A Brief History of Scott County

A Brief History of Scott County

From "The Centennial History of Austin, Scott County, Indiana"
One Hundred Years of Progress
1853-1953

By Carl R. Bogardus, M.D.

Published by the Historical Committee of the Centennial Celebration, 1953.

THE FIRST WHITE MAN who set foot in what is now Scott County, Indiana, was the great French explorer, Rene Robert Cavelier de ha Salle (1643-1687), the discoverer of the Ohio River, in 1670. Early in that year he departed from Canada with a party of French soldiers and Iroquois Indians. They descended the Allegheny and Ohio rivers to the falls of the Ohio, at present-day Louisville and Jeffersonville. They had planned to continue down the Ohio to the Mississippi River, but at this point La Salle was deserted by his Indian followers. As a consequence of this action he returned overland to Canada by way of the present state of Indiana. Their route northward followed the ancient Indian trail, later known as the Three-Notch Road, which led from the falls of the Ohio to the Fall Creek ford across the White River at present-day Indianapolis, and which traversed Scott County.

It was not until 1682 that La Salle finally descended the Mississippi River to its mouth, where on April the 9th he formally took possession of all the region drained by the Mississippi for King Louis XV, of France and named it Louisiana.

The French were not colonizers, as the English and Americans were, but they were trappers, traders and missionaries. They established three trading posts along the Wabash Rivet in what was later to be the state of Indiana. Vincennes, the oldest, dates from 1701, and was named for a French officer, Sieur de Vincennes, who was stationed at the fort in 1736.

The first white man of British descent to explore the region west of the Allegheny Mountains was Christopher Gist, who was employed by the Ohio River Company, which had been organized by a syndicate of London merchants in 1748 to secure to the English the Ohio River and to check the southward progress of New France. His explorations were made in 1750. At this time there were no English settlements west of the mountains, and during this period both England and France claimed the Ohio River basin. The situation finally came to a head with the beginning of the war between England and France, which we call the French and Indian War and which began in 1754. The shameful defeat in 1755 of General Edward Braddock in western Pennsylvania by the French and Indians was an episode of this war. The war ended in favor of the English and by the Treaty of 1763 they gained undisputed control of all the former French territory in North America east of the Mississippi River. However, as we shall later see, this control did not last too long.

The earliest white settlement made on the Ohio River was in 1770 at the present site of Wheeling, West Virginia, by the Zane brothers, forebears of the author Zane Grey. The next permanent settlement was made in 1780 at Louisville, Kentucky, then part of Virginia, by General George Rogers Clark, at which time he built Fort Nelson and laid our the town. However, a few families had lived on Corn Island, below the mouth of Bear Grass Creek as early as 1773.

From this time onward there was a great influx of settlers from Pennsylvania and Virginia, who floated down the Ohio from the head waters in canoes and arks, or flatboats. Prosperous settlements sprang up along the entire length of the river and settlers began making their way inland in search of greener pastures.

This peaceful state of affairs was no sooner started than it was interrupted by the beginning of our Revolution against the British which started with the Battle of Lexington in 1775.

Since the British claimed and occupied the territory northwest of the Ohio River which, theoretically, belonged to the state of Virginia, on January 9 1778 Governor Patrick Henry (1736-1799) of Virginia, instructed Colonel George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) to raise an army of 600 men and to attack and take the British post, which had formerly been occupied by the French, of Kaskaskia and Cahokia, on the Mississippi River near Sr. Louis, and Vincennes on the Wabash River. However, he was able to raise an outfit only a small portion of the number of men he was ordered to raise. With his little army he proceeded down the Ohio River in boats and made his headquarters on Corn Island above the falls of the Ohio. His army consisting of only 170 men was divided into four companies under Captains Harrod, Bowman, Helm and Montgomery. Clark was a bearer of two sets of orders. One was for the benefit of British spies and ordered him to proceed to Corn Island and erect a fort there. The other was secret, and ordered him to take the British forts.

On June 24, 1778, Colonel Clark and his men left Corn Island in their fleet of boats and descended the Ohio to the mouth of the Tennessee River, where on the north shore there was an old, abandoned French post known as Fort Massac. Here they hid their boats and marched overland by way of an old military road to Kaskaskia, on the Mississippi River near Sr. Louis, in the present state of Illinois, which they easily captured on July 4th. His forces also soon rook Cahokia, farther up the Mississippi, and Vincennes, on the Wabash. These places were garrisoned by only a few British soldiers, so they were taken with no trouble. Clark left Captain Leonard Helm and a detachment of one man to hold Vincennes, and returned to his headquarters at Kaskaskia.

