Organized from the Indiana Territory, the state of Indiana became the 19th member of the United States on December 11, 1816. The name "Indiana" had been first applied to this region in 1800 when Congress divided the territory northwest of the Ohio River, commonly known as the Northwest Territory, into two parts. The western part received the name Indiana Territory, a Latinized version of the term "Indian Territory," while the more settled eastern part that eventually became the state of Ohio continued to be called the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio. The use of the name Indiana for the territory may have received some impetus from the prior existence of a land development association called the Indiana Company. Before and after the American Revolution this group of speculators sold land acquired from the Indians along the Ohio River between the southern boundary of Pennsylvania and the Little Kanawha River, but the Commonwealth of Virginia refused to recognize the validity of the company’s land titles. A lengthy lawsuit between the Indiana Company and Virginia resulted in 1798 of the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution; thus, the name Indiana was well known in 1800.

Indiana has had three capitals: Indianapolis has served as the State capital since 1825; Corydon, the first State capital, was the capital from 1813 to 1825; and Vincennes was the capital of the Indiana Territory from 1800 to 1813. The Indiana legislature met in 1820 to choose a name for what was to be the capital of the newly admitted State. After discarding several suggestions, among them Tecumseh and Suwarrow, the legislators agreed on the name Indianapolis, which was formed from the name of the State and the Greek word for city, "polis." William Henry Harrison, first governor of the Indiana Territory, later "Old Tippecanoe" and the ninth President, gave the name Corydon the town laid out in 1808 by R.M. Heth. Although the name Corydon originated with the Roman poet Virgil in his "Ecologues," Harrison may have known it from a popular song of the time, "Pastoral Elegy." The oldest town in Indiana, Vincennes took its name from Francois Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, who built a fortified trading post there about 1732 and who was captured and burned at the stake by Indians in 1736. In its early years the settlement was known by a variety of names, such as Au Poste, Post Vincennes, Poste Ouabache, Post Saint Francis Xavier, and Post Saint Ange.

Indiana’s oldest place names come from native American sources and allude to the land’s unwritten past. Hoosier streams and lakes are much more likely to carry names of Indian origin than the towns and counties named by settlers who often had anti-Indian sentiments. The name Wabash River stems from the Miami Indian name for the Stream. Wa-ba-shi-ki or Wa-pa-shi-ki, which may mean bright white or gleaming white, referring to a limestone bed in the upper reaches of the stream. Early French explorers usually wrote the name of the river "Ouabache." Apparently, the name of the Kankakee River is a corruption of the Potawatomi Indian word Tian-kakeek, meaning low land or swamp country. The mane appeared in French as Qui-que-que and Quin-qui-qui. Another explanation of the origin of the name holds that the earliest know form of Kankakee was Theakiki, meaning wold-land because the area was the home of Mohicans whose name means wolf.

The recorded history of Indiana begins with French Jesuits and trappers in the 17th century. Moving westward from the Saint Lawrence valley, the French hoped to establish a profitable fur trade and to convert the Indians to Christianity. Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was the first European to explore the land that is now Indiana. He and his party reached the south bend of the Saint Joseph River (now the city of South Bend) in 1679 and portaged to the Kankakee River on their journey from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. The Wabash-Maumee River route, which used a portage near the present location of Fort Wayne, was the shortest route between Lake Erie and the Mississippi River and became a primary artery for French influence and trade. To protect their trading interests against English competition and English competition and English settlers, the French built several forts along this route in the early 18th century: Fort Miami (now Fort Wayne), Fort Ouiatenon or Ouiatanon (near Lafayette) and Fort Vincennes (Vincennes). Fort Miami and Fort Ouiatenon took their names from the Indian tribes that lived in the vicinity of each site. Long the headquarters of the Miami Indians, the site of modern Fort Wayne was Known at different times as Kekionga, Kiskakon, Omee Town, Twightee Village, Frenchtown, or Miami Town. The name Fort Wayne honors General Anthony Wayne who defeated the Miami Indian Confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The city of Lafayette was so named in 1824 by its founder, William Digby, for the Marquis de Lafayette.

After losing the Seven Years War, known in North America as the French and Indian War, France Ceded Canada and the eastern half of the Mississippi valley to Great Britain in 1763. Under British rule the name Charlotiana was proposed for a future colony to be established between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, but this plan was never realized. Great Britain governed the area as part of Quebec Province until George Rogers Clark won it for the American cause in 1779 during the Revolutionary War. After independence was secured, several States laid claim to the land west of the Appalachians and north of the Ohio River, but in 1784 these disputed lands became public domain. The adoption of the Ordinance of 1787 established the Northwest Territory, which initially included all lands northwest of the Ohio River. When Congress reorganized the Northwest Territory in 1800, the western part became the Indiana Territory and included what is now Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and part of Minnesota. The formation of the Michigan Territory in 1805 and the Illinois Territory in 1809 left the Indiana Territory with essentially the same boundaries as Indiana now has.

Jon C. Campbell. "Indiana." The National gazetteer of the United States of America--Indiana, 1988. [Reston, Va.?] U.S. Geological Survey, 1988.


Baker, R.L., and Carmony, Marvin, 1975, Indiana Place Names : Bloomington, Ind., Indiana University Press, 196 p.

Escarey, Logan, 1918, A History of Indiana: Indianapolis, B.F. Bowen and Company, 2 vols.

Federal Writers Project, 1941, Indiana: A Guide To the Hoosier State: New York, Oxford University Press, 548 p.

Hodge, F.W., 1910, Handbook of American Indians: Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 2 Vols.

Levering, J.H, 1916, Historic Indiana: New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s sons, 565 p.

Text prepared by Aaron Smith, Geography and Map Library.

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