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By Dr. Ernest V. Shockley
North Vernon Plain Dealer - September 29, 1921

    The first legislature which met after Indiana was admitted to the Union (congressional act of December 12, 1916.) provided for the organization of four counties: Pike, Davies, Jennings and Sullivan. Jennings County being started off on December 27. The act defining its boundaries stipulated that three men known as "locating commissioners" should select a site for the county seat and that they should hold their first meeting on February 1, 1817, at which time they were to make the final announcement of their choice of a site for the "county town" as it was usually called in the early days. On this day they were to set the wheels of the county government into motion appoint certain officers and provide for the election of others.
    It appears that the commissioners did not meet until March and when they did meet they had two sites under consideration for the county seat one about half a mile southwest of the present town of Vernon and the other the present site. Whatever the inducement may have been commissioners declared in favor of the first mentioned location, but John Vawter, the first settler of the county was not satisfied with their and prevailed upon them to rescind their action. It is recorded that on April 1, 1817, Vawter and David McClure made a counter poposition to the locating commissioners which resulted in the selection which has now borne the name of Vernon for more than a hundred years.
    Vawter and McClure proposed to give the county a tract of land on which they were to erect the public buildings and in addition another tract which could be sold, the process of the sale devoted exclusively to the erection to the buildings. To these two separate tracts was added another gift of two acres for a cemetery and three lots of one acre each for churches or school houses. Another proposal of theirs was to the effect that the eastern part of the town as then laid out should be 'forever' open and common to the citizens of the town and county. It is not on record when this part of the offer was abbrogated. As a final aid to the commissioners, a very convincing argument for the selection of their site, Vawter and McClure obligated themselves to pay $400 in cash. And so Vernon became the county seat.
    No one raised any objections to Vernon as the county seat for many years and it was not until the rail road was built through the county in the fifties that an agitation was begun for the removal of the county seat north, to the railroad. However, more than half a century was to pass after the first railroad went through the county before definite steps were taken to change the county seat to its railroad rival, North Vernon. The latter city and its friends prevailed upon the legislature to pass an act (March 1913) which provided for an election to determine whether the county seat should be moved from Vernon to North Vernon. The change was to be made if sixty percent of the voters were in favor of the proposed relocation. The election was held on September 22, 1913, and Vernon retained the county seat by the slender majority of twenty, the vote standing 2217 for relocation and 1512. [Math here has some issues. Shockley, Ernest V. "COUNTY SEATS AND COUNTY SEAT WARS IN INDIANA." Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 10, no. 1, 1914, pp. 1-46. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Dec. 2020. ]
Judiciary of Jennings County
    Indiana has had two constitutions, the one of 1816 being replaced by the present constitution in 1851. Under the first constitution there was a peculiar judicial system. Each judicial district, and when Jennings County started its official career there were only three, had what was known as a President Judge" elected for a period of seven years. Each county however, had two "Associate Judges" likewise with a seven year tenure. Furthermore each county had a probate and a prosecuting attorney. First court met at Vernon in April 1817, in a log court house. It will be interesting to note the men of Jennings County who have presided over its judiciary during the past century. The following lists of officials have been compiled in part from the Jennings county record and in part from the records from the State House at Indianapolis.
Associate Judges
William Prather - February 24, 1817
Chapman Denslow - February 24, 1817 vice Denslow, resigned
Jonathan Barrett - May 27, 1819 vice Denslow, resigned
Chapman Denslow - Aug. 20, 1823; resigned 1829
John Winchell - Aug. 20, 1823; removed from county June 1825
Joseph Cowell - Aug. 25, 1825 vice Winchell
