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George Rogers Clark

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George Rogers Clark

George Rogers Clark
1825 portrait by Matthew Harris Jouett
Nickname(s) Conqueror of the Old Northwest[1]
Hannibal of the West[2]
Washington of the West[3]
Father of Louisville
Born (1752-11-19)November 19, 1752
Charlottesville, Virginia
Died February 13, 1818(1818-02-13) (aged 65)
Louisville, Kentucky
Buried at Cave Hill Cemetery
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Virginia Militia
Years of service 1776–1790
Rank Brigadier General
Commands held Western Frontier

American Revolutionary War

Northwest Indian War
Relations John Clark III (Father)
Ann Rogers Clark (Mother)
General Jonathan Clark (brother)
Captain William Clark (brother)
Ann Clark Gwatmey (sister)
Captain John Clark (brother)
Lieutenant Richard Clark (brother)
Captain Edmund Clark (brother)
Lucy Clark Croghan (sister)
Elizabeth Clark Anderson (sister)
Frances "Fanny" Clark O'Fallon Minn Fitzhugh (sister)

George Rogers Clark (November 19, 1752 – February 13, 1818) was a soldier from Virginia and the highest ranking American military officer on the northwestern frontier during the American Revolutionary War. He served as leader of the Kentucky (then part of Virginia) militia throughout much of the war. Clark is best known for his celebrated captures of Kaskaskia (1778) and Vincennes (1779) during the Illinois Campaign, which greatly weakened British influence in the Northwest Territory. Because the British ceded the entire Northwest Territory to the United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Clark has often been hailed as the "Conqueror of the Old Northwest".

Clark's military achievements all came before his 30th birthday. Afterwards he led militia in the opening engagements of the Northwest Indian War, but was accused of being drunk on duty. Despite his demand for a formal investigation into the accusations, he was disgraced and forced to resign. He left Kentucky to live on the Indiana frontier. Never fully reimbursed by Virginia for his wartime expenditures, Clark spent the final decades of his life evading creditors, and living in increasing poverty and obscurity. He was involved in two failed conspiracies to open the Spanish-controlled Mississippi River to American traffic. After suffering a stroke and the loss of his leg, Clark was aided in his final years by family members, including his younger brother William, one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Clark died of a stroke on February 13, 1818.


  • Early years 1
  • Revolutionary War 2
    • Illinois campaign 2.1
    • Final years of the war 2.2
  • Later years 3
    • Life in Indiana 3.1
    • Return to Kentucky 3.2
  • Legacy 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early years

George Rogers Clark was born on November 19, 1752 in Charlottesville, Virginia, near the home of Thomas Jefferson.[4] He was the second of ten children of John Clark and Ann Rogers Clark, who were Anglicans of English and Scots ancestry.[5][6] Five of their six sons became officers during the American Revolutionary War. Their youngest son, William Clark, was too young to fight in the Revolution, but later became famous as a leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In about 1756, after the outbreak of the French and Indian War (part of the worldwide Seven Years' War), the family moved away from the frontier to Caroline County, Virginia, and lived on a 400-acre (1.6 km2) plantation that later grew to over 2,000 acres (8.1 km2).[7]

Little is known of Clark's schooling. He lived with his grandfather so he could attend Donald Robertson's school with James Madison and John Taylor of Caroline and received a common education.[8] He was also tutored at home, as was usual for Virginian planters' children of the period. Becoming a planter, he was taught to survey land by his grandfather.

