Back to Vigo County Town Histories
Back to Vigo County Biographies Project

History of Terre Haute, Vigo Co., IN - 1880 - page three


I give you my recollections of several of the earliest citizens of Terre Haute who have passed away. They are the impressions made on my memory while a boy.

Mr. GEORGE HUSSEY was our nearest neighbor. If I remember rightly, he was a middling-sized man with thin sandy whiskers. He had a custom of thrusting his thumbs into the armholes of his vest, throwing his shoulders back, and making a particular kind of h-e-m. He was a player on the flute, how good I don't know. He would come to our house of evenings, play awhile on the flute, and then sit down (he always walked when he was playing) and talk about Baltimore. Of the two performances I liked the Baltimore part the best. He was always very kind and good to me and I liked him very much. After he moved to his farm I was often a guest of his for weeks, when he always kept me tagging after him over the farm. I don't remember which talked the most. The last time I saw him was in 1853. I paid him a visit on his farm; it was a long time before he could realize that I was the once white-headed and often ragged little boy of long ago, but when he was satisfied of the fact his mind seemed to leap over intervening years, and he talked of the olden times as of yesterday.

Dr. CHARLES B. MODESITT was one of those rare old gentlemen that we eat but once in a lifetime,--tall, erect, with hair as white as snow. He was the very embodiment of "old Virginia," ay, even of Culpepper county itself. He was extremely polite, would say "sir" to old or young, white or black, man, woman, boy or girl. He was very kind to us little boys, and kept an orchard of sour apples on purpose for us to rob.

Major GEORGE W. DEWEES was a grim old man, thick-set, with iron-gray hair and whiskers, small eyes, and a very sour look. He was universally unpopular. His two ferocious white dogs made him most of this reputation with boys of my age. All that glitters is not gold, and somebody is said to be painted blacker than he is; so with the old major. He was better than he was represented to be. I know of his furnishing a poor young woman with money to pay her passage from Louisville to Terre Haute, and even refusing to be thanked.

Col. BLAKE was my beau ideal of a gentleman. He was six feet in height and well proportioned, light hair, neatly trimmed side whiskers well brushed forward; always well dressed, the ruffle of his shirt standing out beyond his vest, with a smooth glossy hat, polished boots, and corns on his toes,--I stepped on them once. He would always give me his fourpences; I liked him for that. I have heard that he once engaged in a duel with somebody, but no one was hurt. In short, Col. BLAKE was the greatest man in Terre Haute except Major LEWIS.

Of LUCIUS H. SCOTT I remember very little previous to 1828. He was a thin, erect man, quick in his movements and precise in speech. He came to Terre Haute very poor, but prospered. He was the sheriff of the county at one time. * * *

I think there is hardly anybody that remembers ROBERT STURGIS but myself. Poor Bob was a universal favorite; he would keep people laughing all the time he talked, and he talked about all the time. Ostensibly he was clerk in somebody's store, but his most constant occupation was drinking whisky. I remember well the day he died. I was in the habit, small as I was, of calling to see him every day while he was sick, and he was sick some time. That day I called as usual. Mr. John F. CRAFT was the only person in the room, or even in the house. When I entered the room he faintly called me to his bedside; as I approached he held out his emaciated hand, and taking mine in his feeble grasp, he said: "You are very kind, Billy, to think of me on such a day as this." It was the Fourth of July. After a short pause he continued: "Billy, I am dying; when you are a few years older you will know what killed me, do not let it kill you. Be a good boy and you will become a good man. Good-bye." I cried like any child, and Mr. CRAFT told me I had better say good-bye, too, and go, for Mr. STURGIS needed rest. Mr. CRAFT remained with him till he died. If I remember rightly he was buried with Masonic honors.

