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State Capitol Moves to Indianapolis


Purpose of Lesson: This lesson introduces students to a primary source document describing how the early state government was moved from Corydon to Indianapolis.

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Analyze primary source material pertaining to the relocation of the early state government
  • Locate Corydon and Indianapolis on a modern map
  • Perform simple mathematic functions to determine the distance between Corydon and Indianapolis and to determine modern travel time
  • Compare frontier travel to modern travel

Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Fourth Grade Social Studies)

4.1.6 Explain how key individuals and events influenced the early growth of the new state of Indiana

Example: Movement of state capitol from Corydon to Indianapolis

4.1.15 Using primary source and secondary source materials, generate questions, seek answers, and write brief comments about an event in Indiana history.

4.3.2 Estimate distances between two places on a map, using a scale of miles, and use cardinal and intermediate directions when referring to relative location.

4.3.4 Locate Indiana on a map of the United States; indicate the state capital, major cities, and rivers in Indiana; and be able to place these on a blank map of the state.

Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:

In 1824, Mary Anderson was a young woman living with her parents in Vevay, Indiana. Mary's sister Lydia was married to a young lawyer named Samuel Merrill, who had been appointed state treasurer, and they lived with their family in the first state capital of Corydon. When the state capital was changed to Indianapolis, Merrill and other state officials had to move not only the objects, books, and records related to the business of state government but also their families. Mary and her brother William traveled to Indianapolis with their sister Lydia and the rest of the Merrill family.

In the 1820s most of the miles between Corydon and Indianapolis were over dirt roads through a wilderness scattered with log cabins. Mary Anderson remembers a journey of 10 days; at the time, Samuel Merrill reported that the group took 14 days to make the trip.

In 1826, two years after the move to Indianapolis, Mary married Isaac Naylor. In 1833, the couple moved to Crawfordsville, Indiana, and Isaac later became a circuit court judge.


Lesson Activities:

Note: The account below is taken from "The Removal of the State Capital from Corydon to Indianapolis: An Account by Mary Anderson Naylor" (IMH, September 1931, pp. 240-42). The account has been shortened but the language and punctuation are original.

1. If needed, review with students how the first seat of government was established in Corydon and the reasons for moving the state capitol to Indianapolis.

2. Vocabulary: hand out and review copies of the vocabulary list (available here). Students should keep the list to use as they listen to the diary of Mary Anderson (lesson activity #3 below).

3. Then begin to read the following text aloud. Students may have their own copies or you may project the text onto a screen at the front of the classroom. As you read, stop at the places where questions are included and allow the students to formulate and discuss answers.


Consist: be made up of

Fell (verb): to cut down

Impassible: not able to be travelled

Jolt: to move with a jerky motion

Journey: a trip

Mansion: a very large, impressive house

Party: a group of people

Roaring: very large and strong

Scribbler: someone who writes

Seat [of government]: a town or city with government offices for that county/state/nation

Treasury: the place where government money is kept

Venture: try, attempt


Mary Catherine Naylor, "The Removal of the State Capital to Indianapolis," IMH, Volume 27, September 1931

It was a bright and lovely day in October, 1824, that we left Corydon for the seat of government. The party consisted of six of the Merrill family, Mr. Merrill, my sister, their three children, my brother William and this scribbler. My sister had heard that the road most of the way was impassible; she insisted that Mr. Siebert, a large man with a team of horses, none stronger in Indiana, should take us. Four of the horses were white, the fifth gray, called the lead horse. Mr. Siebert was proud of his horses. I have never seen as grand a team. Yet I could not ride in the wagon, as it was covered, and made me sick; but my sister and her children rode all the way to Indianapolis. I walked the eleven miles of our first day's journey.


1. Why do you think Mary chose to walk rather than ride in the wagon? What might it have felt like to ride inside a covered wagon on a very bad road?


Mr. John Douglass was State Printer at that time and they moved with us. Mrs. Douglass had three children. They rode in their wagon all the way. Mr. Douglass had a horse that he rode. They had a cow tied to the back of the wagon. When the roads became very bad, they loosed the cow, and she was sure to run to the woods. I would mount his horse and ride for the cow, and bring her back.