At age nineteen, Clark left his home on his first surveying trip into western Virginia.[9] In 1772, as a twenty-year-old surveyor, Clark made his first trip into Kentucky via the Ohio River at Pittsburgh.[10] Thousands of settlers were entering the area as a result of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1768.[11] In 1774, Clark was preparing to lead an expedition of ninety men down the Ohio River when war broke out with the American Indians. Although most of Kentucky was not inhabited by Indians, several tribes used the area for hunting. The tribes living in the Ohio country had not been party to the treaty signed with the Cherokee, which ceded the Kentucky hunting grounds to Britain for settlement. They attacked the European-American settlers to try to push them out of the area, conflicts that eventually culminated in Lord Dunmore's War. Clark served in the war as a captain in the Virginia militia.[12]

Revolutionary War

As the American Revolutionary War began in the East, settlers in Kentucky were involved in a dispute over the region's sovereignty. Richard Henderson, a judge and land speculator from North Carolina, had purchased much of Kentucky from the Cherokee in an illegal treaty. Henderson intended to create a proprietary colony known as Transylvania, but many Kentucky settlers did not recognize Transylvania's authority over them. In June 1776, these settlers selected Clark and John Gabriel Jones to deliver a petition to the Virginia General Assembly, asking Virginia to formally extend its boundaries to include Kentucky.[13] Clark and Jones traveled via the Wilderness Road to Williamsburg, where they convinced Governor Patrick Henry to create Kentucky County, Virginia. Clark was given 500 lb (230 kg) of gunpowder to help defend the settlements and was appointed a major in the Kentucky County militia.[14] Clark was just 24 years old, but older settlers such as Daniel Boone, Benjamin Logan, and Leonard Helm looked to him as a leader.

US Postage Stamp, 1929 issue designed by F.C. Yohn; George Rogers Clark recaptured Fort Sackville in the February 23, 1779 Battle of Vincennes without losing a single soldier

Illinois campaign

In 1777, the American Revolutionary War intensified in Kentucky. Armed and encouraged by British lieutenant governor Henry Hamilton at Fort Detroit, Native Americans waged war and raided the Kentucky settlers in hopes of reclaiming the region as their hunting ground. The Continental Army could spare no men for an invasion of the Northwest or the defense of distant Kentucky, so its defense was left entirely to the local population.[15] Clark participated in several skirmishes against the Native American raiders. As a leader of the defense of Kentucky, Clark believed that the best way to end these raids was to seize British outposts north of the Ohio River, thereby destroying British influence with the Indians.[16] Clark asked Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia for permission to lead a secret expedition to capture the nearest British posts, which were located in the Illinois country. Governor Henry commissioned Clark as a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia and authorized him to raise troops for the expedition.[17]

In July 1778, Clark and about 175 men crossed the Ohio River at alliance with France. Washington recognized his achievement had been gained without support from the regular army in men or funds.[21] Virginia capitalized on Clark's success by laying claim to the whole of the Old Northwest, calling it Illinois County.[22]

Clark's march to Vincennes—the most celebrated event of his career—has been often depicted, as in this illustration by F. C. Yohn

Final years of the war

Clark's ultimate goal during the Revolutionary War was to seize British-held Detroit, but he could never recruit enough men to make the attempt. The Kentucky militiamen generally preferred to defend their homes by staying closer to Kentucky rather than making a long and potentially perilous expedition to Detroit. In June 1780, a mixed force of British and Indians, including Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot and others, from Detroit Springfield, Ohio.[24]

The next year Clark was promoted to brigadier general by Governor Thomas Jefferson, and was given command of all the militia in the Kentucky and Illinois counties. He prepared again to lead an expedition against Detroit. Although Washington transferred a small group of regulars to assist Clark, the detachment was disastrously defeated in August 1781 before they could meet up with Clark, ending the campaign.[25][26]

In August 1782, another British-Indian force defeated the Kentucky militia at the Battle of Blue Licks. Although Clark had not been present at the battle, as senior military officer, he was severely criticized in the Virginia Council for the disaster.[27] In response, Clark led another expedition into the Ohio country, destroying several Indian towns along the Great Miami River in the last major expedition of the war.[28]

The importance of Clark's activities in the Revolutionary War has been the subject of much debate among historians. As early as 1779 he was called the Conqueror of the Northwest by

