Wilson: original Fairfielder

Fairfield was platted October, 1815, by Hugh Abernathy, George Johnston, Tomas Osborn and James Wilson, the four corners of their respective lands being in the center of the platting.

James Wilson was born in 1779 in Virginia. His father was one of four brothers who served in the Army during the Revolution and was the only one of the four to survive the conflict.

In 1800 James came to the Indiana Territory, settling in Jefferson County where, in the following year, he married Nancy McCarty, who had been born in a Kentucky fort in 1785.

In 1808 Wilson decided to try another locale and with his rapidly increasing family moved on to Franklin County. By 1815 the population of this Whitewater Valley county had increased to the point where another trading post, closer to some of the settlers than Brookville, seemed necessary and feasible.

Consequently, Wilson and the three neighbors platted a town to be named Fairfield, located in the northern section of the county and centered at the spot where the lands owned by each of the men came together.

Evidently they all had high hopes for the future of the then non-existent Fairfield, even believing that someday it might become a county seat of a new political subdivision for “the proprietors donated a public square in the center of the plat and this is still used for such minus the coveted courthouse.”

If Wilson was disappointed in the non-growth of his first plan, he was willing to try again.

About that time (1817), Jacob Wetzel had finished work on his historically significant “trace” across Rush and Shelby counties.

Soon after Wetzel had completed his work on the trace, Wilson, accompanied by a “man named Logan and one named Hanna,” came up the newly opened path, following it as far as its junction with Blue River.

Here, Wilson decided, was a goodly site for a new home and he immediately returned to Fairfield to fetch his three oldest sons. The four soon returned to the spot he had chosen and began the building of a cabin — the first home in Shelby County.

On January 1, 1819, Wilson, his wife, four daughters, a baby boy and the 11-year-old Isaac started on their journey to their new abode.

Around nine o'clock in the evening of the third day, they arrived at their destination and found that the older boys, who had completed the log structure during their father's absence, had a roaring fire burning on the hearth to welcome them.

This article was written by Lora Radiches in 2005.


The Wetzel Trace ran from Laurel westward toward an area near the future location of Indianapolis.
It passed south of what was to become Rushville, north of soon-to-be Shelbyville and toward the White River.
From there, Jacob Wetzel went downstream to an area on the Eel River near present-day Worthington to claim land he had bought in the Indiana Territory.
Wetzel had come to Indiana and originally lived in the area that was to become Laurel. He had served under William H. Harrison as a spy-scout in the Indiana Militia during the Indian wars of 1812.
No trace of the Trace exists, but the achievement is notable in that it opened up the territory by "road" for the first time.