Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Naming of Madison, Ind.: A Revisionist Story

The naming of Madison is a very simple story, right? John Paul, who purchased the land for the city's original site, named it after the fourth president, after first calling it Wakefield.

But the big problem is that the name Madison preceded Paul's arrival, as shown in the 1808 edition of the "Navigator," an annual publication by Zadoc Cramer, who reported on the state of navigation on the Ohio River. The 1808 edition noted that, "from the Kentucky [river] thirteen miles above Madison, to Westport, twenty-three miles below, you have free water.” There is little doubt about Madison's location here, given its location described in relationship to the Kentucky River and Westport. There is also a remark by Vevay entrepreneur Jean Jacques Jacques Dufour, whose Day Book recorded a trip to Madison in 1805. And while the location of that Madison wasn't given, it's hard to figure out where else he could had gone, in the time his trip took.

As to the origin of the name, there are two accounts that challenge the generally accepted view that the city took its name from the fourth president.

Exactly when Robert Miller reached the town is not known. His recollections, written by his son, did not list the date. But it was probably before John Paul because when he arrived, he found only two families. Miller believed that one family was named Vawter. The other family, he said, was named Madison.

"The town took its name from this man’s name,” he reported.

Since Jesse Vawter, who settled on the Madison hilltop in the Fairmount area, was the first settler in Madison in 1806, Miller's account rings true.

James Burns, who gave an account of his local recollection of local history in 1873, gave the story twists, not recounted elsewhere. Burns, in a statement that contradicts about everything every written, said, “The first man ever to live in Madison was a Negro named Madison from whom the town got its name.”

The claim has gone unnoticed, probably because when his recollections, first published in a Madison newspaper, were reprinted, the end of the article was omitted.

Technical, Vawter wasn't the first settler in the Madison of the 1800s. The first people on the riverfront anywhere near Madison were William Hall and his son John, who made a clearing sometime from 1806 to 1808,in what later became the town of Fulton. It was John Henry Wagner, a tavern operator, who landed at the foot of modern Jefferson Street on May 8, 1808, who built a house in the original town, on what is now the site of the Schofield house.

It was James Lewis, whose reminiscences who originated the story about Wakefield, and supported the theory that the town was named after the fourth president.

But Burns was born in 1786 while Lewis was born about 1812. Also there is little chance that Miller and Burns came up with the Madison family a common account. Miller stayed in the area only a short time and Burns, who was born 1786 in Virginia, came to Madison in 1814, year after Miller left the area

Burns knew the pioneers as an adult. He ate dinner with John Paul shortly after reaching Madison. He undoubtedly knew Jesse Vawter as he laid out Wirt, where Jesse lived, along with Jesse's son James, and Burn's son Maxa, married Jesse's granddaughter Maria in 1826.

Vevay's Dufour: Smooth Talker

[Editor's Note: While Jean Jacques Dufour lived in Switzerland County, not Jefferson, his activities are of interest to many.]

Give Jean Jacques Dufour credit. The man who founded the Swiss colony on the northern bank of the Ohio River had a way of convincing others to give him what he wanted.

He got the ear of a president, Thomas Jefferson, who could read and answer the letters that Dufour had written in French. He persuaded the U.S. Congress to allow him to buy land at terms not available to others. And he got press coverage that gave his operations the appearance of being far more successful than they really were.

Jean Jacques moved into the public eye after purchasing land in Fayette County, Ky., the so-called First Vineyard. Dufour told a visitor that originally several individuals pledged to raise 10,000 piasters, divided into 200 shares of 50 piasters each, a subscription that was filled. However, traveler Francois Michaux, who visited the Kentucky vineyard in 1802, wrote that Dufour “informed me, that a great number of Swiss had, indeed, had an intention of coming hither, but that as the time for setting off, the greater part of them had changed their opinion, and that the whole colony was reduced to his family and a few friends, in the whole, eleven persons.” Michaux also opined that the results didn't measure up to glowing newspaper reports.