Ranson Perry - Aug. 22, 1829; vice Denslow, resigned
Samuel Finnacle - Sept. 8, 1830; resigned July 1834
Ezra F. Pabody - Sept 8, 1830; resigned June 1834
Richard Stott - Aug. 23, 1834; vice Finnacle, resigned
Daniel M. Hill - Aug. 8. 1835; vice Pabody resigned
Robert Elliott - Aug. 12, 1837
John T. Johnson - Aug. 12, 1837; removed from county 1843
Jesse Whitcomb - Dec. 18, 1843
Samuel Read - Aug. 17, 1844
Riley Foster - Aug. 18, 1851; served until Oct. 12, 1852
Phanuel Davis - Aug. 1851; served until Oct. 12, 1852
Probate Judges
Chapman Denslow - Aug. 22, 1829, died Aug 1834
Alanson Andrews - Sept. 3, 1834; appointed vice Denslow, deceased
Achilles Vawter - Aug. 8, 1835
Ezra F. Pabody - Aug. 12, 1842 served until Oct. 12, 1852
President Judges
John Test, February 1, 1817 - Third judicial circuit.
Alexander A. Meek, Jan. 2, 1819; resigned Feb. 2 1819
John Watts, Feb. 2 1819 - appointed vice Meek resigned
Miles C. Eggleston, Jan 20, 1821; The legislative act of Dec. 31.
Wm. W. Wick, Feb. 7, 1822; the legislative act of Jan. 14, 1824, placed Jennings in the Second circuit.
John F. Ross, Jan. 14, 1824, the act of Jan. 30, 1830, put Jennings back in the Third circuit.
Miles C. Eggleston, Jan. 20, 1830;
Courtland Cushing, Dec. 20, 1844; resigned Aug. 9, 1850
Alexander C. Downey, Aug. 9, 1850; served until Oct. 12, 1850.
Circuit Judges
Alexander C. Downey, Oct. 13, 1852; resigned Aug. 1, 1858. First Circuit
John W. Spencer, Aug. 9, 1858
John G. Berkshire, Oct 25, 1864; the act of March 6, 1873 placed Jennings in the sixth circuit.
Jeptha D. New, Nov. 20, 1882
Thomas C. Batchelor, Nov. 20, 1888
Willard New, Nov. 20, 1894
Francis M. Thompson, Nov. 20, 1906; the act of March 4, 1911 put Jennings in the Sixth circuit with Ripley and Scott where is has since remained.
Robert A. Creigmile, Nov. 20, 1912
John R. Carney, 1918
Common Pleas Judges
    It is not generally known that Indiana had a complete set of common pleas judges for the state from 1852 to 1873. There had been such courts under the old Northwest Territory (act of June 6, 1795) and they continued in operation until the adoption of the constitution of 1816 and the admission of the state to the Union. Under the 1816 constitution two counties, Tippecanoe and Marion had common pleas courts, but the the act of May 14, 1852, abolished thhe old probate courts and these special common pleas caours throughout the state. They took over all the business formerly handled by the probate courts and also assumed some causes which had hitherto been under the jurisdiction of the circuit court. They continued in full operation until abolished by the act of Mrsh 6, 1873, when all cases pending were transferred to the circuit court. The judges of the common pleas court in the circuit to which Jennings was attached were as follows:
Ezra Pabody 1852-1856
Jeremiah Bundy 1856-1860
Ralph Applewhite 1860; resigned April 28, 1862
Simon Stansifer April 28, 1862, appointed
Beattie McClellan 1862-1864
Jeptha D. New 1864-1868
Frank Emerson 1868-1878
District Prosecuting Attorneys
    The Common pleas courts had a special prosecutor and some of the best lawyers of Jennings County served as prosecutor of this court. The complete list of these special prosecutors during the life of the court were as follows.
Jeremiah Bundy 1852-1856
Alexander W. Lattimore 1856-1858
Solon Russell Mar. 16, 1859
Jas. H. Myers Jan. 29, 1859, appointed
Solon Russell Mar. 16, 1859, appointed
Lycurgus Irwin 1860-62, resigned
Jeremiah Bundy Jan. 1862, appointed
Jeptha D. New 1862-1864
Eilliam L. Bane 1864-1865, resigned
John M. Kerr 1865-1866
Marion Mooney 1865-1866
Newton Crooke 1866-1870
Wilson S. Swengle 1870-1872
George W. Cooper 1872-1873
Prosecuting Attorneys
John Kingsbury, Aug 9, 1824
Milton Stapp, Aug. 14, 1826
John Kingsbury, Dec. 30, 1826
John H. Thompson, Dec. 30, 1828
Jas. F. D. Lanier, Jan. 25, 1830
John M. Johnson, Jan. 25, 1832, resigned
John Test, Feb. 21, 1833, appointed
Courtland Cushing, Dec. 4, 1833
John Dumont, Dec. 11, 1837
George Robinson, Dec. 15, 1841, died in office
John Dumont, May 18, 1842, appointed
Jas. Y. Allison. Aug. 16, 1851
Robert P. More, Oct. 12, 1852, resigned
Daniel Kelso, Nov. 7, 1854
Francis Adkinson, Nov. 7, 1856
George W. Richardson, Nov. 7, 1858
Jas. M. Myers, Nov. 7, 1862, resigned
Benjamin F. Lewis, June 16, 1862, appointed
John A. Miller, Nov. 1, 1865
John Denton, Nov. 3, 1868
John O. Cravens, Nov. 3, 1872
Wm. G. Holland, Nov. 3, 1878
Lincoln Dixon, Nov. 15, 1884
Joseph H. Shea, Nov. 15, 1892
Francis M. Thompson, Nov. 15, 1894
Marcus R. Connelley, Nov. 15, 1896
Samuel B. Wells, Jan. 1, 1901
Louis A. Lee, Jan. 1, 1905
John W. Davis, Jan. 1907
Joseph W. Verbarg, Jan. 1, 1909
Chas Royce, 1919

