My favorite part of working in reference are the numerous fascinating materials I come across when fulfilling research requests. Recently, someone requested information on the Romantic era poet Rebecca Hammond Lard. A literature enthusiast myself, I was intrigued by her journey to Indiana.
Rebecca was born in Massachusetts on March 7, 1772, until she moved with her family to Vermont around 1779 where she taught school from the young age of 14 until her marriage in 1801 to Samuel Lard. Her husband moved to Indiana without her sometime before 1819, and with encouragement from her son, Samuel Jr., Rebecca moved her children to Indiana. Despite the struggles with her husband and supporting her children while in the harsher land of Indiana, Rebecca wrote a gorgeous poem about the magnificent view of a river in what would become her final home. Her poem, “The Banks of the Ohio,” describes the beauty she saw along the river where many Hoosiers stood. Writing in standard couplets and a two-line rhyme scheme, Mrs. Lard’s poem extends for twelve full pages of a pamphlet.
This poem is unofficially considered the first published poem written by a resident of Indiana, as acknowledged by The Indiana Book of Records, Firsts, and Fascinating Facts. While there is some disagreement about which poet is officially considered the first of Indiana, it is accepted that this was the first poem published by a woman living in Indiana.
Certainly, many references to her poem are doubtful of her name and origin — simply named Mrs. Lard — both the author and her friend who published it were doubtful of the quality of her work, as seen in the introduction description:
Were it not for the poem being published under the unremarkable name of Mrs. Lard, it might have received more attention and have been confidently named the first poem of Indiana. This lack of confidence caused it to fade beyond brief mentions in books, and eventually, her name was surpassed by poets like Sarah T. Bolton and James Whitcomb Riley. It is important to note that “On the Banks of the Ohio” was not her only work. A few years prior, Rebecca wrote a book of poems dedicated to her brother titled Miscellaneous Poems on Moral and Religious Subjects.
The life history of Rebecca Hammond Lard is surprisingly well-documented for a woman of her time, and she lived quite a hard, traveled life spending time teaching future generations. A few years after Rebecca and her four children arrived in Indiana, her husband announced his intention to divorce her and remarry. At age 56 she found herself supporting her children alone in Indiana. She remained indefinitely, living 36 years of her life there until her death at 83, leaving behind the oldest poem of Indiana.