Dufour started on his American venture on March 20, 1796 and spent the next few years buying and selling goods, such up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and throughout Kentucky, in order to raise money for his dream of an American vineyard.

The difficulties in growing grapes, the lack of interest of the proprietors, is mentioned by this account as a factor in the failure along with "the division of M. Dufour’s family, a part of which was on the point of quitting it to settle on the banks of the Ohio." That, of course, was the origin of the Swiss settlement in Indiana.

To start the Indiana effort, Dufour wrote Thomas Jefferson [in French and English] a woeful tale of five families, all experienced vine keepers, who left Switzerland because of heavy losses of property stemming from war and revolution there. Meanwhile, he had described the First Vineyard in Kentucky as having "the most flattering prospect of complete success."

What Dufour wanted from Jefferson was a simple request of getting Congress to grant him the ability to purchase 2,500 acres in what would become Switzerland County at two dollars per acres, to be paid in 1812, ten years later. This compares to everybody else who, before 1820, got three years to pay. Not only would the vineyard be a valuable form of agricultural, but Dufour assured the president "that the land which your petitioner wishers to purchase can only be useful to cultivation of the vine …" that except for a small piece on the river "… being either abrupt hills or deep valleys, and such as in all probability would not sell before the period contemplated for the payment to be made by your petitioner."

That last statement would probably have come as a surprise to people like the Picketts, who were squatting on the land, and who were displaced when Dufour and his associates claimed it.

Congress went along with this deal. Then, Dufour got stuck in Europe during the War of 1812, with payment due in 1814. So he petitioned Congress for another five years to pay. He got that. But when 1818 rolled around and he was asked for 12 months to pay because the government was requiring payment in coins, not notes, part of Congress rebelled. A committee of the House of Representatives split 7 to 7 on the bill and in December 1818, the House rejected the bill by a vote of 65 to 66 on a third reading.

Somebody must have twisted some arms because the bill came up again on December 23, 1818. The official record noted, "The debate was more animated than at the first glance one would have expected such a question to produce." It was spirited enough that it lasted past the usual time for adjournment.

Dufour finally got his way when it passed by a vote of 73 for and 67 against with the record noting that, "The bill was opposed on the general grounds of the inexpediency of making a discrimination between these claimants and other petitioners."

While the congressional records show no final vote, Dufour paid since he got title to the land. Of course, the final kicker to all this is that he wasn't required to use it for growing grapes, so to a certain extent, the Dufours were given 15 or so years to pay for an investment in real estate that they then sold to other settlers.

The Old, Old Indian-Kentuck

The name Indian-Kentuck Creek is distinctive—no other stream in the United States bears the name. More commonly called the Indian-Kentucky Creek in the nineteenth century, it was the first geographical feature in Jefferson County to receive a European name.

There have been a variety of theories about the name's origin.

One was reported in the 1884 obituary of Elisha Short. Short, who came to what is now Milton Township with his father Short in 1810, claimed his father applied the name because there were "nothing but Indians and Kentuckians living there." But there were few Indians and fewer Kentuckians in the area in 1810. And the name is much older.

The Indian-Kentuck's route may have appeared on a crude map, known as the Trader's Map, dated 1753, which shows an unnamed stream on the Indiana side of the Ohio Rover, just downstream from the mouth of the Kentucky River, and in the right spot in relation to other (also unnamed) streams on the map to be the Indian-Kentuck.

A far more accurate map drawn, by Thomas Hutchins and published in London in 1778, shows a 20-yard wide stream in the right place in relationship to the modern lines of latitudes and longitude and known streams. The drawing accurately depicts the creek's main branches along its course in eastern Jefferson County.

The first known use of the name came on May 3, 1786 when the Continental Congress adopted an ordinance describing the survey of "the tract of Territory lying upon the river Ohio, between the little Miami and Indian Kentucky inclusive..."

