A state archivist packed a whole lot of information about the days and months surrounding the formation of Indiana in 1816 as a state into a brief 20-minute program Saturday near Vallonia.
The purpose of that program was to commemorate the actions of 43 men, including Vallonia’s own William Graham, who gathered June 10, 1816, at Corydon to consider a vote for statehood and put a constitution in place if that vote was successful.
The population of Indiana at the time was about 63,000 people, 3,000 more than was required for statehood, said Valerie Michael, who led the commemorative service for Graham outside Driftwood Christian Church. Graham is buried across from the county’s oldest church in the church cemetery on the east side of State Road 135.
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The constitutional meeting was planned shortly after Congress passed legislation allowing statehood in April, said Michael, deputy director of the Indiana Archives and Records Administration.
The state’s residents had just a few weeks to elect delegates before the June 10, 1816, convention, she said.
Since some of the delegates had to travel quite a distance to Corydon, the statehood vote occurred on the second day of the convention to allow everyone time to get there, Michael said.
“There were eight dissenters,” she said of the vote. “They wanted Indiana to remain a territory. The reason was pretty typical in Hoosier fashion. It was about taxation. The eight were worried Indiana didn’t have the resources to sustain being a state.”
It took about three weeks to finalize everything, and the convention adjourned June 29, 1816, she said.
Indiana was the first state to have a clause in its constitution establishing free education for all, Michael said.
“ … and they banished slavery and involuntary servitude,” she said.
In those days, residents of a territory seeking statehood usually had to ratify a constitution before doing so, but Indiana’s was never ratified by it citizens, she said.
“It was sent to Washington, D.C., where it was approved,” Michael said.
Indiana became the 19th state Dec. 11, 1816.
A new constitution was written and adopted in 1851, Michael said.
Graham was born March 16, 1782, on a boat as his parents emigrated to America from Ireland. The family first settled in Pennsylvania before moving to Harrodsburg in Mercer County, Kentucky. In 1811, they moved to what was then Washington County but later became Jackson County.
“A lot of Indiana’s delegates originally came from Kentucky,” she said.
Graham was a farmer, a politician and originally a territorial delegate. He also served on a committee to establish a territorial capital.
“He wanted Vallonia to be the capital, but he lost,” she said. “They chose Corydon.”
That was in 1813.
Graham also was one of three school trustees who established the public schools in Jackson County.
Saturday’s ceremony included a flag ceremony conducted by members of Boy Scout Troop 510 of Brownstown.
Senior Patrol Leader Devon Harmon said it was an honor the troop was selected to help with the ceremony to remember Graham’s contributions to the state’s founding.
“It’s important to make sure we know about our roots and remember them,” Harmon said.
He said he had heard of Graham but didn’t know a lot about of him before the troop was selected to participate in the ceremony.
The program wrapped with Michael laying flowers on Graham’s grave.
Empson Peters, a lifelong Driftwood Christian Church member, said he was excited about the ceremony.
“I just like history,” the 87-year-old said. “I was born and raised right here.”
Peters said through the years, Graham’s name and links to the church were brought up at various times. One of those times was in the late 1990s when a historical marker was erected in the cemetery. The sign talks about the church and the role Graham and his family played in its founding.
Graham’s family donated the original half-acre of land for the church, and he served as a trustee there.
Peters said there’s a lot of history in Jackson County.
“These young people don’t like history, but we’ll force it on them,” he said.
State archivist Jim Corridan has spent the better part of the past 2½ years researching Graham and the other 42 “founding fathers.” That includes trying to locate some of their burial places, Michael said after the program.
Five of the 38 aren’t buried in Indiana, but similar ceremonies are planned for those that are buried here.
After serving on the Constitutional Convention in June 1816, Graham didn’t quit public service.
He served in the first legislature as a state representative from 1816 to 1821. He was speaker of the House in 1820-21 and a member of the state Senate from 1821 to 1833, according to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
A member of the Whig Party, Graham served one term as a U.S. Congressman from 1837 to 1839. He lost a bid for re-election in 1838 and returned to farming.
Graham died Aug. 17, 1858.
Only two other delegates outlived Graham, Michael said.
“He was pretty young when he was a delegate,” she said.
The IARA events honoring the state’s founders, which will continue until June 29, are an officially endorsed bicentennial Legacy Project of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
The Indiana Archives and Records Administration collects and maintains records of historical value from all branches of Indiana state and local government.
For information, visit in.gov/iara/3162.htm.