Indiana Road Trip – George Rogers Clark Memorial
George Rogers Clark Memorial
In this podcast the author visits the southwestern Indiana city, Vincennes where we will visit an important national memorial to George Rogers Clark. It was Clark’s exploits during the early phases of the Revolutionary War that ensured that the vast territory now composed of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin was added to the fledgling United States at the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended America’s struggle for independence.
George Rogers Clark
George Rogers Clark (November 19, 1752 – February 13, 1818)
John Clark and Ann Rogers Clark produced the second of their ten children on November 19, 1752. George Rogers Clark entered the world near Charlottesville, Virginia on the frontier. The family moved away from the frontier after the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754. Their new home was a 400-acre plantation that John Clark eventually increased to 2000 acres. His parents sent him to his grandfather’s home so he could attend Donald Robertson’s school. This famous school also educated James Madison and John Taylor, who attended at the same time as George Rogers Clark. His grandfather taught him how to survey land. At twenty, George joined a surveying team that traveled into Kentucky, which was part of Virginia at the time. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix had opened Kentucky to settlement and new settlers were flooding into the area. The Iroquois had signed the treaty had, but the various tribes that made up the rest of the area did not. British Lieutenant-Governor Henry Hamilton encouraged the Amerindian tribes to raid American settlements in Kentucky. Clark headed up defensive attacks against these tribes. On October 1, 1777, Clark departed Kentucky to travel to Virginia to request permission to undertake a daring mission against the British outposts at Vincennes, Kaskaskia and Cahokia.
Clark Captures Fort Sackville
The expedition headed by George Rogers Clark captured Fort Sackville from the British on February 24, 1779 after a grueling, frigid mid winter march through prairie and a waterlogged landscape.
George Rogers Clark Legacy
The capture ensured Clark’s legacy as the “Conqueror of the Old Northwest”. The conquest ensured that the huge swath of land between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers would be controlled by the United States at the end of the Revolutionary War.
George Rogers Clark Memorial Murals
The George Rogers Clark Memorial features a series of murals depicting the story of Clark’s conquest.
From the Book:
Indiana’s Timeless Tales – Pre-History to 1781
Greetings, today I am going to shift gears and travel to the southwestern Indiana, city, Vincennes where we will visit an important national memorial to George Rogers Clark. It was Clark’s exploits during the early phases of the Revolutionary War that ensured that the vast territory now composed of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin was added to the fledgling United States at the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended America’s struggle for independence. I have written a comprehensive timeline of Clark’s expedition in the first volume of my series, Indiana History Time Line. The book, Indiana’s Timeless Tales – Pre-History to 1781 relates not only Clark’s expedition but a description of the native tribes that inhabited Indiana, early explorations in the future state and the establishment of Indiana’s oldest town, Vincennes.
François-Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes established the town as a French trading post on 1732. The site of the town was near the place where the Buffalo Trace crossed the Wabash River. Thus, the town was connected to the Great Lakes via the Wabash River, the portage between the Wabash and the St. Mary’s River and the Maumee River. The Buffalo Trace connected with the Ohio River at the site of the Falls of the Ohio. The Wabash flowed into the Ohio River, which is a tributary of the Mississippi. Thus, from Vincennes one could travel upriver to Lake Erie, southwest to the Mississippi River and east to the present site of Jeffersonville, Indiana. The French constructed a fort they called Fort Ouiatenon to defend the village that grew up there. After the British defeated the French during the French and Indian War in 1763 they took over the fort and named it Fort Sackville.
Native to Virginia, George Rogers Clark entered the world on November 19, 1752, the son of John and Ann Rogers Clark. As a boy he attended the renowned Donald Robertson’s School. Founding Father James Madison also attended this school. His grandfather also taught him the useful trade of land surveying. When he was nineteen years old he joined a surveying team that traveled into the virtually uninhabited land of Kentucky. During these years he explored Kentucky and developed a knowledge of the language and culture of the various native tribes that inhabited the region. When hostilities broke out in the Revolutionary War, Henry Hamilton, Governor of Detroit, began encouraging the tribes to attack the new settlements in Kentucky. In 1777 Clark sent spies into the frontier, called the Illinois Country, to investigate his suspicions that the commanders of the posts at Vincennes on the Wabash and Cahokia and Caskaskia on the Mississippi River were inciting the violence. On June 22, 1777 his spies returned and confirmed his suspicions.