But the name was probably in use even earlier. Drawn in 1784, but not published until 1793, John Filson's map of Kentucky, which shows Southern Indiana as well as Kentucky, clearly labeled as stream as the Indian-Kentucky Creek

The name appeared several maps published in the 1790s and the first decade of the 1800s, several based on Hutchins fine work. Sometimes the name Indian-Kentucky was applied to what is now called the East Prong, sometimes to Brushy Fork. At other times, the name West Fork, the second county feature to receive an English name, was applied to the branch that still carries the name.

In 1796, Henri Collot, a French general on a spying mission, wrote in his diary that he passed the Indian-Kentucky Creek as he drifted down the Ohio River and implied that it was shown on Hutchins' map as his discussion of streams mentioned some that weren't.

And the origin of the name? Accounts of travelers in the early 1800s spell that out.

Fortescu Cummings, who toured the Ohio River valley from 1807 through 1809, said many streams on the south side of the Ohio had counterparts on the north side to which the name Indian—from the Indian Shore—had been added. So Wheeling Creek was paired with Indian Wheeling and the Kentucky River with the Indian-Kentucky (sometimes shown as the Indian-Kentucky River on maps in the 1790s). Another traveler, David Thomas, also listed the name Short Creek, paired with Indian Short Creek, when he discussed the naming process when he recounted his 1816 trip to the Madison area.

The Tangled Tale of Chief White Eyes

The killing of Chief White Eyes is a Jefferson County legend: the Canaan Fall Festival has a Chief White Eyes painting contest and the White Eyes Trail and White Eyes Branch are part of the county's eastern geography.

But did anybody in Southern Indiana kill a chief named White Eyes, Jefferson County's most famous Indian? Or has the retelling put the wrong name on the body of the county's earliest-known murder victim?

Writers have been confused by the fact that Europeans applied the name White Eyes to different Indians. Colonists killed one White Eyes in 1778 in Pennsylvania, while another fought for the Colonies during the Revolution. A Delaware chief, whose Indian name was Alimee, signed the Treaty of Vincennes on Aug. 18, 1804 as George White Eyes.. On Aug. 21, 1805, Alimee, called simply White Eyes, signed the Treaty of Grouseland, via which the United States purchased the area that became Jefferson County.

Meanwhile, a series of reminiscences by pioneers, published in the Madison Courier in 1873 and 1874 gave conflicting information about the chief's tribal affiliation, and noted there was more than one White Eyes in the area. None reported their Indian names, which might have cleared things up.

Among the reminiscers, James Burns called the chief, a Pottawatomi, as did James Jackson who called him Charlie White Eyes, and said he was a "yellow Indian," which implies mixed black and Indian ancestry. Thomas Wise said he was a Shawnee, but that he "was a different Indian from old Chief White Eyes, the Pottawattamie who lived on Indian-Kentuck Creek." Physical descriptions also conflicted. Burns said White Eyes was about six-feet tall and about 30 years old (when Burns saw him in about 1813.) Jackson said that White Eyes wasn't as tall "as a common man." Some men trusted him; some didn't.

Jackson and Isaac Wilson said a Dr. Hicks poisoned the chief's whiskey, putting in so much poison he vomited instead of dying. Jackson reported White Eyes led the remaining Indians into Decatur County, and then to the Tippecanoe River region in 1816, where Jackson lost track of him. Since some of these men say that White Eyes often visited them, it would be seem natural for them to recount his murder. None did.

The murder stories say his campsite on White Eye Branch in Shelby Township was burned when he was killed. Or, he was tossed in a sinkhole on a farm owned by a Dryden, while still another version, published in 1939, claimed he killed was by Jim McCartney and dumped in a sinkhole in Graham Township.

Meanwhile, a History of Shelby Township, written sometime between 1910 and 1920, said an Indian named Wilson had his wigwam about two miles northeast of Canaan, "where as tradition says, he was foully murdered by three white men, whose names are lost to history."

It's the latter story that may have contributed to the tangled facts.

In 1874, the Madison Courier published a letter from former Madisonian William McKee Dunn. Dunn, who had served as adjutant general, had found a letter dated Sept. 9, 1812 in the War department files. In it, adjutant general Percival Butler described the possible murder of two Delaware Indians called Wilson and John Guin, who had hunted on the headwaters of the Indian-Kentuck.

