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The History of Indiana
A historical overview of Indiana from Native American inhabitants
through the twentieth century

© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 2

Historical Review 1.9   

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Early Pioneers and Settlement Through the Civil War
          Indiana's population grew incredibly fast during the 19th century, reaching over 147,000 by 1820. The earliest towns, including Laurenceburg, Jeffersonville, Madison, Charlestown, and Aurora, developed along the Ohio River. This description of Meadville in 1816 provides an impression of what early towns were like.

Meadville, forty miles from Erie, is situated on the east bank of French Creek. It is a country town composed of several streets, and consists of one hundred and fifty houses. The land is too flat to be pleasing. The streets are also narrow, and the proper formation has been neglected. An eastern population, which is pouring into the place, may however soon remedy the later evil. (3)

          This description also provides an example how pioneers and southerners were viewed by easterners; by saying that an eastern population will remedy the primitive city planning, it is implied that the pioneers of the town were backward and uneducated. The excerpt also touches on the trend of easterners moving west, which greatly increased after statehood.

          As more pioneers arrived in Indiana, they began to settle further north. Most of Indiana's settlers were from the Upper South. Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina provided the most migrants, who settled in southern Indiana. Most of the early pioneers were squatters who legally acquired the land after settling on it. Life was simple; most families were subsistence farmers who lived off of their land and provided for themselves. At first, neighbors were few and far between, but that changed as more settlers arrived in the 1820s and 1830s. Life in Indiana consisted of hard work, but an excerpt from the memoirs of a Wabash Valley settler gives insight to the lighter side of life.

But it might be asked, had you any social amusements, or manly past-times to recreate and enliven the dwellers in the wilderness? We had. In the social line we had our meetings and our singing schools, sugar boilings and weddings - which were as good as ever came off in any country, new or old - and if our youngsters did not "trip the light of fantastic toe" under a professor of the terpsichorean art, or expert French dancing master, they had many a good hoe down on puncheon floors, and were not annoyed by bad whisky. (4)

          Although most of Indiana's early immigration came from the Upper South, there were a few instances of group migration of a different sort. In 1801, a group of 2,500 French-speaking Swiss immigrants settled in Indiana and founded the town of Vevey. A group of Quakers from North Carolina settled in Richmond. The Scribner brothers, natives of New York, founded the town of New Albany in 1813. Statehood gave Indiana a more stable reputation, which in turn attracted more settlers from all over the country. Middle Atlantic and New England migration increased, as did the immigration of foreigners.

          Transportation also made an impact on settlement patterns in Indiana. The construction of canals, better roads, and railroads made traveling to Indiana much easier. Better transportation also helped stimulate the economy by offering additional ways to export and import goods. Steamboats operated on the Ohio River starting in 1811. Their popularity grew immensely, and within a few years they were used on all major rivers and lakes. The National Road reached Indiana in 1829. Covered in a layer of gravel, this road was functional year-round, providing an alternative to the frozen lakes and canals. New York's completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 resulted in vast changes for the Great Lakes region. The Wabash and Erie Canal was the most important canal built for Indiana. Construction began in 1832 and took several years to finish. It reached Toledo and Lafayette in 1842, was extended to Terre Haute by 1849, and reached Evansville in 1853. Railroads provided the final addition to Indiana's transportation revolution. The first major railroad in the state was completed in 1847 and ran from Madison to Indianapolis. More railroads followed. Between the rivers, canals, roads, and trains, people traveling to and from Indiana had many options. Economic opportunities increased significantly as national and international markets became more accessible to Indiana businessmen and farmers.

Table 1: Indiana's Population

Religion in Indiana

          Church groups played an interesting role in the frontier history of Indiana. Most of the pioneers were not church going people, not because they were religiously ambivalent, but because there wasn't any churches. Pioneers considered themselves Christians, but did not regularly attend church. For the first few decades of Indiana's settlement, villages were very scattered. Therefore, forming a congregation and building a church was difficult and not of the highest priority. Christianity set the moral tone for the frontier, yet there were few places of worship outside of the home. Preachers traveled to fill the gap. Methodist circuit riders were often the first to reach Indiana pioneers and create congregations. The Methodists and the Baptists were the first denominations to bring Christianity to Americans in Indiana. The Catholic Church was already established in the state, but catered mainly to the leftover French populations. The Methodists used circuit riders and the Baptists held revivals to reach rural people. Churches and congregations slowly formed as more people arrived in the state. The first Baptist church in Indiana was built near Charleston in 1798. The first Methodist church was created in 1801 in Springville. Other early churches included a Presbyterian church built in 1806 near Vincennes by Scots-Irish settlers from Pennsylvania, and Quakers from North Carolina built a Quaker meetinghouse in Richmond. As settlement continued throughout the century, more denominations would be represented in the state. In 1808, Shakers established a community called West Union. They fled to Kentucky during the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, but returned afterward. The community reached a population of 200 by 1823, but left the state permanently in 1827.(5) The 1830s saw an increase in Lutheran and Catholic membership due to increased German and Irish immigration. Indiana went on to house Mennonites from Switzerland in 1835 and Amish in 1840. The Disciples of Christ gained many members during the 1830s, and the number of Jews in the state grew from 3,600 in 1890 to 25,808 in 1914.(6)

          One of the most interesting religious groups to come to Indiana was the German Separatists led by George Rapp. Known as the Rappites, this group arrived in America in 1803 and settled first in Pennsylvania. The Rappites were communal, briefly practiced celibacy, and interpreted the Bible in their own way, differing from the established church. Their beliefs and practices brought them persecution in Germany and led to their immigration to America. Quickly outgrowing their village in Pennsylvania, they moved to Indiana in 1814. In their village, called Harmonie, they constructed many brick buildings, a church, a sawmill, and a granary. The Rappites left Harmonie in 1825 for more land in Pennsylvania, and George Owen purchased the former town site. Owen then created his own utopian society, called New Harmony. Over 1,000 scholars and teachers moved to the utopia, but Owen abandoned it soon after. Many of the Owenites remained in New Harmony, carrying on the tradition of learning and peace.

