Madison founder, John Paul,
was a pioneer in many ways
He was a soldier, politician,
land speculator and leader
In the years following U.S. President Thomas Jefferson’s purchase in 1803 of the territory of Louisiana from the French government for $15 million, the president believed in and promoted westward expansion as a key to the nation’s future prosperity. Jefferson believed that a republic depended on an independent, virtuous citizenry for its survival, and that independence and virtue went hand in hand with land ownership, especially the ownership of small farms. “Those who labor in the earth,” he wrote, “are the chosen people of God.”
It was in this environment of movement westward by settlers and pioneers that brought native Pennsylvanian and former soldier John Paul to the Ohio Valley, and to eventually found what became Madison, Ind., in 1810.
Editor’s Note: On June 29, the John Paul Park Conservancy will hold its annual fundraiser, the Cincinnati Brass Band and community picnic at John Paul Park in Madison, Ind. So RoundAbout has chosen as its cover story this month a historical look at Madison founder John Paul.
Indeed, it wasn’t his first settlement. By that time, Paul already had served two enlistments from 1778-80 fighting the Indians and British troops in northern Indiana and Illinois under the command of Capt. William Harrod, who in turn served under Gen. George Rogers Clark. Those early battles at Vincennes, Kaskaskia and Cahokia had been conducted to end once and for all the intense fighting between the Indians and settlers in Kentucky and other Midwestern territories, thereby opening the doors to more settlement and land speculation by pioneers. The expulsion of the British and the defeat of the Indians opened a vast and rich land to Americans.
John Paul’s Timeline
Source: Indiana Magazine of History
1758: Born in Germantown, Pa., near Philadelphia. Was the fourth child and second son to Michael Paul and Ann Parker Paul. Michael Paul was a native of Holland.
1766: Moved with parents to Redstone Old Fort, Pa.
1778-1780: Enlisted and served under command of George Rogers Clark and in the campaign against the Indians and British troops in northern Indiana and Illinois
1781: Emigrated to Kentucky
1793: First clerk and coroner of Hardin County, Ky.
1795: Married Sarah Thornberry Grover in Danville, Ky. They had four children: Mary Berry who died as a toddler; Ann Parker, John Peter and Sarah Grover.
1800: Resigned his post in Hardin County and moved to Hamilton County, Ohio, where he bought a large tract of land and was elected county clerk and recorder.
1802: Delegate from Hamilton County to First Constitutional Convention of Ohio
1803: Member from First District of the first senate of Ohio. In November, he founded the city of Xenia, Ohio, which became the county seat of the newly established Greene County. First clerk, recorder and auditor. Resigned in December 1808.
1807: Bought site of future New Albany, Ind. He later decided the land was unfit for development and sold it to the Scribner brothers.
1808: Bought site of future Madison, Ind.
1810: Founded Madison, Ind.
1811: First clerk and recorder of Jefferson County, Ind. Resigned in 1817.
1812: Volunteer colonel in War of 1812.
1814-1824: President of Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank of Madison
1816-1818: Indiana State Senator from Jefferson and Switzerland counties
1818: Donated site for future city of Versailles, Ind., county seat of Ripley County
1830: Died June 6 in Madison after suffering three years of rheumatism that resulted from a fall from his horse and striking his head on a stone in 1827 while crossing a rushing Clifty Creek after a hard rain. He was found unconscious hours later, his clothes saturated by the swollen creek.
Paul was among those pioneers migrating west and buying up land. Over the next few years, he bought and sold land in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, founding Xenia, Ohio, along the way.
After completing his military service in 1781, Paul first emigrated to Hardin County, Ky., and settled near Elizabethtown, where he served as the county’s first clerk and coroner. He married Sarah Thornberry Grover in Danville, Ky., in 1795 and the couple had four children together. She was originally born and educated in Baltimore, Md.
In 1800, he moved to Hamilton County, Ohio, where he was elected clerk and recorder. He also dabbled in state politics, serving as a representative to Ohio’s First Constitutional Convention.
In 1808, Paul traveled to Jeffersonville, Ind., to purchase several tracts of land at a public sale of land. Among his purchases was the site of what became New Albany, Ind. But he later decided it was unfit for development, so he sold that land to three Scribner brothers.
Paul kept the large tract of land farther upstream, which later became Madison. Records state that “he chose a site with a good landing for river traffic, high ground for protection from flooding and hills with good hardwood trees for the erection of buildings.”
