Dr. David H. Maxwell

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1816 convention

We'd like to thank Randi Richardson for posting the biosketch below to the Monroe county, IN, genealogy list. Dr. Maxwell was one of the early settlers in Bloomington and married a daughter of one of the three Brewster sisters.

Randi says about this sketch that it was "typed from a microfilm copy located on Reel 18, Local History Microfilm Collection, Monroe County Public Library, Bloomington, Indiana. Document consisted of 12 typed, double-spaced pages with a cover sheet. The original is available at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Punctuation has been added where needed and minor spelling errors corrected [by Randi]. Read before the Monroe County Historical Society, Bloomington, Indiana, January 1910."

Louise Maxwell

On September 17, 1786, in Garrard County, Kentucky, there was born to Bazaleel Maxwell and his wife, Margaret Anderson, a son who was destined to become a factor in the formation and early development of one of the great states which was carved from the Northwest Territory.

The history of the forebears of David Harvey, or Hervey, Maxwell, for such was the name with which this son was christened, is that of the Scotch Presbyterians who (were) persecuted by King James for one hundred years or more after the year 1600, crossed the Irish channel to build homes for themselves and families in the north of Ireland. And their descendants in turn through a period of one hundred years after 1700, unable longer to endure the burdens of civil and religious oppression in Ulster, sought homes in far away America.

So it was that about the year 1745 John Maxwell and his wife, Fanny Garner, grandparents of David Hervey Maxwell, came from county Londonderry to the colony of Pennsylvania and down through the Shenandoah Valley to Albermarle County, Virginia. Here, on December 20, 1751, near Monticello, Bazaleel Maxwell, father of David Hervey Maxwell, was born and in 1775 was married to Margaret Anderson of Rockbridge County, Virginia.

In an old Virginia record one finds Bazaleel Maxwell figuring in a land survey of the 16th of June, 1785, in Lincoln County, Kentucky, on the waters of Silver Creek. Was it a land grant that had been issued to him for military services in the state or colonial line that attracted him to that far away country or was he lured by the marvelous tales of Daniel Boone to the land across the mountains called the "Dark and Bluidy Ground?"

Be that as it may, we know that Bazaleel Maxwell with wife and small family crossed the great "Blue Western Wall," suffered the hardships of cold and encountered the dangers of the Wilderness Road but finally reached that "fairest of promised lands, the delectable country Kaintuckes." It was under these skies, among rude surroundings and in primitive conditions, that the child, David, saw the light of day.

His boyhood was that of the pioneer of the period. He helped his father to clear the forests, till the ground, hunt game, and watch for the Red Skins.

Though opportunities were few, his early education was not neglected. It was such as the schools of the time afforded supplemented by instruction at home.

At the age of 18 he was sent to school at Danville, which event at that early day was noted for the superior educational advantages it offered over other localities in Kentucky. Where (t)here it is said of him that "he became well versed in mathematics and was an excellent, well-read English, though not a classical, scholar.

Later at Danville he studied medicine under Dr. Ephraim McDowell, one of the most noted surgeons of that or of any time. Dr. McDowell's name is so eminent in medical annals that to relate an incident of him in passing may not be out of place. It was he who in 1809 at Danville, first in the history of surgery, performed the operation of ovariotomy. Himself a deeply religious man, it is related of him that he offered up a prayer when all things were in readiness. Then, without the aid of an anesthetic to relieve his heroic patient, but with the courage of his convictions and profound faith in his diagnosis, he skillfully removed a great tumor from a Mrs. Crawford. On the outside, an angry mob awaited to kill "the butcher" should this woman die. It was many years before surgeons at home or abroad conceded the honor of this to Dr. McDowell. The medical world was chagrined that this operation had been so daringly and successfully performed in a back settlement of America instead of in one of the scientific centers of Europe. It is believed that David H. Maxwell witnessed this operation.

We now find him a young physician entering on the practice of his profession and ready to take unto himself a wife. He was married on September 21, 1809, to Mary E. Dunn of Danville, a daughter of Samuel Dunn originally from County Down, Ireland.1

That the young couple at once set up a home for themselves is evidenced from a bill of sale, now one hundred years old, found among some family archives dated four days after their wedding. Strange reading this yellow bit of paper in the light of the day.

