Ceremony honors William Cotton; one of the founding fathers of Indiana

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As part of the Indiana Bicentennial celebration, the Indiana Archives and Records Administration came to Switzerland County on Friday to honor William Cotton, a county native who was instrumental in the process of Indiana Statehood.

The ceremony honoring Cotton was held at Mount Sterling (Cotton Family) Cemetery, which is located off of Bennington Pike.

Jim Corridan of the Indiana Archives and Records Administration, along with staff members, are traveling the state and holding a ceremony in the hometown, and preferably at the gravesite, of the men who signed the proclamation asking that Indiana be granted statehood, which happened on June 10th, 1816.

“Cotton helped shape Indiana as well as Switzerland County and his contributions were significant to Indiana’s birth and development,” Corridan said.

“There were 54 signers,” Carolyn Miller, member of the Switzerland County Cemetery Commission said. “On the day that they signed, one of them was ill and couldn’t be there, so 53 of the 54 signed.”

Miller said that the series of ceremonies holds significance for not only the state’s past, but it will also be a part of the future.

“What they’re doing now is, they’re going to each of the areas where these people were, and – if they can – they’re going to where they are buried and then having a special service. They had come from Hanover the morning that they came to Vevay, and they had a small group there. I think Jim told somebody that this was the largest group that they had. At one place they had three people.”

William Cotton, however, was indeed remembered and honored on Friday, as a large contingent of descendants made the trip to be part of the ceremony, along with members of the community which raised the attendance to nearly 40 people.

One special part of the program was when county resident Helen Parks shared a portrayal of Christena Cotton, wife of William Cotton.

“We were the 19th state to come into the union, and Jim shared the history of how all of that happened,” Miller said. “One thing that I thought was interesting was that Indiana made a provision that we would never allow slavery and that we would never allow indentured servants, and that provision could never be amended or changed in any way. It could never be voted on and changed in the future.”

As the commission moves to the different locations, brought along is an American Flag and an Indiana Flag that flew over the Statehouse in Indiana on Memorial Day. As a part of the Memorial Service, someone in attendance holds the flag for the person being honored, and after all of the signers has been honored, the flags will be stored until the new Indiana Archives Building is opened, and at that point the flags will the first flags to fly over the archives.

At Friday’s ceremony, Walter Cotton, a descendant of William Cotton who lives in Vevay, was honored with the American Flag, while Miller held the Indiana Flag.

“In our county, Walter Cotton and Linda Morrison are two Cotton descendants, and they were both there,” Miller said. “The other Cottons came from Greensburg and Indianapolis and several other places. They had quite a gathering of his descendants. These people have worked hard on their genealogy.”

Another part of the ceremony was when flowers were placed on the grave of William Cotton by a member of the Cotton family; and as a part of that, those in attendance were asked to observe a moment of silence.

“When we got quiet down there, the creek was roaring and the birds were chirping, and Jim said, ‘I’ve never heard anything so beautiful in my life’,” Miller said. “And I said, ‘Well, that’s Switzerland County. Pretty common here, but not very common to people from the state.”

Following the ceremony, refreshments were provided by the Switzerland County Cemetery Commission, and were served by members of the Switzerland County Tourism staff.

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From Harriman’s

History of Switzerland County, Indiana, 1885

William Cotton crossed the river from Kentucky in 1798, and while erecting his cabin took up his abode in a large sycamore on Indian Creek, on the farm now owned by Mrs. McMackin. In 1805 he moved farther up the stream to the farm which has since borne his name, and here he resided till his death in 1839.

He was a farmer by occupation, and possessed a good stock of hard sense. Mr. Cotton was born in Virginia, March 13, 1776, and removed to Kentucky in his early youth. He took an active part in the politics of Indiana, and was the first justice of the peace for the county, receiving his appointment from General Harrison, then governor of the Territory.

After his appointment another citizen coveting the office went to General Harrison to procure the removal of Mr. Cotton, and secure his own appointment, and put in as a plea that Mr. Cotton was rather a poor penman. Harrison asked, “Is he honest?” Being answered in the affirmative, he assured the applicant that he could not grant his request.

The point of the joke was that General Harrison was much the poorer penman of the two.

He was appointed associate judge in 1814. At an election held May 13, 1816, he was chosen a delegate to the constitutional convention that framed the first constitution of Indiana. He was twice appointed by President Monroe to value the improvements of the Indians at the Indian villages in the northern part of the Territory of Indiana and Ohio. He was elected a member of the first Senate that convened after the State was admitted to the Union, and held the position a number of years; was afterward elected to the House of Representatives.