Butler wrote that a William Hall and a Laughridge (a variant of the name Lockridge) had reported visiting the Indians' camp, heard guns fire, and found the Indians dead. The settlers came back with a tomahawk, a knife, and an obviously suspicious-sounding story. Butler wanted to know if the Indians had been murdered and if their killings had triggered the slaughter at Pigeon Roost.

Since Hall, Lockridge, and usually a Buchanan have been associated with the killing of White Eyes, it may be that the killing of Wilson got tangled in the White Eyes saga. And perhaps the Old White Eyes, one of the two reported by Jackson, was killed.

The Delaware White Eyes who wasn't killed was probably the one Jefferson County about whom the most has been written. Or was it someone else? We'll probably never know.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Key Dates in the Discovery of the Southeastern Indiana River Country

This chronology is designed to paint a picture of the exploration of Jefferson and Switzerland County up to the point permanent settlement began and the counties were created.

Chaussegros de Lery draws a map of the Midwest showing the Kentucky River and marks that elephant bones were discovered at what is now called Big Bone Lick (opposite Posey Twp.) The map's date is debated by historical researchers.

1753 Christopher Gist's party stops at the Salt Creek coming from Big Bone Lick. He may have crossed the Little Kentucky River near its mouth, but his knowledge of geography was incorrect so it is not possible to determine his exact route.

1753. The so-called Trader's Map shows a stream in the correct position to be the Indian-Kentuck Creek in relationship to lines of attitude and longitude although details or the Ohio River are rough.

1766, March 19. John Jennings passes the mouth of the Kentucky River with an expedition at half past nine in the morning. He notes Indian cabin on the point of a creek on the Indiana side at 4 p.m.

1770. Daniel Boone follows the south shore of the Ohio from the Licking River to Louisville.

1774, May 23 Thomas Hanson surveys 2,000 acres in the Ohio River bottom just upstream from Milton, Ky.

1778. Letters from Henry Hamilton, the British governor at Detroit, on April 25 and September 25, mention a settlers’ fort at the mouth of the Kentucky River.

1778 Thomas Hutchins maps the Ohio showing unnamed streams in the current latitude and longitude, including the Indian-Kentuck and Indian Creeks.

1780. The Low-Dutch company, including the Rykers who will be the first known settlers of Jefferson County, float down the Ohio to Louisville.

1780. George Rogers Clark scouts the mouth of the Kentucky River, deciding not to build a fort there.

1780. "Indian" George Ash and several brothers captured in Nelson County, Ky., by Shawnees.

1782. Spring. Indians carrying a party of 30 whites, including the Polk family, across the Ohio at the mouth of the Kentucky River. They are the first known Europeans to visit Switzerland County.

1782. August. John Ryker is sent up the Ohio to spy and reports he went "in various direction as occasions required."

1784. John Filson draws a map of Kentucky that shows the Indian-Kentucky Creek in the correct position and calls it the Indian-Kentucky. The map is published in 1793.

1785, March. Indians kill members of a family who had recently settled at the mouth of the Kentucky River.

1786 May 3. Journal of the Continental Congress mentions ordinance passed May 20, 1785. which described land "lying upon the river Ohio, between the little Miami and Indian Kentucky."

1788, July 9. The Territory Northwest of the Ohio begins keeping records.

1789. (July) Whites kill several Shawnees women and children opposite the mouth of the Kentucky River.

1789. A white vigilante group attacks Indians at a point twenty-six miles down river from
the Great Miami. The distance places the attack in Posey Township, Switzerland County.

1789. Milton, Ky., founded opposite Madison.

1790, February. John McMullen captured by Indians on the Indiana side in retaliation for the 1789 white attack in the same place opposite the Kentucky River.

1790. The Gershom and John Lee families, who would settle in eastern Jefferson County, make their home at the mouth of the Kentucky River.

1790, June 20. Knox County created. It includes all of modern Indiana.

