Tuesday, December 9, 2014

DECEMBER 9, 1814

200 years ago today in Washington County, Indiana Territory, John DePauw sold Lot 19 in the plat of Salem to Samuel Gwathmey for $69.  Gwathmey was only the 4th person to buy a lot in Salem as Lot 19 was the 7th lot for which a sale had been closed since April 4, 1814.  Although John DePauw’s sale ledger is not known to presently exist, one must assume that there had been many down payments of 25% made on other lots with final payments pending by this date.  The lot purchased by Gwathmey was located on the east side of South Main Street one block south of the Public Square.  Gwathmey held the lot for almost two years and sold it to Joshua Trueblood for $120 on February 28, 1816. The lot is found today in that part of the display lot of Eddie Gilstrap Motors that lies north of the Main Auto Supply building.

Samuel Gwathmey was part of the early leadership of Clark County, Indiana Territory.  His primary source of influence was probably the fact that he was the nephew of General George Rogers Clark and William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Gwathmey was born in King and Queen County, Virginia in 1779.  His family moved from the Virginia tidewater country to the Falls of the Ohio around 1800.  Gwathmey must have received a good education as he was appointed Clerk of Clark County, Indiana Territory shortly after he moved across the river from Kentucky.  In 1802, he was appointed Clark County Treasurer and helped lay out Jeffersonville.  In 1805, Gwathmey began his single term in the Indiana Territory Legislative Council.  In 1807, he received a federal appointment as the Registrar of the United States Land Office in Jeffersonville.  Samuel Gwathmey held this position until 1829.  Almost all of the early land claim registrations and payments by the early settlers of Washington County, Indiana Territory passed through Gwathmey’s hands.

As the Registrar of the United States Land Office in Jeffersonville, Gwathmey probably gained more specific information about  the land of Southern Indiana than anyone else would have known.  Gwathmey used this information shared with him by pioneer land claimants for his personal economic advantage.  In the 19th century frontier, the use of such “insider” information for personal profit was not considered illegal or unethical.  While serving in his federal capacity, Gwathmey had a stake in no less than twenty six (26) land claims in Indiana. Eleven of these were outright purchases of land claims that he registered for himself. Ten of these were claims that he registered for himself and then sold to others for final purchase.  Five of his land transactions arose from his buyout of claims that others had originally registered in his office.  Through these “self help” land claims and patents, Gwathmey had land interests in eleven different Indiana counties.

Gwathmey’s land investments in Washington County, Indiana included  six different dealings in U. S. government lands.  Two of these were purchased land patents.  The first one was obtained on July 12, 1819 for the northwest quarter of Section 32, T2N, R4E.  This land is located today along Hoggatt Branch west of SR 135 just downstream from Lake Salinda.  The second one was deeded to Gwathmey on December 31, 1819 for the southeast quarter of Section 5, T1N, R5E.   This tract is located now in Polk Township where Motsinger Road intersects with Olive Branch Road. Gwathmey also filed land claims for four tracts in Washington County that he sold to third parties.  The first of these was an assignment of the northwest quarter of  Section 23, T1N,R4E, which John Wilson acquired on November 1, 1818.  This 160 acres in now located in Pierce Township on the ridge overlooking the bottoms of  Mutton Fork of Blue River at the northwest corner of the intersection of Martinsburg Road and Short’s Corner Road.  The second land assignment by Gwathmey was the northeast quarter of Section 34, T2N, R4E, which was purchased by Frederick Whitmore on November 25, 1819.  This area is now in Washington Township on the ridge between Hoggatt Branch and the Middle Fork of Blue River just west of  SR 60.  The third claim flipped by Gwathmey in Washington County was located in the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 13, T3N, R5E.  David Sayre bought this claim from Gwathmey and received his deed on October 22, 1828.  This 80 acre tract is now in Gibson Township where Mill Road meets Scifres Road about a mile west of Little York.
The fourth claim assigned by Gwathmey in Washington County was in the northeast quarter of Section 15, T3N, R5E, which was deeded to Henry Fulton on August 30, 1841.  This land is today located in Elk Creek Valley in Gibson Township on the east side of Pumpkin Center Road where Pulltight Road ends.

Land speculation by U. S. government officials was not unique to Samuel Gwathmey.  Three of  the land claims bought out by Gwathmey in Floyd County, Indiana were purchased on November 12, 1813 from Josiah Meigs who was the United States Surveyor General.  In a few months, Josiah Meigs became the boss of Samuel Gwathmey when he became the Commissioner of the General Land Office.

                                            WILLIAM CLARK PORTRAIT
                                          BY CHARLES WILSON PEALE
                                       UNCLE OF SAMUEL GWATHMEY

                                           GRAVE MONUMENT OF SAMUEL GWATHMEY

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