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John B. (Bowman) New



John B. New was born in Guilford County, North Carolina on November 7th, 1793. His father, Jethro New, was a native of Kent County, Delaware and was born there September 20th, 1751. Jethro New served under General Washington during the War of Independence and was one of the guards of Major Andre and witnessed the execution of Major Andre as a result of the betrayal of General Benedict Arnold. John's mother was Sarah Bowman who was also born in Kent County, Delaware on May 25th of 1764. Both of John's parents were Calvinistic Baptists, thoroughly orthodox on the subject of Predestination.

In the fall of 1794, when John was one year old, the family migrated by horseback from North Carolina to Franklin County, Kentucky in an area know as Dry Run about 5 miles from the current capitol of Kentucky, Frankfort. After living in Franklin County, Kentucky for five years, the family moved onto the frontier of Owen County, Kentucky and settled on 300 acres of land, three and one half miles from where the city of New Liberty now stands (approximately 15 miles from the Ohio River). Johnny New (as he was called then) began schooling after living there several years. When there became a population large enough in the area to support a school, John was able to attend formal schooling. That small one story cabin was the only school John ever attended.

John was Baptized by Minister John Scott, a Baptist, who came to Owen County when John was 14 (1807). In May of 1812 John was drafted as a soldier for six months to defend the Indiana Territory from the Native Americans who had joined the British. It was not until August 17th that he was called into active service where he joined Colonel Wilcox regiment at Louisville. There he was inspected by General Harrison when the General was on his way to Cincinnati to take command of the Army of the Northwest. Having been armed and equipped in Jeffersonville, Indiana his regiment marched first to the defense of Fort Harrison, which was commanded by Captain Zachary Taylor, subsiquent President of the United States. From Fort Harrison, the regiment moved up the Wabash River to a point near Lafayette, Indiana before returning home.

In the spring of 1813 he entered the establishment of Mr. Matthew Craigmiles to learn the trade of a cabinet maker. After serving out his apprenticeship John opened a cabinet shop in Cynthiana, Kentucky. Also in 1813 he began to preach in the Baptist Church. When he turned 20 in February of 1814, John contracted what was then called the Cold Plague, similar in respect to Asiatic cholera.

Nearly dying, John was re-energized with religious ferver and after a long recovery period moved to Madison, Indiana on February 2nd of 1815 at the age of 22. One of the major reasons for his move from Kentucky to the Indiana Territory was his stated desire to keep Indiana from becoming a slave state. An ardent abolitionist, John has stated "The possession of a few poor, ignorant, debased slaves was a standard of respectability that I was unwilling for myself and my posterity to be measured by."

It was from there that he became known as a respected minister and eventually became known as one of the most prominent pioneer preachers in the West. In April of 1815 John cast his first vote as a citizen of Indiana for delegates to form the first Free State constitution. It was also in that same month he was witness to the arrival of the first steamboat to ascend the Ohio River, the Robert Fulton when it arrived to meet the forty families then living in Madison, Indiana. Soon after his arrival in Madison, John entered the cabinet shop of Mr. Henry Gritz, where he worked as a journeyman for two, possibly three years. At the same time he served as clerk of the church located at Mount Pleasant, near Madison. The pastor at Mount Pleasant was Mr. Jesse Vawter, father of John Vawter who founded the town of Vernon in 1815. Thus began a long association with the Vawter Family.