JOHN W. OSBORN, editor, printer and proprietor of the "Western Register and Terre Haute General Advertiser," was a man who, in my estimation, carried in his head all the knowledge of the world. He was quiet in manner and kind in speech, never passing any one in the street without a pleasant word. He was particularly opposed to horse-racing (then a custom universally indulged in) from a moral point of view, and was very sensitive in regard to razor strops, but I never understood why. To me there were two points of interest in the "Western Register"; one was that the news was always "two weeks later from Europe," and the other was Lewis REDFORD's advertisement, with the picture of a bureau at the top and "ti" at the bottom. * * *

THOMAS ROGERS was the ferryman at Modesitt's ferry. He was one of those hard working men who toil and sweat but never get along in the world. Besides tending ferry he would cut wood, drive oxen, feed hogs, kill hogs, do anything, in short, that an honest man could do, but he lived and died poor.

ROBERT BRASHER was a hatter by trade, and was one of those good, pious, quiet christians, inside and out, that we read of but seldom see. He was a tall, spare man, and the veins in the backs of his hands were very large. He made excellent hats, with three trifling faults, namely: uncouth in shape, too soft in body, and altogether too durable. I used to delight in the snap, snap, snapping and the twang, twang, twanging of that long bow of his as he beat up the fur. His wife was a very kind-hearted woman, and prided herself on her hospitality. She was an excellent cook, and much given to novel reading. Her three youngest children had several names each. When she stood at the door and called her absent sons, and they were generally absent, it seemed as if she was calling a school. If, however, she happened to be calling her daughters, one would hear half the female characters in the "Children of the Abbey" called.

FRANCIS CUNNINGHAM kept the tavern at the northwest corner of Second and Main streets. "Uncle Frank," as he was universally called, was one of those genial-hearted men that all love; offhanded, liberal, prone to anger, but soon and so easily appeased that his anger often became ludicrous even to himself. He was much given to horse-racing, and always had very fast horses--just fast enough to be beaten. He was very persevering in that pursuit, but never successful. Whenever I went to the tavern he made me sit on two chairs, and told me stories just the same as if I had been a man. Dear old, "Uncle Frank," I think I can see him now. He was postmaster a number of years and was an ardent democrat. Mrs. CUNNINGHAM was no less kind than her husband. I was a great favorite of hers when I was small, and always had a share of the good things when I went to her house. I have traveled far and wide during the past thirty years, and I have seen but few women so good as I deemed her to be. In 1858, when I was on a visit to my old home, she sent for me to come and see her. She was very glad to see me; for a few moments she looked steadily at me, with a dreamy expression that told me that her thoughts were far back beyond me in the dim, unreturning past; the tear gathered in her eye and she said: "I can see your mother in your face." Was it unmanly of me to allow the unbidden tear to moisten my eye? Surely the weather-beaten, storm-driven sailor may be allowed to have a heart.


Joseph THAYER was my first schoolmaster. He was a man of very steady habits during vacation: that is, steady at the whiskey bottle; but in term-time he was never known to drink. We boys had to mind how we carried sail or we would get our head-sheets flattened in on the wrong tack. "Yet he was kind, etc."--See Goldsmith. We once had a schoolmaster by the name of RATHBONE. I remember nothing of him, except that the big boys locked him in one Christmas and burnt brimstone beneath the floor. This was such a great sport that Ralph WILSON, in the exuberance of his joy, sawed two of his fingers to the bone with a rusty old penknife. As we advance in life we look fondly back to our school-days, and I think we do rightly, for there was all our fun. We had one teacher who took the starch out of our sails, yet he never flogged us. He made a threat to flog a boy once, and sent a couple of scapegraces out to cut him a switch for that purpose. They were gone nearly the whole afternoon, and returned, just as school was about to be dismissed, with half a dozen sycamore rods ten or twelve feet long, and lugged them up to the teacher's desk. "School is dismissed," said Mr. BROWN, and made a cut at the two young scamps with one of the rods. They were not long in getting outside the school-room. The boy who was to be flogged escaped his punishment.