  • The George Rogers Clark Heritage Association
  • Route of George Rogers Clark across Illinois at the Wayback Machine (archived January 3, 2012)
  • Indiana Historical Bureau, including Clark's memoir
  • Clark Family Papers – Missouri History Museum Archives
  • George Rogers Clark Papers – The Illinois Regiment at the Wayback Machine (archived March 23, 2009)
  • Gen George Rogers Clark at Find a Grave – Cave Hill Cemetery
  • George Rogers Clark at Find a Gravecenotaph at Fort Massac State Park, Illinois

External links

  • Bakeless, John (1992) [1957]. Background to Glory: The Life of George Rogers Clark. Lincoln:  
  • Bodley, Temple (1926). George Rogers Clark: His Life and Public Services. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 
  • Butterfield, Consul Willshire (1904). History of George Rogers Clark's Conquest of the Illinois and the Wabash Towns, 1778 and 1779. Columbus, Ohio: Heer. 
  • Carstens, Kenneth C. and Nancy Son Carstens, eds (2004). The Life of George Rogers Clark, 1752–1818: Triumphs and Tragedies. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.  
  • Nester, William R. (2012). George Rogers Clark: "I Glory in War". Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.  
  • Thruston, R. C. Ballard (October 1936). "The Grave of General George Rogers Clark". Filson Club Historical Quarterly 10 (4). Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  • Thruston, R. C. Ballard (January 1935). "Some Recent Finds Regarding the Ancestry of General George Rogers Clark". Filson Club Historical Quarterly 9 (1). Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
Further reading
  • Harrison, Lowell H (2001) [1976]. George Rogers Clark and the War in the West. Lexington:  
  • James, James Alton (1928). The Life of George Rogers Clark. Chicago:  
  • Palmer, Frederick (1929). Clark of the Ohio: A Life of George Rogers Clark. Kessinger Publishing.  
  • Seineke, Kathrine Wagner (1981). The George Rogers Clark adventure in the Illinois: and selected documents of the American Revolution at the frontier posts. New York: Polyanthos.
  1. ^ George Rogers Clark: Conqueror of the old Northwest, Miles P DuVal, 1969
  2. ^ [The Clark Family and the Kentucky Derby], James J. Holmberg, Filson Historical Society
  3. ^ The Old South Leaflets: Annual series, Old South Meeting House, 1893
  4. ^ Palmer, 3
  5. ^ Scots and Scots' Descendants in America, Volume 1, Donald John MacDougall, Caledonian publishing Company, 1917, p. 54
  6. ^ English, Vol 1, pp. 35–38
  7. ^ Palmer, 4–5
  8. ^ English, 1:56
  9. ^ Palmer, 51
  10. ^ English, 1:60
  11. ^ Palmer, 56
  12. ^ Palmer, 74
  13. ^ English, 1:70–71
  14. ^ Harrison, 9
  15. ^ Palmer, 394
  16. ^ English, 1:87
  17. ^ English, 1:92
  18. ^ English 1:168
  19. ^ English, 1:234
  20. ^ Palmer, IV
  21. ^ a b Palmer, 391–94
  22. ^ Palmer, 400 & 421
  23. ^ English, 2:682
  24. ^ Raitz, Karl, ed. A Guide to the National Road. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996, 200-201. Accessed 2009-09-22.
  25. ^ English, 2:730
  26. ^ Palmer, 424
  27. ^ Harrison, 93–94
  28. ^ English, 2:758–60
  29. ^ Palmer, 79
  30. ^ Harrison, 118
  31. ^ Palmer, IIX
  32. ^ a b Harrison, 101
  33. ^ English, 2:790–791
  34. ^ James, 325
  35. ^ Harrison, 102
  36. ^ a b Harrison, 104
  37. ^ English, 2:800–03
  38. ^ Indiana Historical Bureau. "Plat of Clark's Grant". Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  39. ^ a b Harrison, 105
  40. ^ English, 2:818
  41. ^ English, 2:821–822
  42. ^ James, 425
  43. ^ Harrison, 106
  44. ^ a b Harrison, 100
  45. ^ English, 2:862
  46. ^ Dunn, 382–383
  47. ^ English, 2:869
  48. ^ English, 2:882
  49. ^ "Clark after the Revolution". Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  50. ^ English, 2:887
  51. ^ "George Rogers Clark National Historic Park". National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  52. ^ English, 2:897. Several bodies were exhumed before Clark's skeleton was finally identified by the military uniform, amputated leg, and red hair. English stated an exhumed date of 1889.
  53. ^ "Clark's Death". Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved 2008-08-25. , The IHB states the exhumed date to be in 1869.
  54. ^ Harrison, 98
  55. ^ Palmer, 297
  56. ^ "George Rogers Clark National Historic Park". National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  57. ^ a b "Celebrating Clark". Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  58. ^ "George Rogers Clark Historical Marker". The Historical Marker database. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  59. ^ "George Rogers Clark Elementary School". Retrieved 2008-08-28. 


