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Givan, John

            Among the great variety of characters I have met with in writing these reminiscences, the counterpart, or anything that approximates to that of Mr. Givan, cannot be found.  He is a man of as much general information on commonplace subjects as can be found anywhere.

            He has an acquaintance throughout this as well as nearly all the Western States.  Indeed, there is scarcely a town but what he can tell you the name of some person living there, or had lived there, or intended to, or had come from there, or something in regard to it.  He has an uncommon memory, and is possessed of more incidents connected with the early history of this city than any person now living, and, although I profess to know something of this city myself, I am compelled to yield the palm in that particular.

            His mind, from some cause, took an unfortunate turn some years sine, from which resulted the loss of his property, or he might be to-day, as he once was, one of the prominent men of this city.

            Mr. Givan’s store was a perfect curiosity shop.  In it could be found any article that utility or necessity might demand.  A gentleman once inquired (in sport) for goose yokes, and to his surprise they were produced by dozens. 

            In the early settlement of Boone County large quantities of wild honey was taken and brought to this market for sale.  Mr. Givan was the purchaser of the honey as well as the beeswax.  The honey was brought to market in this way:  Two hickory poles were attached together like shafts, the ends resting on the ground.  On these poles the barrel of honey was fastened by pins.  In front of the barrel boards were placed, on which the beeswax was carried.  When the roads were bad two horses were necessary to pull the load; in that case one horse was hitched in front of the other, or tandem fashion.

            About the year 1826 a man named Whaley sold Mr. Givan a barrel of honey, and a large cake of beeswax that had been molded in a sugar-kettle, and, although very large, Mr. Givan thought it very heavy for the size.  He told Whaley that it was too large to pack in a barrel, as he did for shipping, and proposed that Whaley should help him break it open.  For this purpose he took a fro (an article used for splitting boards), and had Whaley hold it across the cake while he struck it with a maul.  The cake opened and disclosed a rock as large as a man’s head, which broke the fro.  Mr. Givan not only charged Whaley with the rock, but the profit he would have made on it had it have been wax.  He also charged him with the fro.  Nor was that all; he told his customer that he kept an account of what was stolen from him, and that whenever he detected any person in rascality he made him pay this account; all of which Whaley paid, an seemed glad to get off in that way.

            James Givan, the father of John, and for man years his partner, lived on his farm at what is now the east end of Washington street, and near where Col. John W. Ray now resides.  He there died in the summer of 1834.

            Since this sketch was written, and in the month of May, 1870, Mrs. Margaret Givan, the second wife of James Givan, has died.  No woman, since the first settlement of Indianapolis, has been connected with so many benevolent and charitable institutions.

            John Givan, the last of his father’s children living, yet resides here, and looks as though his sands of life were well nigh spent, and is a fit subject for the charity of the few old settlers of Indianapolis most of whom have grown wealthy, while he is quite poor.  I hope this suggestion will not be disregarded by those who could render him assistance without feeling any poorer in consequence, and thereby do an act of kindness for one who, in his better and prosperous days, did many acts of charity for the poor and unfortunate.


Nowland, John H. B., “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis, with Short Biographical Sketches of Its Early Citizens, and of a Few of the Prominent Business Men of the Present Day,” 1870, pp. 118-120.