Shelby  County,  Indiana

          Indiana became the 19th State on December 11, 1816. At that time, this area (what is now known as Shelby County) was nothing but dense swampy forests and flowing rivers.  The Delaware Indians inhabited this area and most of the surrounding areas.  They were a peaceable tribe.  William Conner was the first white man to pass through Shelby County. He was known as an “Indian Trader”.  William was the son of Richard Conner.  Richard’s wife had been a captive of the Shawnee Indians since childhood.  After she and Richard were married, they continued to live among the Indians.  Their first-born son, John Connor, was born in 1775 and was the founder of Connersville.  John and William both married women from the Shawnee tribe. William married the daughter of Chief Anderson. William and his wife left the tribe in 1802 and settled near Noblesville on the White River.  His cabin became known as ‘Conner Trading Post’.  It was rumored that William Conner traded with the Indians along the river banks in this area.  However, there is no documented proof.  It is known that he traded along a trail from his cabin to Anderson ( Madison County, IN), which lay to the north of Shelby County.
          James Wilson, the first man to settle in Shelby County, was closely associated with John Conner. Shelby County was officially established in December of 1821 and named after Isaac Shelby.
          In 1817, Jacob Wetzel purchased newly released land from the government in the western part of Indiana near the Eel River.  He blazed a trail over land rather than following the waterways.  Before blazing the trail, he asked for and obtained permission from Chief Anderson to cross the land that had belonged to the Delaware Indians. He embarked on his journey in July of 1818, accompanied by Thomas Rush. A few days later, they were followed by Cyrus Wetzel , Jacob’s 18 year old son who was an expert axe man, Richard Rush , Thomas Howe and Walter Banks carrying provisions for the long and arduous journey. Their plan was to make a path and mark it as they passed. They planned to cut a wide trace on their trip home again. The group moved west from Laurel , crossed the Flat Rock River seven miles below Rushville, Blue River four miles northeast of present-day Shelbyville , and Sugar Creek near Red Mill.  It continued westward through present-day Johnson County until it reached the White River. He stopped at this site, which was northeast of present-day Waverly. Jacob Wetzel named this place “The Bluffs ” and eventually established his home there in the following year.           It is told that the Brandywine was named by Wetzel and his party. Wetzel had stayed behind to look over the land that he’d bought. He rejoined his party at a spot along the Brandywine. In celebration of his reuniting with the party, they shared a bottle of Peach Brandy. They christened the river ‘Brandywine’ in memory of the occasion. The trail, known as Wetzel’s Trace , was used until around 1826 because other roads were being opened up. The Trace eventually disappeared altogether. Due to lack of use, the trail had become impassable with the return of undergrowth and fallen trees. Since Wetzel had no legal right to the land that the Trace used, it became a part of acreage bought by the new settlers.
          Wetzel had put a lot of work, time and money into the Trace which had opened the area to settlement. William Conner petitioned the legislature with a request to reimburse Jacob Wetzel for his part in opening up the area. The 'Committee on Roads ' turned down his request.
          Jacob Wetzel died on July 23, 1827 leaving behind only one son, Cyrus, and one daughter out of eight children born to him and to his wife. Aside from the Wetzel Trace, the ‘New Purchase’ was also extremely important to the settlement and history of Shelbyville. In 1809, the last of the land purchase from the Indians was completed by the Federal Government. By the year 1818, people from southern Indiana, southeastern Indiana and Kentucky were anxious to move north towards this area for the prospect of rich land. According to a Madison , Indiana newspaper, the land purchased from the Indians was fertile, the water supply was abundant and the climate was good. The treaty that had been signed with the Delaware Indians had provided a window of three years for the Indians to move. By the time people settled in Shelby County, there were very few Indians left in the area.
