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Indiana Territory Festival

July 4th Weekend, 2010

Corydon, Indiana

Photos by Jim & Kathy Cummings

The 2010 Indiana Territory Festival slide show

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A panoramic view of the inside of the State Capitol building. Corydon became the State Capital in 1816. Vincennes had been the Capital of the Indiana Territory since 1813. In 1825 the Capital was moved to Indianapolis.

The Case of Polly Strong

Photos by Jim Cummings      Story By Kathy Cummings

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Tamla Boone gives an impassioned first person presentation of Polly Strong - A slave who gained her freedom in Corydon, Indiana in 1820 through the Indiana Supreme Court.

Slavery in the Northwest Territory -
When the Northwest Territory was established in 1787 slavery was abolished in the territory as stated in Article 6 . Art. 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.

But results were not immediate. In 1800 William Henry Harrison became Governor of the Indiana Territory. In 1803 Harrison lobbied Congress to repeal Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance to permit slavery in the Indiana Territory. He claimed it was necessary to make the region more appealing to settlers and that it would ultimately make the territory economically viable. Congress suspended the article for 10 years, and the territories covered by the ordinance were granted the right to decide for themselves whether to permit slavery. That year Harrison had the appointed territorial legislature authorize indenturing. He then attempted to have slavery legalized outright, in both 1805 and 1807. This caused a significant stir in the territory. In 1809 the legislature was popularly elected for the first time and Harrison found himself at odds with the legislature when the abolitionist party came to power. They immediately blocked his plans for slavery and repealed the indenturing laws he had passed in 1803.

Polly Strong’s case for freedom came before the Indiana Supreme Court in 1820. It had first been tried in Vincennes by a lower court. Polly Strong’s mother Jenny was a black woman captured by Indians from Kentucky at the age of 15. She was later sold as a slave in Detroit to a man named Isaac Williams. Subsequently she was sold to Antoine Lasselle in Vincennes. At the time of the trial, Polly, her mother Jenny and brother James were all considered the property of their present owner - Hyacinth Laselle nephew of Antoine Laselle. The lower court based Polly’s case on two facts. That she was the issue of a slave (and therefore she herself was a slave) and that her mother became a slave in Vincennes before the Northwest Ordinance became law. That lower court ruled that the early settlers in Vincennes being either French or from Virginia (where slavery was legal) lived under these early laws.

The decision in Indiana vs. Lasselle in 1820 stated that clearly, Indiana law forbade slavery in any form and that Polly Strong was a free woman regardless of the circumstances of her mother or of laws prior to the settlement of Indiana. It was a major precedent in Indiana law. Unfortunately with various loopholes in the law there were still cases of slavery existing in Indiana until the 1850’s.


Entrance to the courthouse where Polly Strong entered as a slave and exited as a free woman.


The Indiana Supreme Court met in the upstairs chamber in 1820 to decide on the case Indiana vs. Laselle. It was a hot July day, when the three judges passed their decision - freeing Polly Strong and claiming that slavery - no matter what the circumstances, was illegal in the state of Indiana.

Tamla Boone and her family also set up shop at Corydon with their business Hyssoap. Visit them at

Past Years Events in Corydon

Link to the Indiana Territory Festival Website.

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