How well I remember my first school day! I was a small boy only a little more than four years old, my sister and I loitering along the way to school, picking flowers and tying them in little nosegays. Mr. THAYER took me on his knee and called me a "little man." I knew I was only a little boy, and thought him very wicked for telling stories. My last school-day was when I was fourteen, and as I carried my books home I felt a premonition that I had seen the last of a school-room, as a scholar. * * *


JOHN BRITTON was for many years a magistrate, and was esteemed a good one; he also kept the county library. He was a great teacher of mine. He taught me how to guide a horse by hauling on the starboard rein if I wanted to steer to the right, and hauling on the port if I wished to veer away to the left. He was rather plain in manner and speech. It was said that at a trial before him a man by the name of LEATHERMAN jumped up and exclaimed: "So and so swears to a d----d lie." Squire BRITTON then, in an excited voice, said: "John Leatherman, I fine you $5 for swearing, by G-d!" He was very fond of fancy gardening, and "Britton's garden" was a place of great resort thirty-five years ago.

James FARRINGTON has too recently passed away for me to say anything interesting of him. He was for a number of years my guardian, and a kinder hearted man never lived. I received a letter from him in 1861, while I was in Washington city; he expressed much regret at being absent when I was in Terre Haute, and a heartfelt pleasure to learn that I had turned out so well in the world. He inclosed (sic) a letter to the Hon. Caleb B. SMITH, secretary of the interior, requesting him to use his influence to assist me in any way.

Salmon WRIGHT was a hatter, and worked for Mr. McCABE: but being of a studious turn took to the law, which he practiced successfully for many years. I never heard him make but one speech in court, and that was in a murder trial at Marshall, Illinois. I took dinner with him that day, and we rode home in the night through the almost unbroken forest.

ROBERT S. McCABE was a hatter, and carried on the business on First street. He was a short, thick-set man--"Jack-of clubs" built; or, as, a sailor would say, a "regular stump-top-gallant-mast." He was a driving sort of man, with many irons in the fire, and had a store, but it was seldom open. His wife's name was Patty.

Of Mr. WILLIAM C. LINTON I can remember very little in the long ago. I knew that he kept a store on the east side of the public square. He was a small, spare man, and, when not busy, would walk back and forth behind his counter very rapidly, with his arms swinging as if in fierce debate with some unseen person. He was a very nervous man, and not without courage. I saw him exhibit this quality once in a very remarkable manner. He held a paper in his hand, which he proposed to read to the people on election day, 1828. Jehu GOSNELL, a burly ruffian, stood near him with his fist clenched, and told him if he dared read a word he would knock him down. But Mr. LINTON read the paper, and GOSNELL did nothing but threaten. I do not remember what it was about. All that I remember is, that Mr. LINTON read this: "Jehu GOSNELL says that he will swear upon a stack of bibles"--and here GOSNELL interrupted with "A lie! read right, or I'll knock you down," at the same time drawing back his fist to strike. Mr. LINTON merely said to him: "We have a jail for such fellows as you." "What did you say?" "A stack of bibles as high as this court-house," was the reply. No man ever did more for Terre Haute than William C. LINTON in his day.

JOHN C. CRUFT, for many years a merchant in Terre Haute, looms up as conspicuously as any of the "old settlers." At my earliest rememberance I think his store was at the northeast corner of Water and Ohio streets. Subsequently his store and residence was on the north side of the public square. I do not think there were any of the first settlers who possessed a more varied fund of information than Mr. CRUFT. In conversation with him at two different periods, 1853 and 1861, I was much surprised by the extent and accuracy of his knowledge in regard to the branch of nautical life I had chosen as my profession, and his correct ideas relative to the many out-of-the-way parts of the world I had from time to time visited in the course of my voyages; the manners and customs of the different peoples; the different forms of government, laws, etc.; their geographical positions, exports, imports, and the like. He seemed to me like a man who had traveled the world over. The last time I saw him was in 1861. On a warm, clear September day we took a stroll along the river bank and through the town, establishing old landmarks and talking over old times. Mr. CRUFT was always kind to me, and gave me great encouragement and aid when I was a boy.

I remember nothing of the COLLETTS, Josephus and Stephen S., except they had a store on the north side of the public square, and that Samuel GROENENDYKE was their clerk.