Then on December 17, 1778, Colonel Henry Hamilton, affectionately known to his Indian Allies as the "Hair Buyer," came down the Wabash and forced Captain Helm to surrender Fort Sackville and the town of Vincennes.

Thus matters stood until the following February, 1779, when in the dead of winter Colonel Clark marshalled his forces at Kaskaskia and began his memorable 165 mile march in the face of incredible hardships from Kaskaskia to Vincennes. Cold, snow, mud, high water, exposure, sickness and lack of food failed to stop these hardy sons of the wilderness and in due course they appeared before the town completely taking the British garrison by surprise.

Clark, with his usual generalship, forced Hamilton to surrender the fort on February 25, 1779, without a battle actually being fought, thus securing the territory northwest of the Ohio River for the state of Virginia. Colonel Hamilton was sent to Williamsburg, then capital of Virginia, as a prisoner of war.

Following the termination of the Revolution, Great Britain at the treaty of peace in 4783 conceded the Northwest Territory as belonging to) Virginia, since Clark and his men were still in possession at the end of the war; otherwise, the territory would probably have been a part of Canada today.

The state of Virginia, in order to show its appreciation for what Clark and his men had clone on January 2, 1784, voted to grant them 149,000 acres of land which was to be located any place on the north side of the Ohio River which they might choose. They accordingly selected a site adjacent to the falls of the Ohio River. In addition Colonel Clark was made a general and presented with a beautiful sword. A small portion of this grant lies in Scott and Floyd Counties, but the greater part of it lies in the present county of Clark, which was organized February 1, 1801 and named for General Clark. It was formed from Knox County which was organized as a county in 1790 and was the only county in Indiana previous to the formation of Clark County.

In addition to the land bounty granted to Clark, his officers and men, a tract of 1,000 acres lying along the falls opposite Louisville, was granted for a town which was to be called Clarksville. The town was laid out in 1783 and is Indiana's second oldest; only Vincennes is older. General Clark made his home there.

In 1783 the state of Virginia appointed William Clark, a cousin of the general, as surveyor of the grant and he selected as his assistants to do the actual surveying Edmund Rogers, David Steel, Peter Catlett, and Burwell Jackson. The 149,000 acres was divided into tracts each of which was stated to contain 500 acres more or less.

Take a look at the map of Scott County and you will very plainly see standing out like a sore thumb a triangular tract of land containing approximately 7,000 acres in which the boundaries and roads, instead of running east and west and north and south run at a forty-five degree angle. This area, so obviously out of step with the rest of the county, is part of the portion of Charlestown Township of Clark County which was cut off to form part of Scott County when it was created in 1820. This is by far the oldest part of Scott County historically speaking. This part of the grant was surveyed by Peter Catlett.

Soon after making the grant to Clark and his men the state of Virginia, on March 1, 1784, relinquished her claim to the Northwest Territory to the United States government on condition that the previous donation should be respected. The territorial government was organized by the Ordinance of 1787. One provision which long played an important part in American history was that by which slavery was forever prohibited in the territory.

Cincinnati was made the capital of the Northwest Territory which included the present states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. General Arthur Sr. Chair was the first governor.

Settlers began coming into the new territory - a fact which was greatly resented by the Indians. From 1794 five separate expeditions were sent against the hostile Indians of Ohio and Indiana. In 1790 General Josiah Harmar was utterly routed on the Scioto River. In May and June, 1791, General Charles Scott (1739-1813) with Colonel James Wilkinson as second in command conducted a successful campaign against the Indians on the Wabash River. In November 1791 General Arthur St. Chair was disastrously defeated by the Indians at Fort Recovery, Ohio. In the summer of 1794 General Scott, at the head of 1500 mounted Kentucky volunteers, joined General Anthony Wayne (1745-1796) and took part in the Battle of Fallen Timbers on the Maumee River in northwestern Ohio on August 20, 1794, at which the Indians were decisively defeated. Returning to Kentucky from this expedition, General Scott and his men marched south over the same Indian road LaSalle had taken going north and passed through the land which was eventually to be formed into a county to be named in his honor.

