Wednesday, December 24, 2014

DECEMBER 24, 1814

200 years ago today in Washington County, Indiana Territory, legal business was conducted on Christmas Eve.  The Washington Circuit Court met in a special session out of term as there were two prisoners that needed to be afforded the commencement of the legal due process to which they were entitled under the Constitution of the United States.  As there was no jail yet constructed, one can guess that Sheriff William Hoggatt implored the judges into special session so that he did not have to keep the offenders in his personal custody during the Yuletide.  The prisoners were Absalom Morris and Werner Baner.  Their alleged crime was grand larceny.  Specifically, they were accused of hog stealing. The record does not reveal who owned the alleged purloined pork.

As there was no court house ready for use, the sessions of the court had been held at the residence of William and Mary Pitts Lindley on the knoll south of Blue River and the Salem plat.  However, as December was not the regular term of court, Sheriff Hoggatt was unable to use the residence of the Lindleys on short notice for this occasion as they were making domestic use of their home and their saw mill was busy sawing the framing lumber for the new court house that was under construction.  Hoggatt prevailed upon John G. Clendenin for the use of the home he was occupying on North Main Street that had been built on one the lots Zachariah Nixon had purchased from John DePauw on May 27, 1814. Nixon sold the lot to William and Charity Glover on credit for the sum of $38.  The Glovers built a substantial house on this lot even though they did not yet have legal title.  The Glovers then sold the house and lot to Clendenin on credit in late 1814.  The Glovers completed their payment on June 28, 1815.  Clendenin then completed his payment of $105 on December 14, 1815.  Clendenin then sold the property to Nathan Trueblood on February 15, 1816 for $110.  John G. Clendenin then moved to Orange County, Indiana and became a state representative in 1822.

A grand jury of sixteen freeholders was summoned to the Clendenin/Glover/Nixon house to review the evidence to determine if an indictment should be returned. Sheriff Hoggatt brought Morris and Baner before the court. Prosecuting Attorney John Ross presented the bill of indictment to the court.  Judges Lamb and Coleman charged the jury with the case.  The grand jurors called to duty included some of the more prominent settlers of the area.  These jurors were: Absalom Little, foreman; Arthur Parr; Joseph Spurgin; Jacob Garrott; Godlove Kamp; Samuel Lindley; Jeremiah Lamb; Isaac Stolz; John Smiley; Henry Dawalt; Joseph Latta; William Kennedy; Richardson Hensley;  Jesse Stanley; John Boyd and Jacob Mendenhall.

The bailiff who was to manage the grand jury during their deliberations was Tertius Fordice who had been a member of the local militia and was serving as a township constable. He was married to Elizabeth Shipman and was buying out the land claim of his brother, Jarius Fordice.  The Fordice land was the  southwest quarter of Section 27, T2N, R5E, which is now located off of the southwest corner of the SR 160 and Conway Church Road intersection. The Fordice family must have been very familiar with the New Testatment as Tertius Fordice was named after the scribe that wrote down the epistle to the Romans as dictated by Paul.  Jarius Fordice was named after the synagogue leader whose daughter Jesus raised from the dead in the Book of Luke.

It is hard to visualize how this assemblage of no less than twenty four men squeezed themselves into the Clendenin house for this grand jury session.  While the jury was deliberating on whether Absalom Morris and Werner Baner should stand charged with hog stealing, the two judges, sheriff, prosecuting attorney and the two defendants must have stood outside in the cold gathered around a fire with other curious bystanders. The grand jury eventually advised Bailiff Fordice that they had reached a decision. All present were notified and jury foreman Alexander Little announced to the reconvened court that the bill of indictment was not a true bill.  In other words, the grand jury found that there was insufficient evidence to charge Morris and Baner with the hog larceny. Judges Lamb and Coleman immediately order the prisoners released.

The modern clich√© is that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor so desires.  However, this was obviously not the case in Washington County, Indiana Territory in 1814 for this alleged theft of ham on the hoof.  Absalom Morris and Werner Baner received their freedom as their Christmas present but probably did not get to enjoy roast pig for their Christmas dinner.

                                                            ROAST CHRISTMAS PIG

                                           MARTYRDOM OF TERTIUS OF ICONIUM
                                            SOURCE OF TERTIUS FORDICE NAME

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