A few years before John Vawter came to this part of the Northwest Territory the land belonged to the Native American tribes of Shawnee, Pottawatomie, Miami, Kickapoo and the Delaware. The southhern part of Jennings County was purchased from the Native Americans in what was called the "Grouseland Purchase" in 1811 by the United States Government. The northern part of the county was not brought from the Native Americans until 1819 and was known as the "New Purchase." White men existed with the Native Americans in a reluctant truce. They would trade with each other and sometimes raid each other. The worst incident was the Pigeon Roost Massacre on September 3, 1812 a few miles south of Vernon where 22 were killed in a possible retaliation to the death of a brother of Killbuck chief of the Shawnee tribe. The Native Americans are told to have invaded the home of Colonel John Vawter in Vernon when he was on a surveying trip. The local Native Americans generally encamped on the South Fork of the Muscatatuck extending several miles up creek and in 1817 left their camp by the hundreds moving further west into the frontier. By 1852 the Native American threat was seen to be over in Jennings County. An October 1852 Vernon Wig banner proclaimed in part.
  "Alas for them! Their day is o'ver, their fires are out from shore to shore, No more for them their wild deer bound-The plough is on their hunting grounds..."

Mr. John Vawter was the one of the earliest permanent white settlers in what is now called Jennings County. He first came to Jennings County, then known as the Northwest Territory, in his capacity as United Statees Surveryor for the Northwest Territory. He left Madison, Indiana and founded the town of Vernon in 1815 thereupon he built a log cabin in Vernon for his wife and children. John had bought one square mile from the United States government, plotted the town Vernon in 1806 and sold some lots as early as October 1815. In 1816 the State of Indiana was formed and Jennings County was orgainzed as a county under an act of the State Legislature at the state capitol in Corydon, Indiana with Vernon as the county seat. John Vawter was appointed County Agent in 1817 and the sale of lots in the town of Vernon began in earnest.

The first minister in Jennings County was Jesse Vawter, father of John Vawter. The first church that was established was the The Vernon Baptist Church on April 27th, 1816 and meeting were held in the home of Alexander Lewis and in other cabins around the area until 1820 when an acre of space was secured for open air meetings. This was called the Silver Creek Association, then in 1824 another committee was selected and a site was chosen where the church now stands. John Vawter was then minister, and it was he and other church membership that went on records as being against slavery. Other preachers were Jesse Vawter (father of John), Joel Butler, Isaiah Blankenship, James B. Potter, William Stott, James Stott, Peleg Baker and John B. New.

On February 19th 1818 John New (of Madison) married Miss Maria Chalfant, the third daughter of Thomas and Mary Chalfant, who resided in Kentucky, seven miles from Madison on the Frankfort Road. Her parents were from Pennsylvania and both they and their daughter, Marie were Baptists and were much opposed to slavery.

From Madison John New moved to Vernon, Indiana where he eventually became a minister in the Vernon Baptist Church in 1820. His former minister at the Pleasant Baptist church of Madison was Jesse Vawter, who was now preaching at the Vernon Baptist Church along with his son John Vawter. John New assisted Jesse Vawter and worked diligently throughout the area to spread the gospel. In April of 1830 there was strife and disorder in the Vernon congregation of the Baptist Church over the issue of Campbellism. Campbellism was the reform movement sweeping the frontier as espoused in the preaching of Joseph Campbell. Members of the Baptist church were disturbed that Elder New would lead the church into Campbellism. Indeed, Elder New was leaning in this direction though he had never met Mr. Campbell nor heard any of his electrifying sermons in those early years. Alexander Campbell did eventually preach at the Vernon Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on September 6th, 1850 but it is not known if Elder New attended the sermon.

In April of 1830, as the schism within the church intensified, Elder New, along with eleven others (including his wife, John Vawter's wife, Beverly and John's brother, Hickman New) asked for and obtained from the church letters of dissmission of full fellowship with the Vernon Baptist Church. They were intent upon starting their own separate church that would be governed by a council comprised of a delegation from each of the surrounding six Baptist church congregations.

The council met and decided to postpone the acceptance of the new congregation for one year hoping that Providence would intercede and bring peace back to the church Elder New waited until the following year and in July of 1831 he baptized his brother Hickman's wife on the Saturday evening before the regular September meeting of the church. It seems that it was then that he began to preach in his own house. In November of 1831 Elder New formally organized the "Church of Christ in Vernon" with 13 members. Credit for the founding of the church can also be given to Beverly Vawter, and the reverend John O. Kane who was in Vernon in the late  1820's preaching the faith of The Disciples of Christ (who became known as Campbellites after the founder of the denomination, Alexander Campbell.)

