Organizing Newton County Indiana

To to the northern part of the state of Indiana was unorganized territory. The legislature of the state, meeting the latter part of that year, passed an act for the organization of fourteen new counties. Included in this number were the counties of Newton and Jasper. The boundaries of Jasper county were defined as follows:

Beginning at the southeast corner of section town 24, range 6, west; thence west to the state line; thence north thirty miles; thence east on the line dividing towns 28 and 2g, to the northeast corner of section 4, town 28, range 6, west; thence south thirty miles to the place of beginning.

This embraced all of what is now Benton county, twelve miles off of the south side of the present Newton county, and also a portion of the territory of the present county of Jasper. The county of Newton was described as follows :

Beginning at the southeast corner of township 2Q, range west; thence west to the state line; thence north thirty miles; thence east on the line dividing towns and the northeast corner of town range west; thence south thirty miles, to the place of beginning.

This embraced all the present counties of Newton and Jasper lying north of the line dividing towns 28 and 29, and also a portion of the territory now included in the counties of Lake and Porter.

In 1836 Porter county was organized, and Lake county in 1837, taking from Newton county all the territory north of the Kankakee river. In 1840 the present county of Benton was organized. A year or two prior to that time Jasper county had been reorganized, and the remaining portion of Newton county becoming by that act a part of Jasper county, the original county of Newton passed out of existence, and remained so for a little more than twenty years.

In 1857 it became known that an effort was being made by parties owning large tracts of land in the north part of the county to form a new county out of the north part of Jasper county, with the county seat to be located on the Kankakee river. It became evident to the citizens of the western portion of the county that if they allowed the scheme to be carried out, their prospects for a new county would be forever hopeless, as there is a constitutional provision prohibiting the formation of a new county of a less area than four hundred square miles, or reducing any old county to a less area; and although the western half of Jasper county was hardly ready to assume the responsibilities of a separate county government, the residents believed that if they waited too long the north and south partition would be made and all of what is now Newton county would continue to be relatively outlying territory, so far as the seats of government were concerned.

A meeting of the citizens of Jasper county living west of the line dividing ranges 7 and 8 was called at the town of Morocco, at which time it was resolved to proceed at once to circulate a petition to the commissioners of Jasper county, asking them to set off a new county, to be known as Beaver. Afterward, but at the same meeting, on motion of Thomas R. Barker, the name was changed to Newton, carrying down to history the friendship of Jasper and Newton, as related by Weams in his “Life of General Marion.”

The petition was signed by nearly every voter in the west half of Jasper, and at the September term, 1857, was presented to the commissioners for their action. Naturally, the petition was opposed by the citizens of the other part of the county and, after about two days of skirmishing, the petition was dismissed on the ground that some of the names had been attached to the petition before the law authorizing a division had taken effect. The petition was rejected on Tuesday afternoon. That same night a meeting was held at the school house in Morocco. Copies of the petition were hastily prepared and each one, as soon as ready, was delivered to a horseman who was to ride all night, covering his assigned part of the territory and collecting signatures. The work of circulating the petitions was continued next day and the horsemen met by appointment next night at what was known as the Salem school house, which stood a half-mile east of the present station of Julian. Within twenty-four hours, these energetic workers had canvassed the whole territory and brought in a petition representing an overwhelming majority of all the citizens.

On Thursday we went to Rensselaer to present the new petition. The commissioners had adjourned the evening before, to meet the next morning at nine o’clock, but by some means they got wind of what was coming and two of the commissioners failed to return until after the court was adjourned by legal limitation. John Lyons, one of the commissioners, remained there all the balance of the week. It is but justice to one of the commissioners, Samuel Sparling, to say that I went out to his home during the day and found him confined to his bed by illness. The other commissioner was reported to have received word that his wife had been taken sick and needed his attention.

At the December term, 1857, certain parties offered a counter-petition, striking off the territory along the Kankakee river, intending to hold that as a preventive against any action in favor of striking off the new county of Newton.

On the first day of the term all parties were on hand, the county of Newton being represented by Silas Johnson, John Andrews, Zechariah Spider, John Ade and several others. The opposition was led by Robert Milroy and L. A. Cole. After a short time spent in consultation, the case was continued until Thursday. After a conference, the friends of Newton county determined, as the best line of procedure, to go into the territory asking to be set off as a new county along the Kankakee river and, if possible, secure signatures to a remonstrance against such action. This was so far successful that quite a majority of all the voters residing in that territory signed the remonstrance. After considerable argument for and against the petition, the remonstrance was presented, and with but little further discussion the petition was dismissed. Thereupon the petition for Newton county was presented December 7, 1857. After some time spent in hearing the argument for and against said petition, the prayer of the petitioners was granted. Zechariah Spider, John Darroch and David Creek were appointed a committee to lay out and establish the boundaries of the proposed new county.

