Township Histories & Biographies
Perry Township, Vanderburgh County, Indiana
History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana. Brant & Fuller. 1889
Perry Township. The daring exploit of Commodore Perry, by which he achieved one of the most brilliant victories known to the early history of the nation, caused this Township to be named in his honor. The Township was organized September 10, 1840. Prior to this time it formed a part of the ancient Township of Pigeon. The surface of the Township is rolling, and in parts hilly; the soil is fairly productive; no streams of importance traverse it. It is bounded on the north by German Township, on the east by Center and Pigeon Townships and the Ohio River, on the south by Union Township and the Ohio River, and on the west by Posey County.
Early Settlers. The settlement of Perry Township began soon after the dawn of the nineteenth century. Concerning the name and character of him who first penetrated the wilderness then here nothing is known. As early as 1806 or 1807, a few pioneers had crossed, on rude rafts, from the Kentucky shore, and found their way into this Township. At this date the Indians had not left the County, and regardless of the treaties made by the chiefs of the tribes, many of them were inclined to resist the invasion of the poorly protected pioneers. In view of the large German element in the population of the County today, it is a significant fact that the first who is positively known to have come here, not as a hunter, but as a settler, was a native of Germany. George Linxweiler, father of the late William Linxweiler, both well known in their day, was one of the first German immigrants to this part of the great west. He landed opposite the mouth of Green River in March, 1806, and after looking around the vicinity, settled upon the tract of land afterward widely known as the residence of the late J. B. Stinson. There he erected a log cabin, in which his son William was born on the 12th day of February, 1809. The best obtainable evidence indicates that this was the first white child born in the Township. In the spring of 1811 Mr. Linxweiler, with his family, removed to the Whetstone farm, in what is now Center Township. About the time this child first saw the light of day, another pioneer, who was afterward well-known in the Township, was wending his way to its borders. This was George Miller, who came from Kentucky with his wife, Elizabeth, and settled about three miles west of Evansville, in section 33, in which neighborhood he lived until his death, which occurred about 1820. The Millers crossed the River three times before permanently locating, each time being driven back by hostile Indians. They first landed near the present site of the city of Evansville, where they found a rude cabin, which had the appearance of having been but recently erected, and in the wild forests about it there was nothing to indicate that any other attempts at settlement had been made. They took possession of the cabin, lived in it a few months and then pushed on through the wilderness to the spot afterward chosen for their permanent home. Following the Millers, within a few months, came Elder John B. Stinson, then a young man, and his father, both of whom were coopers by trade, at which for for some time they were occupied. They settled on the banks of the River about two miles below Evansville. Here the young man rose to a lofty pinnacle in public esteem. He was commissioned the first sheriff of Vanderburgh County by Gov. Jennings, in 1818, served in the Indian wars as a captain with distinction, was elected probate judge of the County, served satisfactorily, and was called by the public to serve it in various capacities of trust and honor. He was a consistent member and able preacher in the General Baptist church. Though not a eloquent talker, he was profound in thought, powerful in argument, and the best disciplinarian the church ever had. In the later years of his life he built a home in the city, where the custom house now stands, but spent most of his time on the farm in Perry Township. He was one of the most prominent men Perry Township ever produced, and decidedly the most prominent up to the date of his death, which occurred in 1850. He married the eldest daughter of the pioneer Mrs. Elizabeth Miller Matilda Payne and was the father of nine children.
Elder Benoni Stinson, a brother of J. B. Stinson, came in 1821, and from that time until his death in 1870 lived on the farm adjoining that of his brother, and now the homestead of Maj. J. B. Cox. He was a Baptist preacher, blessed with great natural ability, but without a scholarly education. It was here in Perry Township, on October 5, 1823, that he gathered about him thirty-three devout souls, whose faith was like his, and organized that afterward powerful denomination known as the General Baptists of the west. Though others may have "squatted" along the River the Millers were doubtless the first who pushed their way to the interior of the Township. For some time after they came all about them was a pathless, wolf-infested wilderness. They at once commenced clearing a spot in the forest for cultivation, and soon had a small cornfield and truck-patch. Between their clearing and the cabin on the Stinson place there was a strip of woods, but a footpath was soon tramped through the underbrush between the places, and these pioneers were neighbors in the fullest sense of that word, so rich in meaning. Westward, near the Posey County line, and about three miles from the Millers, another settlement was made about 1825. There William Ragland and William Martin raised their cabins. Soon others drifted in to share with them the trials and hardships, the joys and triumphs of life on the frontier. Beyond this settlement there was no other until Posey County was reached.