Know all men by these presents that I, Bazaleel Maxwell, Garrard County and State of Kentucky, do sell and by these presents have bargained and sold to David H. Maxwell of the county and state aforesaid, one Negro woman named Sal of 18 years of age for the sum of $350.00 current money of Kentucky, the receipt whereof I acknowledge myself fully satisfied. Which Negro I do warrant and defend to him, the said David H. Maxwell, his heirs and assigns forever, and from me and my heirs and assigns forever and further from all manner of persons whatever. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 25th day of September 1809.

Bazaleel Maxwell

Jno. A. Swinney
William Ragston

In 1810, Dr. Maxwell moved to Indiana Territory near the present site of Hanover. He practiced medicine here and at Madison until the spring of 1819. Twice during these years he was called to public service.

He was a surgeon in the war of 1812 in the company of his brother-in-law, Captain Williamson Dunn. In the Ranging service he traversed the Wabash country from Vincennes to Ft. Harrison and on to the Mississinewa towns. At a time of high water he had the misfortune to lose his surgical instruments. He was afterwards reimbursed by Congress for this loss.

In 1816 Congress passed an enabling act authorizing an election of delegates who were to determine whether or not a state government should be formed in the Territory. Dr. Maxwell was elected a delegate from Jefferson County to this convention.

One finds him next an active participant in the framing of a constitution at Corydon. Vision had come to this man of whom his contemporaries said he was profoundly read in his favorite study, politics. He had been a slave holder in an environment friendly to the institution. He was now the friend of freedom and drafted that clause of the constitution which prohibited slavery forever from the state.

Dr. Maxwell was interested in all the provisions of the constitution, but it is known from his subsequent life that Article IX lay nearest his heart. The article which made it the duty of the General Assembly "as soon as circumstances will permit to provide by law for a general system of education ascending in a regular gradation from township schools to a state university wherein tuition shall be gratis and equally open to all."

The fulfillment of this provision dominated the rest of this man's life.

An item of interest in connection with Dr. Maxwell as a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1816 is that the manuscript copy of the constitution is in his handwriting. This copy is in the State Library at Indianapolis.

From the time that President Madison designated a township in the County of Monroe for the use of a seminary of learning, Dr. Maxwell's attention was turned toward this place. He bought a lot in Bloomington in 1818 and moved from Madison in May, 1819.

Bloomington has been described as a town in name only at this time. A wagon road ran east and west on what is now Kirkwood Avenue. The public square was an unbroken forest, while the public spring was down the hill, through the woods, to a place which is now Eighth and Morton streets.

The few inhabitants faced the hardships of living in the wilderness. Indians were all around them. They were dependent for meat upon deer and bear which were killed in the hills of Salt Creek and Bean Blossom.

From an old receipt, showing the payment of rent in full, one finds that Dr. Maxwell, on arrival, rented a log cabin from Aquilla Rogers, grandfather of L. D. Rogers. This cabin stood on the northwest corner of the lot now occupied by the Kirkwood Block, formerly the National Hotel. Again, Dr. Maxwell established his household, took up the practice of his profession, and became active in the promotion of the little community's interests.

His young wife, brought up in a Kentucky home surrounded by slaves, knew nothing of the hardships of life until she came to this outpost of civilization. True, she brought with her a colored man and woman, Dick and "big Maria," but they could not relieve her of the care of her children nor of the responsibilities of the home. Her husband, a physician called hither and thither, was often times many miles from home. She spun and made the clothing for her little ones. Anxiety for their safety was never absent from her mind. The Indians, though not unfriendly, were a constant annoyance and sometimes, in their drinking revels, a positive cause for alarm.

In September 1819 the First Presbyterian Church was established in Bloomington with nine charter members. The preliminary meeting was held in Dr. Maxwell's log cabin, and the church was formally organized the following Sunday in the log courthouse. Dr. Maxwell and his wife were charter members of this church, and three of their children, Martha A., James Darwin, and Samuel Franklin, were baptized at this time.

Later, Dr. Maxwell built a two-story house, the first brick in Bloomington, on what is now North College Avenue. This was known, in after years, as the Dr. Lucas property. Here his young children were born, and later several of his daughters were married.

The winter of 1819-20 arrived, and the 4th session of the General Assembly convened on December 6th. Dr. Maxwell, ever alert and filled with zeal and energy for the cause of education, did not lose sight of the township of land designated for the use of a Seminary of Learning which lay one quarter of a mile south of the village of Bloomington; nor did he forget this further fact that the four years had expired which the constitution required that the land set apart for educational purposes should be withheld from sale. He at once set out on horseback, in mid winter, for Corydon to procure, if possible, the location of the State Seminary at Bloomington. He was a personal friend of Governor Jennings and had many acquaintances among the members of the legislature who had sat with him in the Constitutional Convention.

