Locating a state capital

Corydon made sense in 1816

In 1816, when Indiana entered the Union, Corydon was designated as the first state capital.

In the early territory days, pioneer settlers had clustered together on the lands closest to the Ohio River. An Indiana Assembly had petitioned Congress for statehood in 1811, but its appeal was not approved. The want-to-be state of Indiana registered a meager 24,520 population in the 1810 census. Northwest Territory guidelines required a population of 60,000 before a territory qualified for adopting a constitution and joining the Union.

Jonathan Jennings, the territorial delegate, had been a central political figure of the Indiana Territory since 1809 and was a significant player in the movement for statehood. He was from Charleston near New Albany. Jennings was the successor of William Henry Harrison, across the state to the west who had set Vincennes as the seat of the Indiana Territory. Corydon had a geographical advantage, being situated at the near center to the south at the bottom of the territorial border.

A second request for statehood was made in 1815 as Indiana’s population had increased to 63,897, moving Congress in April 1816 to pass an enabling act and call for a constitutional convention. The convention took place the following June at Corydon, conveniently located for those who traveled to the event. Indiana was well on its way to join Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Louisiana following the original 13 United States.

After Indiana was admitted, the governor appointed a 10-member commission to select and locate a site for a new state capital. Among the commissioners named was John Tipton, who later served as the Indian Agent at Fort Wayne. Several towns petitioned for the honor, and each location was visited by the commissioners. Some of the sites included were Vincennes, Corydon, Madison, Terre Haute, Strawtown and Indianapolis.

Locations were narrowed down to the wooded area near the junction of Fall Creek and the White River. The other finalist, according to M.W. Pershing’s biography of John Tipton, was Strawtown, also along the White River in what is now Hamilton County northeast of Indianapolis about halfway to what is now Anderson. The influential William Conner strongly supported Strawtown. However, Tipton was favorable to Indianapolis, “and to head off further discussion and delay, he made a motion that Indianapolis be made the site of the new capital.” When the vote was cast and counted, Indianapolis – positioned at the center of the state – was selected.

History writer Alan McPherson reminds us the name Indianapolis is derived from “Indian” attached to “polis,” the Greek word for city. The name Marion was chosen for the county to celebrate Revolutionary War hero Brigadier General Francis Marion, known as the “Swamp Fox.” By 1824, the legislature authorized building a temporary structure to serve as a courthouse enabling State Treasurer Samuel Morrill to move the records from Corydon to the new location. In January 1821, the legislators first met there, and by 1835 a new capital building had been erected.

Indianapolis geographically offers a greater, if not more equitable, access to most Hoosiers. When Indiana gained statehood, her population was concentrated across the southern reaches of the state. As a capital, centrally placed Indianapolis is as practical for today’s Hoosiers as was the southern community of Corydon back in 1816.

First appeared in the September 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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