Monday, March 31, 2008

Address Unknown—How a former Madisonian Shafted Everyone

Dr. Israel T. Canby, physician, land speculator and politician, had a lot of connections. When he was a Madison resident, they helped him get a job as receiver of funds for land sales at the Crawfordsville land office

And Canby got those friends to sign two bonds that guaranteed his performance, one for $30,000 in 1829 and another $30,000 the next year. But Canby fleeced the land office in 1831 and 1832—one study concluded Canby financed his purchase of thousands of acres of land using public money--and came up short by $52,531.04 in public money when he left the office.

The sureties were a noteworthy crowd: state legislator Nathan Palmer; future lieutenant governor, David Hillis; noted lawyer Jeremiah Sullivan, Senator William Hendricks; and Michael G. Bright, later the power broker for his brother, Sen. Jesse D. Bright—all Madisonians. Also on the hook were Senator John Tipton and Gen. John Milroy.

It’s not known if Canby’s friends were victims or co-conspirators.

For example, he entered 1,570.95 acres in the name of William Hendricks and 222 acres in Hillis’ name, according to an April 1833 statement. The land wasn’t paid for and the acres were actually entered by Canby. There was no conclusion whether the two politicians knew about this.

The government, through attorney Tilghlman Howard, sought to get its money. The assets of Hendricks and John Tipton were garnished and they paid $4,228.51. Distress warrants were issued and the following assessments were made on their assets: Joseph Canby, $5,400 for land in Madison; Jeremiah Sullivan, $3,000 for two lots in Madison; Nathan Palmer, $1,500 for 116.5 acres near Madison; David Hillis, $3,034 for 472 acres; Michael Bright, $1,000 for a lot with a brick building in Madison.

The only problem was that, given the record keeping involved, the government didn’t know if any of the properties were sold or if it got the money if they were.

There were a series of investigators. Howard turned the records over to John Pettit in Jan. 1840. Pettit collected some money, but there’s no record he transferred it to the treasury and he told the government it owed him a great deal. His successor, named Cushing, who took over in Sept. 1841, was supposed to document a suit against Pettit. But that didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, Canby was busy trying to cushion his friends. He transferred a large amount of assets to John Wilson and Samuel Milroy, two of his sureties. This included “a large amount of real estate, and transferred to them notes, bonds, &c., to indemnify them as well as the other sureties.”

Canby transferred “large amount of debts” to a man named Vance. Another surety, Robert Piatt had land and Negroes in Kentucky that were assessed for $10,400. But Piatt sold these assets to his son in 1833 to avoid seizure.

In fact, Howard concluded on April 3, 1833 that Canby was “trading with an eye to events.” The official conclusion was that at this point “Canby absconded, and the marshal of Indiana sold his personal effects for $250.”

Canby had assets enough to cover the shortages. He purchased 2,376 acres of land sold for the benefit of the Wabash and Erie Canal, and then tried to hide his ownership. At least 1,000 acres of this was not seized to satisfy the debts. Nor were 11,207 acres in Illinois touched, and after he died in April 1846, no effort was made to go after his estate.

This all came out in a Congressional report in 1869 in which the surviving three sureties—Bright, Palmer and Sullivan—asked for legislative relief so they wouldn’t be stuck for the entire amount. The report said that with interest, the debt had grown to $133,000. However, it also noted there if Canby and his sureties’ notes and land actually been sold, there was more than enough to cover the debt.

But assets weren’t sold and if they were, payments weren’t credited. Judgments obtained were worthless because land had been sold to others. And throwing up its hands, a committee concluded the fair thing was not to this all on the three sureties and recommended passage of the bill.

The only people who lost a lot were taxpayers.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Madison's Slave Owners

Before the Civil War, Madison lived with slavery. With Kentucky owning the river, the land of slavery was just past the water mark. And slave owners routinely brought their chattels into town during the day.

Indiana was sometimes free only in name for blacks who were apprenticed for years. And Jefferson County residents ranging from average farmers to top politicians owned slaves.