History says Dr. Maxwell composed the "Third House of the Assembly." That he was a successful lobbyist was shown by an act passed on January 20, 1820, establishing the State Seminary at a point in what is now Perry Township.

As one looks back upon that primitive day at the physical condition of the country, the social environment of the people, the illiteracy and poverty of the masses, one wonders that even courage, perserverance and steadfast purpose of the few made an actuality of his law of establishment.

Six men were named as members of the Board of Trustees of the State Seminary, of which Dr. Maxwell was one. He was made its presiding officer and occupied this position almost without intermission throughout his life. Dr. Maxwell sought election to the legislature solely that he might advance the interests of the State Seminary.

Let us glance for a moment at this pioneer as he again rode yonder to Corydon, this time an accredited member of the House of Representatives from Monroe County to the 6th General Assembly.

Dr. Maxwell was now 35 years of age, of slight build, fair, straight, and stood six feet in his stockings. He was described by his friends as dignified in bearing, easy in conversation, courteous and kindly in manner and liberal and judicial in his views, but by his adversaries in Bloomington who did not believe in "schoolin," he was dubbed that _____ aristocrat.

One finds Dr. Maxwell at this 6th session of the legislature, serving on the Ways and Means Committee and on that of education.

His constituents returned him as a member of the House of Representatives to the 8th and 9th General Assemblies. At the 8th session he was elected Speaker. On being conducted to the chair he thanked the members for the honor conferred upon him and enjoined the observance of good order and decorum. At the close of the session a resolution was unanimously passed that the unqualified approbation and thanks of the House are due the Hon. David H. Maxwell on account of (for the) intelligence, assiduity and impartiality displayed by him in the chair.

During the years 1826-1829 he represented the counties of Monroe, Greene and Owen in the State Senate where, as a member of the Ways and Means Committee and as Chairman of the Committee on Education, he guarded jealously at all times the affairs of the new Seminary. It was during the latter part of his senatorial service, January 24, 1828, that "Indiana College" was established.

Dr. Woodburn, in his monograph on "Higher Education in Indiana," has said, "In the establishment of institutions it seems that the life and services of some one man are paramount and essential. In the establishment of the Indiana Seminary, Dr. David H. Maxwell was the essential man."

The success with which Internal Improvement Schemes were being prosecuted at this period in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, gave a strong impetus to the feeling that something must be done in Indiana.

The Internal Improvement System, therefore, was adopted almost without objection at the session of the legislature of 1835-36. Governor Noble nominated Dr. Maxwell to the Senate, without any knowledge or solicitation on his part, as a member of the State Board of Internal Improvements. Upon the meeting and organization of the Board he was unanimously elected its president. Heavy care and responsiblity developed upon him in this capacity. Could the success of the undertaking only have been commensurate with the amount of labor involved, it would, indeed, have been great.

The state authorized an expenditure of more than $10,000.000 (sic) for the building of canals, roads and railroads. The cost of the projects exceeded the estimates, the proceeds from the canal lands did not meet expectations, the panic of 1837 made it impossible to borrow money. Governors Noble, Wallace and Bigger respectively expressed sanguine hope in the outcome of the Internal Improvement system, but the state had undertaken too heavy a burden, and it was a number of years before it recovered from the effects of it.

After the campaign of 1840, Dr. Maxwell, a Whig in politics, was appointed postmaster of Bloomington by President Tyler and served from May 31, 1841, until December 30, 1845. He was superceded by John M. Berry, an appointee of James K. Polk. With the return of the Whigs to power, Dr. Maxwell was again made postmaster. This time the appointment came from Zachary Taylor. The term of office lasted from 1839 (sic) to 1852.

Recollections of Dr. Maxwell in his home are very precious to his children, two of whom are living. They recall the bookshelves in the corner where the bible, Burns, Shakespeare, Children of the Abbey, books of Erasmus Darwin and works on government stood side by side. Also they recall the winter evenings around the fire when their mother knitted and their father read aloud to them his favorite poems or plays. Nor do they forget his gun and his love for hunting. They remember the firm, but kind, discipline of his Scotch Irish training; the spirit with which he instilled in them the love of learning, his errands of mercy to the sick, for he knew no rich nor poor, and his fidelity to the church and its institutions.

