Lincoln Boyhood
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Settlement and Immigration (continued)


Figure 12: Indiana Counties, 1816 (Sieber and Munson, 1994: 24) (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Federal policies and treaty negotiations played a major role in the location of the earliest settlements in southern Indiana. The first legal settlement in the region was located at Clarksville, on Virginia military grant lands provided to men who had fought at the 1783 Battle of Vincennes. Squatters occupied a considerable amount of land, with upwards of 2,000 illegal settlers believed to have reached the Northwest Territory by 1785. However, ongoing hostilities with Indian tribes and Federal endeavors to control illegal incursions kept the overall number of American settlers in Indiana low. Following the American victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, resident Indian tribes ceded claims to the southern two-thirds of Ohio and a narrow strip of southeastern Indiana. Legal settlement in this area, combined with the long-established French settlements in western Indiana, brought Indiana's population to an estimated 5,641 by 1800. Further land cessions by Indian tribes occurred in 1803, 1804, and 1805 with the treaties of Fort Wayne, Vincennes, and Grouseland, respectively. [113]

Thereafter, notwithstanding the vagaries of war and financial crises, settlement of Indiana occurred with remarkable rapidity, and generally proceeded northward from the Ohio River (Figure 12). In 1800, the population was estimated to be at only 5,041 persons. By 1810, the number of inhabitants had more than quadrupled to 24,520. Within six years, the population swelled past 60,000, the required minimum number of settlers before statehood could be accomplished, and by 1820, the number had leapt to 147,178. This was the period of the Great Migration, in which, according to contemporary observers, all of "Old America [seemed] to be breaking up and moving westward." The rate of population growth slowed somewhat in subsequent decades, reaching 343,031 by 1830, and 685,866 by 1840. Settlement declined precipitously in the following decade, with only 9,080 migrants arriving, and between 1850 and 1860, 40,000 people chose to pull up stakes and move further west with the advancing frontier. [114]

In addition to political events, geography and topography influenced the patterns of settlement and development in Indiana. The earliest historic frontier settlements in southern Indiana were clustered along navigable (and some not-so-navigable) river valleys in a U-shaped pattern, with the bottom of the U formed by the Ohio River, the eastern arm formed by the Whitewater River, and the western arm formed by the Wabash River (Figure 13). To reach the interior, settlers followed the Buffalo Trace, which crossed the Indiana Territory from the Falls of the Ohio opposite Louisville to the Wabash River at Vincennes. It has been estimated that, in 1810, 80 percent of the population lived within 75 miles of the Ohio River. Between 1810 and 1820, the area within this southern crescent filled, and by 1820 settlement reached as far north as the White River valley. The exploding population was reflected in the amount of improved land in Indiana, which increased from 125,530 acres in 1810 to 1,751,409 acres by 1830. [115]

Figure 13: Map of Southwestern Indiana Taken from the Diary of David Thomas, 1816 (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The origins of Indiana's settlers, their socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and their goals for establishing new homesteads profoundly shaped the state's development throughout the early- to mid-nineteenth century. Most of Indiana's early settlers were from the North Carolina Piedmont and the Upland South (Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee). These populations usually came to Indiana via the Ohio River or along overland routes. [116] According to Meinig, these people were part of the "Greater Virginia migration stream" that drew upon Kentucky, Tennessee, and western North Carolina. Emigration was driven partially by the astonishing rate of population growth in the United States from 1800 to 1850. The average rate of increase each decade was 33 percent, with the total population rising from 5.3 million in 1800 to almost 23.2 million a half-century later. [117] In addition to Upland Southerners, a significant number of ethnic German families moved west into Indiana from Ohio and Pennsylvania via the Ohio River, settling in the southern portion of the state, and a smaller proportion of settlers moved from New York, Maryland, and the New England states. Throughout the frontier period, southerners constituted the majority of Indiana's population; as late as 1850, less than 10 percent of the state's total population was comprised of Yankee-born settlers. [118]