Apprenticeship was a particularly insidious tool. On Jan 31, 1838, two black teenage boys were apprenticed to Allen E. Arion by the overseers of the poor for Madison Township. The record noted the two had been Arion’s slaves in Kentucky. They probably remained slaves. Arion returned to Kentucky and the 1850 slave schedules showed he owned two males in Louisville and in 1860 he owed a 15 year-old in Shelby County.

Starting in 1818, three blacks were apprenticed to his brother, newspaperman Copeland J. Arion, while a three-year old boy was apprenticed to Allen in 1846. Their prior status was not mentioned.

Blacks were subject to harsher terms than whites. On Feb. 13, 1813, Lucy, a black woman, was apprenticed to Robert Henderson until Sept. 1, 1826 to learn the art of weaving. The contract stipulated she was be apprenticed one year additional for each child born during that time.

A number of Jefferson County residents, including the noted Williamson Dunn, owned slaves in Kentucky, but freed them when they came to Indiana, or freed them when the wrote wills.

But not all did.

While John Walker of Saluda Township order a Negro woman freed via his will in 1835, his wife Cada still owned a 19-year old Negro boy when she wrote her will on March 9, 1856. She noted the slave was “now hired out by my agent Stephen Tutt of Woodford Co., Ky. And there were probably many more Hoosiers who derived income from slave labor this way.

Some Madisonians came into slave ownership via inheritance. Such was the case with Elizabeth Stapp, wife of Gen. Milton Stapp, lieutenant governor and later Madison mayor. She inherited Horace Branham, who had been owned by her brother. He remained a slave, renamed himself Horace Stapp, and moved to Madison by 1860.

There are few records of Madisonians purchasing slaves. Caleb Lodge of Madison acquired a single slave when he bought a variety of property in Trimble County from Thomas Godman, a member of one of Madison’s pork packing families. But there’s no evidence Lodge kept the slave—his name does not appear on the slave schedules.

Madison’s most famous slave owner, Democratic Senator Jesse Bright owned no slaves in 1850, but had 21 at his Gallatin County farm in 1860. There’s no record of his purchasing them in Gallatin County, but he likely he got them from the Turpins, his in-laws, who sold him the farm as they were slave owners in 1850.

Then, there were four slaves that Jesse owned in Washington D.C., in 1860. It’s likely that at least two of these were among the three young adult slaves purchased by his brother Michael G. Bright in Trimble County.

Michael, not known as a slave owner, probably acquired them for Jesse, just as he took care of his brother’s career in other ways.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Madison’s Women of Letters

In 1821, "The Banks of the Ohio,” a poem “by a lady of Madison, Indiana,” won second prize in a competition at Cincinnati.

The brief report by Jacob Piatt Dunn in his “Indiana and Indianans”, said her name was not preserved. But in an era in which little information women had few rights and rarely worked out side the home, this was not unusual.

In the 1800s, Madison had professional women and women of letters, although information available is as thin as a shadow. There was a female minister, Martha Barrett, a Universalist, listed in town in the 1860 census. And the 1890 Indiana Business Directory and Gazetteer had an advertisement from Eudophelia Conklin, a female physician, about whom nothing else has been found.

But in the arts, there were women who gained notice, even if they are forgotten today. Madison can claim them, even though their residences were not long.

Among these was Constance Runcie, not surprisingly, a granddaughter of reformer Robert Dale Owen. Raised in Owen’s New Harmony settlement, Constance founded the Minerva Club, reputed to be the first women’s club in America, and then founded the Bronte Club in Madison and finally the Runcie Club in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1866. She also is credited as the first American women to compose such forms as a symphony, an opera and concertos. Constance lived in Madison from 1861 to 1871 while her husband, James Runcie, was minister and Christ Church.

Better known at the time locally was poet Sarah Barrett Bolton (1814-1893), whose family moved from Vernon to Madison when she was nine, and whose writing career was soon under way. Her first poetry was published in the Madison Banner before she was 14 years old and she was a contributor to newspapers in Madison and Cincinnati. She married newspaper man Nathaniel Bolton in October 1831, and they moved to Indianapolis where she lived until he died in 1858. During this period, she was active politically and worked with Owen to secure property rights for women in the Indiana constitutional convention of 1850. In 1863, she married Judge Addison Reese and lived with him in Canton, Mo, for two years, and then returned to Indianapolis

She published a volume of poems in 1865, and a collection of writing in 1880. The
Dictionary of American Biography compiled these facts from a number of sources noting her writing had n “no great literary merit, but have the melody, sentimentality, and moral and religious flavor relished by the fireside magazine readers of their day.”