One gathers from the writing of that day that Dr. Maxwell, as a citizen and public servant, commanded the respect of his compeers, that his wise sympathy and medical skill made him a beloved physician, that he defended loyally and disinterestedly the cause of Indiana University from 1820-1854.

He was a friend of Indiana Unversity from Its inception. It was through his initiative, influence and efforts that the law of establishment was passed. For this reason, he has been designated as its founder and, in recognition of the joint services of himself and son, the late Dr. James Darwin Maxwell, one of the University buildings bears their name Maxwell Hall.

Such is the chronicle of Dr. Maxwell's life, whose years did not reach three score and ten.

With the words on his lips, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace," he died May 24, 1854.

The following item appeared on the front page of the Bloomington Daily Telephone, 7 Mar 1913:


Indianapolis News Thursday: "The Philip Shoff chapter of the United States Daughters of 1812 met yesterday afternoon with Mrs. J. H. Talbott. Mrs. Vinson Carter read a sketch of her ancestor, David H. Maxwell, a surgeon in the War of 1812 and founder of Indiana University at Bloomington. The society has placed an official marker at the grave of Dr. Maxwell at Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington."

Cousin Howard Maxwell provided the following biographical information on David and Mary Maxwell's son Samuel:

Samuel Franklin Maxwell, born July 29, 1817, Madison, Indiana; died June 25, 1877, Rockville, Indiana. Graduate Indiana University. Judge of (Parke and Vermillion Counties) Judicial Circuit. Indiana. Residence, Rockville, Indiana. Married, November 8, 1848, in Rockville, Indiana, Eliza Ann Sunderland, born April 4, 1822, died October 19, 1899. -- Maxwell Family History and Genealogy, by Houston, Blaine and Mellette, 1916; p. 111.

Judge of (Park and Vermillion Counties) Judicial Circuit, Indiana. Residence: Rockville, Parke County, Indiana.

Graduate of Indiana University, class of 1838.

Judge Samuel F. Maxwell was another of the conspicuous members of the early bar of Parke County. He was the pupil of Howard in the law business and partook of the courtliness and thoroughness which characterized his eminent preceptor. He was born in 1817, at Madison, Indiana, and was educated at Bloomington. He came to Rockville in 1839, and entered the office of General Howard, as a student of the law, and, at the conclusion of his preparatory studies, entered the practice in the County. In time he became possessed of a good practice and had a fine reputation as a man of integrity and a sound and accurate lawyer.

Perhaps none of our lawyers, from the date of his death, had a more complete mastery of the principles of special pleading than Judge Maxwell, or a more reliable and comprehensive knowledge of the law of real estate. When our present code of law of descent came into existence in 1852, Judge Maxwell, as one of the Common Pleas Judges of the State, was called upon, in common with them, to examine these new statutes, and formulate that great mass of important rules of law growing out of statutory construction, which is the basis of our code practice and State law of real property. His labors in this regard were of the highest importance to the people of the State, and cast upon his shoulders the greatest responsibility.

He continued on the bench until the year 1868, when he resumed the practice of law and at once commanded a wide practice. He was affable in demeanor, an exceedingly agreeable companion, full of reminiscence, wit, wisdom and social amenities. He was especially kind and considerate to the younger attorneys. He invited their confidence and gave them, without stint or remuneration, valuable instruction and advice whenever they chose to ask it. His death in 1877 was unexpected, and was deplored by a large circle of the public, whom he had served so faithfully and efficiently. -- The Parke County Centennial Memorial, 1816-1916, published under the auspices of the Rockville Chatauqua Association.

Moved from Jefferson County to Parke County, Indiana in 1838 according to the Parke County, Indiana Atlas, 1874.

This biography of another of David and Mary Maxwell's sons is taken from the Monroe county INGenWeb site:

DR. JAMES D. MAXWELL, SR., eldest son and third child of David H. and Mary (Dunn) Maxwell, was born May 19, 1815, near Hanover, Jefferson County, Ind. His parents were natives of Kentucky, and came to Indiana in 1809, locating in what is now Jefferson County, where they remained for ten years. Removing then to Monroe County, they settled on the lot now occupied by the "National House," the father being the first physician ever in Bloomington. He served as Postmaster for eight years, and died May 24,1854. His widow died March 18, 1880, at the advanced age of ninety-three years. David H. Maxwell was a member of the Fist Constitutional Convention at Corydon, Ind., in 1816 and drew up the constitutuion. He was also Surgeon in Capt. Dunn's Company in 1812.

