Sunday, March 29, 2015

Robert Hanna

Robert Hanna
If anything about Robert Hanna is certain, it's that he was a mover, a doer, perhaps a bit of an opportunist, and a substantial force in the creation and development of Indiana.

As a member of one of the original families of the Fairfield area, Hanna's legacy is as enduring as his name. The family made its mark in dozens of ways across Franklin and Union counties in the 1800s.

Robert Hanna outdid them all. His father, Robert Sr., was one of the original settlers in the valley, and had come to the Indiana territory when young Robert was about 18 years old. After Franklin County was established, young Robert Hanna was elected sheriff.

Robert Sr. was also known as Robin, so I will refer to him as that.

Being the sheriff was a big deal. Robert Hanna was very young.

Robert had his fingers in most official pies in those early days. He was neither a dolt nor a dummy. Knowing a little about him shines a light on the family's pedigree. They'd left Laurens County, S.C., in 1801 in quest of land in the newly surveyed Wayne's Purchase, which would become Franklin County in 1811.

It's possible to assume that the Hannas were not poor. Their motives for leaving South Carolina for Indiana are generally attributed to their abolitionist ideals. The family history "House of Hanna" (published in 1906) alludes to slaves being part of their lives in Virginia before they moved to Laurens County. They had no slaves in their possession when they came to Indiana. The book asserts that the family, among others, had wearied of the slave culture of the South.

Robin Hanna knew Thomas Jefferson.

"House of Hanna" discusses his relationship to Jefferson. The work also includes quite a lot of valley history that isn't connected to the family and was written by Sarah Hanna. She is the granddaughter of Robin and Mary Hanna. Its target years are from 1744 to 1821, which correspond to the lifetime of Robin Hanna.

Robin and Jefferson were schoolmates at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

In 1820, Robin was involved in a petition to provide pensions for widows of the Revolutionary War, and he wrote to President James Monroe seeking support. Hanna didn't know Monroe, but he knew Jefferson and sent the letter, asking that it be given to Monroe.

The letter (House of Hanna)
Monticello, January 16, 1820.

 "A letter from you, dear sir, comes to me like one of the tombs of the dead. So long is it since I have had any evidence that you were in the land of the living and so few are now who were fellow-laborers in the struggle for the liberation of our country. And I rejoice to find that advancing years are the only assailants to your health mentioned in your letter. Time, as well as ill-health, bear heavily on me. Immediately on the receipt of your letter, I forwarded it to the President with the expression of interest I felt for your petition, and he will not be slow in giving his attention to Revolutionary mothers. 

"I tender you my best wishes for the continuance of your life and health as long as you shall yourself wish them to continue."

"Th. Jefferson" 

Robin, in his advancing years, thought it likely that the widows would outlive their husbands. In his case, he was right. He died a year later, in 1821. He had fought in the American Revolution. His widow Mary died in 1834. They were buried in Sims cemetery.

Robert Hanna, in 1817, was instrumental in the establishment of the state militia at a time when the settlers were vastly outnumbered by the native Indians.

The militia was formed shortly after statehood with Hanna serving as brigadier general of the Sixth Brigade, Third Division, to which Franklin County was attached.

Robert was considered a very good soldier and an excellent leader. One would presume he had something of a military education in South Carolina, which was fairly common.

His tenure as sheriff ended in 1820. Sarah Hanna's recollections cast an interesting light on the man.

"An election was pending when I came up from town and learned from outside sources that Robert Hanna refused to be a candidate for re-election to the sheriffalty. And I wonder what other 'bee' is in his bonnet. Something I suspect. Well, the election is over, the returns all in and those neighbors have come in to talk it over. The race for Sheriff lay between John B. Rose and Noah Noble. (Rose was elected). ... This is the first change made in the office of Sheriff since the oorganization of the courts in 1811. Robert Hanna has been Sheriff from 1811 to the present time, 1820, a period of nine years. Mr. Hanna must have been a very popular man and a good and efficient public servant."

Robert had a plan. Being sheriff wasn't what he had in mind. He was chosen as registrar of the Brookville land office that year. His cousin, Erwin, was named clerk. Nepotism was just a word.

James Noble
Robert was also close friends with James Noble of Brookville, who had been chosen U.S. senator in 1816, the first year that Indiana could participate in federal government. Senators were not elected in those days, but chosen by the governor.

James Noble's older brother, Noah, was governor at the time (after losing to James Rose for sheriff). In 1830, James Noble died in office. Noah appointed Robert Hanna to fill the seat. Robert was living in Indianapolis at the time, having moved there when the land office was shifted away from Brookville.

Robert Hanna, described as an anti-Jacksonian Whig, served a couple of years in the Senate and returned to Indiana to resume his political career in the state legislature. He was also later involved in highway projects.

As glorious a career as he experienced, his death was somewhat underwhelming. He was run over by a train car in Indianapolis in 1858, at age 72.

As an addendum to Sarah A. Hanna:

She was born in 1838 and died in 1922, and is buried in Sims-Brier Cemetery at New Fairfield. Her narrative in "House of Hanna" at times concludes that she was part of various conversations that occurred long before her birth. To that end, she's using some literary license. It is also possible that she is relating diaries from other family members who were, in fact, present during those conversations.

Sarah was the daughter of David Graehm Hanna, who was Robin Hanna's youngest son -- and the brother of Robert Hanna. It appears that Sarah never married.


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