1791, May 19-May 23. General Charles Scott and 750 mounted volunteers cross the Ohio River at the mouth of the Kentucky River or further five miles down, crossing Jefferson County on their way to the Wabash

1793. Matthew and Peter Smock are captured by Indiana in Shelby County, Ky. The captors camp for three days at the future site of the Jefferson County courthouse.

1794, October 6. The territorial government reports several men are making illegal surveys on government and Indian lands west of the Great Miami River.

1795. Heathcoat Pickett leaves the Indians with whom he lived and settles in Switzerland County.

1795, November 28. The Kentucky Legislature grants a license for a ferry from the newly approved town of Preston across the Ohio River. [Modern Prestonville, near Carrollton, at the mouth of the Kentucky River.]

1795. Matthew and Peter Smock are ransomed during the negotiations for the Treaty of Greenville, which establishes the treaty line from Fort Wayne to the mouth of the Kentucky River.

1795, August 3. Treaty of Greenville signed. The U.S. buys the area that will become Dearborn, Ohio, and most of Switzerland Counties

1796. Former French General Victor Collot surveys American rivers on a secret mission. He mentions the Indian-Kentucky Creek by name and Battle Creek (modern Locust Creek in Carroll County). He left Pittsburgh on March 21

1797. George Ash settles in the Lamb area. Ash swears on January 29, 1802 that he has lived in Indiana on the land given him by the Indians for the last four years.

1797, June. Israel Ludlow begins surveying the Greenville Treaty line at its northern end.

1797/1798. Settlers from Nelson County, Ky., begin settling in Switzerland County.

1798, October 15. Jean Jacques Dufour begins buying land for his first vineyard on the Kentucky River.

1798, June 22. The area east of the Greenville Treaty line, including Switzerland County, becomes part of Hamilton County, Northwest Territory. Jefferson remains in Knox County.

1799, August 6. Jonathan McCarty appointed Justice of the Peace for Hamilton County, which then included Switzerland County.

1798, January 8. The territorial government reports about two hundred families have settled just west of the Great Miami River in what was then Knox County.

1799, July 23. Captain E. Kibbey finished 70 miles of a road from Vincennes to Cincinnati. The road will cross Jefferson and Switzerland Counties before 1805. Undocumented reports say it crossed Switzerland in 1801 or 1802.

1800, July 4. Indiana territorial government begins operating.

1800, December 3. Jonathan McCarty's daughter Lydia married Gershom Lee in Gallatin County, Ky.

1800, October 12. Polly Netherland married David Owen in Hamilton County, Northwest Territory. The transcription show the justice as Jonathan County, probably McCarty. This is the earliest known marriage recorded for Switzerland County. He also officiated at the marriage of his cousin Paul Froman to Kesiah Pickett in Hamilton County on November 13. All were known Switzerland County residents.

1801, February 3. Clark County created. It includes Jefferson County and the part of Switzerland County east of the treaty line.

1801, July 15. Gen. William Henry Harrison writes that Indians complain that whites cross the river in the fall on hunting expeditions from the mouth of the Kentucky to the Mississippi River.

1802, January 29. George Ash petitions Congress for rights to land granted him by the Shawnees.

1802, February 5. Shawnee Chief Black Hoof tells Thomas Jefferson the Indians want to give Ash a tract one-mile deep by four miles long, measuring from the mouth of the Indian-Kentuck Creek and down river.

1802, July 5. Heathcoat Pickett, who stayed in Switzerland County, and William and John Hall, who would move to Madison by 1807, are commissioned in the Indiana militia.

1802, May 1. Congress grants Dufour's vineyard company 2,500 acres in Switzerland County.

1802, October 5. As resident of Indiana, Captain William Hall and Gershom Lee sign a petition in support of Ash's land claim.

1803, January 24. Switzerland County east of the treaty line, Ohio, and Dearborn Counties become part of Clark County.

1803, March 7. Switzerland and Ohio County areas become part of newly created Dearborn County.

1804, December 30. Captain William Hall, Jonathan McCarty, and Gershom Lee sign another petition in support of Ash's land claims.

