(“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – Apr 2014, No 112)
Many of Fort Wayne’s early settlers made important contributions to the region but whose story may not be well known. James Barnett, born in Pennsylvania in 1785, came to the Three Rivers Region in 1818. He decided to stay and made his home near the old fort. He first travelled here as a trader in 1797. In 1812, as Captain Barnett he returned with a company serving under General William Henry Harrison among the twenty-five hundred armed men responsible for relieving Fort Wayne when the stronghold was under siege.
In 1824, James married Nancy W. Hanna the sister of Judge Sam Hanna. Together they built the first brick building in Fort Wayne. A small structure, James and Nancy made it their home located on the north side of East Columbia just east of Clinton Street. It stood there until 1909.
Barnett entered into a partnership with Judge Hanna, and in 1827, the partners built a grist mill by the crossing on the west bank of the Saint Mary’s River south of the Broadway Bridge. The partners also operated a trading post at the ford. Goods stocked at the post came from Boston on the east coast shipped by water to New York; up the Hudson River across to Buffalo, New York to Lake Erie then up the Maumee and into the Saint Mary’s River.
At one time, the partners became embroiled in an Ottawa revenge war against the Miami people. It started when a Miami man, who was a member of White Raccoon’s band, killed an Ottawa man in a scuffle. When the news reached the victim’s home camp along the Auglaize River, the angered Ottawa people sent hundreds of warriors up the Maumee. Here they staged their numbers in a camp about a mile east of the fort. They were led by Ocquinoxcy, a seasoned leader known to be impulsive with many kills against the settlers in previous skirmishes.
During the morning, an advance Ottawa party approached Miami Chief Richardville demanding retribution for the crime. If the Miami would pay $5,000 in silver to the Ottawa, paid out of the next annuity consignment from the government, the Ottawa war party would return without incident. If the deal were to fail the Ottawa threatened to attack.
Richardville and his advisors decided to acquiesce to the aggressor’s demands and when meeting found the Ottawa party armed ready to do battle. Meanwhile the Ottawa leaders had decided to revise their stipulation substituting merchandise for silver. The agreement was to immediately obtain $5,000.00 worth of merchandise or else.
It was a tentative time because the nearest military force was at Newport, Kentucky, a post on the south side of the Ohio River across from Cincinnati. It was too far away to offer relief before a bloody carnage throughout the village would surely have taken place. Fortunately, James Burnett and Sam Hanna were in a position to satisfy the ultimatum in the form of supplies to be repaid from the government annuity of the Miamis.
Once the goods were handed over to the aggressors, loaded down with their new-found property, the Ottawa war party returned peacefully to their camp. Mr. Barnett seems to have been a man always willing and ready to serve his neighbor. In April 1849, Barnett handed over a log house he owned at the corner of Calhoun and Berry streets to receive patients when cholera struck Fort Wayne. Perhaps not well remembered today, James Barnett stands as an example of the hard working settlers who helped build the early community that became the city of Fort Wayne.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi and retired Essex Vice President, is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; a contributing writer for Fort Wayne Monthly magazine; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast Mondays on Northeast Indiana Public Radio WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM Fort Wayne and 95.7FM South Bend.