Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A brief overview of Chief Richardville

We're adding more pictures to our web site and moving some of the copy to our blog. Below is the copy that has been on the website regarding the Chief Richardville House.

Jean Baptiste de Richardville
When it came to negotiating with the United States government, perhaps no Native American ever did it better than Miami Chief Jean Baptiste de Richardville. The home he built in 1827 is silent testimony to a strong business sense that resulted in his being the richest man in Indiana at the time of his death in 1841. Today his house is recognized as the oldest Native American dwelling in the Midwest and the first Greek Revival style house in northeast Indiana. Recently restored, the site affords visitors an opportunity to truly walk in the footsteps of history.

Born in 1761, Richardville was the son of a French fur trader father and a Miami Indian mother - Tacamwa, sister to the Miami war chief Little Turtle. Richardville and his mother were among the earliest entrepreneurs native to the Fort Wayne and Allen County area. Together they built a trading empire based on control of the "long portage" between the St. Mary's and Wabash rivers, joining two water systems and thereby completing a pathway for commerce that extended from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

As American settlements spread through the Old Northwest Territory, it became clear that the United States government intended to remove local Indians and inhabit their land. Richardville, through clever negotiation, was able to maintain a Miami presence in Indiana long after other tribes had been forced to leave the area, notably the Piankashaws in 1805 and the Wea in 1820.

In 1818, through Richardville's intervention, individual families were given legal land grants as small parcels of privately held reserves scattered throughout northern Indiana. Richardville himself eventually controlled over twenty square miles of choice property along the St. Joseph, St. Mary's, Mississinewa, Salamonie and Wabash rivers. This act provided the means for half of the Miami people to remain in Indiana after their official removal in 1846, five years after Richardville's death.

His House
In recognition of his role as a principal chief among the Miami people, the U.S. government provided $600 toward construction of a house for Richardville along the banks of the St. Mary's River. The chief contributed some of his own wealth toward the house that eventually cost $2,200 when it was built in 1827. In his spacious and elegant home, he reportedly entertained some of Fort Wayne's earliest civic leaders like Samuel Hanna, Allen Hamilton, and William Rockhill.

Following Richardville's death in 1841, the house was bequeathed through several generations of his descendents until 1894 when it passed out of the family. By the 1940s, it was owned by the Spy Run Gravel Company that mined much of the surrounding area, ultimately leaving the house
on a one-acre pedestal of land. The Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society acquired the property in 1991 and within recent years has restored the building's exterior.

Today, The History Center maintains the property and opens the house to the public on the first Saturday of each month from May until November, presenting a variety of programs that celebrate Miami culture and tradition. Visitors may tour the interior of the house, see the room where Richardville died, view the large safe in which he stored his wealth estimated to be $23 million (in today's currency) at the time of his death, and to learn more about the rich Native American history of this area.

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