Why Did the Ferry Cross the River?
By: Donald E. Clare, Jr., Rabbit Hash Historical Society
Originally published: May 1, 2008 in the Boone County Recorder
When Rising Sun was laid out as a town in 1814, Indiana wasn't even a state. It was still part of the 'territory northwest of the river Ohio', or the Indiana territory. It was then located in Dearborn County, named for Secretary of War Henry Dearborn of Thomas Jefferson's Administrative Cabinet. The county was laid out in accordance to Jefferson's newly devised method of systematically gridding off federal lands into sections of one mile square and containing 640 acres of land. Thirty six of these sections formed a 6 x 6 square (6 miles long by 6 miles wide) which was called a Township. Rising Sun was laid out on Section 8 and Fraction 2, Township 3, Range 1.
John James was the proprietor and he and his son Pinkney James laid the town off “into blocks of twenty four rods on every side, and then an alley drawn through the center parallel with those streets which front the river.” James came from Frederick County, Maryland, where he was a wealthy planter. He and his family traveled by flatboat from Redstone (present Brownsville, Pennsylvania on the Monongahela River) and landed in Lawrenceburgh in 1808, where they stayed for two years. For two more years, he took his family to Cincinnati for the purpose of schooling his children and escaping the Indian depredations which were prevalent at the time. In December 1811, he moved the family to Rising Sun. But these were unsettled times. It was only months after the battle of Tippecanoe and things were tense on west side of the river. By May, 1812 he had sent the family to Louisville, just one month before the beginning of the War of 1812, while he and Pinkney remained at Rising Sun.
Across the Ohio River is Boone County, Kentucky. It was established as Kentucky's 30th county by the Kentucky General Assembly on Dec. 13th, 1798, to take effect in June of the following year. The 1800 population of Boone County was 1,534 and the majority of these were engaged in farming and agriculture. Boone County's 35 miles of Ohio River bottom land attracted many pioneer families to settle there. In 1813, the Boone County Order Book records a ferry boat license granted to an Edward Meeks of said county, for the operation of a ferry from Meeks' Landing to the opposite shore. The exact location on the Kentucky shore of Meeks' Landing cannot be positively identified, but the 'opposite shore' was without any doubt Rising Sun. The only two other Indiana river settlements at that time were Vevay, 31.6 miles downriver, and Lawrenceburgh, 14 miles upriver. Meeks' Ferry was somewhere between Rabbit Hash and the mouth of Middle Creek, a little upriver. Regardless, its destination was Rising Sun.
And why did the ferry cross the river? To get to the other side! An 1817 Emigrant's Guide describes Rising Sun as a place of very rapid growth, consisting of 30 or 40 houses, a post office, and a floating mill. It further stated that it was destined to become a place of considerable trade and commerce. The river channel was on the Indiana side, and the deeper water attracted the trade boats, while a huge sand bar was situated on the Rabbit Hash side and prohibited that kind of river trade. So the Kentucky people needed a ferry to interact with their close neighbors. This association lasted for many, many years.