Sketches of early Bloomington

The narrative below was posted to the Monroe county, IN, genealogy list by Randi Richardson. It includes several mentions of familiar names, which we'll highlight. We believe this story is a wonderful description of life in Bloomington at a time when it was still the frontier and our ancestors were just arriving in the area.

Randi says this sketch of early Bloomington was "written by Martha (Maxwell) Howard, July 1907, Terre Haute, Indiana. Typed from a microfilm copy located on Reel 18, Local History Microfilm Collection, Monroe County Public Library, Bloomington, Indiana. Document consisted of 15 typed, double-spaced pages with no cover sheet or title. The original is available at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Punctuation has been added where needed and minor spelling errors corrected. All text inside of parenthesis is mine [Randi's]."

I am asked to give some items of the early days of our cabin life in Bloomington and, especially, a little sketch of my mother's1 life and experience.

She was born in Danville, Kentucky, in the year 1788, March 14th. She was the second daughter of Samuel Dunn1 who moved from Virginia to Kentucky at the close of the Revolutionary War. She was married to Dr. David H. Maxwell2 September 21st, 1809. They were among the first settlers in the territory of Indiana, going first to Jefferson County, but they did not remain there long, but moved to Bloomington.

Her life and experience in those early days was that of all good wives and good mothers, an ever present anxiety for her children together with the absolute necessity of being busy and caring for the comfort of her own family. She was of a sweet-tempered, amiable disposition. I cannot remember of ever seeing her angry or hearing her scold as so many women do. She made all the clothes for the household excepting my father's coats and pantaloons. The Apostle Paul might have had in mind such Christian women as she, and your grandmother, Mrs. Jane Seward,3 and my good aunts, Mrs. Matilda Batterton and Mrs. Betsy Dunn, were when he wrote, "Let your women be keepers at home and who look well to the ways of their household."

My mother was not unsocial but with her large family had no time for visiting. She often went with my father where a personal friend was sick. He liked to have her go. And a sick neighbor or an unfortunate person was never neglected.

She observed all fast days, kept Sabbath day holy, and always went to church when there was any preaching. If there was none, she read verse about with her children in the Testament and taught them good morals, both by precept and example. She was a good wife, a good mother, and a good Christian woman.

She came to Bloomington when it was a town only in name for there was not a street in the place, only a wagon road running east and west on what is now Kirkwood Avenue on the south side of the square. The whole of the present public square was an unbroken forest, not a tree had the woodman's ax felled. The few inhabitants faced all the hardships of living in a wilderness. Indians were around them, deer and wild beats not many miles removed, while there were no houses in the place other than small cabins, and the climate was much colder than it is now.

If these were "days that tried men's souls" what must they have been to the women. In these primitive times at frontier outposts there was no help to hire, the aborigines were the only inhabitants. But my mother, with other brave women, had the courage and energy to stand in the forefront of this battle of life.

She was fortunate in having for help a colored woman whom she had brought from her Kentucky home. But the laws of Indiana made Maria a free woman after she had been in the state a year and, although she remained with my mother several years, she finally decided to go south where she would be among colored people. Then it was that my mother faced all the hardships of the situation.

It was a Herculean task for two hands to do all the work for a large family, cooking, sweeping, sewing, taking care of the baby and the little children, and a thousand other things that go to make up housekeeping. Reared in a Southern state, she knew nothing of housework, other than sewing, until she was married. She became an excellent cook, but when the time came that she had no help, and had for a time to do her own washing, this was the climax of her hardships. Attempting it, every knuckle on her fingers would be skinned and bleeding, but she learned that there was a way to wash without the skinning process.

In the first settlement of the town there were two colored women by the same name, the one my mother brought from Kentucky, the other one having been brought from Maryland by Mr. Rawlins. As one was large and the other small, one was always designated as "big Maria" and the other as "little Maria." Dr. Maxwell, my father, also brought with him from Kentucky a colored boy, almost grown, a slave in his father's family, by the name of Richard Moor (sic). These two colored people from Kentucky were the first of the race in Bloomington.

Dick, as they called the boy, was remarkably bright and smart, so much so that Dr. Maxwell taught him to read and write. As he was an office boy, whenever he could get any of my father's writing he would copy and recopy it until it was such a perfect imitation it took the closest scrutiny to tell the copy from the original writing.

