Switzerland County Beginnings
As early as 1790, the county’s first settler, Heathcoat Pickett, moved from Kentucky into the wilderness of Indiana Territory. He is said to have built a primitive log house along Plum Creek in 1795. There was much hostility between Native Americans and white settlers in southern Indiana during its first years of settlement. However, with the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, defeated native nations were forced to relinquish their right to the area and move north and west.
Jean Jacques (John James) Dufour
In 1796 Jean Jacques (John James) Dufour (1766-1848) emigrated from the wine-grape growing district, Canton of Vaud, Switzerland to the United States. He was impressed by reports from French veterans of the American Revolution on the scarcity of wine here — and the prevalence of strong liquor. In the cause of temperance and to further his family’s vine dressing tradition, he was determined to explore the possibilities in this newly formed country.
Upon arrival, Dufour visited the gardens of Peter Legaux near Philadelphia, others in the Baltimore area and Jefferson’s Monticello before investigating the country’s interior. President Jefferson personally encouraged him to try producing wine in the west. Along the Ohio River Dufour found productive vineyards at Marietta and Gallipolis in the Northwest Territory.
Dufour traveled down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi into New France; he found that promising vineyards had been removed because they were seen as a threat to the mother country’s wine industry. He made important business transactions and contacts in Kaskaskia, Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis that supported his future experiments in grape culture. Although we have no specific record, Dufour was apparently also impressed by the vernacular architecture of the French colonists.
In 1801, seventeen members of Dufour’s extended family joined him at their First Vineyard on the Kentucky River southwest of Lexington. The vineyard was only partly successful and by 1802 most had moved on to the already planned Second Vineyard on the Ohio River. The second Vineyard often labeled “Swiss Vineyards” or “New Switzerland” on maps of the period was established in Indiana Territory just east of the Greenville Treaty Line in what was to become Switzerland County. By an 1802 Act of Congress, 2500 acres were sold to Dufour on extended credit; 1200 acres were added later.
The land was subdivided in the French manner in long narrow parcels perpendicular to the Ohio River. Parcels were resold to both men and women of the original party and a few Swiss families who joined them.The Swiss laid out the town of Vevay in 1813, which became the county seat of Switzerland County in 1814 (Indiana became a state in 1816). The Swiss were well-educated and influential locally and regionally. In 1826 Dufour published “The American Vine-Dresser’s Guide”, the standard authority on wine-grape growing for North America bringing the Swiss vintners into national attention and put them at the forefront of the wine industry.
Louis Gex Oboussier
In 1805 Louis Gex Oboussier (1761-1845) purchased the largest tract of 319 acres of bottomland along Indian Creek, which the Swiss renamed “Venoge” after a river in their native land. He planted grapes, orchards and food crops. Gex Oboussier’s two story home on the high bank of the Ohio River became part of the Swiss community’s efforts which resulted in the first commercially successful winery in the United States. By 1810 they were shipping wines in quantity to the East Coast by way of New Orleans. A parcel of the Gex-Oboussier property is what we now call Musée de Venoge.
Jacob Weaver and Charlotte Golay
Jacob Weaver was of German decent; he met and married Charlotte Golay in 1803 in Ulster County, New York, she was 17 and he was 27. The Golay family were from the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland and been living in New York in order to settle a legal affair before going to on to New Switzerland. Charlotte’s father, David Golay, had already joined Dufour’s venture in New Switzerland and Charlotte and Jacob decided to join him. Their 45 day journey over land and by flatboat is described in a letter from Jacob Weaver to his father in New York.
When Jacob and Charlotte reached New Switzerland, Jacob wrote “we are settled in a house of my father-in-law’s, close to his door”. Jacob enthusiastically set about earning a living in farming and in starting a vineyard for his family.
Jacob writes to his father in 1814 of plans to move to a parcel of land (now called Musée de Venoge) owned by Louis Gex-Oboussier. When Charlotte’s father, David Golay, died, their plans seem to have changed. He and Charlotte stayed at the Golay family house until 1828. By that time Jacob was 52. Some of his older children (they had ten total) were grown and making lives for themselves and it was time to move to a smaller place that required less manual labor. Jacob had given up on his vineyard; he had three times flat boated produce to New Orleans’s (which he called a ‘foreign port’) with no real success. We also know he built a horse powered carding mill. In 1839 he was lured into selling his Venoge property to buy into a mercantile venture by a devious son-in-law, a decision which proved financially disastrous. Charlotte died after a five-year illness in 1841 and Jacob spent his last days living in the little town of Jacksonville, Indiana, a few miles away cared for by a daughter.
Many homes that are restored and open to the public are of the well-known and successful. The Jacob and Charlotte Weaver home at Venoge is one of an early Switzerland County family that worked hard, tried many ventures and was only able to stay even. This is typical of many, but significant in the progress toward our life today.