Leora Brown School

I meandered through the Corydon streets looking for a small school building. I found it on a hill with the St. Joseph cemetery in front and the Cedar Hill cemetery (est. 1808) across the road.

The building was the site of the 1891 elementary and secondary school for African Americans in Corydon. The school, originally called the Corydon Colored School, graduated its first class on May 14, 1892. In 1925, high school students were integrated in Corydon, followed by grade school students in 1950. (Why the heck did it take so long to integrated the younger students?)

I am a bit unsure of the building’s history following 1950. In 1987, the building was renamed for Leora Brown, who taught there from 1924 to 1950. In 1993, it was rehabilitated and apparently used as a meeting house/event center.

When I saw it, it seemed somewhat abandoned. Vegetation around the building was overgrown. Peering into the windows, the building looked a bit in disarray with folding tables and odds and ends scattered inside. But it was incredible to see a piece of Indiana history—one of the oldest African-American schools still standing in the state.

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Corydon Capitol State Historic Site: Governor’s Headquarters

I had once buzzed through Corydon, stopping briefly (and I do mean briefly) at the Capitol Building. This time I was going to do it right with a full tour of the historic sites in Corydon.

In 1813, the capital of the Indiana Territory moved from Vincennes to Corydon. From June 10 to June 29, 1816, Corydon hosted Indiana’s first constitutional convention. Following the convention, Corydon became the state capital and remained the capital until 1825, when the seat of state government moved to Indianapolis, a more central spot in the state (as opposed to the location of Corydon on the Ohio River at the far southern end of the state). (Those at the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site like to say that they are maintaining the buildings for when the capital moves back to Corydon.)

The Indiana State Museum oversees the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site, which is a collection of historic buildings: the Governor’s Headquarters, the Porter Law Office next door, and the Capitol Building on the square.

The tour started at the Governor’s Headquarters, a two-story brick building. Davis Floyd, a state legislator, built the house in 1817, but lost it in the Panic of 1819. At that time, the state government bought it. In 1841, Judge William A. Porter acquired the house, which remained in his family until 1979, after which it reverted back to the state.

(Interesting side note about Floyd: in 1805, while he was a territorial legislator—long before building what became the Porter Law Office—he fell into an unsavory situation with Vice President Aaron Burr. In 1807, he was convicted of aiding Burr in what was known as the Burr Conspiracy—an attempt to take territory in the West from the US government. In the end, Floyd was not convicted of treason.)

Why is it called the Governor’s Headquarters? From 1817-1825, this brick building was the home and office of William Hendricks, Indiana’s second elected governor (1822-1825). (Hendricks was actually the third Indiana governor. Jonathan Jennings, the first governor resigned to take office in the US House of Representatives. Ratliff Boon, his lt. governor, replaced him as the second governor.)

Hendricks had quite a role in early Indiana politics. He served in the territorial legislature (1813-1816), as secretary (not delegate) to the Indiana constitutional convention (1816), as a US representative (1816-1822), and after being Indiana governor, as a US senator (1825-1837). (He was also the uncle to Thomas A. Hendricks who later served among other numerous offices as Indiana governor and Vice President to President Cleveland. Now I am curious about what happened to the Hendricks political dynasty, which seems to have died out with Thomas.)

William Hendricks ran unopposed for governor and, um, garnered 100% of the votes (a whopping 18,340). Lucky Hendricks dealt with the remaining debt and deficit caused by the Panic of 1819 by selling public land to raise money. (I felt a bit uneasy by this. Selling public land = land recently taken from the native Americans who were forcibly removed from Indiana.)

Hendricks was also responsible for roadways being built (hmmm…what type, I wonder? Corduroy or plank?). Under him, all residents were required to spend time building roads. (Oooh. Corvée labor. That must have been very popular. Forcing people to work on socialist projects surely wouldn’t fly today.)

Hendricks was also the governor who approved moving the capital to Indianapolis, a move that relegated Corydon to being a trade town on the Ohio River.

His wife pushed for free education, which led to the first state-funded system in the nation. (Sad that Indiana hasn’t led the nation in education in more recent times!) Each township was granted land to build a public school. The state seminary, which became Indiana University, was established in 1816.

The tour consisted of the downstairs only. The house itself is quite a large structure with two front doors, a “normal” front door with foyer and then a second door that opens directly to the governor’s office (which was originally the parlor). (The upstairs, I was told, consists of two bedrooms the same size as the two front rooms on the first floor.)

A kitchen exists directly behind the office/parlor. The kitchen was a later addition to the house, with a brick wall acting as a fire barrier between it and the house proper. (Kitchens were often separate from early houses due in part to being fire hazards.) The brick floors and limestone walls made the kitchen feel instantly cooler as I stepped inside. The large hearth sported a cooking crane, a large metal swinging arm that would allow cooks easy access to pots hanging over the fire.