In 1795 the Treaty of Greenville, Ohio, was concluded at which the Indians surrendered most of Ohio and a small strip along the southeastern side of Indiana to the whites. The land east of this line was called the Northwest Territory, while that to the west was known as Indiana Territory. What is now Ohio became quickly settled, but Indiana Territory remained inhabited mainly by the French and Indians.

It was not until May 3, 1800, that Indiana Territory was finally organized as a governmental unit. President John Adams appointed General William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) as its first governor. Vincennes was made the territorial capital. The new territory consisted of nearly all of Indiana, the western half of Michigan, the present states of Illinois and Wisconsin, and part of what is now Minnesota. The estimated population of the entire area was about 5,000.

General Harrison was born in Virginia. His father, Benjamin, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He fought with Wayne at Fallen Timbers in 1794. While living in Ohio, he became Secretary and Delegate of Northwest Territory. He was only twenty-seven when he became governor of Indiana Territory. He served in that capacity until 1813 and after a varied career became President of the United States in 1841 but died after serving but one month in office.

When Indiana Territory was organized nearly all that vast area belonged to the red man. Harrison spent much time between 1801 and 1819 making treaties with the Indians. By the latter date the Indians had ceded the southern third of Indiana to the whites. Though we had taken this territory from the British by right of conquest, the land was still claimed by the various tribes of Indians who had lived there for countless centuries. So the government, in order to be as honest as possible in their dealings with Indians, had to go through the formality of purchase from them by treaties before the various sections of the state could be opened up for settlement.

On August 21, 1805 at the Treaty of Grouseland (Grouseland was the name of Governor Harrison’s home at Vincennes) the area along the Ohio River, including the present county of Scott, was purchased from the Indians and opened up for settlement. The Grouseland Treaty line ran through Rockford on the White River just north of Seymour.

As early as 1804 settlers began coming into this part of the state. In that year a group of pioneers, led by an elder in the Baptist Church, Reverend Jesse Vawter (1755-1838), from Franklin and Scott Counties, Kentucky, migrated to where Madison is now located and settled on the plateau above the river. They were soon followed by many, many more who quickly spread out over the surrounding country.

Some of the more restless settlers pushed on deeper into the forest to the west and settled in what is now Lexington Township, Scott County, but was then a part of Clark County. The very first of these, John Kimberlin of Virginia, and his two sons, Daniel (1789-1880) , and Isaac, came down the Ohio River in a flatboat from Greene County, Pennsylvania in April, 1805, and settled on a small stream , a branch of Stucker Creek which we now call Kimberlin Creek (Stucker Creek in those days was called Brushy Fork of the Muscatatuck River) . Nearby the house was a large spring of water which still flows today. There they erected a cabin of white oak logs which was still standing and used as a dwelling as late as 1876 at which time it was torn down and the logs were used to build a barn which stood until 1919. What a shame it is that this old landmark could not have been preserved for posterity! This pioneer farm was located in the northwest quarter of Tract No. 264 of Clark's Grant which had originally been granted in 1784 to Captain William Harrod (1737-1801) who had served with Clark and who was a brother of Colonel James Harrod (1742-1792) of Kentucky and Thomas Harrod (1727-1798) ancestor of the Harrods of Scott County. This farm, about one-half mile northwest of Nabb, is owned and occupied by Luther Campbell and is still known as the "John Kimberlin Farm.'' The site of the old fort can still be plainly seen. After the Pigeon Roost Massacre on September 3, 1812, because of local unrest and fear of the recurrence of Indian Raids, this large and strongly built house was converted into a fort or block house where militia troops were quartered for many months. About 100 yards east of the site of this old house is a small abandoned cemetery where lie in an unmarked grave the remains of John Kimberlin, Scott County's first white settler.

Daniel Kimberlin fought under General Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and later served during the War of 1812. His marriage to Ursula Brinton (1799-1867), daughter of Robert Brinton, a veteran of the Revolution is said to have been the first too take place in what is now the county of Scott.

The earliest settlers of Scott County came chiefly from Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina and some came from the states of the eastern seaboard, There were two main routes traveled by the immigrants coming too the new west. They either came down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania in flat boats or they came overland through famed Cumberland Gap and1 over the Wilderness Road through Kentucky.

