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The introduction to the memoir and text of the memoir, which follows in nine parts, are quoted from Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio 1778-1783 and Life of Gen. George Rogers Clark by William Hayden English. The two volumes were published by The Bowen-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Kansas City, Missouri, in 1897.
George Rogers Clark Memorial located in the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, Indiana.Courtesy of the Indiana State Library.
Sections of the memoir have been titled to facilitate navigation within the document.
Detroit is considered.
I laid before the officers my plans for the immediate reduction of Detroit, and explained the almost certainty of success and the probability of keeping possession of it until we could receive succor from the states, which we might reasonably suppose they would make every exertion to furnish on receiving the intelligence which we could easily convey to them in a reasonable time. If we awaited the arrival of the troops mentioned in the dispatches (from the governor of Virginia), the enemy in the meantime might get strengthened, and probably we might not be so capable of carrying the (post) with the expected reinforcement as we should be with our present force, in case we were to make the attempt at this time; and in case we should be disappointed in the promised reinforcement, we might not be able to effect it at all. There were various arguments made use of on this delicate point. Every person seemed anxious to improve the present opportunity, but prudence appeared to forbid the execution, and induced us to wait for the reinforcement. The arguments that appeared to have the greatest weight were, that with such a force we might march boldly through the Indian nations; that it would make a great (impression) on them as well as the inhabitants of Detroit, and have a better effect than if we were now to slip off and take the place with so small a force, which was certainly in our power; that the British would not wish to weaken Niagara by sending any considerable reinforcements to Detroit; that it was more difficult for that post to get succor from Canada than it was for us to receive it from the states; that the garrison at Detroit would not be able to get a reinforcement in time to prevent our executing our designs, as we might, with propriety, expect ours in a few weeks. In short, the enterprise was deferred until the ___ of June, when our troops were to rendezvous at Post Vincennes. In the meantime every preparation was to be made, procuring provisions, etc.; and, to blind our designs, the whole, except a small garrison, should march immediately to the Illinois; and orders were sent to Kentucky to prepare themselves to meet at the appointed time. This was now our proposed plan, and directed our operations the ensuing spring.
March 5th, Captain Helm, Majors Bosseron and Legras, returned from their journey up the river with great success. They came up with the enemy in the night, discerning their fires at a distance; waited until all was quiet; surrounded and took the whole prisoners, without the firing of a gun. Those (British) gentlemen were off their guard, and so little apprehensive of an enemy in that part of the world that they could hardly persuade themselves that what they saw and heard was real. This was a valuable (prize) seven boats loaded with provisions and goods to a considerable amount. The provisions were taken for the public, and the goods divided among the whole except about £800 worth (of) cloth (for?) the troops we expected to receive in a short time. This was very agreeable to the soldiers, as I told them that the state should pay them in money their proportion, and that they had great plenty of goods. This reservation was a valuable idea, for the troops, on their arrival, what few there were, (were) almost entirely naked.
British prisoners to Virginia.
On the 7th of March, Captains Williams and Rogers set out by water with a party of twenty-five men to conduct the British officers to Kentucky, and, farther to weaken the prisoners, eighteen privates were also sent. After their arrival at the falls of the Ohio, Captain Rogers had instructions to superintend their route to Williamsburg and be careful that all manner of supplies be furnished them on their way, and to await the orders of the governor.
Poor Myers, the express, got killed on his passage and his packet fell into the hands of the enemy, but I had been so much on my guard that there was not a sentence in it that could be of any disadvantage to us for the enemy to know, and there were private letters from soldiers to their friends, designedly written to deceive in case of such accidents. This was customary with us, as our expresses were frequently surprised. I sent a second dispatch to the governor, giving him a short but full account of what had passed and our views. The copy of this packet has been long since lost among many other papers, but I expect the original might be recovered among the public papers of those times.
I sent letters to the commandant of Kentucky directing him to give me a certain, but private, account of the number of men he could furnish me in June.
The weather being now very disagreeable, and having some leisure, our time was spent in consultation, weighing matters, and arranging things to the best advantage. A number of our men now got sick-their intrepidity and good success had, until this, kept up their spirits, but things falling off to little more than common garrison duty, they more sensibly felt the pains and other complaints that they had contracted during the severity of the late uncommon march, to which many of these valuable men fell a sacrifice, and few others were yet perfectly recovered (from) it.
