Wednesday, September 17, 2014

SEPTEMBER 17, 1814

200 years ago today in Washington County, Indiana Territory, Basil Prather was appointed to become the Clerk/Recorder of Washington County by Governor Thomas Posey. The first Clerk/Recorder, Isaac Blackford, had recently been appointed to be the judge of the 1st territorial district by Governor Posey.  As Blackford had also been the principal clerk of the Territorial House of Representatives, he eagerly accepted this appointment leaving a vacancy in the Washington County position.

County records are unclear as to which Basil Prather served in this capacity.  Basil William Prather was born in Maryland in 1742 and died in Clark County, Indiana in 1822.  His son, Basil Robertson Prather, was born in Maryland in 1771 and died in Clark County, Indiana in 1823. Family tradition says the Prather family came from Wiltshire, England to Virginia in the 1600s.  The next few generations of this Prather line lived in Maryland.  Basil William Prather and his wife, Chlorinda Robertson Prather, followed the migration south to North Carolina where he served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Basil William Prather was a devout Methodist and donated land for a church near Harmony, North Carolina. Prather and several of his sons and their families came to Clark County, Indiana in 1801.  With the proceeds of the sale of his substantial holdings in North Carolina, he acquired several hundred acres in Clark County, Indiana and built a substantial home. Basil William Prather continued his support of the Methodist faith and was a founder of the New Chapel Methodist Church which is reputed to be the second Methodist congregation established in the Indiana Territory.

The Prathers had an interest in extending their land holdings in the Indiana Territory.  One of Basil William Prather’s sons, Samuel Prather, registered a claim for the northwest quarter of Section 20, T2N, R4E, which was located on the Royse’s Fork of Blue River where Brock Creek emptied into it.  Samuel Prather sold his claim to William Lindley who then received the US land patent on June 26, 1813.  This was the location of the William Lindley home and mill where the public business of Washington County was conducted until a court house was built.  Another son, Aaron, registered a claim for the northwest quarter of Section 4, T1N, R6E.  This tract was on the South Poplar Branch of the Mutton Fork of  Blue River near to the New Trace Gap in the Knobs.  Aaron Prather sold his claim to William Phelps who received the land title from the US government on December 31, 1819.

The Prather family had political connections through Samuel Gwathmey who was a nephew of George Rogers Clark.  He had served Clark County as member of the Territorial Assembly and was serving as the Registrar of the Federal Land Office in Jeffersonville.   Gwathmey was probably the political connection that obtained the appointment of either Basil William Prather or Basil Robertson Prather as the Clerk/Recorder of Washington County.  One of these Basil Prathers was also the first Postmaster of Salem with a post office being established in 1816.  Whichever Basil Prather was the Clerk/Recorder, he had sufficient political influence to write a letter to Governor Thomas Posey asking that John Coleman be appointed to the Washington Circuit Court as there was a vacancy created when Samuel Lindley declined his reappointment to this three member provisional body. 

The term of Basil Prather as the Clerk/Recorder was one of some controversy.  The 1884 Goodspeed History of Lawrence, Orange and Washington Counties relates the following:

          “At this term of the court, the troubles of the Clark, Basil Prather, began to  thicken.  He had already been indicted for malfeasance in office, and had been acquitted. Now he was indicted for misfeasance, and was on trial, again acquitted. Every day he was becoming more and  more the slave of a pernicious appetite for whiskey, brandy and rum. At a subsequent term  of  the court, he was indicted for nonfeasance in office, but was acquitted on a trial jury. As he had about reached the end of the feasances, he deemed it best to  resign  his  office  of  Circuit
Court Clerk.

The resignation of the Clerk occasioned some inconvenience. No one seemed  to  possess  legal authority to make a pro tem, appointment. Legislative intervention was sought.  Accordingly, the General Assembly passed a  joint  resolution  authorizing  the  Associate  Judges  of  the Washington County Circuit Court to appoint a pro tempore Clerk to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Basil Prather.  This resolution was  approved  by  Governor  Jennings,
December 14, 1820.”

          I’m speculating that as Basil William Prather was a devout Methodist it was probably his son, Basil Robertson Prather, who was the second Clerk/Recorder of Washington  County, Indiana  of questionable feasance.  For similar reasons, I’m speculating that Basil William Prather was Salem’s first postmaster.  

                                           PRATHER HOUSE IN CLARK COUNTY, IN



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