Indiana - History and Heritage

The first Europeans in Indiana were French fur traders, who arrived in the late 1600s. Indiana was part of the territory France ceded to England after the French and Indian War, in 1763. It became a part of the United States’ Northwest Territory after the American Revolution, and the first official U.S. settlement, Clarkville, was established in 1784.

In the 1800s, increasing numbers of U.S. settlers forced Native Americans off their land, leading to a final confrontation, the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. There, the governor of Indiana Territory, General William Henry Harrison, defeated an Indian coalition led by two Shawnee brothers, known as Tecumseh and The Prophet. Harrison, who earned the nickname "Old Tippecanoe" after this victory, went on to become the ninth president of the United States (though he died a month after his inauguration). Today, Tippecanoe Battlefield, just north of Lafayette, is a National Historic Landmark with a museum and nature center.

After the defeat at Tippecanoe, most Native Americans were forced out of the territory, as more and more whites moved in. Indiana was admitted to the Union as the 19th state in 1816.

In the mid-19th century, many escaped slaves passed through Indiana on the way to freedom in the Northern U.S. or Canada. Abolitionists Levi and Catharine Coffin ran the Underground Railroad’s "Grand Central Station" out of their 1839 home near Richmond, helping more than 2000 slaves elude search parties and bounty hunters. Tours of the Coffin House, now a National Historic Landmark, reveal hiding places and secret rooms.

In the decades after the Civil War, Indiana became increasingly industrialized, a center for steel manufacturing and coal and iron mining. The steel town Gary was founded in 1906, and soon the auto industry grew in South Bend. Today, Indiana is best known in the rest of the country as the location for the Indianapolis 500, a car race that takes place in the state’s capital (and largest city) every Memorial Day.

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