I had yet sent no message to the Indian tribes, wishing to wait to see what effect all this would have on them. The Piankeshaws, being of the tribe of the Tobacco's Son, were always familiar with us. Part of the behavior of this grandee, as he viewed himself, was diverting enough. He had conceived such an inviolable attachment for Captain Helm, that on finding that the captain was a prisoner and not being as yet able to release him, he declared himself a prisoner also. He joined his brother, as he called Captain Helm, and continually kept with him, condoling their condition as prisoners in great distress, at the same time wanting nothing that was in the power of the garrison to furnish. Governor Hamilton, knowing the influence of Tobacco's Son, was extremely jealous of his behavior, and took every pains to gain him by presents, etc. When anything was presented to him, his reply would be, that it would serve him and his brother to live on. He would not enter into council, saying that he was a prisoner and had nothing to say, but was in hopes that when the grass grew, his brother, the big knife, would release him, and when he was free, he could talk, etc. Being presented with an elegant sword, he drew it, and, bending the point on the floor, very seriously said it would serve him and his brother to amuse themselves sticking frogs in the pond while in captivity. In short, they could do nothing with him, and the moment he heard of our arrival, he paraded all the warriors he had in his village (joining St. Vincent), and was ready to fall in and attack the fort, but for reasons formerly mentioned, was desired to desist.
On the 15th of March, 1779, a party of upper Piankeshaws and some Pottawattamie and Miami chiefs made their appearance, making great protestations of their attachment to the Americans, begged that they might be taken under the cover of our wings, and that the roads through the lands might be made straight and all the stumbling blocks removed, and that their friends, the neighboring nations, might also be considered in the same point of view. I well knew from what principle all this sprung, and, as I had Detroit now in my eye, it was my business to make a straight and clear road for myself to walk, without thinking much of their interest or anything else but that of opening the road in earnest-by flattery, deception or any other means that occurred. I told them that I was glad to see them and was happy to learn that most of the nations on the Wabash and Omi (Maumee) rivers had proved themselves to be men by adhering to the treaties they had made with the big knife last fall, except a few weak minds who had been deluded by the English to come to war; that I did not know exactly who they were, nor much cared, but understood they were a band chiefly composed of almost all the tribes (such people were to be found among all nations), but as these kind of people, who had the meanness to sell their country for a shirt, were not worthy of the attention of warriors, we would say no more about them and think on subjects more becoming us. I told them that I should let the great council of Americans know of their good behavior and knew that they would be counted as friends of the big knife, and would be always under their protection and their country secured to them, as the big knife had land enough and did not want any more; but if ever they broke their faith, the big knife would never again trust them, as they never hold friendship with a people who they find with two hearts; that they were witnesses of the calamities the British had brought on their countries by their false assertions and presents, which was a sufficient proof of their weakness; that they saw that all their boasted valor was like to fall to the ground, and they would not come out of the fort the other day to try to save the Indians that they flattered to war and suffered to be killed in their sight; and, as the nature of the war had been fully explained to them last fall, they might clearly see that the Great Spirit would not suffer it to be otherwise-that it was not only the case on the Wabash, but everywhere else; that they might be assured that the nations who would continue obstinately to believe the English would be driven out of the land and their countries given to those who were more steady friends to the Americans. I told them that I expected, for the future, that if any of my people should be going to war through their country that they would be protected, which should be always the case with their people when among us, and that mutual confidence should continue to exist, etc., etc.
They replied that, from what they had seen and heard, they were convinced that the Master of Life had a hand in all things; that their people would rejoice on their return; that they would take pains to diffuse what they had heard through all the nations, and made no doubt of the good effect of it, etc., etc.; and, after a long speech in the Indian style, calling all the spirits to be witnesses, they concluded by renewing the chain of friendship, smoking the sacred pipe, exchanging belts, etc., and, I believe, went off really well pleased, but not able to fathom the bottom of all they had heard, the greatest part of which was mere political lies, for, the ensuing summer, Captain I. Shelby, with his own company only, lay for a considerable time in the Wea town, in the heart of their country, and was treated in the most friendly manner by all the natives that he saw, and was frequently invited by them to join and plunder what was called "the King's Pasture at Detroit."; What they meant was to go and steal horses from that settlement. About this time an express arrived from the Illinois with a letter from Captain George. Things now being pretty well arranged, Lieutenant Richard Brashear was appointed to the command of the garrison, which consisted of Lieutenants Bailey and Chapline, with one hundred picked men; Captain Leonard Helm commandant of the town, superintendent of Indian affairs, etc.; Moses Henry, Indian agent, and Patrick Kennedy, quartermaster. Giving necessary instructions to all persons I left in office, on the 20th of March, I set sail on board of our galley, which was now made perfectly complete, attended by five armed boats and seventy men.
