Perry County was established in 1814, two years before the State of Indiana was admitted to the Union. It was named in honor of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who gained fame for his defeat of the British in 1813 at the Battle of Lake Erie. The Ohio River made Perry County a focal point and settlers were drawn here due to plentiful supplies of natural resources and the area's scenic beauty.
In 1811, the New Orleans, Robert Fulton's first steamboat took on coal above Tell City from what was likely the first Indiana coal mine. Fulton later purchased over 1,000 acres of land near the future Tell City. His younger brother, Abraham Fulton, moved here to look after his brother's estate in 1815, and he is buried in Troy Cemetery near Fulton Hill.
Abraham Lincoln's family crossed into Indiana when he was 7 years old, on their way to their new home near Lincoln City. The Lincoln Ferry Park near Troy commemorates the place where Abe at the age of 17 ran a ferry skiff for James Taylor. The Lincoln family spent much of their time in Troy the center of commerce for the area.
The Revolutionary War general Marquis de Lafayette's steamer, The Mechanic, shipwrecked in the Ohio River on a rainy night in May, 1825. Lafayette and his entire crew survived and he was rescued from the Indiana shore the next morning by the steamboat The Paragon. Lafayette Springs between Cannelton and Rocky Point bear the name of this war hero in memory of this unexpected visit.
Cannelton's first settlers arrived around 1812 about a decade after white settlers first took up residence near Tobinsport, the burial site of several Revolutionary War heroes. Ironically, Cannelton took the first shot fired in Indiana during the Civil War. Northeastern industrialists were attracted to the coal here which soon led to construction of area landmarks such as the Indiana Cotton Mill, one of only 26 National Historic Landmarks in Indiana. The mill's five stories and 280 foot frontage made it the largest building west of the Alleghenies when it was built in 1849. The cotton mill rivaled those in Massachusetts turning out uniforms for the Civil War and both World Wars.
The last major city to be established in Perry County is now the largest and the county seat, Tell City, named after William Tell. The Swiss Colonization society, a group of Swiss-German immigrants, set out from Cincinnati, Ohio in 1856 to find a new home. The beauty of the hills, river and forest reminded them of their native Switzerland and two years later, 1,000 people had settled in Tell City.
The Irish claimed homesteads in Derby, the French-Belgian in Leopold (named after King Leopold of Belgium), the French and Irish in St. Croix, the Russian and Polish in Siberia, and the English and Germans, along with a host of other European nationalities, settled amidst Perry County's rolling hills and river bluffs throughout the county.