          Isaac Wilson had told of how he remembered two families of Indians that had camped near his family’s home around the winter of 1819-1820. They often dined together. Isaac also remembered one of the Indian women that had camped near his home bringing a pair of moccasins for one of the Wilson babies. The day before, she had measured the child’s foot with her thumb and forefinger. When she slipped the moccasins on the child’s foot, they fit perfectly. There were others that told stories of Indians in the area. The descendants of Dr. Sylvan Morris passed on the story of an Indian woman that brought her sick child in for treatment. After the child was treated, the woman left without saying a word. Several months later, the woman returned. She brought to his cabin a beautifully woven blanket that she had made for him to thank him. The Delaware Indians were pushed further west, as time passed, leaving behind only memories and a few remnants.
          Isaac Wilson’s father, James Wilson , was born in Virginia in 1779 and fought during the American Revolution. James was the only one of four brothers to survive the war. James came to Indiana in 1800, first settling in Jefferson County.  In 1801, he married Nancy McCarty. She was born in 1785 in a Fort in Kentucky. He and his wife and their family moved to Franklin County in 1808. After Wetzel had completed work on the Trace, Wilson and two other men followed the Trace to where it met with the Blue River. This is where he decided that he was going to build his new home. He returned to Franklin County, gathered his three oldest sons, and the four of them returned to the spot that he’d chosen. They built the new cabin and then, on January 1, 1819, he and his wife, Isaac, four daughters and a baby boy moved in. The two older sons that had also helped build the cabin had a fire burning in the fireplace to welcome the rest of the family when they arrived. Once they were settled into their new home, James established a trading post.
          The Bennett Michael family was the second family to settle in Shelby County. In fact, it is believed that Wilson built the house for Bennett Michael next to his own. Wilson had sent for Michael because the family needed shoes and Michael was a shoemaker. In early 1820, other families came to settle around the same area as Wilson and Michael. There soon came a flood of new people that settled in Shelby County.
          The Wetzel Trace had opened the way, but the Berry Trace was soon to follow. In 1819, the Berry Trace opened up a whole other route into Shelby County. It began in Napoleon , cut westward crossing the Flat Rock River nine miles north of Columbus , went north intersecting the Wetzel Trace near Greenwood , and ended where White River and Fall Creek meet.  No one knows for sure whether or not any Shelby County residents used this Trace to enter the county, but it was noted to have ‘increased the flow of traffic’ through this area and central Indiana. Thus, Indianapolis was born. Indianapolis became the new State Capitol in 1824. James Gregory arrived in Shelby County in 1822 from Kentucky. He had been commissioned to draw plans for the new county jail. He was elected to the State Senate and served two terms and was instrumental in forcing the hand of the Senate to move the Capitol to Indianapolis. In 1831, he left Shelby County, traveled around for a while and in 1843, died of yellow fever.
          The most important factor of the future growth of Shelby County was the sale of the ‘New Purchase ’ land. The sale began in October of 1820. After the land had been purchased from the Indians and surveyed, it was sold to the highest bidder for private ownership. Those that had arrived when the land was first purchase from the Indians, were allowed ‘squatters rights’. All of the earlier settlers to this area were squatters.