WILLIAM MARS was a blacksmith, and there is no person I remember so far back in the past as I do him, and no house farther in the long-gone-by than his shop. When I was a little fellow,--very little, for I wore petticoats,--"Uncle Billy," as he was called, found me anchored in a snow-drift opposite his shop, which stood on the corner of First and Poplar streets. He took me into his shop to warm me up, though he did not know whose boy I was, for he was a new-comer. I remember nothing about his taking me out of the snow and carrying me into his shop, but I do remember sitting on the forge while he with one hand stirred the fire with a poker, and worked the bellows with the other, the ruddy flame the while lighting up his swarthy features, and the unsteady light causing his shadow to perform strange antics on the wall. "Uncle Billy" was a queer stick, very fond of telling stories, especially about his having seen WASHINGTON in Philadelphia. He said he never saw a picture of WASHINGTON that did not look like him. Uncle Bill was the butcher of the town; at least he had the cattle killed and sold the beef. John EVELINE was the professional butcher.

DEMAS DEMING was the best friend I had in all the young part of my life, and I always think of him with a sense of the deepest gratitude. He was willing to do almost anything for me, and time and again he offered me assistance in whatever I might wish to undertake. He did many acts of kindness for me, and would have done more had I permitted; but my heart yearned to see the world, and my desires have in part been gratified, without being a burden to my friends. I have traveled far and wide, and have made many warm, true friends in different parts of the globe, but none whom I value so highly as Judge DEMING.


To mention all the old settlers would take too much space. There are a number more who have as strong claims on my memory as many of those whom I have mentioned. There are not many towns in the great northwest that can boast of having had so large a number of respectable citizens in their early existence as Terre Haute. Besides those I have mentioned, there are others who have left their imprint upon the place. Chauncey ROSE, the Messrs. EARLY, the Messrs. WARREN, Curtis GILBERT, Elisha M. HUNTINGTON, Nathaniel HUNTINGTON, who died when a young man, Elijah TILLOTSON, Lester TILLOTSON, James B. McCALL, Gen. John SCOTT, Israel HARRIS, Samuel McQUILKIN, the Messrs. EVERSOL, Joseph BRANDT, Enoch DOLE, the Messrs. REDFORD, James RIDDLE, Sr., Thomas HOUGHTON, the Messrs. ROSS, Drs. SHULER, CLARK, BALL and Septer PATRICK, and others, were among the earliest settlers, or at least came during the first decade. This is a goodly array of goodly names for a town of only two hundred inhabitants, which was full as many people as there were here in 1826. The country around contained such names as Mr. COLMAN, Gen. Peter ALLEN, Capt. John HAMILTON, Messrs. ASPINWALL, BENNETT, DICKSON, Elisha U. BROWN and many more.

The first two families I remember settling in Terre Haute were those of Judge Elijah TILLOTSON and Mr. GOSNELL, but who came first I cannot say. Mr. TILLOTSON occupied a little shop on the west side of First street, between Poplar and Ohio streets, which had a bow window in which he hung his watches.


Although Terre Haute had such a large portion of respectability, it was often disturbed by street fighting. On election days and muster days whisky was drank freely, and then came the fighting. Election days seemed to me to be set apart for some of the older HAYNES boys and the HINERS to bring up their old feud and fight it over. I do not think any fighting would have been allowed on election day unless it was in the interest of either the HAYNESES or the HINERS.

On muster days the fighting was miscellaneous and desultory, and not so bitter, but more like fighting for the sake of making friends again, and drinking whisky over the make-up. Most of these fights would occur near the drummer, DAVIS, who would rattle away at his drum, regardless of the disturbance around him. This DAVIS was a very short-legged, long-bodied, red-faced, big-nosed little man. He had a loud voice, was awfully profane, and while beating his drum he could throw one of his sticks in the air, toss off a glass of whisky, catch the stick in its descent, and never lose a note--so the boys said. DAVIS was in the war of 1812, and came near being killed several times.


The first fire I remember of seeing in Terre Haute was the store of Stephen P. CAMMACK, on the northwest corner of First and Walnut streets. The house belonged to Thomas PARSONS, "own free man," as he loved to style himself, a carpenter and afterward a physician.