See also

Schools named after Clark include:

Places named for Clark include counties in Ohio (home to Clark State Community College), and Virginia, and communities in West Virginia (Clarksburg), Indiana (Clarksville), and Tennessee (also Clarksville). Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois is named for him, as is a campsite in the Woodland Trails Scout Reservation, Camden, Ohio.

Other statues of Clark can be found in:

On May 23, 1928, U.S. Highway 31, over the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky.


Several years after Clark's death the state of Virginia granted his estate $30,000 ($568,853 in 2009 chained dollars) as a partial payment on the debts that they owed him.[44] The government of Virginia continued to find debt to Clark for decades, with the last payment to his estate being made in 1913.[54] Clark never married and he kept no account of any romantic relationships, although his family held that he had once been in love with Teresa de Leyba, sister of Don Fernando de Leyba, the Lieutenant Governor of Spanish Louisiana. Writings from his niece and cousin in the Draper Manuscripts attest to their belief in Clark's lifelong disappointment over the failed romance.[55]

Clark's body was exhumed along with the rest of his family members on October 29, 1869, and reburied at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.[52][53]

In his funeral oration, Judge [51]

In 1809 Clark suffered a severe stroke. Falling into an operating fireplace, he suffered a burn on one leg so severe as to necessitate the amputation of the limb.[47] It was impossible for Clark to continue to operate his mill, so he became a dependent member of the household of his brother-in-law, Major William Croghan, a planter at Locust Grove farm eight miles (13 km) from the growing town of Louisville.[48] During 1812, the Virginia General Assembly granted Clark a pension of four hundred dollars per year, and finally recognized his services in the Revolution by granting him a ceremonial sword.[49] After a second stroke, Clark died at Locust Grove, February 13, 1818, and was buried at Locust Grove Cemetery two days later.[50]

Return to Kentucky

Statue by George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
Statement from Rogers's physician noting the General's health problems, which the doctor ascribed to the severe conditions the General had endured during his wartime service. December 1809
Grave site of Clark at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville

The Indiana Territory chartered the Indiana Canal Company in 1805 to build a canal around the Falls of the Ohio, near Clarksville. Clark was named to the board of directors and was part of the surveying team that assisted in laying out the route of the canal. The company collapsed the next year before construction could begin, when two of the fellow board members, including Vice President Aaron Burr, were arrested for treason. A large part of the company's $1.2 million ($60.5 million in 2009 chained dollars) in investments was unaccounted for, and where the funds went was never determined.[46]

Due to his growing debt, it became impossible for Clark to continue holding his land, since it became subject to seizure. Much of his land he deeded to friends or transferred to family members where it could be held for him, so that it would not be lost to his creditors.[44] After a few years, the lenders and their assignees closed in and deprived the veteran of almost all of the property that remained in his name. Clark, once the largest landholder in the Northwest Territory, was left with only a small plot of land in Clarksville, where he built a small gristmill which he worked with two African American slaves.[45] Clark lived on for another two decades, and continued to struggle with alcohol abuse, a problem which had plagued him on-and-off for many years. He was very bitter about his treatment and neglect by Virginia, and blamed his misfortune on the state.[39]

