Saturday, October 18, 2008

Madison’s Curious Status

An earlier column on this blog looked at the odd way in which the founding of Madison has been given as 1809 and which has led to the city’s 200th anniversary being set for 2009—even though the only thing that happened in 1809 was John Paul’s purchase of the land on which lots were later created.

As pointed out, the first settler within the land that became Old Town Madison, John Henry Wagner, arrived in 1808 and no lots were sold until 1811. But beyond that is the question of the status of Madison as an officially authorized government entity, after its platting by Paul.

Initially, Madison was simply a populated area governed by the Court of Common Pleas, which handled all areas of government for Jefferson County after it began operating on Jan. 11, 1811.

The first act specifically naming Madison was the creation of road districts—for defining the area in which residents could be required to work on public roads. This occurred on June 18, 1811, although for some reason the court then authorized Madison to be formed into a road district on Feb. 19, 1812, perhaps reducing the number of districts to one—the minutes do not spell out the difference.

Madison was the also site of a justice of the peace court with the appointment of William Vawter on May 15, 1808. Justices were appointed by the governor until Indiana became a state in 1816, and there is no indicated that these justice’s territory was limited to Madison. (Even though John Vawter stated he was the first justice, territorial records clearly show William’s appointment and that John was named to the position “vis”—in place of—William, who had resigned on July 16.

Madison definitely got its own justices on March 5, 1817, as the commissioners authorized an election to be held on the first Monday in April for the election of two justices “for the Town of Madison who are to reside there …”

The usual report is that Madison was not incorporated as a town until April 1, 1824. However, the minutes of the county court showed the election of Dawson Blackmore, Nathaniel Hunt, Abraham Clarkson, James Ross and Martin Rowzer as trustees on Sept. 8, 1817. The language of the minutes is clear in referring to these men as trustees for the “corporation of the town of Madison” and this seemed to end the court’s direct governance.

Besides the 1824 action, there were more involving Madison’s status as a town. It was incorporated again on Jan. 2, 1829. Then followed a series of laws, including one of Jan. 25, 1850 in which the state legislature extended the town’s southern boundary from High Street to the Ohio River. However, the lawmakers felt that a series of amendments to the charter had made the situation confusing, and reincorporated the town on Feb. 4, 1831

As a town, Madison had no mayor. The trustees choose one of their own members as president who presided over meetings and signed official documents. In 1824, and perhaps earlier, the board had been expanded to seven from the five-member board of 1817.

Madison achieved its final government form in 1838 when it was incorporated as a city.

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