaigns.

Several stores were opened in Palestine and a carding machine, a cabinet shop and two tan yards started as infant manufacturing industries. The town grew and in the course of about four years had a population of between six and seven hundred, being the seat of commerce for a territory of about fifty miles in radius. It soon became one of the most flourishing towns in southern Indiana.

The surrounding forests of poplar, oak and walnut were very dense, the timber being of the best quality, Lawrence county even to the present time being celebrated for its fine timber. This gave impetus to the flat-boat industry and several of the boats, loaded with produce, started from Palestine each year on their voyage for New Orleans.

Game was plentiful, forming the main culinary resource of the inhabitants of Palestine during the winter season. Of the hunters of that day, one reminiscence remains. One winter day a hunter brought in four deer on a sled to sell to the residents and informed them that all the deer had been killed by one bullet from his rifle. He found two deer in range and killed both, recovering his bullet, which was imbedded in the neck of the second deer. He reloaded his rifle with this bullet and was lucky enough to find two deer again in range and brought them both down, but lamented that his lucky bullet had passed through them both and was lost to him. So it appears that the tales of what happened to a man when he is alone have not changed much with the years.

Some of the court records of old Palestine are very quaint. In the March term, 1823, Judge Wick and Associate Justices Field and Blackwell, pursuing their regular circuit, opened court in Palestine and the following comment regarding the clerk's entries was ordered spread of record: "Some improvement in neatness and mechanical execution and technicality, and conciseness of style, might be made and is earnestly recommended."

To show the ineffectiveness of the admonition, it may be noted that in the entry of this order there is one interlineation of several words and several erasures made by drawing the pen over the writing. A new trial was ordered in one criminal case because "the jury dispersed and mingled with the people after returning to consult." They had probably been in care of the bailiff under a shade tree near the court house, instead of being sent to a room.


One citizen applied for benefits under an act to aid soldiers of the Revolution, and he says in his affidavit that he has "one cow, one yearling, a bed and household furniture not exceeding ten dollars in value, and a contract for the value of three barrels of whisky in Kentucky, which it is doubtful if he ever gets; and he has eight children scattered abroad in the world."

Dr. Winthrop Foote. who had immigrated from Connecticut and who was learned both in law and medicine, was probably the leading citizen of Palestine. He was eccentric in manner, but a man of great mental force and ability. He was prosecuting attorney and there is a record that says "John Bailey was fined thirty-seven and one-half cents for assaulting Winthrop Foote, prosecuting attorney." At the same term is the entry: "Ordered that W. Foote, prosecuting attorney, be allowed the sum of seventy-five dollars for services during the year," and on the margin is found in Dr. Foote's handwriting the characteristic indorsement "Rejected."

There was just one case involving the slavery question tried in Palestine, the first civil case tried in the county seat. The title was "Susannah Witcher vs. Phillis (a woman of color), recognizance.'' The evidence was heard and as, under the law, neither Phillis nor any of her color could be permitted to testify against Susannah (who was white), the jury had to return a verdict according to the evidence: "We the jury find Phillis to be the property of Susannah Witcher."


Joseph Glover was the first sheriff of the county and, being a most hospitable man. almost kept open house during the terms of court. He owned the first clock ever brought to the county, a fine old wall-sweep in mahogany case, with brass works. The clock showed the changes of the moon and the days of the month, a perfect clock, even in these days. It was the only clock in Palestine for many years.

With whisky at ten cents a gallon, the temptations were greater in those days, and on one occasion Sheriff Glover, about night-fall, found one of the prominent citizens of the county too much under the influence of liquor to reach his home. The sheriff promptly took him to his own house. In the middle of the night the unconscious guest woke up in total darkness and cried out, "Where am I, Where am T ?" and then, pausing, he heard the clock ticking, and knowing it was the only one in the county, he said. "Oh it's all right! Good Joe Glover has taken good care of me, God bless him !" Palestine has passed into the realm of reminiscence, but that same old clock still ticks away in a modern residence in Bedford, keeping time as perfectly as it did three quarters of a century ago.


From the beginning Palestine was very unhealthful. Deadly miasm rose from the river, and malignant fevers prevailed among the inhabitants. This alone, in all probability, prevented Palestine from becoming the capital of Indiana. Judges and lawyers who rode the circuit and attended court there went into the country at night rather than encounter the malaria in the town and thereby incurring the danger of being exposed to disease. It is doubtful whether this sickly condition of the town came from the fact that the river was in front and tanyard branch behind, the miasm of the dense fogs sweeping across the town from both ways, or whether it was because the town was built on the site of an old and extensive grave yard of the Indians or Mound Builders. The town was slightly sandy, and the spring from which it drew its water supply was just below the old burying ground or Indian cemetery. Some of these mounds have of later years been excavated and many curious relics found in them.

After a struggle of seven years, the inhabitants found that their grave yard was growing faster than the town, and they decided to apply to the Legislature for relief, and an act was approved February 9, 1825, providing for the re-location of the county seat.

There was a very bitter feud, traces of which remain still in politics, between the citizens of the north and south sides of the river. The north side was the stronger numerically, and finally it was decided to move the county seat about four miles northeast, away from the stream of water courses, and the location was made at Bedford.

In September, 1825, it was reported that the public well had been completed, the temporary court house erected at Bedford, and the county officers removed their records to the new county seat. At the same time, about three- fourths of the population had abandoned Palestine and moved to the new town, amid jeers, recriminations and abuse from those who chose to still remain and occupy their old homes. It was several years before those who remained in Palestine finally abandoned their houses and moved to Bedford. The old county buildings were sold at auction. Moses Fell bought the old court house for forty, dollars.

