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James Blair, a soldier of the war of 1812, and Isaac Coleman, who were among the first as well as most distinguished of the early pioneers of this portion of the Wabash, settled three miles south of what is now the village of Eugene in the year 1818. They formed an intimate acquaintance with the Indians, and lived in friendship with them for a number of years. It frequently fell to their lot to act as peace-makers between the Indians and what were termed the “Border Ruffians," who were much the worse class of the two. These old pioneers always spoke in the highest terms of Se-Sepp (Si-Siep), the last Chief, who lived in the vicinity, and who was said to be one hundred and ten years old when he was foully murdered by a renegade Indian of his own tribe.
Like the fading of the autumn leaves, the aborigines of the forest died away. The guns of the white man frightened the game from their hunting grounds, and the virtue of a dire necessity called upon them to emigrate, to make room for the ax and plow, the cabin and the school house of the incoming
Among the first settlers who came to this part of the Wabash before the county of Vermillion was organized, were the Groenendykes, Colemans and Colletts.
John Groenendyke, the father of James and Samuel, and the grandfather of Hon. John Groenendyke, and his cousin Samuef, now living at Eugene, and also the grandfather of the present Colletts, came from near Ovid, Cayuga county, New York, first to Terre Haute in 1818, and to this region in 1819. 'He settled on the Big Vermillion river, where Eugene now stands, and where his son James built a mill subsequently, of very fine
water capacity for that early day, which was esteemed by the new immigrants as one of the most substantial hopes of the settlement. This Groenendyke family is among the oldest in America, having emigrated from Holland to New Amsterdam, and settled among the Knickerbockers in lesa. !!
John was the first generation of this family to strike for Indiana, bringing with him his sons, James and Samuel, who were long known here as enterprising farmers and business men, and who did much to build up the country, and to establish a good order of civil society. These men appeared not to know or think they were making history, and therefore they have, like many others, passed away without having left those more definite records, which the present generation would be proud to have, as the memorable relics of the pioneer age. James Groenendyke died in 1856.
The cabin and forest history of the earliest settlers of the West involves the most interesting records of the State, and yet much of it has gone down into the grave with the pioneer himself. There was no Homer to sing the song of his battles, and no chronicler even to make a note of his toils and sacrifices. His children chiesly remember him, and even they speak of him only in the terms of modesty, lest they excite the envy or criticisms of some pigmy cynic who lives only for himself. It has been said that “he who makes two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, is a benefactor." There is certainly solid philosophy in the declaration, and the deduction should be made that the honorable mention of any of these good old pioneers is history deservedly and well told.
James Amour, who was one of the carly pioneers of Vermillion, and who assisted James Groenendyke in the erection of his
first mill, yet lives. In the simple complacency of a green old age he lives to see the living progress of the third generation, with no regrets of the past, and with no fault to find with the present or future.
William Thompson, the father of James, John and Andrew Thompson, and of Mrs. Col. Jane Shelby, came to the Wabash from Pennsylvania in 1822, and settled at Thompson's Spring, one mile south of Eugene. If we had the full data of these men and families we should be pleased to give them in detail; but we have not, and hence are compelled to stop at only a brief mention. But the numerous broad acres of rich, productive soil, owned by these families, tell, not only of their prosperity, but give good evidence of their industry and frugality, as well as of their early settler good fortunes. The blessings of the fathers have descended upon the sons and daughters to the third generation; and endowed, as they now are, it is to be hoped society will be made better on account of their wealth, and that the nobility of a generous hospitality and true christian charity will never want a namé
among them. John Collett came to Indiana, with his sons Josephus and Stephen, from Huntington county, Pennsylvania, in the year 1818, and to the county of Vermillion in 1825. He was an old man when he came here, for he had served under Washington in the battles of the Revolution of 1776, when he was but eighteen years old, and bore in his mien the soldier's bold spirit, and though advanced in years, he led his sons to this beautiful Eldorado of the West, where he could point them to a promised land of wealth and prosperity, which they could not hope to find in the old Keytsone State.
He began merchandizing first at Clinton, and then at the Little Vermillion Mills, where he rendered himself useful as a citizen and popular as a man.
He served as Agent of the county in selling lots in the town of Newport, the county seat, and entered for himself several choice pieces of land, which have remained in the hands of the family for three generations. He died at Eugene in 1834, aged seventy-two.
Josephus Collett, Sr., was the son of John, and the father of William, who now live back of the village of Eugene, the possessors of some two thousand acres of the rich lands of this county. Josephus, Sr., was one of the marked men in this community. Born in Huntington county, Pennsylvania, in the year 1787, he moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1816, and was appointed Deputy Sheriff of Ross county the same year, and two years afterward was elected to the same office. After having served out the term of his Sheriffalty, he was appointed, in 1820, Deputy United States Surveyor by Gov. Tiffin, then Surveyor General of the Northwestern Territory, and in his capacity as Deputy Surveyor he surveyed a district of country which embraces a large part of the counties of Parke, Vigo, Hendricks, Montgomery and Putnam. In November, 1815, he joined Ohio Lodge, No. 30, A. F. & A. Masons, at Franklinton. At that time there was no Lodge at Columbus, and the Franklinton Lodge was subsequently removed to Columbus and was called Columbus Lodge, No. 30.
In 1825, Mr. Collett removed to Vermillion county, Indiana, where he continued to reside till the time of his death. He died of dropsy at his residence near Eugene, February 21st, 1872, aged 85.
During the early part of his residence in this county, Mr.
Collett was an active participant in the politics of the county and in all matters of general and public interest.
He was a man of sagacity and prudence in the management of his property, hence, though starting out in life with but little, he amassed a fortune of $130,000, the comforts of which he enjoyed in his old age. He used to say that "the young man who won't dig and work himself will never become wealthy ; for it is grubbing for one's self that teaches economy." He simply meant to say that a man should not be ashamed of or shrink from doing whatever his occupation requires to be done.
Stephen S. Collett, Sr., father of John, Stephen S., and Josephus, who all live in this county, was also born in Huntington county, Pennsylvania. He had a family of ten children, eight of whom are still living. He was a pay-master, with the title of Major, in the war of 1812. In his business life he was active and full of enterprise as farmer, merchant and pork packer. He shipped his pork to New Orleans in flat boats down the Wabash. He was the proprietor of the village of Eugene.
He served several terms in the Indiana Senate, representing the counties of Parke, Vermillion and Warren. He had the honor of being one of the nine that, amid jeers and twits, voted against the internal improvement bill of 1836. He died at Indianapolis, while a member of the Senate, in the year 1843
Among the early settlers at Walnut Grove were Zeno Worth and Shuble Gardner, from North Carolina. Mr. Worth selected some good lands which have been held by his family to the fourth generation. One of his daughters—Mrs. Dr. Coffin, who still lives near Walnut Grove-is now one of the old relics."