In October 1809, Paul moved his family to the new land he had purchased along the Ohio River. For the first year or so, the new town was called Wakefield, perhaps after the Vicar of Wakefield, which at the time was a popular best seller and school classic. But Paul later called his new settlement Madison, named after James Madison, the U.S. president at that time. The Paul family settled permanently in Madison and built a log house near the river. He later built a fine brick home on the same site. (The house was torn down in 1958 to make way for the Madison Post Office on Jefferson Street).
Photo by Don Ward
A historical marker directs
visitors to the burial site
of the John Paul family
in Fairmont Cemetery.
During the years the Pauls lived in Madison, he was active in politics and in 1811 was elected the first clerk and recorder of Jefferson County. The county had been carved out of neighboring Clark County, and Paul previously served as Clark County’s first Territorial representative in 1810. When Indiana was later admitted as a state in 1816, Paul was elected to the State Senate from Jefferson and Switzerland counties. He served in that capacity from 1816-1818.
Meantime, Paul and his partners in 1811 erected a ferry to carry passengers and cargo across the Ohio River from Madison to Milton, Ky. Also, the first lots in Madison were surveyed and sold that year.
Photo by Don Ward
The Paul family is buried
at Fairmont Cemetery on
the Madison hilltop after
their graves were moved
there when the D.A.R. took
possession of the Old City
Cemetery and turned it into
John Paul Park in 1903.
In 1812, Paul’s project to develop the new city of Madison was delayed when he volunteered to serve as a colonel in the War of 1812. He was 51 and joined the branch of service called the “Gentlemen Volunteers.” They paid their own expenses and it was at this time that Paul earned the title of colonel.
The War of 1812 was a 32-month military conflict between the United States and the British Empire and their Indian allies that resulted in no territorial change between the Empire and the United State, but a resolution of many issues that remained from the American War of Independence.
The war was fought at sea, along the American-Canadian frontier and in the America south and Gulf Coast. Both sides invaded each other’s territory, but these invasions were unsuccessful or temporary. At the end of the war, both sides occupied parts of the other’s land, but these areas were restored by the Treaty of Ghent.
Photo courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society Research Library
This historical photo taken
circa 1890 is of the John
Paul house, which stood
where the Madison post
Office is now located.
The photograph was taken
looking west across
Jefferson Street. The house
was on a raised site with
a retaining wall on both
Jefferson and First Streets,
all of which had to be
removed in 1958 for
construction of the post office.
Paul returned to Madison in 1813 and went back to work developing his new city. He built two mills, one a lumber mill and the other a grist mill. In 1813, he became the proprietor of the second newspaper in the state, and the first in Jefferson County. The first edition of The Western Eagle was produced on May 26, 1813. The banner read: “Madison Indiana Territory.”
In 1814, Paul erected the first waterworks in the state. It piped water through a series of hollowed out logs from a spring near the hill and what is now Michigan Road. This provided his home with a luxury not known by many of that era – a bathroom with running water. Three public wells were established for city residents.
In 1814, the Territorial Legislature authorized the first bank to be established in the state of Indiana, and it was to be located in Madison. Paul became president of the Farmer’s and Mechanic’s Bank of Madison from 1814-1824. Paul also helped establish nearby Versailles, Ind., around that time by donating land for the Ripley County courthouse and a cemetery.
The Pauls in 1826 donated a plot of land to the city to serve as a cemetery for burying pioneers. It was located near the hill in the far backside of town and out of the way of future development. Known as the Old City Cemetery, burials had begun there as early as 1817, records show, and as late as 1897.
Paul was fond of horses and owned at least eight at the time of his death. He apparently bought and sold horses frequently, and it was on a horse-buying trip that his fate was sealed.
Blanche Goode Garber in her writings about Paul described his final passing in the Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 13, published in 1917: “His fatal illness resulted from a trip to the western part of the county to look at some horses he as thinking of buying. Heavy rains delayed his return, and filled more than bank-full the creek from Clifty Falls. His horse swam the creek but fell on the slippery bank, striking the rider’s head on a stone. He was found unconscious hours after, his clothing saturated by the swollen creek. Three years of helplessness from rheumatism resulted and caused his death in Madison on June 6, 1830.”
Paul was initially buried in the Old City Cemetery, but he and his family members’ burial sites were later moved to Fairmont Cemetery on the Madison hilltop when the John Paul Chapter of the Daughter of the American Revolution acquired the “old burial grounds” in 1903 and turned it into a park.
The name of the park was appropriately called John Paul Park.
• Jefferson County Public Library Genealogist Janice Barnes and Jefferson County Historical Society Research Archivist Ron Grimes provided materials for this report. Information also was obtained from the Indiana Magazine of History.
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