Biographical and Historical Sketches of Early
Indiana, William Woollen, publ Indianapolis,
Indiana, 1883. Pages 426-431, for counties of Washington, Shelby, and Warren.
James Gregory , an Indiana pioneer, was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina, in the year ....
When twenty-two years old he married Elizabeth Lee , and five years afterward left his native State and removed to Kentucky. He remained there three years, and in 1813 came to Indiana Territory. He located in Washington County, where he built a cabin in the woods, and in it placed his earthly goods, which were few, even for a Western pioneer. A large number of those who settled in Washington County were North Carolinians, so the young pioneer had countrymen for neighbors. I say countrymen, for at that time, and indeed at the present day, people from the Southern States consider those who were born in the same State as themselves friends and countrymen. The young settler was strong and courageous, and in his neighborhood was a man of influence and a leader whom the people delighted to follow. The frontier was then menaced by Indians, and the pioneers were wont to carry their rifles in their hands, as they visited from cabin to cabin. Such were the surroundings of the subject of this sketch for many years after he made his home in the Territory north of the Ohio River.
Three years after Mr. Gregory settled in Washington County he was an unsuccessful candidate for delegate to the convention that made our first State constitution. Two years after this, in 1818, he removed to Lawrence County, then just organized..
He was elected State Senator from the Counties of Washington, Orange, Jackson, Lawrence, and Monroe, and took his seat November 27, 1820.
In 1818 Lewis Cass, Jonathan Jennings and Benjamin Parke as commissioners on behalf of the United Sates, purchased of the Indians all the central part of the state and, with the exception of some small reservations, all the Indian lands south of the Wabash river. This large territory was known as the New Purchase, and among the first to locate upon it was James Gregory, the subject of this sketch. He bought a tract of land in Shelby County, about four miles west of Where Shelbyville now stands, and again built a cabin and opened up a farm in the wilderness. He at once was made a colonel of militia, and in 1822 was elected to the State Senate from his district. The district then comprised eight counties, including Marion, a county which now sends two men to the Senate upon a basis much larger than that upon which Mr. Gregory was elected from the eight. The other seven counties of the district were Hamilton, Madison, Johnson, Decatur, Shelby, Rush, and Henry.
The constitution of 1816 required the “Corydon, in Harrison county, shall be the seat of government until 1825, and until removed by law”. The Legislature met on the firs Monday of December in each year, and, therefore, that of 1824-25 must have met in Corydon, unless the time for its meeting was changed. Soon after Colonel Gregory took his seat in the Senate he went to work to get a law passed changing the time of the meeting of the Legislature to the first Monday in January in each year. He was assisted in his work by John Paxton the representative from Marion County, by James Rariden, of Wayne, Milton Stapp, of Jefferson, and others. At the head of those opposed to it was Dennis Pennington , Senator from Harrison, a man of much influence, and Ratliff Boon, then Lieutenant-Governor of the State. These gentlemen succeeded in uniting the members from the southwestern part of the State against the measure, but there were not enough of them to defeat it. It went through both houses and was approved by the Governor. The constitutional restriction being thus removed, Colonel Gregory succeeded in getting a law passed changing the capital to Indianapolis. The act was passed on the 28th of January, 1824, and provided that the offices and archives should be removed to the new capital by the 10th of the January following, one year earlier than it could have been done had it not been for Colonel Gregory’s bill.
The hostility of the people of Corydon toward Colonel Gregory for his course in relation to the removal of the capital was intense. Caricatures of him were posted on the walls of the State House and in other places about the town. Indignities were offered him in public and threats were made to lynch him. The reasons which caused the people of Corydon to insult and abuse Colonel Gregory endeared him the more to his constituents of Marion County, James Blake, Calvin Fletcher, Samuel Henderson, Colonel Paxton and James M. Ray inaugurated a movement to give him a public dinner in recognition of his services. The dinner came off at Washington Hall, and was attended by most of the leading citizens of the town. Calvin Fletcher, Harvey Gregg, Colonel Paxton, John Hawkins, Nicholas McCarty and other made speeches. The late James M. Ray in a letter to Judge Gregory of Lafayette, thus speaks of the dinner: “The speeches, and your father’s happy and graceful reply, were cheered at the highest pitch. Sismond Basye was present; also B.J. Blyth, Hervey Bates, Alfred Harrison, O. Foote, Douglas, McGuire, Nat Bolton, George Smith, Dr. Coe, D. Mitchell, and others. It was a jolly good time, and a hearty proof of the high estimate of your father’s prominence and popularity in our part of the ‘New Purchase’." In decisive force of character, for executive ability and magnetic influence over his associates, Colonel Gregory had much of the force and stamp of Governor Morton.
Colonel Gregory continued in the Senate until 1831, when he left Shelby County and removed to Warren. Before he left his home his neighbors and friends met at Shelbyville in mass convention to bid him good-bye. Judge Gregory, of Lafayette, was at this meeting, and in a letter to the author, says: “I thought the speech of my father to his old friends and neighbors very touching and eloquent.” He left them to again found a home in the wilderness.