1810, November 23. Jefferson County created, extended east to Log Lick Creek.

1814, September 7. Switzerland County created.

Madison: 200 Years—Which 200 Years?

When Madison celebrates its bicentennial in 2009, it will be celebrating:

a. The date the first European settled in the town

b. The date the town was founded

c. The date when the first lots were sold

d. None of the above

The answer is “d.”

Madison’s bicentennial celebrates a rather odd date, which is the date the entrepreneurs, John Paul and his partners, acquired the land that would become the site of the city. That date, 1809, has nothing to do with actual settlement of the area or the creation of the city.

In fact, the question of who settled Madison—and which date could be considered its bicentennial—get tricky because there are different dates for when the first settlers reached modern Madison, which includes the hilltop, and old Madison, which didn’t.

Who first settled Madison? The answer is not simple.

The first settlers in the area comprised by modern Madison were Jesse Vawter and his family, who came to the area in the fall of 1806, settling on the headwaters of Crooked Creek, probably around the site of Fairmount Cemetery.

Then, there were settlers on the Ohio River who made their home in an area not in the original town laid out by Paul. These were the Halls, William, a Revolutionary War soldier, and his son John, who moved from the Lamb area to what would later briefly be the town of Fulton, an area just east of Ferry Street. Depending on the account, the Halls arrived in 1806, 1807 or 1808.

If the earlier dates are right, it was here the first building was constructed along the river. This was also the site of the first reported burial, in a graveyard near on the bank near the corner of Ferry Street, and where Jesse Vawter preached the first reported sermon in Jefferson County.

The first house built within the boundaries of Old Madison was built by John Wagner (or Waggoner) who landed at the foot of modern Jefferson Street on May 8 or May 10, 1808. He built a home on the site now occupied by the historic Scofield house

Paul, of course, acquired the property in the honored year, 1809, but the first sale of lots didn’t occur until February 1811, according to Jesse Vawter’s son John, who “cried out” the first sale.

At this time, Madison still wasn’t a self-governing municipality. In fact, the first known governmental unit in the county, Madison Township, was created in what was then Clark County. That was sometime before October 24, 1817 when a petition was signed urging the appointment of a justice of the peace.

Madison’s affairs were managed by the county commissioners, who established road districts for Madison on June 18, 1811. It was not until 1817 that the town had its own officers, with trustees elected on Sept. 8, 1817. Incorporation as a city didn’t happen until the 1830s.

In fact, there’s a “but” to be attached to the 1809 date. That was the year Paul, Lewis Davis and Jonathan Lyon first laid claim to the land. But they did not receive the actual patent for fractional sections 2 and 3 in Township 10N Range 3E, river front tract, until 1812 when the completed payment on the three-year plan then used for acquiring government land.

And through some error, the actual patent document wasn’t issued until 1952, part of a long process in the 1900s as the U.S. government corrected such oversights.

John Sheets: Man of Action

Few Madison residents were more important than John Sheets in the 1820s. And few emerge as such men of action as the merchant and mill operator, who killed a steamboat captain with a knife and single handedly faced down a crowd during Madison’s anti-black riot of the 1840s.

He was an important figure in early Masonry and may have founded the city’s first pork packing operation, which sent Madison on its way to an early, but short national prominence. He laid out an addition to the original town of Madison as well as an addition to Vevay. He was well connected. His brother William served two terms as Indiana’s Secretary of State and his wife, Ann Gardner, was a sister to Elizabeth Gardner who married financier J.F.D. Lanier. Sheets was also a tragic figure, losing most of his money and seeing his sons, George and William, two promising attorneys, drink themselves to death at an early age.

John Sheets (Sept. 9, 1789-Sept. 27, 1851) was probably born in Berkeley Co., Va. (now West Va.), and likely moved west with a number of brothers, Jonah, Philip, and Adam, who lived in Milton Township for many years, and Lewis, a possible brother who lived in Madison.He was in business by July 1817, when he advertised in the July 12 edition of the Indiana Republican that he was opening a store in Madison with an assortment of merchandise opposite Henry Ristine's tavern. In the Dec. 25, 1819 edition of the newspaper, Sheets advertised he had "a place for slaughtering hogs" He also operated a tavern in Madison, for which he was taxed in 1824. (The same year his was joined the First Presbyterian Church.) An article in a Madison paper of May 18, 1826, noted his tavern was on the north side of Second Street.

