Vincennes: The Town that Made Indiana American
June 30, 2021
(photos and memories from August 1998 and June 2017)
What is the “Northwest?” It depends on your perspective of course. Americans of today might nod to the states of Washington and Oregon, and maybe Idaho and Alaska too. But from the perspective of American Revolutionists in the late 1770s, the new nation consisted of the 13 Atlantic seaboard states. Some visionaries also eyed the “Northwest Territory,” consisting of those lands northwest of the 13 new states, specifically north and/or west of the Ohio River.
Today this area includes the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. But they all might have stayed in British possession after the Revolutionary War — except for the actions of George Rogers Clark.
In February 1779, George Rogers Clark led a company of what can only be called “backwoods Virginia badasses” across winter snows and icy, flooded rivers to surprise and capture British Fort Sackwell here at Vincennes, in present-day Indiana.
Clark’s victory ensured that America would occupy land north of the Ohio, which allowed U.S. peace negotiators in Paris to press for the boundary of the new nation to be set along the Great Lakes. Without Clark’s victory at Vincennes (and Kaskaskia), the new United States/British Empire boundary would have been set along the Ohio River. The Northwest Territory would have become part of Canada, and the Northwest Ordinance would never have been written. If the United States had been limited to territory south of the Ohio River the country would have been dominated by slave states and history would have turned out much differently, to say the least.
Without Clark, Indiana would likely be part of Canada today. Without the 5 northwestern states included in the Union as non-slave states, the history of the Civil War would have been much different.
Clark’s victory at Vincennes is celebrated with memorials in the Vincennes Historic District along the Wabash River.
Murals inside the memorial explain the history of the region.
The park includes a statue of the Italian-born Francis Vigo. Vigo, a former Spanish soldier, played an important role in surveilling the British presence at Vincennes and relaying the information to Clark. Vigo County, Indiana, was named for him.
The historical area also makes a nice place for a riverside park.
I photographed an impressive shade tree I found on the Wabash banks and asked some Indiana Facebook friends what kind of tree it was. A Hoosier replied, “the great big kind.”
Vincennes began as a French settlement, and its French influence can still be seen today. The Old French Cathedral and Cemetary are adjacent to the Clark Memorial in the Vincennes Historic District.
The four-story Vigo County Courthouse here in Vincennes features the French style.
The city of Vincennes has some charming old architecture. Their local-boy-made-good is comedian Red Skelton. His likeness can be found all over downtown Vincennes, on murals and on lampposts.
Having lunch at a sidewalk table on Main Street here feels like being in a canyon. Buildings on either side rise four and five stories using brick construction. The architecture is old, dating from the late 19th century. Although a few buildings are abandoned, most are occupied and thriving.
All photos were taken by the author on June 27, 2017
A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.
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