George Rogers Clark
American frontier military leader
1752 - 1818

George Rogers Clark was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, on November 19, 1752. He received little formal schooling but learned surveying from his grandfather. He participated as a scout in Lord Dunmore's war (British Governor of VA) against the Indians in 1774. Thereafter he resumed his surveying work for various employers along the Ohio River. He became interested in the development of the Kentucky country around Harrodsburg and cast his lot with those who opposed an independent colony of Transylvania and favored maintaining a connection with Virginia.

When the American Revolution broke out Clark saw the need for an organized militia to operate against the British and Indians along the frontier. Elected by a mass meeting of the pioneers to present their problems before the Virginia government, Clark and John Gabriel Jones went to Willaimsburg, Va., in 1776. They persuaded the council and assembly to make Kentucky a separate county and to assume some responsibility for its defense. Clark returned with a supply of powder and assumed chief command of the frontier militia at a critical moment, for the Indians were already making raids against the settlers. Convinced that the Indians were instigated and supported in their raids by British officers stationed at the forts north of the Ohio River, Clark worked out a plan of offensive operations. His plans were approved by Virginia, and he was authorized to enlist troops.

In May 1778 he was at the falls of the Ohio with about 175 men. The expedition proceeded to Ft. Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River, in what is now the state of Illinois. Ft. Kaskaskia and Cahokia, also on the Mississippi, were defended by small British garrisons, which depended on the support of the French inhabitants. The French being willing to accept the authority of Virginia, both settlements were easily taken. Clark gained the friendship of Father Gibault, the priest at Kaskaskia, and through his influence the French at Vincennes (50 miles north of present-day Evansville, IN) on the Wabash were induced to change allegiance. However, Lieut. Gov. Henry Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit, Mich., recovered Vincennes. After a strenuous march across flooded bottom land in freezing weather, Clark in Feb. 1779 surprised Hamilton and forced him to give up Vincennes. The way was now open to Detroit, British bastion in the west, but it was deemed prudent to wait for reinforcements promised from Virginia. When the reinforcements were delayed Clark withdrew to Ft. Nelson which he had built at the falls of the Ohio, and made his base for the rest of the war.

In 1780 he helped defeat a British expedition sent against the Spanish settlement at St. Louis; the same year he made a swift campaign against the Shawnee Indians and destroyed their towns, Chillicothe and Piqua. Clark, now appointed brigadier general of the western forces, again planned to move against Detroit and was promised supplies and reinforcements by Virginia for the expedition. Months went by and they did not come, for Virginia was bankrupt. Again in 1782 Clark led an offensive against the Shawnees in the Miami Valley, destroying villages and crops.

When peace came in 1783 Clark's conquest doubtless influenced the award to the United States of the country northwest of the Ohio River. His offensive movements had also been of importance in defending the frontier from Indian raids and British expeditions. Clark and his men during all these years received no pay for their services. Furthermore, Clark found himself responsible for debts incurred for supplies, since Virginia, despite its promises, never reimbursed him. The rest of his life was shadowed by the demands of creditors. Clark was appointed an Indian Commissioner after the war, and in 1786 he played a leading part in negotiating a treaty with the Shawnees. The same year he led an expedition against the "Wabash Confederacy," his last military command. James Wilkinson, a traitor in the pay of Spain (though not so known at the time), coveted Clark's office of Indian Commissioner and his military command, set out deliberately to misrepresent him, and was entirely successful. He was appointed Indian Commissioner in the place of Clark, who was discredited and relieved of his command. Thereafter Clark became involved in a scheme to found a Spanish colony west of the Mississippi, and in 1793 he accepted a French major general's commission in the Genęt Project [See note]. In 1798 he chose exile with the Spanish at St. Louis rather than give up the French commission. In the following year he returned to Louisville, in the vicinity of which he lived in retirement until his death on February 13, 1818.

[Genęt Project note: Edmond Charles Genęt had been sent to the U.S. in 1792 as French Minister to the Congress of the United States. He misjudged public opinion and began instigating operations against the Spanish possessions of Florida and Louisiana and against Canada, and began fitting out of privateers in U.S. ports. When ordered to desist, he threatened to override President Washington by appealing to the people. Washington asked the French government to recall him. Genęt's successor, "citizen" Fauchet, brought orders to arrest him and send him back for trial, but Washington refused to permit the extradition. He subsequently became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He married Cornelia Tappan Clinton, daughter of New York's governor. After she died, in 1814 he married Martha Brandon Osgood, daughter of the first postmaster general.]

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