Clark had been formulating plans to attack and capture these three posts, which were not heavily garrisoned. Clark knew that he could take these widely separated posts with just a few highly trained frontiersmen and supplies. In late 1777 Clark traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia to present his plan to Virginia Governor Patrick Henry. Governor Henry approved his plan to capture the Virginia Country for Virginia, so under the greatest secrecy Clark began gathering the men and supplies he would need for his daring mission.
Clark had expected to recruit 350 men, however many did not wish to leave their families to the depredations of the natives. Thus, Clark departed on his expedition on May 12, 1778 with 150 men organized into four companies. The company traveled to Pittsburgh where they gathered supplies after which they continued down the Ohio River to the Falls of the Ohio. Clark and his men arrived at Corn Island near the Falls on May 27, 1778 and set up a training camp. He sent a message to Colonel John Bowman, senior militia officer in Kentucky, for more men and supplies. Clark chose Corn Island to discourage deserters. They trained and waited for reinforcements until June 24. He received more reinforcements from Colonel Bowman and departed on June 24 with 175 men, organized into four companies. About 60 men were too sick to travel and remained behind to garrison the blockhouse Clark had built on Corn Island. Before leaving, Clark received word of the French alliance with the United States, a bit of news he would use to his advantage.
Clark’s men paddled along the north shore of the Ohio River until they reached the site of a ruined fort, where they landed. Clark provisioned his force for a four day march to reach Kaskaskia, on the Mississippi River. The 109 mile march took six days, so when they arrived at the town at twilight, they had gone without food for two days. They resolved to take the fort or die. They found that the British had deserted the fort in 1775 and did not return, leaving the residents without a government. conditions in the village approached anarchy. When Clark’s men approached the town and informed the French residents of the treaty between France and the United States, the French surrendered without firing a shot. Clark had captured the first of his three targets without losing a man.
Clark next sent his second in command, Joseph Bowmen, to capture Cahokia with a 30 man force. Bowman found this post also devoid of British troops. He informed the French residents of that settlement of the alliance and they, too, surrendered with no resistance on July 6, 1778. From his base at Kaskaskia Clark sent Father Pierre Gibault to Vincennes with about 30 men to capture Vincennes. With no British force in residence, the French eagerly surrendered Fort Sackville to the Americans. The Americans renamed Fort Sackville to Fort Patrick Henry. Clark had now captured three British posts without firing a shot, except to bag game along the route.
Governor Henry Hamilton learned of the capture of Vincennes in August 1778 from a French fur trader that was trading in Detroit. He determined to recapture the post, however his resources were thin due to the raging rebellion along the Atlantic seaboard. He managed to collect a force of 175 men, which included about 60 native warriors. Most of his force consisted of French militia, whom he did not trust. He departed from Detroit on October 7, 1778. He used the standard route of ascending the Maumee River to Fort Wayne and up the St. Mary’s River to portage to the Wabash River. He arrived at Fort Patrick Henry on December 17, 1778.
Clark had placed Captain Leonard Helm in command of the fort with about 60 French militia. These men had deserted prior to Hamilton’s arrival, thus Helm had only himself and three others to defend the fort. Upon hearing Hamilton’s demand to surrender, Helm pointed a cannon at the fort’s entrance, he held a bottle of whiskey and a match near the cannon’s fuse. He invited Hamilton to discuss terms of surrender. During the negotiations Helm convinced Hamilton that Helm commanded a much larger force. After achieving a favorable surrender terms, Helm surrendered to Hamilton, who was enraged when he discovered the tiny force that had opposed him. Believing that the Americans would not launch an expedition to retake the fort in the dead of winter, Hamilton allowed most of his soldiers to go back to Detroit while he took up his winter quarters with a defending force of 30 men.
