Allen County in 1816?
No, there wasn’t one
When Indiana first was admitted to the Union, legislators convened an assembly in the first state capital at Corydon. Allen County was created seven years after Indiana statehood. The Indiana General assembly made it official by passing an enabling act on Dec. 17, 1823. It chose to honor the name of Col. John Allen of the Kentucky militia, who was on hand to defend Fort Wayne while the garrison was under siege by the Indians in 1812. Allen died near present-day Monroe, Michigan, at the River Raisin massacre in 1813, made historically significant among other events for having taken the life of the Shawnee brave Tecumseh.
Another recognized name that has come down through history emanates from Alexander Ewing. He was an Irish immigrant who came to Fort Wayne from Detroit in 1822 and erected a tavern known as Washington House. It stood at the corner of present-day Fort Wayne’s Barr and Columbia streets, now marked in Freimann Square west of the Arts United Center. Here is where Allen County was officially organized and the first acts of the newly elected county commissioners were carried out.
Fort Wayne was not always the seat of county justice in the strict sense. As George Pence and Nellie Armstrong point out in “Indiana Boundaries,” the first counties established in the Northwest Territory that became Indiana were formed by the decree of governors of the Northwest and Indiana territories, long before there was an Allen County from which to dispense justice. However, by 1805 the Indiana Territory had advanced to a level that empowered the creating of counties by the legislature. Before establishing a county, three concerns faced the decision makers: providing adequate local jurisdiction in large counties where the citizens were separated by great distances and difficult terrain, the spread of population after the native tribes ceded the lands after the 1812 war and, finally with the emergence of towns, the competition that sprang up for the prestige and economic advantages which came with being named a county seat.
When Indiana was first accepted into the United States of America in 1816, Allen County had not been established. The territorial legislature already had created Knox County with its seat of government in Vincennes. The series of events that led to an Allen County appears in “Historical Atlas and Chronology of County Boundaries” (1984) edited by John H. Long. On June 20, 1790, Knox County encompassed all of the area of today’s Indiana plus portions of modern Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. By 1795 Randolph County was organized as part of the Northwest Territory with its seat at Kaskaskia largely because it was formed from St. Clair County, which covered the area of modern Illinois. When Indiana Territory was authorized in 1800, covering Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and parts of Michigan and Minnesota, the new territory consisted of Knox, Randolph and St. Clair counties.
As time passed, the boundaries of the counties changed and new counties were established. In 1818, the U.S government obtained a treaty with several tribes known in the history of the Middle West as the “Delaware New Purchase.” In an 1816 edition of “The New Purchase,” Robert Carlton described it as “… nearly all the land east and south of the Wabash not previously relinquished by the Indians.” Out of this land, 37 new counties were made, one of which was dubbed Randolph. It was from this “Delaware New Purchase” that Allen County was created on April 1, 1824, with the county seat at Fort Wayne.
If anyone asks the name of this Fort Wayne-based county, you can say once we were in Knox and then it was changed to Randolph. Now Fort Wayne serves as the seat of Allen County named for the Colonel from Kentucky, the courageous soldier John Allen, who lost his life at the Battle of River Raisin.
First appeared in the May 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.