Vincennes State Historic Site

Location: Vincennes, Indiana

Webpage: Indiana State Park

General Description: Founded in 1732, Vincennes is the oldest town in Indiana beginning as French Fort Vincennes along the Wabash River.  France lost the territory after the French and Indian War to the British rebuilding and renaming the fort as Fort Sackville.  During the American Revolution, George Rogers Clark led a small force of volunteers to capture Fort Sackville in 1779, renaming the fort as Fort Patrick Henry.  In 1800, the US created the Indiana Territory that covers present day states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and part of Minnesota with Vincennes as its capitol.  For many years, Governor William Henry Harrison oversaw the territory from his home and offices in Vincennes.  According to the policies provided in the Northwest Ordinance, the Indiana Territory began the second phase of governance by electing representatives in 1805 from each of the 5 original counties.  Vincennes continued to be the center of government for the territory until the territorial capital was moved to Corydon in 1813 to be more centrally located according to the population.


1) There are a number of units around Vincennes associated with the state historic park.  The largest of these is the collection of five buildings just off the campus of Vincennes University near the home of William Henry Harrison, Grouseland.  There is a tour of these buildings with provides a lot of early Indiana history.  I would strongly recommend taking advantage of the tour guide who was very knowledgeable and interesting.


2) The “Red House” is a small two story building that began as a Tailor Shop.  However, when the territory moved into the second phase of representative government in 1805 it was rented to serve the bicamal legislature.  The upper floor was used by the five man senate and the ground floor by the nine man House of Representatives.


3) The Jefferson Academy tells the story of early public education.  Founded in 1801 by Governor Harrison, it was the first school of higher education in the territory.  Although by today standards it was more of a high school than college. The headmaster of the school was the village priest, Father Jean Francois Rivet, former professor of Latin at the Royal College of Limoges, France.  Tuition was $16 per year, a lot of money in those days, so many families would send a single child to the academy that would then teach their siblings.  In 1806 it became Vincennes University, which is no the oldest college in Indiana.

4) Elihu Stout’s Print Shop represents the power of communication in westward expansion.  In 1804, Governor Harrison hired Elihu Stout to print the laws of the Indiana territory for distribution for $500 a year.  When not working at this task, he began a small paper, the Indiana Gazette thus being the first newspaper in the territory.  Although going through many mergers and owners, the newspaper is still being published.


5) Fort Knox II is the second fort built after the Revolutionary War.  The first Fort Knox was constructed just north of the remains of Fort Patrick Henry in 1787.  With the relative calm between the settlers and Indians from 1787-1803, this fort was the western most fort in the US.  However, the soldiers and citizens of Vincennes did not get along, so the fort was relocated up the Wabash River in 1796 outside of town and the soldiers were ordered not to venture more than 100 yards from the fort.  Captain Zachary Taylor strengthened Fort Knox with a stockade in 1811 and it was from this fort that Governor Harrison his army to march up the Wabash to the Battle of Tippecanoe at Prophetstown on November 7, 1811.


6) Sugar Loaf Mounds are naturally occurring sandy mounds that the Woodland Indians used as a burial mound around AD 900 and travelers heading to Vincennes along the Buffalo Trace from Louisville used it as a landmark.

7) The Old French House is the oldest surviving house in Vincennes, dating from 1809.  Built as a home by French fur trader Michel Brouillet it is an excellent example of a French Creole cottage of the type built by French settlers in the area.