In Milton Township, he was remembered for his paper mill. But his started with a gristmill on the Indian-Kentuck, just downstream from Manville, where he was in operation as early as 1818. He ran into financial trouble, as a result of a debt to Joseph Howard, who had sold him the mill. Howard recovered a judgment, but the mill and water rights ended up in the hands of his brother Jonah. It was only the first of his financial travails.

He next entered the paper-making business on the same site. A Madison Courier, dated Jan. 10, 1828, refers to the mill, seven miles north east of Madison “recently built by Major John Sheets.” It describes the building as "large, furnished in a neat and convenient manner" and gives its proper name as the Jefferson Co. Paper Mill. A Madison newspaper of Oct. 24, 1833 reported that John and William Sheets were the exclusive agency for all paper manufactured there.

The mid 1830s appear to be the height of Sheet’s prosperity. By 1837, Sheets had laid out an addition to Vevay and his son Francis was elected as one of the first commissioners of that town in 1836. He also and Vincent Dufour were operating a steam-saw mill on the Ohio River and Washington Street by July 26, 1838 when that facility was mentioned in a deed.. In 1837, he had also paved a main street to the river, apparently to develop a wharf to attract river traffic. But Sheets was soon in trouble. He defaulted on a note on May 8, 1838 as shown in the deeds in which his property was sold for debt.

Sheets may have tried to bail out his fortunes by selling his land. Several deeds involving Sheets or his son Francis G. Sheets occur in Switzerland County in the 1830s when he appears to have liquidated his holdings there, including the sale of the steam mill in Vevay. On March 4, 1840, he sold 560 acres in Milton Township to men were probably investors in the paper mill, that facility itself went through a series of hands before coming into the ownership of Andrew Everhart, the last person to operate it as a paper mill.

It is Sheets’ physical bravery that stands out as marking him as much more than a simple merchant. He stood trial for killing a steamboat man named White with a knife. He was acquitted on the grounds of self defense.

The most dramatic account of Sheets personal courage was given in a story related by columnist , Andrew Grayson, writing under the name Felix Adair, who gave an account of a riot by whites who were seeking guns being held by black residents.

The mob, which at one point shot it out with three blacks who were barricaded in a house, were dunking an elderly black man named Phillips in the Ohio River, trying to get information from him. The mob was led by a man named Kimberly and its action was topped by Sheets.

As related by Adair/Grayson, in the Dec. 7, 1881 edition of the Madison Courier the following took place at the river.

“John Sheets, from a position on the wharf, in a commanding tone cried out, ‘Kimberly, I warn you, don’t put that man in the river.’ Kimberly, in a weak voice, replied, ‘Go ahead, throw the fellow in, and put Sheets in too.”

“Yes, you put me in and, by the eternal gods, you’ll do before the sun sets. Don’t you put that man in the river,” rang out Sheets’ stentorian voice.

Although the phrasing has the ring of a good editor, there doesn’t seem much don’t it would have been a dramatic moment, no matter the exact words.

A newspaper obituary has been written by Samuel Cade, who was almost exclusively concerned with Sheets’ Masonic activities. Cade’s concluded that Sheets died broke, as he was no longer a Mason in good standing which means he probably could not afford the dues.

But that may not have been an accurate assessment. The 1850 federal census, taken on Sept. 13, 1850, a year before his death, shows him as a paper manufacturer (probably operating in Madison as he was out of the business in Milton Township), with $35,000 in real estate.

And he was living in the same neighborhood as other prosperous Madisonians. He was shown immediately after the household of merchant Caleb Lodge and two before one of Madison’s best known business people, Captain Charles Shrewsberry.

He is buried in the Fairmount Cemetery, along with his wife and several of his children.