Slavery and the Civil War

          Slavery existed early in Indiana, despite the ban set forth by the Ordinance of 1787. Slave owners desperately wanted to keep their slaves, so Indiana adopted a Virginia law that permitted lifetime contracts between owners and servants. Slavery was later outlawed and pro-slavery activity was minimal. Despite the limited pro-slavery activity, the majority of Hoosiers (nickname of ambiguous origin given to the people of Indiana) did not want slavery in their state, or black people at all. An amendment to the Indiana state constitution forbade the entrance of blacks into the state in 1851, reflecting the state's lack of tolerance. Some Hoosiers were against slavery on moral grounds and church leaders were often first to condemn slavery. The Liberty and Free Soil parties, which both included abolition as part of their platforms, found support among Hoosiers. The Underground Railroad, a network of sympathetic families that helped slaves escape to the north, functioned in Indiana. It is estimated that nearly 250 Hoosiers took part in the clandestine service.(7) Indiana was home to some very mixed views about African Americans and abolition, but the majority of Indiana citizens agreed that they did not want slavery in their state or in any newly created western state.

          When the Civil War broke out, Indiana was overwhelming supportive of the Union, though this support waned during the course of the conflict. Over 200,000 Indiana men served in the war and about 25,000 of them died in combat or from wounds and disease. Most of the men from Indiana fought in battles west of the Appalachians. Indiana was not a battleground during the war, but it was home to some raids, the most famous of which is Morgan's Raid of 1863. General John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate, led 3,000 men on a terrible raid through the Midwest, striking Indiana in July. They hit Corydon first, pillaging stores and mills, and terrorizing residents. From there they went north to Salem, east through New Philadelphia and Lexington, then north to Dupont. Union troops were only five hours behind them at Dupont, but were not able to catch them before they left Indiana. After looting Dupont, Morgan's raiders continued to Vernon and then Versailles before leaving the state on the thirteenth of July. What Indiana lacked in physical battles they made up for in political ones. Secret societies, like that of the Sons of Liberty, were very active in the state and created a small contingency of peace democrats, called Copperheads. But despite the propaganda war led by the Copperheads, Indiana, the former home of Abraham Lincoln, remained solidly loyal to the Union.

The Golden Age of Agriculture, Industrialization, and the Rise of Big Business

          After the Civil War, until the early 20th century, Indiana remained very agricultural. By 1850, the state ranked third in hog production, fourth in corn, fifth in sheep, and sixth in wheat. The number of farms in Indiana increased from 132,000 in 1860 to 222,000 in 1900.(8) Corn, wheat, oats, and horses remained top agricultural exports at the turn of the century. Early industries in Indiana stemmed from agriculture. Gristmills, sawmills, meatpacking, beer making, cotton, and steamboat engines all became large industries in the state. The type of industries that developed in Indiana towards the end of the 19th century were centered on newly found natural resources, such as natural gas, which was discovered in 1900. Natural gas was necessary for the production of glass, which also became a major industry in the state with the creation of the Ball Brothers [glass] Company, established in 1887. Iron and steel were also important to the state's economy, leading to the production of automobiles and planes after the turn of the century. The rise of big agriculture and big business went hand-in-hand in late 19th century Indiana.

          With the rise of big business came corruption. Corporation leaders befriended politicians, creating a bond that resulted in business-friendly laws. Mergers turned into monopolies that put strains on the working communities of the state. Political bosses, such as Oliver P. Morton and Daniel Voorhees, used questionable tactics to sway elections. In 1888, two election officials in Indiana were arrested for the forging of tally sheets. These illegal activities were not uncommon during the late 19th century. Unionism and Grange movements were backlashes to big business practices, and set the stage for the reform movement of the early 20th century. The Grangers, and later the Populists, called for agricultural reform including the government ownership of railroads and a cap of freight rates, but did not find much success in the state. The lack of successful agricultural changes reflected an overall deficiency in reform support. The first decades of the 20th century are often known as the "Progressive Age" of American history because it was a time when citizens rallied for better labor laws and the end of political corruption. Indiana's reform movement was rather moderate when compared to other industrialized states, but did lead to some important changes. A split in the Republican Party over what reforms to support hurt the early stages of the movement, but by 1916, Republicans were able to agree on some improvements. A fairer tax system, centralized highway commission, child labor laws, public health improvements, and direct primary elections were all part of the state's reforms. Charitable organizations gained more support during this time, as did prohibition.

(3)David Thomas, Travels Through the Western Country in the Summer of 1816, (Darien, Connecticut: Hafner Publishing Company, 1870 [facsimile of the 1819 edition] ), 38.
(4)Sanford C. Cox, Recollections of the Early Settlement of the Wabash Valley, (New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1970 [first published in 1860] ), 20.

(5)Howard H. Peckham, Indiana, A Bicentennial History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978), 88.
(6)Peckham, 89.

(7)Peckham, 66.
(8)Peckham, 109.

By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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