The first person I remember being sent to the state prison from Terre Haute was a young man by the name of Felix CUNNINGHAM. * * *

We have thus given large extracts from Capt. EARLE's letter, because the little incidents of daily life, as well as the minor peculiarities of individual character so vividly portrayed, give us better ideas of life and times in that early day than more formal public records can possibly do, and for a large class of readers these have a peculiar charm.

A few other items have been gleaned from here and there. Especially is the writer indebted to Mr. Henry WARREN, a grandson of Dr. C.B. MODESITT, for the use of his scrap-books, in which he has preserved so many things, not great in themselves, but which go to fill up with interesting matter the skeleton of local history, and which, without such care in gathering the items as they transpire, would be entirely lost.

Col. Thomas H. BLAKE, of whom mention has already been made, was appointed circuit judge by Gov. JENNINGS, in May, 1818, and held his first court in July of that year. Moses HOGGETT and James BARNES were the first associate justices. Col. BLAKE at one time bought out lost No. 39, the block bounded by Ohio and Main, and Fifth and Sixth streets, for $80. The grantor was Jonah S. SHEETS, who had bought outlots 39 and 45, the latter lying between Mulberry and Cherry, and half way between Sixth and Seventh streets, the two amounting to about six and one-tenth acres, of the Terre Haute Land Company, the consideration named in the deed being $5.

James FARRINGTON established the second ferry at the foot of Main street. Isaac ANDERSON was the first ferryman.

The first female child born in Terre Haute was Mary Ann McFADDEN, in 1818. She married a son of Maj. MARKLE, and is still living.

The first marriage took place in the fall of 1818, between Dr. TURNER and Susan STILSOL.

Rev. Isaac REID is said to have preached the first sermon, in 1818.

The first schoolhouse was built of brick, in 1827, on the corner of Walnut and Fifth streets, where the Catholic Female school now stands. Charles T. NOBLE was the teacher. This schoolhouse was put up through the efforts of Amory KINNEY, Esq., who was conspicuous in his efforts to establish free public schools in Terre Haute.

John M. COLMAN bought up hogs in 1824-5, and loaded them on a flat-boat and started south. Boat and cargo were sunk below Natchez, Miss. He paid one cent per pound for his pork.

In 1824 Benj. GILMAN erected the first pork-packing establishment, and commenced a business that afterwards developed to an immense extent.

The first piano ever brought to Terre Haute, and indeed the first one ever brought west of the Alleghany mountains, was brought by Mrs. Richard BLAKE, in 1832. The family lived for some time in the old Linton mansion, corner of Ohio and Sixth streets. It is said that farmers and others in passing the home used to stop and ask Mrs. BLAKE to play on the "critter."

The first inventory of goods and chattels was from the estate of Oliver JONES, deceased, filed for probate November 2, 1818.

The first will recorded in Vigo county was that of Wm. WINTER, October 20, 1818.

The first estray notice was filed by James JONES, justice of the peace, in December, 1818.

The first marriage license was issued from the clerk's office, April 4, 1818, authorizing the marriage of William FOSTER and Elizabeth WILSON.

Elisha V. BROWN was the first inspector of Harrison township. He was also the first assessor or "lister" of Vigo county.

John BRITTON was appointed first constable of Harrison township. Among the first accounts allowed by the county commissioners was a bill presented by Mr. BRITTON for arresting and "dieting" certain rioters on the 4th and 5th of July, 1818. Mr. BRITTON was said to be a man of rare accomplishments. He was the first surveyor in the county. He also kept an apothecary's shop.

The first election in Harrison township was held at the house of Henry REDFORD; this was in April, 1818. There were three justices of the peace elected.

The county was at that time (1818) divided into six road districts, and Ezra JONES was the first supervisor in district No. 3. This district, in which Terre Haute was situated, was "bounded south by the north bank of Honey creek, west by the Wabash, north by the line dividing Sections 16 and 9 in township 12, and running east to the county line, and east by said county line." It will thus be seen that the labors of a road supervisor were of no trifling character.

