Skip to main content

William Polke collection

Identifier: L333

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the collection is photostat copies of William Polke’s correspondence regarding the Potawatomi people and his role in their removal from northern Indiana as well as other political matters. There are also letters from his daughter, Mary Polke Niles, and between he and his son-in-law, John B. Niles. Among his other correspondents are Samuel Merrill, Samuel Milroy, and Waller Taylor.

In addition to the correspondence, the collection includes a transcript of Polke’s account of the capture of his family by Indians in Kentucky in 1782. The account was originally published in Daniel McDonald’s Removal of the Pottawattomie Indians from Northern Indiana. Also included is the manuscript report of William Polke and Thomas S. Hinds to Governor William Hendricks of Indiana and Governor Edward Coles of Illinois on the navigation of the Wabash River.


  • 1808-1853, bulk 1832-1841


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

William Polke was born on September 17, 1775, in Brooke County, Virginia. He moved to Kentucky around 1782. Late that year, his family was captured by Indians and transported to Michigan. In 1797, he married Sarah Cooper with whom he had at least one daughter, Mary Polke. They moved to Knox County, Indiana, around 1807. Polke served in a number of public offices including justice of the peace in Knox County (1808); member of the Territorial House of Representatives (1814-1815); Knox County associate judge (1823); and Knox County probate judge (1829-1831). From 1824 to 1825, he was a missionary teacher among the Ottawa Indians in Michigan. He also served as a delegate to the Indiana Constitutional Convention in 1816. Polke moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1841, and died there on April 26, 1843. Polke was instrumental in the removal of the Potawatomi Indians from northern Indiana, leading emigration trips. Between 1834 and 1842, two groups of Potawatomi were removed from the Midwest to lands west of the Mississippi. Those living in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin were moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, while the Potawatomi of southern Michigan and northern Indiana were moved to eastern Kansas.


Shepherd, Rebecca A., Charles W. Calhoun, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker, and Alan F. January,comp. A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, vol. 1, 1816-1899. Indianapolis: The Select Committee on the Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1980.

Sultzman, Lee. “Potawatomi History.” First Nations Histories. Last modified December, 1998. Accessed April 12, 2006.


0.3 Cubic Feet (1 manuscript box)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged chronologically.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation.


No further additions are expected.

Related Archival Material

Materials relating to this collection may be found in the following collections in Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN:

L116: John B. Niles papers

S370: Jesse C. Douglass journal

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2006/04 by Christina Baich. Finding aid updated 2015/11/14 by Laura Eliason. EAD finding aid created 2018/05/02 by Lauren Patton.
William Polke collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.