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FIRST TOWN AND COUNTY ORGANIZATIONS.
UBSEQUENT to the capture of Post Vincennes by
Colonel Clark, Colonel John Todd was appointed
Governor and commandant of it, by the executive and legislative council of Virginia, whose conduct seems to have been erratic and brief. He arrived in May, 1779. While here he exercised autocratic powers and disposed of much of the public domain, although the Virginia Legislature had forbidden such action. He organized a court with the following appointees: Colonel Le Gras, Louis Ediline, Pierre Gamelin, and Pierre Quarez; Le Gras becoming secretary. But it seems that Governor Todd soon tired of this field of labor and sought greener pastures and a more inviting and extensive plane upon which his genius might disport and expand, and left this place for Kaskaskia. But, before leaving, he delegated his powers to Mr. Le Gras, his substitute at the Post, who seems to have had fewer scruples on the subject of the right to dispose of lands than his superior, Governor Todd. Not only did he exercise the power of disposing of public domain, but he delegated it to the county court, composed of four judges, organized under the act of Virginia, and which held their sessions at Vincennes. They did a wholesale business in the way of disposing of the public domain, not only to others, but to themselves, not only by the arpent, but by “leagues.” The way it is reported to have been done is this: Three of the four judges were left on the bench, while one retired. The court then made a grant of so many leagues of land to their absent colleague, which act of theirs was entered of record; he returned as soon as the grant was recorded, and another of these "ermined” gentlemen left the bench, while the chief justice and the other judges made similar grants to their absent friend, said friend returning after such grant was duly entered of record; and so with the fourth.*
But little is recorded of the doings of this court, except the granting to each other good sized farms belonging to the domain of Uncle Sam. Of these grants to themselves and their friends in 1783, 26,000 acres was the sum total, and by the year 1787 it had reached the figures of 48,000. The transactions of this court having been reported to the Washington Government in 1790, Winthrop Sargent, Secretary of the United States for the Northwest Territory, was ordered to investigate the matter. Calling upon this court, organized by Governor Todd and given extraordinary powers, for their reasons for their actions in these matters, the members of this august tribunal, through their spokesman, replied as follows: “That since the establishment of this country, the commandants have always appeared to be vested with the power to grant lands; their founder, M. de Vincennes, began to give concessions, and all his successors have given and granted lands and lots. Mr. Le Gras was appointed Commandant of Post Vincennes by the lieutenant of the country, and Commanderin-Chief John Todd, who, in the year 1799 was sent by the State of Virginia to regulate the government of the country, and who substituted Mr. Le Gras with such powers. In his absence, Mr. Le Gras, who was then commandant, assumed that he had equal power from the commandant in authority to give lands according to ancient usages of other commandants; and he verbally informed the court of the Pest of Vincennes that when they would judge it proper to give lots or lands they might do it.”
** Law's History, pp. 110, 111,
A commission was appointed to examine these claims, and as a specimen, the claim of a Mr. Thomas Flower may be given. He claimed an undivided third of a grant made by Pierre Quarez & Son of a tract of land beginning at the River Maria, to White river, about ten leagues deep, excluding from said grant any land that may have been granted. This claim of Mr. Flower, as assigned to Pierre Gamelin, amounted to 40,000 acres. The Todd court and these fraudulent claims having been set aside, Secretary Sargent proceeded to organize Knox county, which embraced the Territories of Indiana and Michigan, and establish courts having civil and criminal jurisdiction, and they were proclaimed organized in June, 1790, the first session being held July 14, 1790, by the judges appointed, to wit: Antoine Gamelin, Paul Gamelin, Francis Busseron, James Johnson and Luke Decker. This court was abolished when the Territory was established, May 7, 1800, and William Clark, Henry Vanderburgh and John Griffin were appointed by an Act of Congress. The first term of this last court was held in February, 1801, the session being held in rented property until 1809, in a house owned by L. Bazadon, corner Second and Broadway streets; when the brick court house was erected on the corner of Fourth and Buntin
streets, the sessions were then hell there. This property was sold and another building erected (on the square on which the present temple of justice stands), which was contracted for in 1831 and finished in 1832; but it, in turn, was demolished in 1873, when the present magnificent building was erected at a cost of a half million dollars. The courts prevailing here for half a century or more were the Circuit, Probate and Court of Common Pleas. The circuit judges presiding had jurisdiction in half a dozen counties, holding court alternately in each, hence the names circuit judges and circuit courts.
As population and business increased, it was found necessary to change the district, and in 1872 the law was changed so that a judge should confine his jurisdiction to this city, and the Court of Common Pleas was then abolished, the business of that court being transferred to the Circuit Court and the circuit judge presided over the consolidated courts.
The Circuit Court as established at this time is as follows: Circuit Judge, Orlando F. Cobb; Prosecuting Attorney, W. S. Hoover; Circuit Clerk, James F. Lewis; Sheriff, Andrew Summitt; and the balance of the county officers are as follows: Treasurer, C. A. Weisert ; Recorder, Frank T. Emison; Auditor, James D. Williams; Assessor, John M. Stork; Commissioners, Henry Frederick, John W. McGowen, Isaac Henderson; Coroner, H. W. Held, M. D. ; Superintendent Public Schools, Peter Philipi; County Physician, Doctor Norman Beckes, and County Secretary of the State Board of Ilealth, Lyman M. Beckes, M.D.
TOWN GOVERNMENT-OLD TOWN HALL.
No kind of civil government can be said to have been established in Vincennes or the Territory of the Northwest prior to the arrival of John Todd, Esq., in June, 1779, whom, it is said, acting under a law passed by the Virginia Legislature, established civil and criminal courts; but they proved to be inefficient and ephemeral in character to such a degree that Winthrop Sargent, who was sent here to organize Knox county, said they "eked out of existence in the summer of 1787.”
The county having been organized, the Courts of Quarter Sessions of the Peace and Common Pleas were instituted, and a probate judge appointed. But the government instituted by him bore equally on the whole territory as well as the town. The first town government was not organized until 1805, approved in 1807, and ordinances not published until 1809, in the Western Sun newspaper. The act of incorporating the town occurred on September 6. 1814, and was approved by the Territorial Legislature February 2, 1815. It embraced all that portion of land within the bounds of Hart street on the northeast, Eleventh street on the southeast, Willow street on the southwest, and the Wabash river on the northwest. The lands outside these boundaries, called Commons lands (not those embraced by donations), were given to the town of Vincennes by Congress, with the stipulation that the moneys arising from the sale thereof should be applied to the drainage of the swamp east of town, and that any surplus funds left, after such drainage was paid for, should accrue to the Vincennes University Fund (and not be used for town