Some citizens removed their dwellings, taking down the log buildings in Palestine and setting them up again in Bedford, which city today contains about a dozen of the old log houses which once formed a part of Palestine.

In less than ten years the last resident of Palestine had departed, the log buildings that composed the town went to decay or were sawed up for fire wood. The lots were sold for taxes, and at last all came into the hands of one owner, Thomas Dodd, who lives near the site of the old town.

The Bedford branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern railway skirts the hill on which Palestine once stood. Gradually the wilderness encroached on the site of the abandoned town, and it became a forest of Lombardy poplars. These trees were finally cut down and the original native forest trees sprang up in their place. Many of the latter were also removed and the land turned into meadow, but a grove of native trees crown the hill, occupying the exact site of the old court house in the center of the town, whose inhabitants once hoped to make it the capital of a great state. Not a single trace or vestige of human habitation remains, but if the visitor will dig a few inches in the earth or on the top of the hill he .will find bricks which formed a part of the old court house of this the first seat of justice of Lawrence county.


From various reliable sources the following has been preserved in connection with the history of old Palestine:

John Brown was appointed the first postmaster there in 1819 and probably was the only one who held this office there, as he was the first man to hold the office at Bedford. Robert M. Carlton established himself there as the county agent in 1818. Andrew Evans was another early settler, as were Isaac Mitchell and James Benefield. The latter furnished rooms for the courts. Samuel M. Briggs, a tanner by trade, was one of the first county treasurers, and worked in the tan yard of Joseph and Wier Glover, which shop was built in 1819. This was the largest enterprise in Palestine, giving employment to six workmen. There were twenty-five or thirty vats in this tannery. The hides were sold chiefly in Louisville. The first store in the town was opened in the fall of 1818 by Samuel F. Irwin and Isaac Stewart. They brought in about eight hundred dollars worth of general merchandise, which were placed in the hands of Mr. Irwin, Stewart being a non-resident. In 1819, Patrick Callen also started a small store, selling lots of whisky as well. Dr. Winthrop Foote located as the first doctor of the new county seat town. Later he practiced law at Bedford. The first attorney of the town, or county for that matter, was Rollin C. Dewey, who settled in 1820. Winston Crime, who dug the well on the public square, was an early resident. Henry Powell kept the first inn or boarding house and sold whisky. About 1820, possibly a year later, John and Samuel Lockhart built a large log house and installed a wool carding mill, which did an extensive business. They carded on shares, and did the spinning of their share, which they kept for sale. The first cabinet shop was opened by Ezekiel Blackwell." In the spring of 1819 the town Tiad about fifteen families, and they were determined to put on a bold front and have the village of Palestine incorporated, as they knew full well that it would sound bigger off East where they sent their advertising matter. The following election returns were had in the matter:

"Palestine, Monday, March 1, 1819,

"At a meeting of the qualified voters of the town of Palestine, Lawrence county, Ind., agreeably to the first section of an act providing for the incorporation of towns in the State of Indiana approved January i, 1817, we, the President and clerk of said meeting, do certify that the polls stand thus: Eleven votes in favor and none against being incorporated.

"john Brown, President.
"William Kelsey, Clerk."

At an election for trustees of the town the following were elected: Alexander Walker, William Kelsey, Lemuel Barlow, William Templeton and Stephen Shipman.

One of the early business enterprises of old Palestine, in her palmy days, is seen by the following certificate:

"We the undersigned do certify that Nathaniel Vaughn is of good moral character, and do believe it would be for the benefit and convenience of travelers for the said Vaughn to be licensed that he may retail spirituous liquors and keep a house for public entertainment in Palestine.

"Palestine, September 4, 1819. "Vingand Pound James Gregory
"Isaac Farris Thomas Fulton
"John Anderson John Sutton
"William Templeton James Conley
"Willis Keithley Weir Glover
"John J. Burt Joseph Glover
"Samuel Dale G. G. Hopkins."
"Ezekiel Blackwell


The number of.small streams in Lawrence county raised the necessity of an easy and quick way to transport goods across them, in the commercial intercourse of one part of the county with another, and also to facilitate the traveler. Bridges were crude and unsafe, so numerous ferries along White river and Salt creek were constructed and ferm an interesting note in the early history of the county.

On White river, at the eastern boundary, Sinclair Cox kept a ferry near the present site of Fort Ritner. A man by the name of Dixon came into possession of this ferry later, and it became known for a -long time as Dixon's ferry. It was in section 22, township 4 north, range 2 west. Louden's ferry, at the town of Bono; Beck's ferry, near Tunnelton; one at the mouth of Fish creek, near Lawrenceport; William Fisher's ferry, below Lawrence- port; Ezekiel Blackwell's, at Palestine, during the time that town was the county seat; the ferry of Levi Nugent, in section 3, township 4 north, range I west; Drury Davis's ferry, at the mouth of Leatherwood creek in 1826; one at the mouth of Salt creek owned by Robert Woods in 1823; the Fields Ferry, a short distance below Woods': Taylor's, Dawson's and Green's were among the important ferries established along White river. A bitter feud existed between Woods and Fields, caused by the close proximity of their ferries. One night Woods' boat was burned, but the owner immediately built another and continued his trade. -Two men, Lackey and Taylor, were sent to the state prison for the deed.

On Salt creek there were also many ferries. On the Levi Bailey land a man named Lee kept a ferry for a long time; another where the Rawlins mill stood; Dougherty's ferry west of Bedford; these were perhaps the most important.

Dougherty's ferry was situated where the bridge is on the Fayetteville road. There was an Indian trace here in the early days, crossing the western part of the county to a government supply store, kept by a man named Bigger. This was called Bigger's trace, and passed near Davis Lick creek in the northern part, then south a mile east of Fayetteville, crossing the river where Taylor's ferry was afterward located.


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