In 1805 Jesse Henley came to the crossroads of what was to be the later day Lexington-Salem and Bethlehem-Rockford State Roads, then in Clark County but from 1810-1820 in Jefferson County and after 1820 in Scott County, and built a log inn or tavern for the benefit of travelers on those roads and to use as a base for trading with the Shawnee and Delaware Indians who lived thereabouts. He had emigrated from North Carolina to Clark County in 1800.

The next settlers that we have any definite record of were the brothers John Stucker and Jacob Stucker (1799-1863) who settled on what we now call Stucker Creek in the spring of 1807. In the summer and fall months they were followed by William Nichols, Daniel Searls, Peter Storms, Robert Brinton, James, Samuel, and Isaac Harrod (sons of Thomas Harrod) , John Williams, and Hiram Wingate, all of whom settled in what is now Lexington Township. Soon settlers were taking up land all over the area. It was in I 809 that a group of twelve pioneers and their families, led by William E. Collings (1758-1828), came from Kentucky and established the ill-fated Pigeon Roost settlement which was destroyed by the Shawnee Indians on September 3, 1812.

In 1813 at the crossroads mentioned above the town of Lexington was platted by three pioneers, General William McFarland, Nehemiah Hunt, and Jesse Henley; however, there had been houses there even before this time. John and Jacob Stucker had built hewed log houses there in 1810 and General McFarland had built the first frame house there in the same year. In 1812 a man by the name of Kanower opened the first blacksmith shop. William Fleming and Moses Gray were pioneer merchants. In July, 1814 the first edition of the first newspaper published in Scott County was issued at Lexington. It was the "Western Eagle."

In 1814 the first postoffice was established in Lexington with James Ward as the first postmaster. In 1815 a bank known as the "Indiana Manufacturing Company" was established at Lexington. This was a notorious means of swindling the public, for they issued bank notes without having the capital to back them up. In 1817 the first school house in Scott County was built. In 1815 D. Shelburne owned and operated the Lexington Hotel, William Wales and John Maddox were blacksmiths, Benson White was a "taylor and mantu-maker", George Strickland was a coach, house and sign painter and John Warnell ran a general store.

Another feature that made Lexington an important center was the salt spring on the New London Road, one mile east of the town on the bank of Town Creek (a branch of Stucker Creek). The brine from this spring was boiled down in large iron kettles and the resultant salt was sold for two dollars a bushel. Later a deep well was dug in order to acquire a larger supply of brine. The site of this old spring and well can still be seen today on the farm of Howard Bridgewater.

Lexington soon became a town of considerable importance and flourished greatly. It was only natural that it should become the county seat when Scott County was formed in 1820. The only other town in the county at that time was Vienna which had been first platted in 1815; however, even before then there had been a tavern there where the Cincinnati Trace crossed Pigeon Roost Creek and a block house to which some of the survivors of the Pigeon Roost Massacre fled in 1812.

The oldest road traversing Scott County was the east and west Cincinnati-Vincennes road known as the Cincinnati Trace which was surveyed and cult Odor by Captain Ephraim Kibbey from 1799-1805. Lexington, Vienna and Leota were located on this pioneer road. In 1820 this road was established by the State Legislature as the Lexington-Salem State Road. Another old pioneer road was in 182 1 established as the Bethlehem-Rockford State Road. It ran through Lexington, angled dip through Scott County, and forded the Muscatatuck River at Slate Ford. Above the ford was Pierson's Mill, a water-powered grist and saw mill. Below the ford was a place called Boat Landing. Here small flat boats were built, loaded with farm produce, and floated with spring rises to the various markets downstream, some being destined even as far as New Orleans. We of today can hardly believe that at one time we had a busy river port here in Scott County, but such was the case. In 1820 an act of the Legislature declared the South Fork of the Muscatatuck River to be a public highway to the mouth of Graham Creek and the Brushy Fork of the Muscatatuck (today called Stucker Creek ) was declared to be a public highway to the mouth of Hog Creek (near the home of Marshall Wells on State Road 56). Obstruction of these navigable streams by bridges and mill dams was prohibited. Commissioners were empowered to call out "hands" living within two miles of the stream to help clear it of snags and sand bars.