Abraham MARKLE and Daniel STRINGHAM were the first overseers of the poor in Harrison township.

The first grist-mill built in this region was put up by Abraham MARKLE, six miles north of Terre Haute, on Otter creek. This mill was the first to furnish a regular supply of flour. Another well known mill was LAMBERT and DICKSON's, on Honey creek, six miles to the south.

About the year 1825, situated nearly three miles below Terre Haute, was what was called a "float-mill," owned by a Mr. BENNETT; the mill-wheel was turned by the river current.

A Mr. WALLACE had a steam saw-mill on the bank of the river, on ground now occupied by the distillery, and it is said that he had a grist-mill connected with it. This mill was built after 1823. The people of Terre Haute subscribed funds in aid of this enterprise to induce the WALLACE Brothers to put up the mill. The father of these brothers was among those who used to preach in the old court-house.

The old brick building, still standing on the corner of First and Main streets, and now used by the Southeastern railroad, was built by George W. RUBLE at an early day. His father was an old soldier, who died in Vincennes.

The old LINTON mansion corner of Sixth and Ohio, was finished in 1830. It was built by David LINTON, and formerly stood near the center of the block, but was subsequently moved out to the street. It was considered palatial in its day. David LINTON's store at that time was at the corner of Main and second streets. From the store to the house was considered a long walk, as the latter was then "out of town."

The first market-house stood in the center of Market street, near its intersection with Ohio.

The old wooden building standing on the northwest corner of First and Ohio, and which now forms a part of the MEYER House, was built by Judge DEMING about 1825, and was his place of residence. Rev. Mr. JEWETT occupied this house with his family, and it was here that his son was accidentally killed a day or two after his arrival.

The brick building, one-story, standing on the corner of First and Mulberry, was erected by Benj. I. GILMAN, in 1824, and used as an office.

The first post-office was in a small building on the north side of Ohio between First and Second streets. About once a week the stage from Vincennes came through First street, and stopped at the "Eagle and Lion."

The large brick house, two stories high, on the southwest corner of Eighth and Eagle, was the first house of any kind built east of Sixth street on the prairie. It was built by Guy C. WELCH. The second house was Mrs. DEMING's, and the third was Mrs. Chauncey WARREN's, both on Sixth street.

Gen Chas. CRAFT's residence is also one of the old landmarks, and was built some forty years ago. Nearly all that portion of the city east of Sixth street has been built up within the past twenty-five years.

The frame building now standing on the east side of Fifth street (No. 25 North Fifth) was built by Wm. C. LINTON before 1824, and stood near the southeast corner of Main and Third. It was occupied by him as a store and post-office.

John F. KING built the two-story frame house now standing on the northwest corner of Chestnut and Sixth-and-a-half streets. It is one of the old houses of Terre Haute. Mr. KING married a sister of Curtis GILBERT.

Jacob STARK built the first brick house that was erected in Terre Haute, east of the canal. He it was who bought the old court-house when that building was finally condemned and sold.

The ROSS brothers (there were three of them) were the first who made a regular business of making brick in Terre Haute. They came at a very early day (1823), and they furnished most of the brick that were put into the earlier brick buildings erected in the town. The brothers, James and Harry, have always been prominent in local affairs, (See sketches.)

The first three-story building erected in Terre Haute was built by ROSS brothers. It stands on Second street between Main and Ohio.

Continued here
Return to previous page

HISTORY OF VIGO AND PARKE COUNTIES, Together With Historic Notes on the Wabash Valley
H.W. Beckwith - 1880
Terre Haute, pp. 54-65

View the Biographical Sketches associated with this township
Additional sketches: Page 2; Page 3; Page 4; Page 5; Page 6; Page 7; Page 8; Page 9; Page 10; Page 11; Page 12; Page 13; Page 14; Page 15; Page 16; Page 17; Page 18
Terre Haute & Harrison Twp. biographies.

Submitted by Charles Lewis
Data entry by Kim Holly - used with permission.

Back to Vigo County Town Histories
Back to Vigo County Biographies Project