After he became a man, he corresponded with several of the noted abolitionists of that day -- William Loid Garrison, Thadeus Stevenson and Wendal Phillips.

We carried all our drinking water from the public spring in the low ground on the street west of what is now College Avenue. I have gone along the path with Marie many a time through the northeast corner of the public square where native forest trees stood in all their grandeur, not one amiss.

Our cabin stood on the northwest corner of the lot north of (blank space). It was already built when my father moved there. I cannot remember the dimensions of it. A bed stood in each corner at the north end and a ladder stood behind the door on the east side where we climbed up into the loft. Here clapboards were laid on the rafters for a flooring; below there was a puncheon floor. There was no sawmill there, and all the lumber, also all the flour and meal that was used, had to be hauled from "Ketcham's Mill," eight miles away.

Our cellar was a big hole dug under the floor as high as one's head. When vegetables were wanted Mother would raise the puncheon, take me by the hand, and swing me down on the hay, then lower a basket with a rope tied to the handle. I would fill it with turnips, potatoes, cabbage or whatever was required, then it was drawn up, and I was pulled out of the hole. Nothing froze down there.

In that day the cattle roamed at will, and in the evening came up to be fed and milked. Two leaders of the herds often met and fought, and one of them was vicious, running after the children when the boys mocked him.

After the first settlement of the town a hurricane passed over the place. It laid prostrate some of the largest popular trees that I ever saw. All that could reach our cabin had been cut down and the brush piled around our yard in the shape of a fence to keep the cattle away. All round us the ground was strewed with fallen timber.

One afternoon I had two little playmates visiting me, Tom and Mary Hardesty who lived north of us. Mother told us that she had to go to the store to get some things and that we might go and ride on the limbs of the trees while she was away. Of course, we were delighted, but in the midst of our play we heard the cattle coming down to the stream of water flowing across what is now Kirkwood Avenue. We heard a fearful bellowing. We dismounted from our wooden horses "and stood not on the order of our going" but went hurriedly!

I could not carry Frank,4 my little brother three years old but, taking his hand and telling my older brother Darwin5 to hurry on and have the door open, we all ran as fast as our feet could carry us. But the leader of the herd saw us running and gave chase. When I got to the door and tried to lift Frank over the step he fell on the floor and ran along on his hands and knees. I tumbled in over him but was up in an instant and had the door fastened, then stood at the window by Darwin and saw the brute jump over the brush fence and come up and stuck his nose through a broken pane of glass. Darwin ran to the fireplace where a small stick had just burned through the middle, picked up the chunk, ran back, and stuck the hot coals on the animal's wet nose. He gave one terrible roar as he wheeled, rushed over the brush fence and made for the woods and, as far as we could see or hear him, he still ran and roared.

At this time there were no streets laid out for there were not people enough to make them, and there was but one store in the village, this was in a small house on what is now Kirkwood and Walnut streets opposite the southeast corner of the courthouse.

I remember hearing them say a deer had been seen between town and Mr. Joe Baugh's farm which was about a mile and a half east. We had bear's meat to eat that was killed on Salt Creek or Bean Blossom, and it tasted like pork. The fat was rendered up for lard.

The Indians used to come to town with their baskets and skins to exchange for blankets and especially for whiskey, if they could get it. They camped down on the creek on what is now Fourth Street. It was all woods then. While there, two of them who had taken up their quarters in a little old cabin that nobody else could live in came begging for something to eat and wanted some "wiskee" as they called it. Their names were Skooner and Little Duck. The latter was a bright-eyed fellow, but the other one had a stolid dark look. They could only say a few words but made signs most of the time pointing to their mouths and then to the bread Mother was baking. She made signs to them that she would send it in the evening when the sun got low with some milk in a bucket which she persuaded Darwin and I to take. I saw the squaws in their leggin's, braided moccasins, and blankets round their shoulders with their papooses strapped on their backs. I wonder the sun did not put out the poor little thing's eyes, but they were all black and piercing.

One night the men got drunk and made night hideous with their yells. Darwin and I were greatly frightened expecting to be scalped before morning, but we were told that the squaws and two or three sober braves always kept watch while the spree lasted.