The first settlers to reach southern Indiana displayed a marked preference for the uplands, colloquially known as the Knobs. This landscape displayed a number of characteristics that were familiar to Upland Southerners and desirable for early-nineteenth century agricultural practices. The hilly terrain was well drained, had plentiful springs, possessed fertile soil, and the dense forests offered plentiful game, fuel, and building materials. The uplands also had fewer pests, such as mosquitoes, and overland travel along the hillsides was immensely easier than in the lower marshlands. The bottomlands were little more than poorly drained thickets filled with briars and dense undergrowth, and prairie farming became attractive only with the development of selfscouring steel plows in the late 1830s. [119]

That many of the original settlers in southern Indiana hailed from the Upland South left a distinctive mark upon the area's cultural and social development. Upland Southerners were typically of English and Scots-Irish origin, along with some Germanic peoples. They generally were yeoman farmers who raised livestock and farmed their own land. [120] When these settlers came to Indiana, they brought with them their traditional agricultural practices; cultivating corn and raising hogs predominated in the early years. A distinctive Upland South influence on southern Indiana culture persisted for decades, evidenced by patterns of word usage and pronunciation, religion, place names, foodways, and vernacular architecture. [121]

Much has been made of the migration of Upland Southerners from the slaveholding south to the so-called free territory of the Northwest. A disdain for the peculiar institution has been supposed, but the historical record provides a conflicting statement as to the attitudes truly held by Indiana's white settlers. As previously noted, Indiana's territorial governors, St. Clair and Harrison, permitted slavery to exist in the territory, despite the ban on involuntary servitude included in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Indiana's 1816 state constitution forbade slavery as well, but the same document expressly prohibited free blacks from voting. Interracial marriage was outlawed by 1818, and blacks also were declared incompetent to serve as witnesses in a trial. The public education system, established in stages between the 1820s and 1850s, was racially segregated, with no provision made for the education of black children. [122]

Such antislavery sentiments as did exist among settlers during the early nineteenth century typically were rooted in fear that bonded labor would diminish the ability of freemen to support themselves and their families. Propertyless whites also harbored the hope that the elimination of slavery would force the breakup of large plantations and improve tenant farmers' chances to acquire land. Settlers who came to Indiana as part of the Great Migration arrived with the expectation of being able to achieve land ownership, security, and even a measure of material wealth, at least as far as could be measured by the ability to live independently on one's own homestead. [123] The various Federal legislative acts that made possible large-scale redistribution of land from the public domain to private hands directly benefited these individuals. Of these, the Land Act of 1820, which reduced the minimum unit of land to be sold at public auction to 80 acres at a cost of $1.25 per acre, was the most important. Equally important was the knowledge that Federal surveys ensured that land purchased in Indiana came with a clear title, a fact that also may have contributed to the relatively low number of squatters in Indiana, even during the frontier period. Such circumstances stood in marked contrast to the situation in most southern states, such as Kentucky, where a convoluted system of warrants, certificates, caveats, and grants often obliterated a clear chain of title and resulted in thousands of pioneer families losing the lands they had broken. Consequently, it appears that economic opportunity, rather than antislavery sentiments, appears to have been the primary motivator for Upland Southerners in their decision to relocate.


Located between the river settlements of Louisville and Owensboro, Kentucky, and Evansville, Indiana, present-day Spencer County remained largely untouched by settlement in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The first Federal land survey of the area took place in 1805. The small village of Troy, Indiana, in neighboring Perry County was situated on the east bank of the Anderson River at its confluence with the Ohio River. Squatters settled here as early as 1800 and the locale's readily available supply of hardwood forests later attracted investors Nicholas J. Roosevelt and Robert Fulton, who established a lumberyard at the site to provide fuel for steamboats. Downriver, the tiny village of Grandview in Spencer County was settled by a group led by Ezekial Ray, and in 1803, John Sprinkle squatted on high ground east of Pigeon Creek. Uriah Lamar also has been suggested as one of the first (albeit illegal) settlers in Spencer County, making his homestead in present-day Hammond Township. Meanwhile, a cluster of cabins midway up a bluff alongside the Ohio River was known as Hanging Rock after a pair of massive columnar rock formations. Arriving in 1807, Daniel Grass changed this community's name to Mount Duvall. The same year, Grass generally is held to have made the first legal land entry in Spencer County. His homestead was located in Section 26 of Ohio Township. Approximately five years after purchasing the land, Grass and his family moved from Bardstown, Kentucky. At that time, little settlement had taken place on the Indiana side of the Ohio River, and Grass reportedly traveled to Owensboro, Kentucky, to obtain supplies. [124]

