An Historical Timeline for Indiana, 1614-1911

The following article is excerpted from Bill Dollarhide’s new book, Indiana Name Lists, Published and Online Censuses & Substitutes 1783-2007.


For genealogical research in Indiana, the following timeline of events should help any genealogist understand the area with an historical, jurisdictional, and genealogical point of view. Refer to the recent Illinois Timeline article for maps and illustrations that apply to Indiana and the old Northwest Territory.

1614. Samuel de Champlain, Governor of New France and the founder of Québec, was believed to be the first of the French explorers to visit the Miami du lac region between present Toledo, OH and Fort Wayne, IN. Later, the name Maumee was an anglicized spelling of the Ottawa name for the Miami Indians, and became the origin of the name for the present Maumee River, the main water access to Indiana via Lake Erie.

1679. French explorer René-Robert Cavelier (Sieur de LaSalle), began negotiations with the Miami Indians to secure an area near the confluence of the St. Marys and St. Josephs rivers forming the Maumee River at present Fort Wayne, IN.

1702. The area of present Indiana was first inhabited by French fur trappers, from Lake Erie via the Maumee River to present Fort Wayne, and a short portage to a stream flowing into the Wabash River. A continuous canoe route now existed from Lake Erie, connecting with the Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers.

1717 French Louisiana. The French jurisdiction, la Louisiane Française, extended from the Highlands along the Wabash River, down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, to include New Orleans and several ports on the Gulf of Mexico. The Highlands, in French, Terra Haute, became the division line between the Québec and Louisiana jurisdictions.

1721. The French established Fort Philippe, later called Fort Miami, on the St. Marys River, where the St. Marys and St. Josephs rivers form the Maumee River. Fort Philippe/Fort Miami was administered as part of French Québec. The original site is encompassed by the modern city of Fort Wayne, IN.

1732. Vincennes was established on the Wabash River, becoming Indiana’s first permanent settlement.
It was named after Jean Baptiste Bissot (Sieur de Vincennes), the military commander of Quebec. The town of Vincennes became the largest French settlement in Upper Louisiana.

1733-1762 French Colonies vs British Colonies. Lower Louisiana, with its ports on the Gulf of Mexico, had been the destination of colonists directly from France and other French colonies in the Caribbean. Upper Louisiana, however, was mostly inhabited by French Canadians, coming into the area from Québec. From 1733 to 1762, no new farming communities were ever established in French Louisiana. The French presence in the Mississippi Basin and around the Great Lakes consisted mainly of single French trappers and traders paddling their canoes from one outpost to the next. The French established military/trading posts at strategic locations, partly as a means of protecting the trappers during their contacts with the Indians. Unlike the French Québec settlements, French Louisiana had very few farming communities, and there was little exchanging of goods or produce, except for the trapping and trading of furs. During this period, the French had built one road (the Wabash-Erie Portage Road), a road less than 12 miles long, and that was only to provide portage between rivers. In comparison, the British colonies by 1762 had over 2,500 miles of improved wagon roads, between Boston and Savannah. The British colonies had an economy based on town tradesmen surrounded by small farms, with the exchange of goods and produce up and down the Atlantic coast.

1763. The Treaty of Paris of 1763 ended the French and Indian War. In Europe and Canada, it was called
the “Seven Years War.” The treaty required France to surrender all of its claims to land in North America, with the exception of fishing rights and a couple of fish-drying islands off of Newfoundland. The treaty gave Spain all of Louisiana west of the Mississippi, while Britain gained the areas east of the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains. Great Britain also acquired the Province of Québec from France.

1764-1770 Transition Period. After the departure of all French military personnel by 1764, the French-colonized areas of Louisiana and Québec were still inhabited mainly by French settlers and trappers. The transition from French control to Spanish or British control took several years. In former French Louisiana, French civilian settlements still operated at Prairie du Chien, now Wisconsin; Kaskaskia, now Illinois; and at Vincennes, now Indiana. In 1764, a French trading company established the trading post of St. Louis on the west side of the Mississippi River, after obtaining a trading license from the Spanish government. And, per terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, British forces began the evacuation of French Acadians from their homes in present Nova Scotia. The first shipload of Acadians arrived in Spanish Louisiana, just west of New Orleans, in February 1765. The Louisiana Rebellion of 1768 was an unsuccessful attempt by Creole and German settlers around New Orleans to stop the handover of French Louisiana to Spain. Meanwhile, the French influence in Upper Louisiana continued –
although part of Spanish Louisiana, St. Louis operated under French civilian control until it was occupied by Spanish soldiers in 1770. About the same time, the British established military jurisdiction over the French settlements at Prairie du Chien, Kaskaskia and Vincennes.

