The Life and Times of George Rogers Clark

by Tre Seeger

 

   George Rogers Clark was born November 19th 1752 in Charlottesville Virginia. He was one of ten children born to John and Ann Clark.  Six of the ten children were boys, five of which became officers in the Revolutionary War.  The youngest boy William became well known as part of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The family’s four hundred acre farm was located on the Rivanna River close to the home of Thomas Jefferson.  George Rogers Clark and Thomas Jefferson became best friends.  George Rogers Clark was reported as being rugged and handsome at six feet tall with red hair.

EARLY LIFE:

   As a young boy, George attended a private school while living with his Grandfather John Rogers but only stayed a short time.  He continued to learn at home along with outdoor adventures such as hunting and fishing.  While becoming a farmer he learned to survey the land.  At age nineteen, three years before the revolutionary war, he set out on his first surveying trip into western Virginia.  In 1772 a period of four years, the twenty year old surveyor, located land for his family and friends.  While surveying Kentucky along the Ohio River the war broke out with the American Indians.  As the battles increased in 1774 it forced Clark to organize a plan to unite Kentucky and Virginia as one county.   Clark wanted recognition and protection that he felt was deserved; but as the mission failed he pushed for the making of Kentucky the County of Virginia.  After the defeat Governor Patrick Henry provided five hundred pounds of gun powder to aid in defending the land.

REVOLUTIONARY WAR ( 1775-1783) :

 

   As the American Revolutionary War began in the East, Clark had trouble gathering reinforcements which led him to travel to the Falls of Ohio.  It was here on Corn Island that he joined with the Holston River settlements.  On June 26, 1778 Clark and his men left for Kaskaskia for the surprise attack.  For six days they traveled by boat and foot dressed in Indian skins.  They hid their boats, walked in single file so they would not leave a trail.  After reaching the town they offered citizenship to the French in return they received safe travel from the area. With the help of Father Gibault, a Kaskaskia priest, Clark received the support of the French in Vincennes.  Captain Helm was sent to Fort Sackville to take command.  After gathering the Indian Tribes and offering them the white belt of peace Clark won the support on the coming campaign.  After winning Kaskaskia, Henry Hamilton took his forces down the Maummee and Wabash Rivers from Detroit.   Captain Helms was forced to surrender.  Hamilton made a wrong choice and waited too long to attack.  He sent his Indian Tribes home for the winter, while Clark strengthened his troops.  During this time Frances Vigo, a Spanish trader, was allowed to leave the camp and told Clark of the plans for the attack.   Clark knowing he could not win the attack packed up and left his camp during the hard cold winter.  He sent word to Patrick Henry stating that if he did not succeed the “this country and also Kentucky is lost.”  

On February 6, 1779, Clark took his equipped troops and supplies so he could join forces with the armed gallery “Willing”.  These troops were to meet with the rest of the force down river from Vincennes.  Clark and his 172 men rode horseback 240 miles through flooded country, sending scouts to look for food and slept on the hard ground.   It took them three times longer to complete the trip.  Clark had the men sing and listen to a drummer boy to keep them in high spirits. The winter expedition was Clark’s most known achievement and became the best source of his reputation as an early American hero.

In August of 1780 Clark won a victory at Peckuwe, a Shawnee village, near what is now known as Springfield, Ohio.  The following year George Rogers Clark was promoted to Brigadier General by Governor Thomas Jefferson.  He was then given command of all the Kentucky and Illinois county militia.  Clark prepared an expedition against Detroit, but was severely defeated in August of 1781.  

On February 23, Vincennes was taken on a surprise attack.  To make the British think there were more troops then there were, he raised flags over a slight rise and marched them back and forth.  They began firing catching the British off guard and prevented them from opening fire.  Early February 25, the third day of the attack, Henry Hamilton surrendered.  He was then captured and sent to Williamsburg as a prisoner.  The British never gained possession of the post.  This led to claiming of the rights to the land for the United States at the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  Withdrawing from Detroit and the Great Lakes, the British lost control.  The land then became the northern boundary of the United States.   

In 1782 a British-Indian force defeated the Kentucky militia at the Battle of Blue Licks.  Clark was not present at this battle, but as a senior officer he was criticized in the Virginia Council. In the last expedition of the war, Clark led an attack into the Ohio country, which was along the Great Miami River.  This attack destroyed many Indian villages.

As the war ended in 1782, Clark still led the military forces into battles.  In 1784 he received an award as a public surveyor of land set aside for military families.  As Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, which over saw the lands of Illinois and the future growth.   He was also asked to help with Indian affairs along the Ohio River.   

During Clark’s travel and campaigns many expenses were paid by him, but could never be repaid by Virginia or the United States Congress.  Clark retired in Clarksville, Indiana, in 1803. Due to his debts, he lived in a two room cabin overlooking the Falls of the Ohio.  He kept in touch with his friend of many years, Thomas Jefferson.  The two wrote often about the many items in his private museum.    

 

FINAL YEARS:

In 1809 George Rogers Clark suffered a stroke.  He fell into a lit fire in his fireplace, causing severe burns which led to the loss of his left leg.  He did not receive any pain medicine or anything to lessen the pain during the removal of the leg.  At Clark’s request a fifer and two drummers play outside the window.

Being unable to run his mill, he moved into his sister and brother-in-laws home in Locust Grove, eight miles from Louisville, Kentucky.  In 1812 Clark received a pension from the Virginia General Assembly.  He also received a ceremonial sword for recognition of his services in the Revolutionary War. 

After suffering another stroke, Clark died at Locust Grove on February 13, 1818.  He was sixty-two years of age.  He was buried at Locust Grove Cemetery two days later.  At his funeral Judge John Rowan stated “The mighty oak of the forest has fallen, and now the scrub oaks may sprout all around… The father of the western country is no more.”  On October 29, 1869 his body, along with his family members was moved from the family plot and reburied at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.   

 

 

Bibliography

Temple, Bodley. George Rogers Clark. 1926.

John, Bakeless. Backround To Glory, The Life of George Rogers Clark. 1957.

James, Alton, James. The Life of George Rogers Clark. 1970

George Rogers Clark, www.locustgrove.org/aboutgrc.html

George Rogers Clark, http://www.nndb.com/people/271/000049124/

George Rogers Clark, www.grccsar.org/grc/index.html

 

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