With his career seemingly over and his prospects for prosperity doubtful, on February 2, 1793, Clark offered his services to New Madrid, St. Louis, Natchez, and New Orleans, getting assistance from old comrades such as Benjamin Logan and John Montgomery, and winning the tacit support of Kentucky governor Isaac Shelby.[41] Clark spent $4,680 ($59,161 in 2009 chained dollars) of his own money for supplies.[42] In early 1794, however, President Washington issued a proclamation forbidding Americans from violating U.S. neutrality and threatened to dispatch General Anthony Wayne to Fort Massac to stop the expedition. The French government recalled Genêt and revoked the commissions he granted to the Americans for the war against Spain. Clark's planned campaign gradually collapsed, and he was unable to convince the French to reimburse him for his expenses.[43]

Clark lived most of the rest of his life in financial difficulties. Clark had financed the majority of his military campaigns with borrowed funds. When creditors began to come to him for these unpaid debts, he was unable to obtain recompense from Virginia or the United States Congress because record keeping on the frontier during the war had been haphazard. For his services in the war Virginia gave Clark a gift of 150,000 acres (610 km2) of land. The soldiers who fought with Clark also received smaller tracts of land. Together with Clark's Grant and his other holdings, his ownership encompassed all of present-day Clark County, Indiana and most of the surrounding counties.[38] Although Clark had claims to tens of thousands of acres of land resulting from his military service and land speculation, he was "land-poor", meaning that he owned much land but lacked the means to make money from it.

Life in Indiana

According to a 1790 U.S. government report, 1,500 Kentucky settlers had been killed in Indian raids since the end of the Revolutionary War.[34] In an attempt to end these raids, Clark led an expedition of 1,200 drafted men against Indian towns on the Wabash River in 1786, one of the first actions of the Northwest Indian War.[35] The campaign ended without a victory: lacking supplies, about three hundred militiamen mutinied, and Clark had to withdraw, but not before concluding a ceasefire with the Indians. It was rumored, most notably by James Wilkinson, that Clark had often been drunk on duty.[36] When Clark learned of the rumors he demanded an official inquiry be made, but his request was declined by Governor of Virginia, and Virginia Council condemned Clark's actions. Clark's reputation was tarnished, he never again led men in battle, and he left Kentucky, moving into the Indiana frontier near Clarksville[36][37]

Clark was just thirty years old when the Revolutionary War ended, but his greatest military achievements were already behind him. Ever since Clark's victories in Illinois, settlers had been pouring into Kentucky, often illegally squatting on Indian land north of the Ohio River. From 1784 until 1788 Clark served as the superintendent-surveyor for Virginia's war veterans and surveyed the lands granted to them for their service in the war. The position brought a small income, but Clark devoted very little time to the enterprise.[32] Clark helped to negotiate the Treaty of Fort McIntosh in 1785[33] and the Treaty of Fort Finney in 1786 with tribes north of the river, but violence between Native Americans and Kentucky settlers continued to escalate.[32]

Later years

Virginia Land Office warrant to Clark for 560 acres for having raised battalion to fight in the Revolutionary War. January 1780

[31][30] Other historians, such as Lowell Harrison, have downplayed the importance of the campaign in the peace negotiations and the outcome of the war, arguing that Clark's "conquest" was little more than a temporary occupation.[21] by seizing control of the Illinois country during the war. Clark's Illinois campaign—particularly the surprise march to Vincennes—was greatly celebrated and romanticized.Thirteen Colonies, credit Clark with nearly doubling the size of the original William Hayden English, some historians, including 1783 Treaty of Paris to the United States in the Northwest Territory Because the British ceded the entire Old [29]

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