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Welcome to Sullivan County, Indiana
History and Genealogy

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  Sullivan County Courthouse
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On 25 February 1779 Col. George Rogers Clark captured Fort Sackville at Vincennes from the British. About six miles west at Pointe Coupee on the Wabash River on 2 March 1779, Capt. Leonard Helm commanding three boats and 50 volunteers from Vincennes captured a reinforcement fleet of seven boats carrying 40 soldiers and valuable supplies and Indian trade goods. This small naval battle completed the destruction of British military strength in the Wabash Valley.

The county's first settlement occurred between 1808 and 1812, by a religious society of celibates known as Shakers. The 400 members of this communal group occupied 1,300 acres, seven miles west of Carlisle.

General William Henry Harrison's army made its camp in Sullivan County at Big Springs on September 29, 1811. Harrison used Benjamin Turman's fort as his headquarters. With spring water available, it was an ideal location for 1000 men, including 160 dragoons and 60 mounted riflemen. A Kentucky soldier killed a fellow Kentuckian, Clark, either accidentally or in a grudge fight. The deceased was buried at the top of a hill that became the Mann Truman Cemetery. General Harrison and his troops continued north of the Wea Indian Trail to build Fort Harrison and then proceeded to the Battle of Tippecanoe.

A War of 1812 military action occurred in September 1812, three miles WSW of Sullivan County. While escorting supplied from Fort Knox near Vincennes to Fort Harrison at Terre Haute, Sergeant Nathan Fairbanks and approximately a dozen soldiers were ambused, and most killed by Indians.

In 1815, Carlisle was founded. Sullivan County was formed in 1817. It was named for Daniel Sullivan, said by some sources to have been a Revolutionary War general killed by Native Americans while carrying a dispatch between Fort Vincennes and Louisville.

A log courthouse in Merom served as Sullivan County's first county seat from 1819-1842. Merom was an important river port and a spot on the stage route known as The Olde Harrison Trail. William Henry Harrison's troops camped near her on their 1811 march to the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Pioneer heroine of abdominal surgery Jane Todd is buried in Sullivan County. Born in Virginia in 1763, she and her husband, Thomas Crawford, moved to Green County, Kentucky, in 1805. Suffering from a huge abdominal tumor, she rode 60 miles to Danville, Kentucky, to submit to an operation never before performed. On December 25, 1809, Dr. Ephraim McDowell performed this, the first ovariotomy, in his home. The ordeal lasted 25 minutes. There was no anesthesia. Mrs. Crawford recovered completely and years later came to Graysville to live with her son, Thomas, a Presbyterian minister. She died in 1842 at age 78. The restored McDowell home in Danville, Kentucky is a surgical shrine.

Sullivan was found in 1853 and became the county seat. Dedicated in 1862, Union Christian College served as a preparatory school and college until 1924. In 1936 it became Merom Institute, a rural enrichment center. Now owned by the United Church of Christ, it serves as a camp, conference and retreat center. Numerous violent conflicts erupted in Sullivan County during the American Civil War over differing war sentiments. On July 14, 1864, anti-war Democrat John Drake was fatally shot at a community picnic near here.

Organized nationally to bring culture to rural communities, Merom's 10-day religious and educational Chautauqua event featured concerts, debates, plays and lectures. Carrie Nation, William Jennings Bryan, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding and Billy Sunday were among the speakers here.

Organized nationally to bring culture to rural communities, Merom's 10-day religious and educational Chautauqua event featured concerts, debates, plays and lectures. Carrie Nation, William Jennings Bryan, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding and Billy Sunday were among the speakers here.

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