Indiana is located in the Midwest. It is both an agricultural and an industrial state. It is known as the “Crossroads of America” because it is so influential for United States travel and commerce. The largest city in the state, and its capital, is Indianapolis. It is located in the middle of the state, and it is a major hub of transportation, with several roads connecting to it.
Indiana’s soil and terrain varied greatly. That fact had a great influence on how the area was settled. The southern part of the state mainly has hills and rough terrain with soil that won’t support crops. However, the central part of the state is a perfect farming region because of its flat lands and rich soil. The northern part of the state has a lot of flat land, but it is also home to several marshes, making it poor for farming.
In the beginning of the 1799s trappers and explorers from France came to the area. Native American tribes, such as the Potawatomi and the Miami, made contact with those trappers. The French explorers cooperated with the Native American tribes and learned several things from them. In fact, several of them chose to marry Native American brides.
The middle of the 1700s brought the start of the French and Indian War. Around that time, the area that is now Indiana was heavily controlled by the British. Then, in 1763, a proclamation was created that kept any settlers from moving to the west of the Appalachian Mountains. All land to the west was to be used only by fur traders and Native Americans. When the Revolutionary War took place, an expedition led by George Rogers Clark led to the area being claimed by the United States. Once the area was under United States control, several states tried to claim Indiana land, including Massachusetts, Virginia, and Connecticut.
After the Revolutionary War ended, several tribes of Native Americans kept trading with French people. Many of those tribes moved to the Mississippi River’s west side. Soon, settlers and land speculators also moved out west, despite the proclamation that prohibited that expansion. In 1787 what is now Indiana became part of Northwest Territory. All of what is now Indiana and part of what is now Illinois became Knox County. For the next two decades, Native American conflicts increased and jurisdictions in Northwest Territory changed quite a bit.
In 1800 Indiana Territory was created. In 1805 it was divided into Indiana Territory and Michigan Territory. In 1809 Indiana Territory was split again, creating Illinois territory. Then, on December 11, 1816, Indiana became a state.
When the War of 1812 came to an end many settlers came to Indiana from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. They all settled in what is now the southern section of the state of Indiana. Many of those settlers were German and Scotch-Irish farmers, whose families originally settled in Pennsylvania in the late 18th century.
In the early 1800s, settlers came to Indiana via the Ohio River and land routes from the Appalachian Mountains. Early Indiana farms were located near the various rivers in the area, including the White, Whitewater, Ohio, and Wabash.
Since the northern part of Indiana was home to Native Americans the longest, it was settled late. Settlers also had to deal with difficult terrain and a lack of clear routes across the land. Roads were established mainly along trails created by animals or Native American tribes. In 1836, the Michigan Road was put into use. It ran from the north to the south, beginning in Michigan City and ending in Madison. Then, in the 1830s, the government’s National Road was run through Indiana in an attempt to connect the West to the East. In 1836, several canal, railroad, and road projects were started. However, the Great Depression halted most of those projects. Nevertheless, the government funded the completion of the 468-mile Erie Canal. People and goods were able to travel to and from the area at a much faster rate when the railroads were clearly established in the 1840s and 1850s.
In the late 1800s Indiana manufacturing industries began to pop up, and they have continued to thrive throughout the years. The steel industry has been particularly prominent. It and other industries have led to many different ethnic groups coming to the area, including Europeans and African Americans.
Indiana Ethnic Group Research
African Americans – The 1787 Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in what later became Indiana. However, that didn’t stop French households at Vincennes from keeping slaves in the late 1700s and early 1800s. An 1802 repeal request was sent to Congress because residents believed that legalizing slavery would encourage new settlers to come to the area. That petition was denied, but the government allowed slaves to be brought to the area as of 1805 and kept for indentures that were “longer-than-life.”
When the state’s government was transferred from a governor to a 43-delegate convention leading up to statehood, the subject of slavery came up again. In 1816 a ruling prohibited it. However, the constitution of the state allowed owners to keep 190 slaves that were listed on the 1820 census records. Slavery was made completely illegal in the southeast part of the state. Then, in the 1820s, it was made illegal statewide by the Indiana Supreme Court. Nevertheless, as of the 1830s there were still a few slaves in Indiana. Even free African Americans were not given the rights to testify in a court of law, marry white people, or vote. However, it was common for them to marry Native Americans.
Intermarriage was fairly common in Indiana’s early history. So, researchers need to take that into account. Researchers should also note that several free African Americans owned their own land. Indiana was also a major Underground Railroad hub. In the 1870s the Indiana-based Emigrant Aid Society helped African Americans move to Indianapolis from North Carolina by the thousands.
McDougald, Lois. Negro Migration into Indiana, 1800–1860. Bloomington: the author, 1945.
Lyda, John W. The Negro History of Indiana. Terre Haute, Ind.: the author, 1953.
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority. Indiana Historical Collections. Vol. 37. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.
Witcher, Curt Bryan. Bibliography of Sources for Black Family History in the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Department. Fort Wayne: Allen County Public Library, 1986.
Native-Americans – St. Mary’s Treaty, which was enacted in 1818, ceded land in the middle of the state from the Delaware tribe and others to the United States. That land was called “The New Purchase” and the purchase of it caused the Delaware people to move to the Mississippi River’s West. From 1820 onward the two main tribes still in Indiana were the Potawatomi and the Miami. In 1826 a “trade” was made that gave some of their lands to the United States for the Erie and Wabash Canals, as well as the Michigan Road. The remaining Native Americans were removed from the state in the 1830s as part of the 1830 Federal Indian Removal Act. The Potawatomi were supposed to be removed in 1838, but some of them resisted. That led to an armed militia marching 800 of them out of the area in a march that was so tragic that it was given the name “Trail of Death.”
The Miami were required to move out of the state by the Treaty of 1840. They were to move to Kansas, but they didn’t actually do so until 1846. Also, several Miami families were allowed to stay in the Fort Wayne region.
Dillion, J.B. National Decline of the Miami Indians. Indianapolis: Indiana State Historical Society, 1897.
Rafert, Stewart. “American-Indian Genealogical Research in the Midwest: Resources and Perspectives,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 76 (September 1988): 212-24. See more detail in Wisconsin—Native American.
——. The Hidden Community: The Miami Indians of Indiana, 1846–1940. N.p.: the author, 1982.
Witcher, Curt Bryan. Bibliography of Sources for Native American Family History in the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Department. Fort Wayne: Allen County Public Library, 1988.
Other Ethnic Groups – From 1850 through 1920, Indiana’s population was never more than 10% foreign-born. Those that were foreign-born were mainly Germans. The German culture thrived in the state, thanks to the founding of German social clubs, churches, and schools.
There were also several Irish immigrants in the area, and some immigrants came from eastern and southern Europe. However, none of those groups were particularly prominent in the region.
Indiana History Databases and other Helpful Links
The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for Indiana genealogy work.