The early settlers of what is now Scott County, having such long distances to travel to their respective county seats, Madison, Charlestown, Salem, Brownstown and Vernon, appealed to the State Legislature assembled at the capital at Corydon, to form a new county for their convenience. Accordingly, the new county was organized on January 12, 1820, effective February 1, 1820. It was named for General Charles Scott (1739-1813), of Virginia, a Revolutionary War hero who participated in a number of important engagements against the Indians in Indiana, and was the fifth governor of Kentucky from 1808-1812. Originally there were only three townships-Lexington, Vienna, and Jennings, In 1867 Johnson Township was cut off from Jennings and Finley was cut off from Vienna. The new county was formed from parts of the following counties whose dates of formation are also given :

Clark, 1801; Jefferson, 1810; Washington, 1813; Jackson, 1815; and Jennings, 1816. According to the 1820 census, the new county of Scott had a population of 2,334 people, of whom six were stated to be slaves. The greater portion of these residents had moved here from some other part of the country.

The commissioners appointed by the act of the Legislature at their 1819 session, to locate the seat of justice of Scott County were D. H. Maxwell, A. C. Pepper, Ralph Cotton, B. Bradley and Harbin H. Moore, looked the new county over and selected Lexington as the county seat. The County Commissioners appointed by the act were Joseph Switzer, Ruben Johnson and Reverend John Harrod. They first met at the home of James Ward in Lexington on March 6, 1820.

The first county officers were appointed by Governor Jonathan Jennings. They were:

William K. Richey, Sheriff; James Ward, Clerk; John Prime, Recorder; James Loughran, Treasurer; and Robert Wardell, Coroner.

The first marriage to take place after the formation of the county was on April 1, 1820 when William Nation and Sarah Allhands of Jennings Township were married by Justice of the Peace, Aaron Jennings.

On June 1 1820 the County Commissioner contracted with Daniel P. Faulkner too build a jail for $1,712, and in 1821 they contracted with James Goodhue and E. Northam to build a court house for $4,500. The court house was a two-story brick structure with a cupola, while the jail was built of logs and was little better than a windowless pen. It was told by old-timers that one woman of unsavory character was so angry because she was so often thrown in jail that she finally set fire to the building and it burned to the ground. Then a new jail was constructed of brick.

Following the eventual removal of the county seat to Scottsburg, on 1874, the old court house was converted into a school and the old brick jail was used as a wood and coal shed. In 1889 the old court house was demolished and a new four-room school was built. Then in more recent years both this school and the old jail were torn down and the modern school in Lexington was built.

Lexington remained the principal town of Scott County for many years, but since it was rather inaccessibly located in the extreme southeast corner of the county, it was only natural that the removal of the county seat to a more central location should be repeatedly brought up. Vienna was a strong contender for the honor of becoming the county seat. Three of the "Vanished Towns" of Scott County, Albion, New Frankfort and Wooster, were established with the view of possibly having the court house. In 1840 the stare Legislature passed an act authorizing the change and a new town called Center Hill was platted for the county seat about two miles northeast of present Scottsburg, but nothing came of this project and Center Hill never materialized as a town. Because of intense rivalry between the towns wanting the county seat and the strong opposition of the citizens of Lexington who desired to keep it there, nothing definite was done until after the completion of the Jeffersonville Railroad in 1852. Then Centerville (now part of Scottsburg) , Vienna and Austin, all began to clamor for the removal of the county seat to a more advantageous location in the center of the county. On March 10, 1871 a petition was presented to the County Commissioners to make such a change and it was acted upon favorably by them. Vienna was seriously considered as it was nearest the geographical center of the county, but the principal land-owner there refused to grant the Commissioners a plot of ground for the court house. Accordingly, on March 27, 1871 the present county sear of Scottsburg (previous to 1892 the name was spelled Scottsburgh) was laid out along the railroad immediately south of the older town of Centerville. It was platted by William Estill and H. K. Wardell and was named, not for the county, but for Colonel Horace Scott, who was for many years General Superintendent of the J. M. & l. Railroad.

It was not until March 7, 1873 that a contract was let to Travis Carter, Seymour, for the construction of the new court house and jail in Scottsburg. In February, 1874, they were completed and the county records transported by wagon from Lexington and Scottsburg became in fact the county sear of Scott County. It is said that there were much hard feelings engendered by the transfer of the county seat and tempers ran high over the matter for many years.

In later years the main development of industry and the growth of population of Scott Country has been along the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the principal towns of the county are Scottsburg and Austin.


Return to: Lexington - A Pioneer Town