December 11, 1816 – Indiana Joins the Union as the 19th State

In Walter A. McDougall’s delightful book, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History 1585-1828, the author interrupts his narrative at appropriate chronological moments to feature sidebars on each new state as it enters the Union. (He continues this practice in his second volume, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877). Thus in the chapter on “Engineers, Pioneers, Peddlers, and Democrats” there is a section set aside for Indiana.

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Indiana, McDougall writes, named generically after the Indians originally occupying the territory, became the smallest state west of the Alleghenies. It also became (and has remained) the most “southern” of midwestern states, originally populated mostly by Kentucks and Virginians.

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McDougall describes various religious emissaries that arrived in the new state to set up schools and ministries. A Jesuit missionary, Benjamin Marie Petit, was ordained a priest at Vincennes, Indiana and served in a mission to the Potawatomi Indians near the south bend of the St. Joseph River. When the Potawatomi were forcibly removed to the west, the priest went with them, but died en route at age 28. The body of “Father Black Robe” was shipped back to the site of his old mission in 1856, which has been known, since 1842, as the University of Notre Dame.

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