Indiana Historical Society 2nd floor wall mural
Left mural ‘The Hoosier’s Nest’ author John Finley and early Indiana Historical Society Secretary and author of ‘The Word Hoosier’ JP Dunn
Of the 13 popular theories listed under Debunked about the only 1 JP Dunn’s classic work ‘The Word Hoosier’ did not outright debunk or state was highly improbable was Harry Hoosier the 4th one down.
The term ‘Hoosier’ was popularized across Indiana with the publication of Finley’s poem in 1833. Harry Hoosier died in 1806 and Finley knew of the word before he wrote his famous poem. The brother of Finley’s grandfather helped raise Dr. Benjamin Rush who was a Founding Father and signer of our Declaration of Independence. Rush stated accounting for his illiteracy, Hoosier was “the greatest orator in America”.
According to Wabash College Professor Webb:
It is probably no coincidence that the derogatory use of the term Hoosier begins to appear at the time of Hoosier’s ministry. His congregations were rural and unsophisticated, and they mixed the races, two characteristics that would have prompted hostility and ridicule.
On the Appalachian frontier the term Hoosier became slang for people who were uneducated, so uneducated that they would follow a black minister. Later, as the term migrated west from Virginia and the Carolinas to Tennessee, and then North to Indiana, it came to mean simply someone who was uncouth or ignorant. As Piersen suggests, the greater number of Methodists in Indiana than in southern states helps to explain how the term finally found its home. In the end, the racial connotations were gradually stripped away and lost to history.