They held court in a cabin on the south part of Peter Batterton's garden, his home being on what is now Kirkwood Avenue and Walnut Street opposite the southeast corner of the courthouse square. When a missionary came around, religious services were held in this cabin, and here Mother had her three children baptized. The raised pulpit was floored with clapboards, and it was with fear and trembling as they shook under our feet that we might all tumble down together. They also held services in their cabins. I do not know why, but it was some time before we had churches. I think the Methodists had the first one, built over in the southwest part of town.

It was not long until a second colony arrived, a number of them from Maryland and most of them Methodist. It was then that Mr. Joshua Howe and family came, also his brother, Joseph Howe, who became prominent merchants as the town grew. Mr. Rawlins and Mr. Freeland and their families were from Maryland. Mr. Howe had been living in Kentucky before coming to Indiana.

Mrs. Stockwell with three daughters and one son, were among the early settlers. Her son, Hamilton, was one of the first graduates of the college. James Whitcomb, afterwards governor of the state, one of the early lawyers. Mr. Wright, father of Governor Wright, Mr. Read, a Presbyterian preacher and missionary, with his family came at an early day, also William Proctor and Mr. Martin. William Armstrong, a young lawyer. William and Johnson McCollough kept a tavern on the south side of the public square, as it is at presentno square at that time.

The first schoolteacher was Addison Smith, a very scholarly, smart man, the second Beverly Jones. Jonathan Nichols was another early teacher living in the town a number of years. Mrs. Russell, a sister of Addison Smith, taught a school for little girls. James Batterton was one of the prominent teachers. Mr. Read's wife and sister-in-law, who were from the east, had a school for girls in their home.

Another teacher, and one of the best that they had, was a Mr. Hopkins. He was passing through Bloomington with his family when his wife was taken sick and continued sick for six months. This exhausted what ready money he had, and he went to teaching.

The first cabin used for a schoolhouse was in a field on what is now College Avenue, the other side of the house owned a few years ago by Mr. McGee. Another of the early schoolhouses was a cabin over in the west side of town where Mrs. Whisnen (?Whisnand/Whisenand) now lives. I was taught to write in a cabin with one log left entirely out, and a greased white paper was tacked over it for a window.

Jesse Brandon published the first newspaper in town and Marcus Deal the second.

One of the principal early settlers was Chesley Bailey. He was sheriff.

Several persons who had come over from Ireland now came to Bloomington to settle.

Alexander Owen and his brother, John Owen, entered large tracts of farmland, also a good deal in town. The older brother, Alexander, bought half a square of ground opposite the northwest corner of the square, owned in recent years by Mr. William Fee. Here he built a large brick dwelling house and kept a store in the corner room.

Among the first persons coming to Bloomington after Dr. Maxwell and David McCollough, a blacksmith, was David Batterton, a tinner by trade. Mr. Samuel Dunn and family came. These, too, were relatives of my family -- uncle, aunt and cousins.

The Dunn Farm, which has mostly been absorbed by Indiana University, was located at that early day.

William Alexander6 was another Kentuckian who came about that time. He bought several squares of ground in the northeast part of town and established a tannery. He built a large brick house on the corner of 8th and Grand streets, I think it is now. Between Grant and Dunn streets he located his tannery. Mrs. Alexander6 was another of my good aunts who left her old Kentucky home to go she knew not to what fate in the wilderness. Their home was an open house and place of entertainment for the missionary or any minister who visited the place.

Samuel Hardesty was an early settler and was prominent in the Methodist Church. He was a carpenter by trade.

Others of the earliest settlers were Johnny Henderson and son, Cary Henderson. They lived a mile out of town where, standing in their door, they could hear the wolves howling.

Joseph Baugh, a farmer, lived a mile and a half east of town. David Rogers lived on the opposite side of the road.

Mr. Messer (left blank)

Mr. Smith (left blank)

Mr. Ritchie lived northeast of town. Mr. Hedrick, a farmer, north of town. Mr. Mayfield was a minister who lived and preached in the country. Mr. Jesse Lowe lived in the south part of town. He was a lawyer. Mr. Adle (left blank). Mr. Paris Dunning from North Carolina, a lawyer who, in the course of time, became governor of the state. Mr. Littrell, Mr. Blair, George Johnson, Hawse Armstrong, who had a carding machine, Robert Anderson, Mr. Buskirk.

The first street in Bloomington was what is now called Kirkwood Avenue, running east and west. Other early settlers were John and William Throop, and Arch Collins.