          In October of 1818, The Treaty of St. Mary's was signed. In 1819, the Federal Government started preparations to open a new Land Office in Brookville to handle the sales for the ‘New Purchase’ land. In October of 1820, the office opened for business and stayed opened until 1825. The office was then relocated to Indianapolis. The minimum price for early land sales in Indiana was $2.00 per acre. Hard times had fallen on the frontier. Many banks had failed and many of the settlers, who had contracted for land, could no longer meet the payments. The government reduced the minimum price to $1.25 per acre and lowered the minimum number of acres needed to purchase to 80. In exchange for the concessions made by the Federal Government, they required full payment be made in cash immediately on contracts or upon new purchases. The squatters were allowed to purchase their land at the $1.25 per acre rate. When the Land Office opened for business on October 2, 1820, settlers rushed in to claim their land. Between October and December, there were over 100 claims entered for Shelby County. There continued to be a large number of sales for many years. Nevertheless, there was still government land available in Shelby County in the 1850’s. James Wilson and his family didn’t live in isolation for long. Shelby County was no longer wilderness, but a well populated settlement. Due to the increasing amount of people moving into Shelby County by 1821, it became apparent that a form of local government was needed. The State Legislature was petitioned in order to request the organization of the new county. An act granting the request was passed in December of 1821. The act was set up in seven sections. The first designated the boundaries for this county. The second provided for the rights, privileges and jurisdiction of the county, as well as the name of Shelby County. The third section listed the names of the men that had been selected to choose where the County Seat would be and when the first meeting on the first Monday of July, 1822 would be held. Section four provided for a temporary meeting place to be used until permanent quarters were available. That meeting place was to be the cabin of David Fisher. The fifth section stated that 10% of the proceeds from the sale of county property would be set aside for a local library. Section six dictated that the county had 1 year to build the necessary public buildings from the time the site was chosen. The final section designated that the trustees for the library would be elected by qualified voters. Governor Jennings signed the act on December 31, 1821 setting the effective date for April 1, 1822. It is unclear as to how the Legislature came to name the county ‘Shelby County’, but based on the fact that most of the early settlers came from Kentucky area, it is appropriate that it was named in honor of a governor from that state. Shelby County was named after Isaac Shelby who had been an officer in the army during the Revolution and who had also warred with Indians. He was the first governor of Kentucky and served two terms. He led a group of Kentuckians to the Battle of Thames to join Governor Harrison in 1813, thereby becoming a part of Indiana history. A few of the early settlers to Shelby County had fought some of the same battles as Isaac Shelby and, more than likely, served under his command. David Fisher, owner of the cabin where local proceedings were to be held, was one of the early settlers that had settled in the area around Wilson’s cabin. On October 9, 1820, he and Wilson entered their land at the Land Office. This area of land where the two men had settled was known as ‘Marion’ , which had been named in honor of General Francis Marion, also known as the ‘swamp fox’ during the Revolution. Richard Tyner, Joseph Davidson and David Fisher were the first men to be sworn in as members of the Commissioners Court. It was their job to set up the local government and see to the needs of the settlers. The court organized itself at a special meeting which was held on Tuesday, April 9, 1822. From that day to the present, the minutes of the meetings were recorded and preserved by the County Auditor. William Davis was appointed to act as the first County Treasurer. He only held this office for a short time before moving to Connersville. The first County Clerk was Hiram Alldredge . The governor appointed him on April 25, 1822 and then again in 1828. He remained in that office until he died. There are no written records of Hiram Alldredge prior to settlement in Shelby County. He lived in what was known as the ‘Haw Patch’ area of the county. This area is approximately three miles north of Edinburgh . In January of 1823, he purchased land from James Davison, just west of the land donated by Davison for the county seat. Hiram Alldredge is buried in the City Cemetery and his marker reads: “Erected in memory of Hiram Aldredge. November 7, 1830” and according to his tombstone, he was only 35 years old at the time of his death. It is believed that an error was made when the date was placed on his stone. The minutes for the Commissioners Court meeting on November 8, 1831 states that the reason that the meeting failed to be held on the previous day was due to the unexpected death of Hiram Alldredge. Ovid Butler was appointed on November 14, 1831 as pro tem clerk. After the Treasurer and the Clerk had been appointed, the Commissioner proceeded to divide the county into townships. Until 1823, there were only four townships, Hendricks, Marion, Union and Noble. Addison township was added in 1823. The instructions given by the Enabling Act to choose a seat of justice for the new county was carried out on July 1, 1822. From this point on, the county continued to organize and grow.
- Melinda M. Weaver -

Further reading:
Chadwick's History of Shelby County, Indiana by Edward H. Chadwick, B.A., Assisted by Well Known Local Talent, B.F. Bowen & Co, Publisher, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1909.
History of Shelby County Indiana Chicago: Brant & Fuller, 1887

Historical Articles Index       Biography Index       Main Page