1774 Québec Act. After deciding not to repeat the evacuation of all French Acadians from Nova Scotia in the mid 1760s, the British Parliament passed the Québec Act, permitting the French Canadians to retain French laws and customs, and allowing the Catholic Church to maintain its rights. The French settlements along the Wabash River near Vincennes in present-day Indiana were included in the Province of Québec, under British rule since 1763.

1778-1779. French Acadians (the Cajuns) resettled by the British in southern Louisiana rallied in support of the American rebels during the Revolutionary War. They were joined in their support by the left-over French settlers of the Wabash Valley, who were instrumental in General George Rogers Clark’s capture of Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River and Vincennes on the Wabash River.

1783. Post-Revolutionary War. The 1783 Treaty of Paris recognized the United States of America as an independent nation, and defined its borders from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Although the old Upper Louisiana and Great Lakes regions were to be included within the United States, British forces continued to maintain control of Prairie du Chien, Fort Detroit, and a few other sites for several years after the Revolution.

1784. Connecticut, Virginia and Massachusetts relinquished their western claims to lands in the Great Lakes region, a large area that was to become the Northwest Territory. Title of the state’s claims were transferred to the “public domain” of the United States Federal Government.

1787-1789 Northwest Territory. The Ordinance of 1787 established the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, and defined the procedure for any territory to obtain statehood. The first territory of the United States included the area of the present states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and that part of Minnesota east of the Mississippi River. An October 1787 census of the male voters of “Poste Vincennes” was made up of almost entirely French surnames. In 1789, Vincennes became the county seat of the newly organized Knox County, Northwest Territory, an area that included all of present Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, part of Michigan, and part of Minnesota.

1789-1815 Flatboat Era. After the opening of the Northwest Territory for settlement, migrating families heading to the Ohio River via horse-drawn wagons might stop at Brownsville, Pittsburgh, or Wheeling. There they would buy or construct a custom-built flatboat capable of holding wagons, household furniture, barrels of food and commodities; plus horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, and children. They would first hire a boatman, usually recruited out of a local tavern. The boatmen were experts in navigating streams, and provided another long-rifle to ward off bandits en route. After arriving at his client’s destination, a boatman would walk back up river to his starting point (or to the closest Tavern). The migrating families would use the flatboat lumber and nails for their first shelters upon their arrival at their new homesites along the Ohio River and tributaries. The earliest settlements in the southern portions of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were mostly settled by flatboat travelers. Although steamboats were introduced to the Ohio River in 1812, they did not dominate transportation until the classic flat-bottomed steamboat design took hold in 1815. That ended the flatboat era.

1796 Great Lakes Region. The British evacuated Fort Detroit and abandoned their other posts on the Great Lakes, ending all British hold-outs in the Old Northwest.

1800. Indiana Territory was established from the Northwest Territory with William Henry Harrison as the first Governor and Vincennes the capital. The area of 1800 Indiana Territory was nearly identical to the 1789 area of Knox County, Northwest Territory, an area that included most of present-day Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the western half of Michigan. The Northwest Territory was reduced to the present-day area of Ohio and the eastern half of Michigan. See the Illinois Timeline article for a map showing the Northwest and Indiana territories as of the August 1800 federal census.

1803. Ohio was admitted to the Union as the 17th state, with Chillicothe as the state capital. The portion of present Michigan included in the Northwest Territory 1800-1803 now became part of Indiana Territory. Upon Ohio’s statehood, the name Northwest Territory was dropped.

1805. Michigan Territory was separated from the Indiana Territory. The original area was between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, as today, but did not include much of the Upper Peninsula, which was still under control of Indiana Territory.

1809. Illinois Territory was separated from Indiana Territory, with Kaskaskia the capital. The original area included present-day Illinois, Wisconsin, a portion of the Upper Peninsula of present Michigan and that portion of Minnesota east of the Mississippi River. The area of Indiana Territory was reduced in size to the area of the present-day state, plus a portion of the Upper Peninsula of present Michigan.

1810. Indiana Territory. The 1810 population of 24,320 people was within four counties: Clark, Dearborn, Knox, and Harrison. The 1810 federal census manuscripts for all four counties were lost. See the 1810 map as part of Illinois Timeline article.

1811. Battle of Tippecanoe. Tecumseh’s forces were defeated at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The American forces were led by Governor William Henry Harrison, who later used the presidential nickname “Tippecanoe.” The victory over a large force of Indians opened up much of Indiana for settlement.

1813. The Indiana territorial capital was moved from Vincennes to Corydon.

1814. Treaty of Ghent. The War of 1812 ended, reopening American settlement of the Great Lakes region of the Old Northwest.

1816. Dec. 11th. Indiana became the 19th state with the same boundaries as today. The first state capital was at Corydon.

1825. The Indiana state capital was moved from Corydon to Indianapolis.

1911. The first Indy 500 car race took place in Indianapolis.

Recommended reading: Indiana Name Lists, Published and Online Censuses & Substitutes 1783-2007

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