Very soon after Colonel Gregory removed to Warren County he was sent to the Legislature. Wherever he went the people had use for him in a public capacity. In 1833 he ran for Congress against the eloquent Edward A. Hannnegan, and was defeated. In 1837 he was a candidate for Lieutenant-Governor of the State and was defeated by David Hillis. Colonel Gregory, while in the Legislature, opposed the vast schemes of internal improvement, then so popular in Indiana, and it was upon that issue that he made his race for Lieutenant-Governor.
In the winter of 1842 Colonel Gregory went to New Orleans on a trading expedition. The next May he chartered a vessel in that city, loaded it with pork and flour, and sailed for Yucatan in Central America. Soon after his arrival there he took the black vomit and died. A young man named Johnson was with him, and at his death took charge of his affairs, but nothing is known definitely about his sickness or the circumstances of his death. It is known, however, that he breathed his last at a small town on the coast, and was buried there. But no stone marks his resting place, and none of his family know the place where he sleeps. The ashes of the old pioneer mingle with foreign soil, but his memory will be preserved by the people of the state he helped to found.
When Colonel Gregory settled in Warren County the supplies of the settlers were brought from Chicago. The farmers would take their grain to Chicago in wagons, and return with them loaded with salt, leather, and such other things as they needed. Colonel Gregory was a large trader in cattle, sheep and hogs. He once took a drove of cattle to Chicago and sold them to an ancestor of the Chicago sharper of today. Soon after getting possession of the cattle the Purchaser sold them, put the money in his pocket and ran away without paying Colonel Gregory a dollar. As soon as the latter found out that he had been swindled he got a rifle and a fast horse and put out after the swindler. He caught him, made him disgorge, and then, with a healthy malediction, let him go.
During Colonel Gregory’s service in the Legislature, his son, Benjamin, opened an office in Newport, and commenced the practice of the law. His father wrote him a letter from Indianapolis, which is still preserved in the family and contains sentiment worthy of a philosopher. He was not an educated man, and reached his enviable standing by reason of his strong common sense and correct dealings; but if he had not studied the philosophers, he was not a stranger to their teachings. The letter is as follows:
DEAR SON - I received your letter from Newport. You have now settled down as a lawyer, you are young in experience and amongst strangers. On your course now as a young man of your profession much of your future standing in society depends. You must be steady. Meddle not with anything that your are not called on to take part in saying nothing in your speeches or in tryal you may be engaged (in) that is qualfyed to injure the feeling of any person; be faithful to your client and honest in all your dealings; take exercise for your health, walk where you can and avoid strong drink, you do well without. I have not and think Is shall not taste one drop of anything that tends in the least to stimulate, and I have just as good health as any member here that uses it. One other injunction, and in this and from this you must in nowise deviate: Never, Never in no case, do you gamble – not the most innocent games. Never put your hands on a card -- they have a bewitching quality about them. Go to meeting and other moral societys, so that you can always be numbered with those that respect the morals of the country. Dabble as little in politics a possible. You must always have before your eye that your brothers are moral men – so I want all my children to be when they leave me. I will send your books to you so soon as they come to hand.
Your Father and Friend,
The orthography of the letter may be faulty, but
no one will find fault with its sentiments.
Colonel Gregory was not only a pioneer of Indiana, but was one of four counties. He didn’t like to be crowded, and when the population came about him, he sold out and moved away. He was never better satisfied than when building cabins and clearing up land. He was essentially a pioneer.
Colonel Gregory was a strong man, both in mind and in body. He weighed 244 pounds had fair complexion, black hair and eyes. He was of commanding presence, would have been a man of mark in any company. He was one of those who opened up Indiana to civilization and the people owe him much. He left a family which has honored his name. Three of his sons and a grandson have sat in the Legislature of the State, and one of them, Hon. Robert Crocker Gregory, of Lafayette, served a term as Supreme Judge. Right worthily they bear their father’s name.
Additional Information For Biography Of James Gregory
This information is taken from A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly , Volume 1, 1816-1899, compiled & edited by Rebecca A. Shepherd, Charles W. Calhoun, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker and Alan F. January; publisehd by The Select Committee on the Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly in cooperation with the Indiana Historical
Bureau, Indianapolis,1980. And from Commemorative Biographies of Prominent Men of Indianapolis, published in Indianapolis, 1908.
Children of James and Elizabeth Lee Gregory:
1) Rhoda , b.Jan.10,1806, Kentucky;
2) Leroy , b. Dec.13, 1808, Kentucky(?);
3) Robert Crocket, b. Feb. 15,1811, Kentucky;
4) Lydia, b. (?);
6) Franklin, b. April 11, 1816, Lawrence County, IN;
7) Alfred, b. Feb.14,1818, Shelby County, IN;
8) Narcissa, b 1822(?), Lawrence or Shelby County, IN;
9) Mary L. b. (?);
10) Elijah, b. 1826(?), Lawrence or Shelby County, IN;
11) Henry Clay, b.1827, Shelby or Lawrence County, IN;
12) Rebecca Jane, b. Shelby County(?);
13) Edwin, B., b. 1832 (?), Warren County, IN (?).
*Robert Crocket Gregory served in the Indiana General Assembly (Senate) 1841-43, from Montgomery County ;later was a judge in the Indiana Supreme Court (1865-71).
* Leroy Gregory served in the Indiana General Assembly (House) 1844-45 from Warren County.
* Benjamin Franklin Gregory served in the Indiana General Assembly (House) 1863-1865 from Warren County.
Submitted by Charles Gray
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