Clark to Kaskaskia.
The waters being very high, we soon reached the (Mississippi), [Copy says Missouri, but probably a mistake.] and the winds favoring us, in a few days we arrived safely at Kaskaskia, to the great joy of our new friends, Captain George and company, waiting to receive us.
On our passage up the Mississippi, we had observed several Indian camps which appeared to us fresh, but had been left in great confusion. This we could not account for, but were now informed that a few days past a party of Delaware warriors came to town and appeared to be very impudent; that in the evening, having been drinking, they swore they had come there for scalps and would have them, and flashed a gun at the breast of an American woman present. A sergeant and party, that moment passing by the house, saw the confusion and rushed in. The Indians immediately fled. The sergeant pursued and killed (some) of them. A party was instantly sent to route their camp on the river. This was executed the day before we came up, which was the sign we had seen.
Trouble with the Delaware indians.
Part of the Delaware nation had settled a town at the forks of the White river, and hunted in the counties on the Ohio and Mississippi. They had, on our first arrival, hatched up a kind of peace with us, but I always knew they were for open war but never before could get a proper excuse for exterminating them from the country, which I knew they would be loth to leave; and that the other Indians wished them away, as they were great hunters and killed their game. A few days after this, Captain Helm informed me, by express, that a party of traders who were going by land to the falls were killed and plundered by the Delawares of White river, and that it appeared that their designs were altogether hostile, as they had received a belt from the great council of their nation. I was sorry for the loss of our men, otherwise pleased at what had happened, as it would give me an opportunity of showing the other Indians the horrid fate of those who would dare to make war on the big knives, and to excel them in barbarity I knew was, and is, the only way to make war and gain a name among the Indians. I immediately sent orders to St. Vincent to make war on the Delawares; to use every means in their power to destroy them; to show no mercy to the men, but to spare the women and children. This order was executed without delay. Their camps were attacked in every quarter where they could be found; many fell, and others were brought to St. Vincent and put to death, the women and children secured, etc. They immediately applied for reconciliation, but were informed that I had ordered the war for reasons that were explained to them, and that they dare not lay down the tomahawk without permission from me, but that if the Indians were agreed, no more blood should be spilled until an express should go to Kaskaskia, which was immediately sent. I refused to make peace with the Delawares, and let them know that we never trusted those who had once violated their faith, but if they had a mind to be quiet, they might; and if they could get any of the neighboring Indians to be security for their good behavior, I would let them alone, but that I cared very little about it, etc., privately directing Captain Helm how to manage.
A council was called of all the Indians in the neighborhood; my answer was made public. The Piankeshaws took on themselves to answer for the future good conduct of the Delawares; and the Tobacco's Son, in a long speech, informed them of the baseness of their conduct, and how richly they had deserved the severe blow they had met with; that he had given them permission to settle that country, but not kill his friends; that they now saw the big knife had refused to make peace with them, but that he had become security for their good conduct, and that they might go and mind their hunting, and that if they ever did any more mischief-pointing to the sacred bow that he held in his hand-which was as much as to say that he himself would for the future chastise them. The bow is decorated with beautiful feathers - an eagle's tail, and all the grandeur of the pipe of peace, all the gaudy trinkets that can be put about it. At one end is a spear about six inches long, dipped in blood. When Tobacco's Son pointed the Delawares towards it, he touched it with his hand. This bow is one of the most sacred emblems known to the Indians, except the pipe of peace. It is only allowed to be handled by chiefs of the greatest dignity.
Thus ended the war between us and the Delawares in this quarter, much to our advantage, as the nations about said that we were as brave as the Indians, and not afraid to put an enemy to death.
June being the time for the rendezvous at (Post Vincennes), every exertion was made in procuring provisions of every species, and making other preparations. I received an express from Kentucky, wherein Colonel (John) Bowman informed me that he could furnish three hundred good men. We were now going on in high spirits, and daily expecting troops down the Tennessee, when, on the ___, we were surprised at the arrival of Colonel Montgomery with one hundred and fifty men only, which was all we had a right to expect from that quarter in a short time, as the recruiting business went on but slowly, and, for the first time, we learned the fall of our paper money.