The subject of this sketch came with his parents to Monroe County, and eight years later entered the seminary at Bloomington, where he graduated in the fall of 1833, afterward teaching for two years in a preparatory department in the college. He then went to Clinton, Miss., and taught for one year, when, returning to Bloomington, he studied medicine with his father for two years, during which time he attended a course of lectures at Transylvania Medical College, at Lexington, Ky. Returning thence, he entered into regular practice with his father in Bloomington, and about one year later formed a partnership with Dr. J. G. McPheeters, continuing for about nine years, when he dissolved the partnership and has since been in practice alone.

He has been Secretary and Trustee of the college for the past thirty years. On July 6, 1843, he was married to Louisa J. Howe, daughter of Joshua O. Howe, a pioneer of Monroe County. They have ten children--

Dr. Maxwell is a member of the Presbyterian Church and politically he is a Republican. -- Counties of Morgan, Monroe and Brown, Indiana. Historical and Biographical, Charles Blanchard, Editor. Chicago: F. A. Battey & Co., Publishers, 1884, page 582.

This biography of yet another son is from the Parke county INGenWeb site:

David H. MAXWELL. The Bar of Parke County numbers among its most honored representatives the firm of Maxwell & Maxwell, of which the subject of this sketch is the senior member. Not only at Rockville, where for many years he has been continuously engaged in the practice of profession, but also through this portion of Indiana, he is known as a lawyer of high talents and great ability. The qualities of discrimination for which he has always been distinguished, together with his perceptive qualities and power of analysis, have led to the attainment of a position of prominence among the legal fraternity of the state.

At Bloomington, Indiana 7 August 1825 occurred the birth of the subject of our sketch. His father, Dr. David H. Maxwell, served in the War of 1812 as a surgeon and became one of the earliest settlers of Indiana as well as a pioneer physician at Bloomington. He and his wife, who was born in Kentucky and bore the name of Mary D. DUNN, became the parents of eight children, our subject being the sixth. He was reared in Bloomington and attended the Indiana State University until the junior year when he abandoned his literary studies and boarding a river steamer, proceeded down the Mississippi. He landed at Grand Gulf, MS and thence took passage on a steamer to Louisville, Kentucky from which place he walked a distance of 90 miles to Bloomington, carrying his rifle on his shoulder.

In 1845, shortly after his return from the South, our subject came to Rockville and commenced the study of law in the office of Wright & Maxwell. Three years later, he came back to Bloomington and entered law department of the State University of Indiana, then under the control of Judge David McDonald and Judge William T. Otto. From that institution he was graduated in 1849, and was licensed to practice at the Bar of the State.

Returning to Rockville, he formed a legal partnership with Samuel Magill, who had been his classmate. The connection continued for 12 months when Mr. Magill accepted a position at Washington, D. C. With his brother, Samuel, our subject formed a partnership and remained in practice at Rockville for two years. Meanwhile the Legislature had instituted the Court of Common Pleas, the district being composed of Parke & Vermillion Counties. Judge Porter of Vermillion had been elected to fill the position of Judge of the court, but his death occurred while an incumbent of the office. Joseph A. Wright, then Governor of Indiana appointed Samuel F. Maxwell to fill the unexpired term, and the partnership was accordingly dissolved. When Judge Patterson succeeded to the position, the legal connection was resumed.

Afterward, however, Samuel F. Maxwell was reelected judge, and our subject then took into partnership his nephew, Frank M. Howard, with whom he remained in practice for two years. Later he was alone until 1889, when he formed the partnership with his son, under the title of Maxwell & Maxwell which firm is still in existence.

The marriage of our subject in 1864 united him with Miss Anna F., daughter of Samuel S. SMITH, a prominent agriculturist of Parke County. Two children have been born of the union: Howard, the law partner of his father and Hugh, who is at home. Mr. Maxwell has devoted his entire active life exclusively to the duties of his profession and has for 44 years been engaged in active and continuous practice. He was reared a believer in the principles of the Whig party, and in later years has been a consistent adherent of the platform of the Republic Party. His first Presidential ballot was cast for General Taylor. During the war he enlisted for 60 days and served as a member of the 78th Indiana infantry. In his religious belief he is connected with the Presbyterian Church and gives to that denomination his generous and active support. -- Portrait & Biographical Record of Montgomery, Parke & Fountain Counties, Indiana. Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1893, Page 137.

1 Mary's mother, Elinor Brewster Dunn, was one of the Brewster sisters, honored as "Patriots of the Revolution".
This page was last updated 20 Sep 2008.