Meetings were held at Elder New's home and rotated among the other members of the congregation. When the membership of the congregation became too large to be accommedated by the home, the comgregation met at his brother, Hickman New's cabinet shop next to Elder New's home. Thus, the home of Elder New became the location of the first Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ) in Indiana. Mr. P. M. Blankenship who promoted the church in Morgan and Monroe counties was one of Elder New's first converts.

The cablinet shop where the congregation met was demolished with the construction of the Madison-Vernon Railroad in 1837 and the church congregation decided to build a brick structure nearby. This brick church structure still stands today and is currently in use as the Vernon Town Hall. The church was located about one half block away from Hickman New's home. The church grew rapidly for a quarter of a century, with with the deaths of several of its members and others moving away, the church voted in 1876 to merge with the Christian Church in nearby North Vernon.

The Slave Free State of Indiana, and southern Indiana, in general, so near the border of the Slave State (Commonwealth) of Kentucky was a haven for furgitive slaves. In fact a large settlement of refuge slaves had already established itself just east of Vernon in what became known as "Africa". The Underground Railroad was already established in Indiana as early as 1826 and Vernon was known as a major stop on the railway north. Three principle fugitive routes leading northward were Madison, Jeffersonville and Cincinnati. As the fugitives traveled northward, many families and individuals would keep many fugitive slaves apart and in small groups, making it difficult for pursuers to keep up with their movements. Under the old "Fugitive Slave Law," the citizens of Indiana who aided the fugitives did so at their own choosing without much danger from authorities.

However, with the enactment of the Fuitive slave law of 1850, any citizen, if requested, had to join in the recapture of any fugitive slave. It was about this time that an association of eastern abolitionists sent agents to strategic points along the Ohio River border to assist in freeing slaves. They had a regular ferryman near Madison, Indiana who would ferry fugitive slaves traveling north into Jennings County. Jennings County, being on the main route north, was the nost frequest stop on the northwesterly route to Columbus, Indianapolis, Westfield, Logansport, South Bend, Indiana then on to Michigan and Canada.

The land for Elder New's house in Vernon was purchased from John Vawter on July 3rd 1820. The house was probably completed by March of 1821 as records indicated that this is the date that he moved to Vernon. The house is a two story brick structure built in the Federal-Adamesque architectural style. The main entrance of the home when it was built looked over a sloping hillside that rolled into the Muscatatuck River.

The front of the house was then facing North, or where the rail road tunnel underpass now stands. This stone railroad underpass, made of native Indiana limestone, believed to be from the Vinegar Mill limestone quarry outside of Vernon, was constructed in 1837 when the railroad arrived. This is the first elevated track laid west of the Alleghenies, the first railroad in Indiana, and only the fourth railfoad in the nation. It was the first to utilize steel rails. The railroad coming so close to the house almost destroyed the value of the home as it was built within a few feet of the house and completely obstructed the beautiful view of the Muscatatuck River down the hill. The railroad from Madison to Vernon was completed in 1841. In 1842 it became the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad Company, but was not extended beyond Vernon until 1847.

Vernon is known for its pivotal role in the Underground Railroad, it is a town noted for several tunnels throughout the community that were utilized to protect fugitive slaves and prepare them for their journey to freedom further north. However, that being said, not all of the residents were abolutionists. There once existed what was commonly known as the "Slave Hunter's Hotel" by several local residents of the time. This hotel was a notorious location for drawing in the fugitives with liquer and after they were intoxicated, they were shanghaied to a slave state and resell them back into slavery. Although it has collapsed over time, one such tunnel does exist in the John B. New home.


The picture below is taken from the end of Pike street where the railroad underpass stands looking south, it was before the tornado that destroyed some of the old buildings in Vernon, the John B. New home is in the right hand corner of this picture and only a section of it is visible.



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