The first barber in the town was a colored man by the name of Notly Baker. He was owned in Kentucky by Mr. Joshua Howe who brought him from Kentucky. There were two other old colored persons who were early settlers. "Old Andy" and his wife, "Aunt Jinney." Another old colored woman was "Aunt Hannah."

Dr. Roach and Mrs. Slocumb came early to the place but not with the first settlers.

In the early days the "Newlights" held a camp meeting on Mr. Ritchie's farm northeast, just where the road turns east running north of the Dunn farm. There I saw Old Father Elliott have the "jerks" sitting on the straw in an enclosure in front of the stand where the preachers were. He cried and prayed, laughed and jerked, and many women did also. They shouted, clapped their hands, and jerked until every comb flew out of their hair and it was hanging down their shoulders. One of the brethren, Mr. Hedrick, was very ill. Two of the elders anointed him with lard, not having any "holy oil," laid their hands on him and prayed over him, and he recovered. We may laugh at these delusions, but they were true Christians.

I have been asked if we ever "bundled" in our cabin. No, we never did, but I was in one once. It was after the college had been located in Bloomington, also a female school. My uncle, Williamson Dunn7 of Crawfordsville, came for his daughter and two other young ladies who were attending school, and for his boys who were in college. I was going home with them for a visit. There had been a great rain, and we came to a creek that could not be forded at all, and we had all to stop over night at the cabin of two young people. They made a bed clear across the middle of the floor for us. My uncle laid in the middle, his daughter at one side on the left, I came next to her, the lady of the house next to me, and her husband next to her. The preacher lay next to uncle on the right and the three college boys next to him. The gentlemen left the room while we disrobed, to take observations of the weather, then we located ourselves and covered up our heads, and they performed the same ceremony in the morning. Do you perceive any impropriety in all that? You remember what Queen Elizabeth said when she dropped her garter in dancing, and a courtier picking it up knelt gracefully and handed it to her without saying a word? Seeing another one smiling in derision she said, "Evil be to him who evil thinks."

But the cabins, like all else in this life, served their time and cabin life passed away. Lumber, brick and mortar had with strenuous efforts been provided, and streets were laid out, town lots plotted and comfortable houses, both brick and frame, were soon seen on every street. My father built the first brick house in Bloomington. It stood on what is now a vacant lot on the alley north of the Gentry Hotel. The house was burned down many years ago.

In those days, as well as now, people married and were given in marriage. I remember attending the affair of Findley Dodds and Jane Gardner. The boys hired horses of Hiram Paugh, and there was quite a cavalcade of us as we rode out of town. Mr. Joe Howe was groomsman, and before leaving that day they had taken a glass of wine.

Findley, not in the habit of touching wine, it went to his head. Mr. Howe managed to keep him on his horse until they got there, then he took him upstairs and put him to bed. As they were first in the procession, the company knew nothing of this. About two o'clock, as we were having a gay time in the parlor, suddenly there appeared a man in night attire at the back window with his arm raised to break in the window. At that In those days, as well as now, people married and were given in marriage. I remember of moment, Mr. Howe caught him, and they carried him off.

You cannot imagine the confusion that followed. Some girls screamed. Deborah Owens fainted, and some of the more sensible ones were trying to comfort the poor bride who was the only one who knew what was the matter. The poor mother had fainted away in the dining room where the untasted dinner stood.

To crown all, about the time for our return a dreadful storm arose, and the boys rushed frantically out, taking the first horse and saddle that they came to without any ceremony. My escort had to look after someone who had none, and I was left in cousin James Dunn's care, who had brought Eliza Stockwell. She was a great coward in a storm, and every time a flash of lightning and a bolt of thunder came, her horse would squat like he would fall to the ground, and she would begin to pray! Knowing that she could not be convicted of any religious sentiment, the whole thing was so ludicrous. I laughed until I nearly fell out of my saddle. My cousin was intent on comforting her, and I had all the diversion to myself.

After the college was established and the professors' families were housekeeping, there was a party given one evening at Professor Harney's who lived in the south part of town. After spending a pleasant evening and taking leave, we all walked up (the) street and were suddenly confronted by a rail fence across the street with a board on the top of it on which was written with chalk, "Hand 'round the tea, Notley," (in reference to) the colored barber.