James Robertson was an early settler in the Miller neighborhood; he was a prosperous farmer, and lived in the Township until his death, about 1845. He married Nancy Stinson, now Mrs. Calloway, who was born in the J. B. Stinson farm in 1809, and lived continuously in the County until two years ago, when she went to reside with her daughters in White County, Ill. It is generally conceded that she was the first female white child born in Perry Township. Among the first of these settlers was William Wagnon. Upon his arrival he settled near the Millers, but subsequently removed to the northwest corner of the Township, and died there at about ninety years of age. He was one of the first associate judges of the new County, and wielded considerable influence in his day. He was a rough character, unscrupulous, and made himself obnoxious to many of the early settlers. About the time of the commencement of hostilities in the west consequent upon the war of 1812 with England, the Indians in this section of Indiana territory became more troublesome than usual, and the white settlers were obliged to exercise extreme caution for the protection of the lives of their families. The natural hostility of these savages was inflamed by the conduct of Wagnon. He had a cabin on the banks of Wagnon creek, (which had been named for him) below Evansville, where he sold whiskey. Always ready to traffic with the Indians he supplied them with "firewater" in order the more readily to make sharp bargains, and thus deliberately placed the lives of the pioneers in danger. His popularity, however, was not sufficiently impaired to occasion his defeat at the polls.
George and Susan Edmond were early settlers who subsequently migrated to Union Township, where the former, in later years, was found dead by the roadside, the cause of the death being a mystery, and unknown to this day. These pioneers were the parents of Michael Edmond, now of Union Township, who was born near Ingle's coal mines, in November, 1815, and is now probably the oldest resident native-born citizen of the County. James and Joseph Cox, brothers, came to the Township in 1818. For a time they worked at the potter's trade, and subsequently made considerable money in selling wood to steamers on the Ohio River. They were eminently respectable always. John M. Lockwood, now a prominent citizen of Posey County, and in early times a man of influence for good here, was one of the pioneers in the northwest part of the Township. Patrick Lyons early became a freeholder and lived in the extreme southeast corner of the Township. Reuben Long early came to Perry, but soon moved to Union Township, where he lived until his death. Nicholas Long, not the German pioneer of that name, but an American, belonged to that free-from-care, easy-going class who depended on the excitement of the chase for pleasure and on its achievements for food. He cleared a little "truck-patch" in the woods, and went out of the country when the game became scarce.
Thomas and William Hooker were also pioneers who, viewed in comparison with the rush and hurry that characterize the present age, might be considered indolent and thriftless. They were poor but honest men, and were never weaned from the simple customs of the backwoodsmen. Thomas was one of the stoutest men of his day, and in those friendly contests of "main strength and awkwardness," so common at log rollings and barn raisings, always won the victory. Peter Miller, who came with his parents in 1809, lived in Perry Township, until about 1853, then in Union Township until about 1870, when he died, was a noted deer hunter and a story teller. He is known to have killed upward of fifty deer in a year, and occasionally brought down a bear. He was six feet high, very slender, a very fast walker and a good runner. He could walk farther in a day than any man in the settlement, and was the winner at all the early day foot-races. His stories were always so graphic that they have not yet faded from the memories of his listeners. Other pioneers were Oliver and Isaac Fairchild, who died in the Township at an early date, John Stoner, who early removed to Union Township, Henry D. Smith, a well-known old time shoemaker, Ezekiel Saunders, grandfather of James D. Saunders, of Union Township, a prominent preacher in the regular Baptist church, who lived for thirty or forty years near the Posey County line on the lower Mt. Vernon road, exerting an influence for good during all that time, and Jeffrey Saunders, Ezekiel's brother, who later was a well-known citizen of Posey County. Following these pioneers came others, singly and in groups, and gradually the wild beasts that so long had annoyed and endangered the life of the settlers, were driven out, and their homes became the dwelling places of civilized men. Slowly, but with never a backward step, the evolution went on. Progress became the watchword emblazoned on the banner of the marching generations; the log cabin, chinked and daubed, gave way to the comfortable and even luxurious home; the clearing or the truck-patch grew into broad fields, fenced and farmed on scientific principles, with the best machinery that the ingenuity of man could devise ; huge barns filled with plenty, and well-fed cattle, either in stalls or roaming in rich pastures, replaced the straw-shed and the poor cow that browsed so long on dry twigs that she became an easy prey to the hungry wolves that chased and killed her; school-houses and churches sprang into existence as if at the command of the magi, until now the best results of enlightenment and civilized effort seem to have been attained.