An appeal was taken to the circuit court, which overruled the decision of the commissioners and granted an injunction restraining them from entering the report of the committee appointed to establish the boundaries of said Newton county upon their records.

An appeal was thereupon taken to the supreme court by the defeated parties. The matter rested there until November, 1859, when the supreme court reversed the ruling of the lower court. On December 8, 1859, the commissioners of Jasper county made the final order on their records, defining the boundaries of the new county of Newton.

The first public recognition of the existence of Newton county took place at the February term of the Jasper county circuit court. I had been selected to act as a juror at this term of the court, and, on the morning of the second day of the term, I was present with other jurors. We were told to stand up and be sworn. I then stated to the court. Judge Charles H. Test, that before taking the oath I wanted to make the statement that I did not think I was qualified to act as a juror. The judge asked my reason for making the statement, and I replied I did not think I was a resident of Jasper county. The judge then inquired where I lived, and I told him I lived in Morocco. He replied:

“Is that not a part of Jasper county?”

I said to him, “I think not.”

He then asked me to give my reasons for making such a statement. I said, “It is my understanding that the supreme court has rendered its decision by which the western part of Jasper county, in which the town of Morocco is situated, has been stricken off from Jasper county, thus forming a new county.”

The judge then asked the clerk if there was any such decision on file in his office and if so to go and get it, which the clerk did. After a little time spent by the judge in reading the decision of the supreme court, he said: “Mr. Ade, you may stand aside. And if there are any other jurors from the part of J asper county which has been stricken off, they also may consider themselves discharged.”

In March, 1860, Thomas R. Barker was appointed by Governor Willard as organizing sheriff for the new county, and as such organizing sheriff he issued a call for the election of officers for the new county. In accordance with said call, about the 10th of April, 1860, the following persons were declared duly elected to the several offices, as follows :

Zechariah Spider, clerk; Alexander Sharp, auditor; Samuel McCullough, treasurer; John Ade, recorder; Adam Shideler, surveyor; Elijah Shriver, sheriff; William Russell, Michael Coffelt and Thomas R. Barker, commissioners.

On April 21, 1860, the officers elected to the several offices in Newton county met in the town of Kent, which had been selected as the county seat by the three commissioners appointed by Governor Ashbel P. Willard for that purpose. These commissioners were Livingston Dunlap, Joseph Allen and Samuel H. Owen. After performing the duties assigned them, they made their report to the governor on March 15, 1860.

On April 21, 1860, the formal proceedings were as follows :

Thomas R. Barker, organizing sheriff, then and there administered the oath of office to William Russell and Michael Coffelt, as commissioners of said county. The said Thomas R. Barker then declared the board of commissioners duly qualified to act as commissioners of said county, and called them together for the purpose of doing such business as might be brought before them. The said board, being now in session, approved the bond of Zechariah Spider as clerk of the circuit court in and for said county. Thomas R. Barker, as organizing sheriff, then administered the oath of office to Zechariah Spider and declared the office of clerk of the circuit court duly established.

The commissioners then approved the bond of Alexander Sharp, as auditor of said county, who received the oath of office by the clerk of the circuit court. The said office of auditor was then declared by said sheriff to be duly established.

The commissioners then approved the bond of Samuel McCullough as treasurer of said county; also of John Ade as recorder of said county; also of Adam W. Shideler as surveyor of said county; also of Elijah Shriver as sheriff of said county. The clerk of the circuit court then administered the oath to said Samuel McCullough, John Ade, Adam W. Shideler and Elijah Shriver. The said Thomas R. Barker then declared that the said officers being duly qualified, the said offices were duly established for said county of Newton.

Thomas R. Barker, having resigned the office of organizing sheriff and his successor having qualified, then took the oath of office as a commissioner of said Newton county.

The commissioners then adjourned to meet the following Monday morning at their first regular term, at which time the routine business of the county was taken up.

Source: Ade, John. Newton County: a collection of historical facts and personal recollections concerning Newton County, Indiana, from 1853 to 1911. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., c1911.

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