A few weeks ago I mentioned early Noblesville settler Jonathan Colborn in a reader column.
If you’ve never heard of him, I’m guessing you’re probably not alone. I doubt if very many people today would recognize that name. During his lifetime, however, he was one of Hamilton County’s more prominent citizens.
(When he was in his 80s, it was said he had shaken hands with every Indiana governor except the one currently in office — but he looked forward to adding him to the count!)
Colborn led a long, interesting life and was a good source of information about the county’s first years. Because of that, I felt he was worth featuring in a column of his own.
He was born in Pennsylvania in 1799, but his family moved to Ohio the following year. That’s where he grew up.
At the age of 20, he traveled west with a group of men tasked with surveying the “New Purchase,” the central Indiana land acquired from the Delaware Indians as a result of the Treaty of St. Mary’s.
He must have enjoyed tramping through the Indiana wilderness those several months, because he decided to move to this state after he finished the job. He became one of the first whites to establish a home in Hamilton County, settling on Stony Creek in 1823 with his wife and child.
Over the years he held several county offices. He was elected sheriff in 1836 and again in 1838, and was coroner from 1862 to 1872. In later years he served as court bailiff.
The office for which he was most noted, however, was associate judge, a position he held from 1841 to 1850. Because of that, you’ll often see him referred to as “Judge Colborn.”
(Associate judges were elected officials of the early 19th century. Unlike the circuit court judges they assisted, they weren’t required to have legal training, just a reputation for common sense and honesty.)
Judge Colborn laid claim to several “firsts” during his life — kissing the first baby born in Noblesville, planting the area’s first orchard and being responsible for bringing the first barrel of whiskey into the county.
He also said that he helped build the first cabin in Noblesville and, as I mentioned in the previous column, that he helped bury the first person in Riverside Cemetery in 1825. (That was Revolutionary War veteran Lawrence Willison.)
During the last couple of decades of his life, Judge Colborn often addressed crowds at the Old Settler’s Meetings, describing how he’d witnessed Noblesville’s transformation from a “green woods” to a city. (“I have heard the war-whoop of the Indian, the howling of wolves, the screech of panthers and the hiss of natural gas.”)
At one such gathering he won a prize for being the person who settled in Hamilton County at the earliest date.
In those days he was often referred to as “Uncle Jonathan” Colborn. (In the 19th and early 20th centuries, well respected, elderly residents became everybody’s “uncle” or “aunt.” I’m not sure if that was a common practice of the time period, or just a local custom, though.)
The judge was sharp, both mentally and physically, pretty much up to the end of his life. One newspaper article noted that when he was 81, he was still strong enough to reap half an acre of oats with a sickle and put up 25 large shocks.
Judge Colborn died May 19, 1891 at the ripe old age of 92 and was buried in Riverside Cemetery. His headstone reads “Johnathan” Colborn, but since his first name appears as “Jonathan” in nearly every other reference I’ve seen, I’m going to assume the stone carver made a mistake.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Wednesday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com