A quasi-courtyard framed on one side by the kitchen and another side by a high retaining wall includes an herb garden. The garden and retaining wall was built in 1840s by Porter when he acquired the property. The garden is built so that water from rains would drain down to the center of the courtyard. Before this improvement, the house would flood, water pouring down the hill and into the house. Residents would clear the flood water by literally opening the back door and sweeping the water through the house out the front door (!).

The docent pointed out some structures on the hill above the retaining wall: a three-seater outhouse on one side and a chicken coop on the other. (I’m not sure I could picture using a three-seater outhouse sans any privacy barriers. Even trough squat toilets I used in rural China had small dividing walls as a nod to semi-privacy.) The nearby 1848 carriage house serves as the office of the Indiana State Museum.

Interesting given the state’s proximity to the south and influx of southern folks, Hendricks used servants in his headquarters, not slaves (which were technically illegal in the Indiana Territory and state, despite territorial governor Harrison’s attempt to allow slavery). Hendricks apparently was a strong anti-Jacksonian, a quality I smiled approvingly of, particularly in today’s climate.

TV movie review: Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana–Birth of a State

Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana is a PBS documentary series based on the book of the same name by Indiana historian James H. Madison. The documentary series is split into four parts: Birth of a State, Split Rails to Steel Rails, The 20th Century, and The Next Indiana.

Birth of a State covers the period of time from when Indiana lobbied for statehood to just before the Civil War. The documentary is narrated by Madison and includes interviews with various people, like the President of the Levi Coffin House Association (Janice McGuire, who was my docent when I visited the historical site—by the way, she is outstanding!), the Director of Historic New Harmony (Connie Weinzapfel), and a retired Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court (Randall J. Shepherd).

Indiana was originally part of the Indiana Territory, which included Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and eastern Minnesota. The capital of the territory was Vincennes. (You can visit many historic sites there.) The Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison was pro-large landholdings and pro-slavery—positions that didn’t sit well with others in southern Indiana.

In 1813, a vote moved the capital east to Corydon on the Ohio River (and away from Harrison’s nexus of power, I’d argue). In 1816, 43 delegates met in the new courthouse in Corydon for a Congressional Convention. In December 1816, Congress recognized Indiana as a state. (Side note: You can visit the grave of Robert Hanna, one of the delegates and signers of the state constitution, in Crown Hill Cemetery.)

At the time, Indiana was home to numerous Indian tribes: Potawatomi, Wea, Miami, Delaware, Kaskaskia, Shawnee, Piankashaw, Huron, Wyandot, Ottawa, Seneca, Kickapoo. Eventually the Indians were either removed from the land or killed. Probably the most famous violent confrontation is the Battle of Tippecanoe of 1811, when Harrison decimated the Indians led by Tecumseh and the Prophet.

But also instructive is the 1824 Fall Creek Massacre of nine Indians that shockingly led to the trial of the white perpetrators and the execution of three of them. Unfortunately, this trial and conviction of white violence on non-whites didn’t set a legal precedent.

The documentary weaves a history through key places, people, and events throughout Indiana, mostly focused on southern Indiana as that was the first part of the state to be settled. Originally the inhabitants were Native Americans and French trappers and fur traders. Whites and blacks moved into Indiana from Kentucky and North Carolina—both slave states. However, the migrants from North Carolina were Quakers from Guilford County who left North Carolina due to slavery. The Underground Railroad thrived in Indiana.

The documentary discusses important early settlements like Vincennes (as the territorial capital) or Madison (as an international commerce hotspot on the Ohio River) or New Harmony (as the location of utopian societies: first German millennialism and then utopian socialism) or black settlements (Beech Settlement, Walnut Ridge, Corydon).

People, some well-known, some not, are discussed as being influential to Indiana history. William Conner, whose homestead exists as an historical park, went native, marrying a Native American woman. Later, he helped negotiate deals with the Native Americans that led to their removal (along with his wife and child) to Oklahoma. He then married a white woman and became a respectable businessman, clearly riding the wave of commerce moving from trapping and trade with the Native Americans to commerce with white settlers and landownership.

Lincoln, regularly touted as hailing from Illinois, lived his formative years (ages 6 to 21) in southern Indiana. Sophia Ramsdell Fuller left a detailed diary of her pioneer life in Vigo County. Mary Bateman Clark had a profound effect on the lives of slaves and former slaves in Indiana, setting a legal precedent about indentured servitude.

The Ohio River was key to the early settlement of southern Indiana—rivers being an important mode of transport for people and goods. The rivers allowed commerce and prosperity (for some). Canals, like the Wabash and Erie, were created for the same economic and commercial purpose. The financial woes brought on by the canal led to a revised constitution.

