General Assembly money woes

Excuse me? The legislature of the Indiana Territory was kicked out of the county courthouse because it was delinquent on rent payments? (Incidentally, the General Assembly settled its accounts with the county in 1812.)

During a recent visit to Vincennes, I was surprised to hear that the legislature of the Indiana Territory did not have a set meeting spot. The Red House at the Vincennes State Historic Sites is touted as the capitol of the General Assembly, but that is not the full story. (Nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems.)

In 1800, the Indiana Territories came into being, created by Congress from the lands of the Northwest Territory and signed into existence by President John Adams. In 1805, the Indiana Territory “elected” its own representatives for its bicameral legislature. (Technically, President Jefferson was responsible for appointing the members of the upper house, but since he knew none of the men, he deferred to Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison  to select its members.)

The General Assembly had no set meeting place but met in different private houses, the courthouse, and taverns. (Yes, taverns.)

  • 1805: the General Assembly met in the private house of Antoine Marchal.
  • 1806: Knox County leased Marchal’s house for use as a courthouse. The General Assembly subleased the courthouse.
  • 1807: the General Assembly subleased the courthouse.
  • 1808: the General Assembly subleased the courthouse.
  • 1809: no meeting of the General Assembly due to confusion caused by the separation of Illinois Territory
  • 1810: the General Assembly subleased the courthouse.
  • 1811: the General Assembly met in Marchal’s house and then in a red house (the Red House of present fame).
  • 1812: no meeting of the General Assembly. (The War of 1812 was in full swing.)
  • 1813: the General Assembly met at Mark Barnett’s tavern.

Out of all these buildings, the only one that remains standing is the Red House as part of the Vincennes State Historic Sites.

For years, the General Assembly lobbied to move the capital but were thwarted by the governor. After the War of 1812, William Henry Harrison did not return to Indiana to continue as the territorial governor. With him out of the way, any impediment to the legislature moving the territorial capital to Corydon was gone. In 1813, the General Assembly met for the last time in Vincennes.

For more details about the early capital of Vincennes and the meeting places of the General Assembly, check out CAPITAL OF INDIANA TERRITORY BY RICHARD DAY. (Incidentally, Richard Day is an outstanding docent at the Vincennes State Historic Sites and was a torchbearer for the Indiana bicentennial.) Or visit the Vincennes State Historic Sites and hear about it directly from Richard Day.

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