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State constitution will return to Corydon in 2016

First capital to play role in bicentennial celebration

March 05, 2014 | 09:18 AM

As was expected, Corydon and Harrison County will play a significant role in the celebration of the 2016 Indiana Bicentennial.

State Archivist Jeff Corridan revealed a couple of bicentennial events Thursday at the Showroom of Horseshoe Southern Indiana.

Jim Corridan speaks about the man pictured above him, William Henry Harrison, Thursday afternoon at the Southern Indiana Minority Enterprise Initiative's Black History Month program titled "William Henry Harrison: Freedom Fighter or Pro-Slavery Advocate?" at the Showroom of Horseshoe Southern Indiana in Bridgeport. Photo by Ross Schulz (click for larger version)
First and foremost, the original Indiana Constitution will return to the place it was crafted, Corydon, in June 2016.

It will be a part of a traveling exhibit of Indiana treasures that will also include an Indiana Civil War color guard regiment, the original 1915 state flag and other state memorabilia and artifacts.

Corydon, one of eight communities selected for a tour stop, will be the tour's starting point in mid-June 2016. The exhibit, including the constitution, will be on display in the state office building in downtown Corydon for three weeks. On June 29, the exhibit will move into the Historic Old State Capitol Building.

"The constitution will move into the capitol for the first time since it left in 1825," Corridan said.

Corydon was Indiana's first state capital from 1816 to 1825.

Also, a graveside service will be held for each of the 43 constitutional delegates that will include a wreath-laying ceremony. One such ceremony will take place for Dennis Pennington at his graveside in Pennington Chapel Cemetery northwest of Corydon.

One of the delegates, John Boone (Squire Boone's son and cousin of Daniel Boone), lived in Harrison County but the location of his grave site is unknown.

"We're not exactly sure where he's buried; so, if you could, look in your backyard," Corridan joked.

Boone's ceremony will most likely take place at the Old State Capitol Building.

A book with biographies of all of the delegates will also be published.

In the fall of 2016, a 92-county run, similar to that of an Olympic torch, will take place leading up to a large bicentennial celebration in Indianapolis in December.

The Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources created the Bicentennial Nature Trust to preserve and protect important conservation and recreation areas throughout Indiana by matching donations of land or dollars. Property acquired with the trust becomes part of the public trust to ensure that the land is protected for future generations of Hoosiers to use and enjoy.

During the state's centennial celebration nearly 100 years ago, the state parks system was established. The nature trust idea for the bicentennial mirrors that initiative.

Harrison County has taken advantage of the nature trust plan with the purchasing of the Morvin's Landing area east of Mauckport. The area, most famously known as the site where Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his raiders crossed into Indiana during the Civil War, will be perpetually preserved.

Locally, a bicentennial committee has plans for other ways to celebrate the state's 200th birthday.

Harrison's slave advocacy topic of program

Harrison County is named after the first Indiana territorial governor and ninth president of the United States, William Henry Harrison. He was the second oldest president to take office, at 68, and died only 32 days later from complications from pneumonia, serving the shortest tenure in presidential history. He also was a well-renowned military leader who fought American Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

These facts are well-known about Harrison, but what were his feelings and actions toward slaves?

That question was made more clear Thursday afternoon at the Showroom in Horseshoe Southern Indiana with a presentation by Jim Corridan, director of the Indiana Commission on Public Records and state archivist, called "William Henry Harrison: Freedom Fighter or Pro-Slavery Advocate?" as part of Black History Month.

Maxine Brown of Corydon helped organize the event, along with SIMEI Inc., a Jeffersonville-based organization dedicated to increasing the number of minority businesses in Southern Indiana.

As basically the dictatorial leader of the Indiana Territory, Harrison was tasked with making the region viable enough economically to grow to become eligible to be admitted as a state, Corridan said. That was one of the main reasons Harrison supported and advocated the territory to permit slavery, he added.

Harrison petitioned Congress to make it so (Congress failed to do so), then he allowed slave owners to move to Indiana with their slaves, but they had to be registered at the county courthouse.

These slave records are precious and prove without a doubt slavery existed in Indiana, Corridan said. Three counties had such records: Dearborn, Clark and Knox.

Dearborn's were lost in a fire, and Clark's were nearly lost when officials dumped them and other old documents in a landfill thinking they were no longer needed. State archivists salvaged the documents that are now housed in Indianapolis. Knox County still has its records.

Corridan made it clear that slavery was long established in French-settlements before Harrison took over the territory.

"He didn't want to upset the French and risk a switch of their allegiance to the British," he said.

Harrison himself had no slaves in Indiana, but he did have indentured servants whom he freed after their term was completed. With indentured servants, Harrison paid them and provided them with shelter and clothing.

In 1823, Jack Butler — one of Harrison's former indentured servants — and his family were kidnapped and sent to Louisiana. Harrison fought for Butler's release, writing letters to newspapers and governors of the south. He also put a bounty on the three men who allegedly kidnapped the family. A year later, the Butler family was set free by a judge's decree.

Corridan said Harrison joined an abolitionist-type group while in college in Pennsylvania.

So, looking at the track record of Harrison, Corridan said he believes Harrison, while his moral compass didn't always point north, didn't think it was right for one man to own another man.

Twitter: @rossschulz

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Corydon Democrat, 301 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon, IN 47112 1-812-738-2211 email