From - The Judicial Structure in Indiana: Territorial Period 1800 - 1816

    Types of courts: Under the new law, the General or Supreme Court was the highest territorial court. Three judges presided over this court which was held twice annually in March and September. The judges heard appeals, issued writs, and constituted the court of last resort. This court had jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases for the territory.

    The Circuit Court was the mid-level court for the territory and its counties. One or more of the three Territorial Judges met annually in October in each county, and more often, if necessary, for jail deliveries. This court heard appeals, pleas, and probate cases. Its jurisdiction was over civil and criminal cases for each county.

    The Quarter Sessions, or Quarter Sessions of the Peace, were the highest county/local courts. This court had three justices who met four times annually in February, May, August, and November, also holding special sessions when necessary. The jurisdiction was over criminal cases for the county.

    The Common Pleas were of an equivalent stature with the Quarter Sessions. The same three justices met four times annually in February, May, August, and November. The jurisdiction here was over civil cases for the county.

    Justices or Justice of the Peace or Township courts had county or local jurisdiction. In such courts, one justice held sessions only when necessary. The jurisdiction was over civil cases for any debt under $5.00.

    Orphan's courts were also locally based. The three Quarter Sessions/Common Pleas justices presided. This court also met only when necessary and its jurisdiction was over civil cases.

    Coroner's courts too were local. A Coroner and jury met only when necessary. The jurisdiction was over civil cases involving death, the purpose being to determine how and/or where a death occurred.

    Probate courts were county and local. A Probate Judge for each county held court four times annually in February, May, August, and November, and more often if necessary. The jurisdiction was over civil cases concerning last wills and testaments. The judge would either witness the documents or make some determination on property.

    Chancery courts were also local. A Chancery Judge for each county held court twice annually in February and August. The jurisdiction was over civil cases.

    On August 24, 1805, the first Territorial legislature enacted a general consolidation of the county courts. The Circuit and Supreme courts remained the same, but the Quarter Sessions, Common Pleas, Probate, and Orphan's courts were consolidated into one county court under the historic name of Common Pleas. Endless litigation necessitated this change, and it was hoped that the improved court system could keep pace with the work. To replace the score or so of justices in each county, the governor appointed three judges only. These judges were required to hold court six times annually instead of four.

    The Act of February 7, 1814, reorganized the Courts of Justice for the Territory into three districts with a circuit court established in each. The courts consisted of one of the Territorial Judges, as president, and three associates to have jurisdiction in all cases, at law and equity; these common law courts now had chancery powers. This change, as in 1805, was prompted by the continual dissatisfaction throughout the territory over the courts' inability to keep pace with the constant litigation. The First Circuit was comprised of the counties of Knox, Gibson, and Warrick, from which Posey County would later be organized.

From - The Judicial Structure in Indiana: After Statehood 1816 - 1851

    Indiana Court District, 1822, Indiana Court Districts, 1822

    Indiana became a state on December 11, 1816, with Thomas Posey the first governor. He had been appointed to the territory's highest position in 1813, and remained in place until the election of Jonathan Jennings. Isaac Blackford was the Presiding Judge of the First Circuit Court, with Thomas E. Casselberry, Dann Lynn, and John Graddy as Associate Judges.

    Soon after statehood, a law of January 28, 1818, re-circuited the State, adding the Fourth Circuit. As a result of this restructuring the Fourth Circuit was composed of Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh, Warrick, Spencer, Perry, and Pike counties.

    Re-circuiting continued until 1851 when there were thirteen circuits covering eighty-one counties. The Fifth Circuit was added in 1824; the Sixth and Seventh in 1830; the Eighth in 1833; the Ninth in 1836; the Tenth and Eleventh in 1839; the Twelfth in 1841; and the Thirteenth in 1847.

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