Factoring in Indian affairs
A look at Fort Wayne's agents
In the years leading up to the time Indiana advanced to statehood, the U.S. government was represented here by Indian agents and factors. The factor or factory was the government representative for financial and commercial matters, leaving the political affairs to the Indian agent. However, the functions oftentimes overlapped, and the titles were used indiscriminately. Eventually, the terms “factory” and “factor” were nearly replaced with “agency” and “agent.” The concept was intended to be helpful to the Indian people by providing an appointed representative for the native population living on the Wabash-Maumee frontier.
A list of those who served in that capacity in Fort Wayne from 1798 through 1828 can be found in “The John Tipton Papers.” Here is a short description of some of the agents.
William Wells (serving 1798 to 1809), as a boy, was captured along the Ohio River by the Miami, who adopted and assimilated him into their tribe. Married to Little Turtle’s daughter, Wells became a confidant of the great war chief. He died at the relief of Fort Dearborn in 1812. To honor his remarkable service to his country, Congress gave him the right to pre-emption of lands that today comprise Fort Wayne’s Bloomingdale and Spy Run neighborhoods, known as “Wells Pre-emption.”
John Johnston (1802-1811) had been appointed Indian factor or factory in 1802 as the government representative for financial and commercial matters, leaving the political affairs to the Indian agent. He did, however, succeed Wells as agent. Today, the Johnston Farm at Piqua, Ohio, is a tourist attraction. It was Col. Johnston’s place which provided a safe haven for the women and children who had escaped the dangers surrounding the siege of Fort Wayne in in 1812.
Benjamin F. Stickney (1811-1819) the grand-nephew of Ben Franklin, took charge as both factor and agent in 1811. In 1820, Stickney was reassigned to Toledo, Ohio, and became involved in the Ohio-Michigan border dispute. Ohio and the-then-Michigan Territory fought over a 10-mile strip of land. Each hoped for control over the Wabash & Erie Canal’s connection with Lake Erie before Ohio finally won the argument.
Dr. William Turner (1819-1820) arrived from Maryland and was first stationed at Fort Wayne as the garrison surgeon’s mate from 1810 to 1812. He became surgeon of the 17th Infantry in 1813. He resigned from the army in 1815 and married Anne Wells, daughter of William Wells. He became Indian agent in 1819, but, as historian Griswold noted, due to failing health, Dr. Turner was relieved of his duties and his office turned over to John Hay. Turner died in Fort Wayne in 1821.
John Hay (1820-1831), born in New York City in 1770, gained experience as a trading house clerk dealing with the Indians in Canada. At Fort Wayne he took over for Dr. Turner at a salary of $1,200 per year. After his service at Fort Wayne, he became receiver of public moneys in Jackson, Missouri.
John Tipton (1823-1831) was born in Tennessee in 1756 and moved to Indiana with his widowed mother. As an adult he served at the Battle of Tippecanoe, rising to the rank of brigadier general and serving as a U.S. senator. Acting to separate the Indians receiving government annuities from the traders, Tipton moved the agency to Logansport in 1828.
For 30 years Fort Wayne was the center of the Indian agent/factor. They were on the ground to handle the furs brought in by the Indian people as well as for shipments to the East, dispensing annuity payments to the Indians and financed land purchases. Later, perhaps, in other places, others were on hand following federal government orders and participating in the unfortunate removal of these same Indian charges from their traditional homelands to reservations in the West.
First appeared in the August 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.