French fur trader Francis Vigo, unaware that the British had recaptured Vincennes, had traveled to the village to find it once more held by the British. An ardent American supporter, Vigo took note of the size of the force and how it was situated. The British captured him, but released him after forcing him to not not to go to Clark’s headquarters. Vigo promised to return to St. Louis. After his release, he did return to St. Louis, to fulfill his promise, however he then undertook the 50 mile journey to Kaskaskia to inform Clark.
Clark knew that if he left Vincennes in possession of Hamilton, the governor could cut off his line of communications. He immediately made plans to recapture the town. He and 180 companions set off on the 180 mile journey through a flooded countryside to Vincennes. At times they waded through waters up to their armpits. They hunted buffalo to provision them during their journey. They arrived on February 23, 1779 to find that Vincennes was a virtual island, as the river had flooded the area. Upon arrival, Clark contacted the French inhabitants, who dug up gunpowder they had buried to keep it out of British hands. They gave him the powder and informed him that Hamilton was confident that Clark would not try to cross the flooded, icy praries in winter and had not dispatched any spies. Thus, the British were completely unaware of his arrival.
Clark’s men surrounded the fort. Using many ruses, Clark made it appear that he had a much larger force than he had. Clark had a number of sharpshooters armed with the famed Kentucky long rifle. These men kept up a hot, accurate fire along the fort’s walls, forcing the British defenders to keep their heads down. Under this cover of fire, other men began tunneling under the fort to plant explosives. They also built entrenchments and barricades against a British counterattack.
Hamilton agreed to surrender negotiations, which took place in a nearby Church. Clark demanded an unconditional surrender, which Hamilton refused and returned to the fort. A band of Amerindian warriors, unaware of the American’s presence, wandered into their midst. Clark captured them and had them tomahawked to death in front of the fort’s defenders. The ploy worked, as it demoralized the small force after which Hamilton reluctantly surrendered. At ten o’clock AM on February 25, 1779, Hamilton marched his men out of the fort. The British laid down their arms and surrendered the fort.
Clark’s feat dramatically changed the course of the war in the west, as the Americans now held three strategic points in the Illinois Country. The native attacks in Kentucky slowed dramatically and Clark sent Governor Hamilton back along the Trace to the Falls of the Ohio as a prisoner.
Situated along the banks of the Wabash River, the George Rogers Clark National Memorial features a massive granite memorial which commemorates the conquest of the Old Northwest Territory. It is the largest national monument outside of Washington, D.C. The Memorial is located on the site of the former British Fort Sackville which was captured by Colonel George Rogers Clark and his army of 170 frontiersmen and Frenchmen. The moment of the fort’s surrender on February 25, 1779 marks the birth of the United States north of the Ohio River. Park staff are available to give tours during hours of operation. The park’s Visitor Center is handicap-accessible and features exhibits, a gift shop and a 30 minute movie presentation .
George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
401 South 2nd Street
Vincennes, IN 47591
Find out more about Clarks’s exploits and other events in early Indiana history by purchasing the book Indiana’s Timeless Tales – Pre-History to 1781. You can find it on my web site, http://www.mossyfeetbooks.com on the Indiana History Time Line category. Just scroll down to categories, click the Indiana History Time Line and you have it. There are currently five books in the series. I am currently almost finished with the sixth book, which will end when the Indiana Territory enters the third stage of Territorial Government in December 1811. It would remain in the third stage until it achieved statehood in 1816. You will find links to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play and other online book sellers. You may choose to purchase the book in ebook or softbound versions. An audio book version is available on Google Play. You can also order the book direct from me, the author, on the web page. If you wish me to sign the book, just send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting a signed book and instructions on how you want me to address it. Note, if you send me an email, I will add you to my contact list. Readers on the list will receive an email from me announcing when I publish a new book. If you do not want me to add you to the list, tell me and I will not add you. Listeners to this podcast that want email notification of my new releases can just send me an email requesting addition to the list. You can choose to have your name removed at any time. If you browse the web site you will find dozens of sample chapters, one for each of my books.
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