Perhaps more successful as a writer, was Mrs. Martha Sears Brooks, who was born in Springfield, Mass., and married at the age of 19. She began writing in Missouri when the Civil War began. She moved to Madison in 1862 and contributed poems, short stories and essays to newspapers and magazines. According to a biography, “In 1888 she published a dainty holiday book which had a large sale” and was elected vice-president of the Western Writers Association in 1889. She was named secretary in 1890, before dying in 1893.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

George DeBaptiste: Entrepreneur, Freedom Fighter

In another day, George DeBaptiste would have become wealthy. But his drive, talent and daring, were instead used to fight slavery and his entrepreneurial skills were thwarted by barriers free blacks faced before the Civil War.

Despite this, he succeeded in many ways. He personally se
rved a president. He was a businessman in Madison. In Michigan, he founded the Color Vigilance Committee and the African-American Mysteries the Order of Men of Oppression, a secret society for fighting slavery. He promoted the Colored National Labor Union, raised money to free white abolitionist, Calvin Fairbank from a Kentucky prison, and became one of Michigan’s first black jurors.

He also plotted with famed abolitionist John Brown, also suggesting blowing up southern planters without white help.

Born to free parents in Fredericksburg, Va., DeBaptiste learned the barber’s trade and married in that state. By 1837, he was in Cincinnati, where he first worked on the Underground Railroad. The next year, he moved Madison, opening a barbershop, engaging in trading with Cincinnati and becoming UGRR station manager.

No wonder on March 21, 1839, the Overseers of the Poor for Madison Township tried expel him from Indiana for not posting the bond required of a free black. But pork packer Thomas Paine posted bond and a court found the attempted expulsion illegal.

DeBaptiste next became a steward to William Henry Harrison (a slaveholder), serving him during the 1840 presidential campaign and was White House steward during Harrison’s one-month presidency. DeBaptiste returned to Madison again opening a barbershop that served whites. He rejoined the UGRR and said in 1870, he directly helped 108 fugitives flee north in his years here.

But he did more than that

In 1879, former Madisonian, Richard C. Meldrum recalled how DeBaptiste and other black leaders founded a bank. Unfortunately, the account spent most of its time mocking them, not on details of a remarkable effort.

His anti-slavery efforts were also remarkable. DeBaptiste would wait half the night on the river bank, walk as much as 20 miles with fugitives, and then work during the day. Even after a $1,000 bounty was placed on him, DeBaptiste met with slaves in Kentucky to plan escapes. He reportedly bet one slave owner, “I'll bet you a new hat I'll steal your nigger inside of a month." A few days later, the Kentuckian honored the bet.

With slave owners making like hard on free blacks, he decided to leave Madison and he sold his lot on North Main Street (modern Jefferson) on May 2, 1846.

He moved to Detroit, already home to other members of the Debaptiste family. He prospered there, purchasing a
barbershop, employing others to run it, while he worked as chief clerk and salesman at a black-owned wholesale clothing store. He bought and sold a bakery and then a steamboat, hiring a white man as captain since he could not legally be licensed to run the boat. He later traded the boat for real estate and went into catering. And he continued as an UGRR station operator. After he helped plan John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, Congress subpoenaed DeBaptiste to testify, but dropped that effort upon learning his race.

In the fall of 1863, he raised a black regiment. Appointed its sutler (a authorized independent merchant), he followed the unit through its campaigns.

The censuses gave a measure of wealth while living in Detroit. In 1860 he owned $20,000 in real estate and $1,000 in personal property, while the 1870 count showed $10,000 in real estate and $4,000 in personal property.

He invested in ice cream parlors and a money-losing restaurant and, then opened another. A year before his death on Feb. 22, 1875, he had opened a country house, but failing health forced him to give up the effort.