The original constitution borrowed language from the Ohio and Kentucky constitutions. The Indiana version became a model for later state constitutions. The 1816 constitution stressed the importance of education, legally proclaimed Indiana as a free state (though not always in practice), and gave all white men the vote regardless if they were landowners.

The constitution revised in 1851 prohibited debt (being debt-free even if that means not investing in the future seems to be a long-standing source of pride in Indiana), granted free education, and prohibited African-Americans from moving into the state (!). African-Americans already living in Indiana were required to register—a horrible idea but a fascinating source of historical information about African-Americans living in the state.

The documentary continues with a second part that looks at Indiana from the Civil War to World War I.

The Old Cathedral

Was it a cathedral or a basilica? Was it the Old Cathedral, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, or the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier? Yes.

I was a bit perplexed about all of these names. They all pointed to the same place: a red brick church next to the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, Indiana. In 1836, the parish was given the designation of cathedral. In 1970, Pope Paul VI elevated the church to the status of basilica due to its historical nature. So St. Francis Xavier in Vincennes refers to a parish, a cathedral, and a basilica. (I am still not sure which name to call it.)

The building houses a functioning parish, but it was difficult for me to determine if the hubbub around the church involved mostly parishioners or tourists. The church is open to visitors, but it wasn’t clear to me what the hours were that visitors could stroll through the building.

The church has operated continually since 1732, when Jesuits built a log cabin on this site. (Parish records start in 1749.) Over the centuries, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral has been a part of six dioceses under different governing bodies: Indian, French, Spanish, British, Vincennes under Clark, and US.

The church has been rebuilt three times. In 1770, a second log cabin replaced the first. In 1786, a third building for the church was constructed. In 1826, the present incarnation was built.

Since then alterations have been made to the structure. Between 1840 and 1841, a bell tower was added and the sanctuary was raised to house a crypt. In 1870, Wilhelm Lamprecht of Munich, Germany painted a mural of the crucifixion as the centerpiece in the sanctuary.

The crypt lies behind the sanctuary and down some stairs. The crypt contains the remains of four bishops: Simon Bruté (1834-1839), Celestine de la Hailandière (1839-1847), John Stephen Bazin (1847-1848), and Maurice de St. Palais (1849-1877). This area also houses the remains of the 3rd c. martyr St. Aufidia.

Vincennes was a central hub of French fur trading. In 1763, Vincennes and the environs fell under British control. The area remained French in culture, in inhabitants, and in religion—the St. Francis Xavier parish continued.

In 1769 Fr. Pierre Gibault, who had an important role in the community, visited Vincennes and return periodically. In 1778, he convinced the French inhabitants to sign an oath of allegiance to the US and to turn the fort over to George Rogers Clark. In 1784, he became a resident priest.

In the 1790s, two other priests important to the history of the parish and the Indiana Territory arrived at St. Francis Xavier. In 1792, Fr. Benedict Joseph Flaget—later known as the father of parochial education in Indiana—set up a school. In 1795, Fr. John Francis Rivet—Indiana’s first public school teacher—set up a public school.

Next to the church is a cemetery where tombstones for other priests important to the church and people important to the early life of Vincennes remain. In total 5,000 people lie buried in the cemetery though you would never know from the few tombstones that grace the cemetery.

First Indiana teachers

The first teachers in Indiana appear in Vincennes, the oldest community in the southwest corner of the state on the Wabash River. I had never thought about teachers in Indiana before Indiana was a state (1816) or even a territory (1800). I just imposed the Little House on the Prairie narrative on the Indiana Territory: young, unmarried women were the schoolteachers. But who were the teachers before there were young, unmarried frontier women?

Priests. Priests and ministers had the training and knowledge to be educators.

Vincennes was a French trading post established in 1732. Jesuit priests began arriving not long afterward and a church was established by 1749. In 1779 George Rogers Clark took Vincennes from the British, who retreated to Fort Detroit.

Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Congress of the Confederation (which preceded the Congress of the United States) established the Northwest Territory, which included present-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the eastern part of Minnesota. The west was opening up for white settlers.

The Northwest Ordinance stressed the importance of education. Article 3: “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

In 1792, Fr. Benedict Joseph Flaget, at the St. Francis Xavier parish in Vincennes, set up a school in Vincennes. He was succeeded at the parish by Fr. John Francis Rivet.

In 1800 in anticipation of the modern-day Ohio portion of the Northwest Territory becoming a state, the Indiana Territory was formed. Vincennes became its capital and William Henry Harrison its governor. In 1801, Harrison reached out to Fr. Rivet, asking him to set up a public school, the Jefferson Academy.

Flaget is considered the first parochial school teacher of Indiana and Rivet the first public school teacher in Indiana. Thus, education—with an emphasis on Latin and French—in what would become Indiana first developed thanks to French Catholic priests—a far cry from the Little House on the Prairie narrative of female schoolmarms.