Following the end of the War of 1812, thousands of Kentuckians began to cross the Ohio River into southern Indiana. Thompson's Ferry, opposite Troy, Indiana, served as a primary entry point for many Kentuckians, including the family of Thomas Lincoln. Other river towns such as Lewisport, Hawesville, Shawneetown, Golconda, and Hamlet's Ferry also acted as conduits for the northward migration. Arriving around 1815, Thomas Carter has been credited with staking the first claim in Spencer County's Carter Township. The following year, Thomas Lincoln bought a tract in Section 32 of the township (Figure 14). Other early land entries in the vicinity were made by John Romine, Noah Gordon, James Martin, and Samuel Howell. Nearby, in sections 5 and 6 of Clay Township, original land entries were made by James Gentry, John Carter, Abel Crawford, and Reuben Grigsby, among others. All of the land in both townships had been purchased by the early 1820s. [125]

Figure 14: Map of Original Land Entries in Vicinity of Lincoln Farmstead (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Spencer County's first settlers exhibited the previously noted preference for settling first on the Knobs and on the margins of forests. Such a landscape would have been familiar to settlers from Kentucky, and the proximity of the forests provided a ready supply of fuel and building materials. Numerous hilltop springs offered a convenient water source. The wetter bottomlands were generally considered to be breeding grounds for malaria, and the poorly drained soil was believed to be of a lesser quality than that of the uplands. Land entries for the county from 1807 to as late as 1830 show a consistent avoidance of the bottomlands, which did not begin to come under cultivation until the 1840s and 1850s. [126]

Indiana achieved statehood in 1816, and just one year later, all six counties on the state's southern border had been formed. Warrick County was the earliest, having been organized in 1813, followed by Perry and Posey (1814) and Crawford, Spencer, and Vanderburgh (1818). Spencer County was carved out of portions of Warrick and Perry counties. During his tenure as a state representative, Daniel Grass, who was one of the first settlers in the area, is credited with introducing the legislation authorizing the county's creation. He reportedly named the county in honor of Captain Spier Spencer, who fought at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. The county consisted of nine townships, which were settled in the following order: Ohio (1807); Luce (1807); Huff (1811); Hammond (1811), Clay (1815); Carter (1817); Jackson (1818); Harrison (1818); and Grass (1818). In late 1816, Abraham Lincoln's family settled in the area that was designated Carter Township. As the largest settlement in Spencer County, Hanging Rock (also known as Mount Duvall) was designated the county seat. Promoters platted a new village atop the bluff and dubbed it Rockport. Lots were sold beginning in June 1818. A modest amount of commercial development took place over the course of the next decade, with a tannery and a pork packing plant established by 1826. [127]

Many of Spencer County's earliest records were destroyed by fire in 1818. Nine years later, the first county courthouse also burned. [128] Information concerning the early history of the county consequently is scant. The published historical record, however, shows that during the first three decades of the nineteenth century, the northern portion of Spencer County remained thinly settled with a handful of hamlets interspersed among recently cleared farmsteads. The Pigeon Baptist Church was organized in 1816 in present-day Warrick County, and moved a short time later to Clay Township in Spencer County. The tiny hamlet of Gentryville was established in neighboring Jackson Township by 1827, and was centered around a general store operated by Gideon Romine, Benjamin Romine, and James Gentry. [129] Over the course of the next half-century, improved transportation and ongoing settlement began to ease the area's isolation.


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Last Updated: 19-Jan-2003