Perry Township received a large proportion of those thrifty Germans who came in upon this section of the country between 1830 and 1840, in numbers somewhat as the Goths and Huns of the north poured in upon the Romans of old. They and their descendants now compose a large part of the population, and yet many of the children of the pioneers possess the lands of their fathers.
A Tragedy. In 1851 or 1852 a gang of counterfeiters carried on their operations in Perry Township under the leadership of Milo Dolly. Three of the men, Grigsby, Skaggs and Spelts by name, broke into the house of an inoffensive German named Miller, killed him and his two sons, mutilated their bodies and then set fire to the house and destroyed all evidences of their crime. An inquest was held, and a verdict found which implicated none of the guilty parties. The public generally believed the dreadful calamity to be the result of an accident. The criminals, however, had forged Miller's name to a bill of sale of his personal property, and to a deed or mortgage of his lands. In trying to enforce these false claims, the perpetrators of the crime exposed their guilt, and the details of the affair were fully discovered. Intense excitement followed. Grigsby was a well-appearing man, of good repute, and associated with respectable people. His connection with the deed occasioned great astonishment. An interesting trial ensued, and the murderers were sent to the penitentiary, where two of them, Skaggs and Spelts, died. Nothing ever before so thoroughly aroused the people of Perry Township as did this tragedy.
Churches. Probably the first church organization in the Township was that effected by the followers of Ezekiel Saunders, already mentioned as a powerful Baptist preacher of early days, known as the Regular Baptists. Prominent among his co-laborers were Elders Jacobs and Parker. Their early meetings were held at the old Saunders homestead and the church flourished for several years, having in 1823 at least 100 devoted, active members. Subsequently the society built a church in Posey County, and thus ended its history so far as connected with this Township. Because of doctrinal differences thirty-three members of this congregation withdrew under the leadership of the gifted Benoni Stinson, and on October 5, 1823, formed a society which still prospers - the General Baptists of the west. Elder Stinson was chosen pastor for the new church and continued in that relation almost continuously until his death, which occurred in 1870. He taught the doctrines of free moral agency and a general atonement, abandoning those of predestination and a partial atonement. The new congregation soon after its formation built a small log church in what is now German Township, near the Perry Township line. Here they worshipped for two or three years and then moved to a point near the site of the present church. The second building was small and made of logs. It served the growing congregation only a few years, when the demands for a larger edifice became so great that a frame building, commodious and substantial, was provided. This church was erected in 1857, was dedicated by Elder Stinson and other preachers, and is still well preserved. It stands on the Henderson road, about one mile from the city limits. Others who have served as pastors to this congregation are: Elders Jesse Lane, Alvah Parker, J. B. Stinson, James Enslee, J. W. Blackburn, Wilson Blackburn, T. M. Strain, Jacob Spear and W. W. Charles. For about fifteen years past the congregation has averaged about sixty members, and is now quite prosperous.
The German Evangelical Lutheran Emanuel's Church, of Perry Township, was organized in 1854 through the labors of Rev, A. Saupert, who served the society for many years. Under him a division arose and about one-half the members went with him to Trinity church in Evansville. The church has always been supplied by the pastor of a church of the same name on the corner of First Avenue and East Franklin Street in Evansville. They are separate organizations, but the country church is a filial of the city church. Rev. Saupert was succeeded by Rev. Reidenbach, and he by Rev. H. Koenig, who served twelve years. The present pastor is Rev. George Bachmann, in charge during the past twelve years. Among the earliest members were: Henry Oppermann, Christ Bakelmann, Conrad Schuenemann, Henry Henricks, Henry Mahrenholz, Fred Mahrenholz, Traugott Hauschild, and their families. The present membership comprises fourteen families; fifty communicants. In 1854, on the Middle Mt. Vernon Road, six miles from Evansville, a small log building was erected as a place of worship. Since renovated and remodeled, it has been made a very neat and comfortable edifice.
Towns. There are no towns in the Township except Perryville, or Babytown as commonly called, which is practically a small part of Evansville, having no importance as a separate village. Col. John Rheinlander, a man of considerable note as a soldier in the Mexican and Civil Wars, and as a leading business man, established a grocery and cigar factory here some thirty years ago. The growth and the inception of the place have been due to this enterprise.
Township Histories & Biographies
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Christopher D. Myers
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April 10, 2004