1. Count the total number of people, horses, and cows traveling together. What difficulties might there be traveling with so many people and animals?


We were, I think, ten days on our way. The treasury box was large and strong. Whether there was much money in it, I cannot say; but I think not much. This box had to have a place in this large wagon, indeed wherever we or the Merrill family went, this box was sure to go.


1. Look on a map of Indiana and calculate the distance from Corydon to Indianapolis.
If it took ten days for the group to travel that distance, about how many miles did they travel each day?

2. Explain to the students what the treasury box was and then ask them: If a company or a city or a state were moving the contents of its treasury today, how do you think they would do it? Why was Samuel Merrill able to move the Indiana state treasury in this way?


My sister looked very tired. She had the care of the children in the wagon. The youngest one, Catherine, whenever she would see me, would put out her hands for me to take her. I would carry her awhile. She did not like the jolting, and she may have been sick. I was too sick when riding to take any care of the children; but they were as good as could be. They did not cry.


1. What do you think the children had to do to keep themselves amused while they were traveling in the wagon? When you travel for any distance, what kinds of things do you take along? How does this differ from what the Merrill and Douglas children might have had?


The road was laid with rails or logs for miles, then covered with water that seemed bottomless. When the horses and wagon would go down, it seemed they might have reached China . One day we traveled two miles and a half only. The water lay in the road too deep to venture in and trees had to be felled to make a road around.


1. What does Mary mean when she describes the road as "laid with rails or logs"? What does she mean when she writes that the horses and wagon "might have reached China"?


Mr. Siebert had a fashion of putting bells on his horses whenever we came near a town. So we went into the seat of government with fine, large, strong horses strung with bells, all ringing. The sound brought the good people out to stare at us. We all stopped at Blake & Henderson's Hotel, where we had an excellent supper. We went that night to a room (frame) without lathing or plastering. The weather had become cold, so that it was not easy to keep warm although we had a roaring fire.

Mr. Merrill had rented a cottage on West Washington Street, but Mr. Calvin Fletcher was living in it, and couldn't move out for some time; for he could not find an empty house. So he offered us a room, there being but two rooms in the house. In our room we had the treasury box. In a few weeks, Mr. Fletcher moved out, and we felt as if we were living in a mansion.

[Mary Catherine Naylor, Crawfordsville , Indiana , August 24, 1888]


1. What is a room "without lathing or plastering" and why would such a room be difficult to keep warm?

2. Based on what you know about early Indianapolis , why do you think the Merrill family was crowded together in one house with another man who couldn't move because "he could not find an empty house"?


Ask the students to write a 4 to 5 paragraph essay on a trip that they have taken away from their hometown. Where did they go? How long did it take them to get there? Did they enjoy the trip? Then ask them to compare their experiences with those of Mary and her group.

Alternate Projects:

1. Alternate Essay: Ask the students to pretend that they are either Mary or William Anderson. They are to write a 4 to 5 paragraph letter to a friend in Corydon, describing their trip, their arrival in Indianapolis, and a (fictional) stop they made during their trip at a log cabin somewhere in the wilderness between Corydon and Indianapolis. Their descriptions should include information you have already covered about life in pioneer Indiana and information from Mary Anderson's diary.

2. Instead of talking about the distance between Corydon and Indianapolis within class discussion, give the students a map project. Ask them to locate Corydon and Indianapolis on a blank map of Indiana. Then ask them to use a modern map to calculate the distance between the two cities and estimate how long it would take, using modern travel methods, to go between the two places.

3. Make a large mural telling the story of the trip from Corydon to Indianapolis. Show the students a series of images of early Corydon, frontier Indiana, and Indianapolis. Work with the class to break the trip down into several discrete panels, each one telling one part of Mary Naylor's story. Then break the class into groups and assign each group to create one panel of the mural. Encourage (or assign) the groups to use different media, including paint, markers, crayons, collage, etc. as many as you have the supplies for. When all of the panels are completed, connect them and display the mural.

Further Sources:

The Indiana Historical Bureau has published two volumes, within its series for primary and secondary school teachers, on moving the capitol from Corydon to Indianapolis. See:

"The Search for a New Capital," The Indiana Historian, March 1996

"Indianapolis the Capital," The Indiana Historian, June 1996