Celebrating Indiana: Indiana’s first capital*

VINCENNES, Ind (WISH) — As we head toward the state’s Bicentennial Celebration, many of our ‘Celebrating Indiana’ stories will focus on the past 200 years.

But this one dates back far earlier than that, to the city that can claim to be the very heart of Indiana history.

French fur traders established Vincennes nearly a century before Indiana’s eventual statehood.

The community played a pivotal role in the Revolution, and eventually it became the very first Capital of the Indiana Territory. In that way, Indiana history starts in Vincennes, and to this day, history truly still stands there.

“If we move it again, it’ll fall down,” joked John Mays as he showed off the Vincennes State Historic Site.  There, in in one short stretch, side-by-side, stand the Indiana Territory’s very first capitol building, and replicas of its first school and print shop.

“If people come and visit the place, they realize the significance of it but also with the capitol, the simplicity of it,” explained Mays. “You don’t need a dome and marble floors and columns to make a capitol. You just need representatives.”

The buildings are indeed small and simple by today’s standards, but the print shop and press were cutting edge in their day.  At the birth of the Territory, one of Vincennes’ many historic figures, Elihu Stout, used the same kind of press to publish Indiana’s first newspaper.

“Gazette is an old-fashioned word meaning newspaper!” enthused Richard Day, decked out in period costume and re-enacting for visitors Stout’s printing routine.

Stout printed a four-page paper. The first and second pages contained advertisements and Governmental announcements. “News” of the day was pushed back to page three. Jokes, poetry and more occupied the back page. Day says frontier publishing came with some peril.

“If you disliked what appeared in the newspaper, you beat the editor with a cane,” he said.  Day says Elihu Stout made it through such threats largely unscathed and helped spread the information Indiana would need to succeed as a Territory.

Stout’s story is merely one of dozens you can learn in a visit to Vincennes, which proudly embraces its role in Indiana history.  And to this day, people here proudly call their community “Indiana’s First Capital.”  That phrase is the reason for the asterisk (*) in the title of this story, because the people of Corydon also make the same claim.

Both are correct, of course. Vincennes is the first capital of the Indiana Territory, and Corydon is the first capital of the State of Indiana. And both play a capital role in Celebrating Indiana.

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