Things immediately put on a different appearance. We now lamented that we did not march from St. Vincent to Detroit, but as we had a prospect of a considerable reinforcement from Kentucky, we yet flattered ourselves that something might be done-at least we might maneuver in such a manner as to keep the enemy in hot water and in suspense, and prevent their doing our frontiers much damage. We went on procuring supplies and did not yet lose sight of our object, and, in order to feel the pulse of the enemy, I detached Major Linetot, who had lately joined us, and a company of volunteers, up the Illinois river under the pretense of visiting our friends. He was instructed to cross the country and call at the Wea towns, and then proceed to Opost (Post Vincennes), making his observations on the route. This, we expected, would perfectly cover our designs, and, if we saw it prudent, we might, on his return, proceed. Early in June, Colonel Montgomery was dispatched, by water, with the whole of our stores. Major (Joseph) Bowman marched the remainder of our troops by land. Myself, with a party of horse, reached Opost in four days, where the whole safely arrived in a short time after.
Instead of three hundred men from Kentucky, there appeared about thirty volunteers, commanded by Captain McGary. The loss of the expedition was too obvious to hesitate about it. Colonel (John) Bowman had turned his attention against the Shawanee towns, and got repulsed and his men discouraged.
The business, from the start, had been so conducted as to make no disadvantageous impression on the enemy in case of a disappointment, as they could never know whether we really had a design on Detroit, or only a finesse to amuse them, which latter would appear probable. Arranging things to the best advantage was now my principal study. The troops were divided between St. Vincent, Kaskaskia, Cahokia and the falls of Ohio. Colonel Montgomery was appointed to the command of the Illinois; Major Bowman to superintend the recruiting business-a number of officers were appointed to that service; Major Linetot and captains to superintend the Indian business, and myself to take up my quarters at the falls (of the Ohio) as the most convenient spot to have an eye over the whole.
Clark to falls of the Ohio.
Each person marching to his post in August, I arrived by land at the [manuscript torn] as far as White river in a few days.
Our movement during the summer had confused the enemy, consequently the commanding officers at Michilimackinac had sent an expedition, via St. Joseph, to penetrate the Illinois to drive the American traders out of it. On their arrival at St. Joseph, while Major Linetot was on the way up the river, it was reported that an American army was approaching. The Indians immediately fled from the English. Being asked the occasion, (the English were) told that they were invited to see them and the big knives fight, and, as it was Iike to be the case, they had withdrawn to a height in order to have a full view of the engagement. Finding there was little dependence in the Indians, they withdrew to the mouth of the river St. Joseph and formed a strong camp, but on their first learning this intelligence they had sent an express to Mackinaw. A troop being dispatched off with provisions, and, coming within full view of their camp at the mouth of the river-supposing that it was the Americans, who had captured their friends at St. Joseph, and had taken post there. All the signs they could make could not bring the vessel to. She returned with the disagreeable news, and the poor fellows had to starve until they could get an answer to a second express.
In the meantime, Mr. Linetot, knowing of all this, had changed his route to the Weaugh, which caused a conjecture that the whole body of us was directing our course to Detroit, which caused much confusion through the whole.
The summer was spent to advantage, as we were careful to spread such reports as suited our interest. I remained at Louisville until the spring following, continually discharging the multiplicity of business that was constantly brought from every quarter. I fully acquainted the governor of Virginia that, as the new settlers now peopling Kentucky were quite numerous, I was in hopes that they were fully able to withstand any force the enemy could send against her, and, perhaps, act on the offensive.
Paper currency in depreciated state.
We now began to feel the effect of the depreciated state of the paper currency. Everything was at two or three prices, and scarcely to be had at any price. We set out on a plan of laying up, this fall, great quantities of jerked meat for the ensuing season, but as Detroit had pretty well recovered itself, the Shawanees, Delawares and other prominent Indian tribes were so exceedingly troublesome that our hunters had no success. Numbers being cut off, and small skirmishes in the country were so common that but little notice was taken of them. Colonel Rogers, who had been sent to the Mississippi for a very considerable quantity of goods, getting a reinforcement at the falls, on his passage to Pittsburg, a little above Licking creek, got totally defeated; himself and almost the whole of his party, consisting of about seventy men, were killed or made prisoners. Among the latter, of note, were Colonel John Campbell and Captain Abraham Chapline. A small boat made her escape, which was all that was saved.
(End of Clark's memoir.)