At a party given at Mr. Professor Hall's on the corner where Dr. Louden now lives, as we were sitting near the north window of the parlor, it was suddenly raised and a pig thrown in which ran squealing around the room. Such screaming and climbing on chairs you never heard nor saw! The poor, frightened pig was soon seized by strong hands and turned out.

The settlement was not quite up to the innovations of the times just then. About this time young girls began wearing what was called pantalettes. Mr. Joshua Howe's young daughter, Louise, had returned home from some school in Kentucky wearing them. Society was shaken to its center. Good old Mother Brown, who lived at Blair's Spring and washed for a living, when she found them in the clothes was scandalized. Said they were indecent, and if Sister Howe were not such a good Methodist that she would not wash them at all

On one occasion when Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Howe went to church on Sabbath morning, she was told by someone at the door she could not enter because she was wearing flowers on her bonnet. So Mr. Howe said, "Well, we will go home." The minister happened to see them going away and jumped out of the window and ran after them to know what was the matter, and when he heard he took them back to the church.

I wanted to tell you about poor, old Jesse Brandon falling in love with Eliza Owens, and Mark Deal and his mother, and old Mr. Harding and his good wife with her snuff box in her hand and her pretty sister, Reubina Sutton, from Kentucky! All of which you and the public will have to die in ignorance of. No! You'll not get me waked up to this "stunt" anymore, "catch a weasel asleep!"

But all joking apart, I really have enjoyed these old reminiscences, and it surprises myself how they have been stowed away in my head all these years. I soon saw that I could write nothing connectedly, so I have written at random and have set down these mixed memories in a very imperfect manner. My eyes are not strong, the days have been dark, and I do not use glasses except to read and sew, and I am scribbling this down with cramped fingers.

I often tell my young friends that I graduated when I was twelve years old, so you will see that I am really a back number, and when I say that I do not believe in "clubs," especially on account of the little children, and that I have never attended a theatrical performance, you will think that I am hopelessly benighted. Fortunately, I would always rather read than play, books have been the greatest solace of my life.

Left a widow before I was 30 years old, and a dear little baby coming to me six weeks after his father's death, I was necessarily confined to my own home and, being naturally of a domestic turn, it was not such a sacrifice as some would have thought it. That was 60 years ago, a long lonely life to keep watch and ward over my little family.

I was 20 years old when I married and took charge of four little, motherless girls. I had six children of my own and reared two of my grandsons, and I sit here today, 94 years old, writing of all these incidents, a happy old grandmother with my dear son's widow and their children who were born and lived under my own roof where my dear husband left me.

If you find anything worthy of your paper in these lines, I am glad to have obliged you.

Martha Maxwell Howard

July 1907
Terre Haute, Indiana

1When I read this article, I couldn't figure out who Mrs. Howard's mother was, since she never mentions her name in the article. I raised the question to MONROE-L. The answer was provided promptly by Howard Maxwell, of Indianapolis, who wrote:
Martha Ann Maxwell Howard's mother and father were Mary E. Dunn (b. 1788, Danville, KY, d. 1880, Bloomington, IN) and Dr. David Hervey Maxwell, Bloomington, Indiana physician, surgeon and founder of Indiana University (1820). Mary's mother, Elinor Brewster Dunn, was one of the Brewster sisters honored as "Patriots of the Revolution" after the war... Mary's father, Samuel Dunn, Sr., was a private in the Revolutionary War and was at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774. Samuel was my ggg-grandfather.
Thank you, cousin!
2 The following appeared in the 12 May 1916 issue of the Bloomington Evening World during the pageant celebrating Indiana's centennial:
Dr. David H. Maxwell, impersonated by his great grandson, Dr. Leslie Maxwell, of Indianapolis, is seen ministering to the ills of the community... The exact words of Dr. David Maxwell and of President Wylie have been found on record and are used in the speeches of welcome.
3 My g-g-g-grandmother, Jane (Irvin) Seward (1800-1865). I'm not sure to which of Jane's grandchildren this sketch was directed.
4 Samuel Franklin Maxwell.
5 James Darwin Maxwell.
6 William James Alexander married Elloner's sister, Agnes Brewster (1763-1840).
7 Samuel Dunn1 had a son named Williamson.
This page was last updated 5 Jan 2005.