Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Indian Agents a Factor in Early Fort Wayne

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – Aug 2016 No 139)
2016 Indiana Bicentennial Commission Legacy Endorsed Project

Indian Agents a Factor in Early Fort Wayne

In the years leading up to the time Indiana advanced to statehood, the U.S. Government was represented by Indian Agents and Factors.  The Factor or Factory was the government representative for financial and commercial matters leaving the political affairs to the Indian Agent.  However, the functions oftentimes overlapped, and the titles used indiscriminately.  Eventually, the terms “Factory” and “Factor” were nearly replaced with “Agency” and “Agent” and intended to be helpful to the Indian people by providing an appointed representative for the native population living on the Wabash-Maumee frontier.  

Who were these first players who took on this responsibility? A list of those who served in that capacity in Fort Wayne from 1798 through 1828 can be found in The Tipton Papers.  Here is a short description of some of the agents.

William Wells (serving 1798 to 1809) as a boy, was captured along the Ohio River by the Miami who adopted and assimilated him into their tribe. Married to Little Turtle’s daughter, Wells became a confidant of the great War Chief. He died at the relief of Fort Dearborn in 1812. To honor his remarkable service to his country, congress gave him the right to pre-emption of lands that today comprise Fort Wayne’s Bloomingdale and Spy Run neighborhoods known as “Wells Pre-emption.”

John Johnston (1802-1811) had been appointed Indian Factor or Factory in 1802 as the government representative for financial and commercial matters, leaving the political affairs to the Indian Agent. He did, however, succeed Wells as Agent.  Today, the Johnston Farm at Pique, Ohio, is celebrated as a tourist attraction and recalls the life of Johnston.  It was Col. Johnston’s place which provided a safe haven for the women and children who had escaped the dangers surrounding the siege of Fort Wayne.

Benjamin F. Stickney (1811-1819) the grand nephew of Ben Franklin took charge as both Factor and Agent in 1811 and was at Fort Wayne when Indiana became a state in 1816.  In 1820, Stickney was reassigned to Toledo, Ohio and became involved in the Ohio-Michigan border dispute. It was a time when both the state of Ohio and the-then Michigan Territory fought over a ten-mile strip of land. Each hoped for control over the Wabash & Erie Canal’s connection with Lake Erie before Ohio finally won the argument.

Dr. William Turner (1819–1820) arrived from Maryland and was first stationed at Fort Wayne as the garrison surgeon’s mate from 1810 to 1812. He became surgeon of the Seventeenth Infantry in 1813.  He resigned from the army in 1815 and married Anne Wells the daughter of William Wells.  In 1819, he became Indian Agent but as historian Griswold noted that due to failing health, Dr. Turner was relieved of his duties and his office turned over to John Hays. Turner died in Fort Wayne in 1821.

John Hay (1820–1831) born in New York City in 1770 gained experience as a trading house clerk dealing with the Indians in Canada.  He moved to Cahokia and was sheriff of St. Clair County and postmaster during the years 1798 to 1818. At Fort Wayne he took over for Dr. Turner at a salary of $1,200 per year. After his service at Fort Wayne he became Receiver of Public Moneys in Jackson, Missouri. His last days were said to have been spent in Cahokia.

John Tipton (1823- 1831) was born in Tennessee, in 1756 and moved to Indiana with his widowed mother. As an adult he served at the Battle of Tippecanoe eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General. He served as a U.S. Senator but while in the Indiana legislature was a member of the commission that selected the first state capital at Corydon. Acting to separate the Indians receiving government annuities from the traders, Tipton moved the agency to Logansport in 1828.

For thirty years Fort Wayne was the center of the Indian Agent / Factor. Some were better known to history than others, however, they were on the ground to handle the furs brought in by the Indian people as well as for shipments to the East, dispensing annuity payments paid to the Indians, and financed land purchases.  Later perhaps in other places, others were on hand following Federal government orders and participated in the unfortunate removal of these same Indian charges forcibly removed from their traditional homeland to reservations in the West.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.


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