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.
Sections of the memoir have been titled to facilitate navigation within the document.
When I left Kentucky, October 1st, 1777, I plainly saw that every eye was turned toward me, as if expecting some stroke in their favor. Some doubted my return, expecting I would join the army in Virginia. I left them with reluctance, promising that I would certainly return to their assistance, which I had predetermined.
On my arrival at Williamsburg I remained a considerable time, settling the accounts of the Kentucky militia and (noting) remarks of everything I saw or heard that could lead me to the knowledge of the disposition of those in power. Burgoyne's army having been captured, and things seeming to wear a pleasing aspect, on the 10th December I communicated my views to Governor Henry. At first he seemed to be fond of it; but to detach a party at so great a distance (although the service performed might be of great utility) appeared daring and hazardous, as nothing but secrecy could give success to the enterprise. To lay the matter before the assembly, then sitting, would be dangerous, as it would soon be known throughout the frontiers; and probably the first prisoner taken by the Indians would give the alarm, which would end in the certain destruction of the party. He had several private councils, composed of select gentlemen. After making every inquiry into my proposed plans of operation (and particularly that of a retreat, in case of misfortune, across the Mississippi into the Spanish territory), the expedition was resolved upon; and as an encouragement to those who would engage in said service, an instrument of writing was signed, wherein those gentlemen promised to use their influence to procure from the assembly three hundred acres of land for each in case of success. The governor and council so warmly engaged in the success of this enterprise that I had very little trouble in getting matters adjusted; and on the second day of January 1778, received my instructions and £1,200 for the use of the expedition, with an order on Pittsburg for boats, ammunition, etc. Finding, from the governor's conversation in general to me on the subject, that he did not wish an implicit attention to his instructions should prevent my executing anything that would manifestly tend to the good of the public, on the 4th I set forward, clothed with all the authority that I wished. I advanced to Major William B. Smith £150, to recruit men on Holston, and to meet me in Kentucky. (He never joined me.) Captain Leonard Helm, of Fauquier, and Captain Joseph Bowman, of Frederick, were to raise each a company, and on the 1st of February I arrived at Red Stone. [Now Brownsville, Pennsylvania, on the river Monongahela.]
Being now in the country where all arrangements were to be made, I appointed Captain William Harrod and many other officers to the recruiting service, and contracted for flour and other stores that I wanted. General Hand then commanded at Pitt, and promised a supply of the articles I had orders for. I received information from Captain Helm that several gentlemen in that quarter took pains to counteract his interest in recruiting, as no such service was known of by the assembly. Consequently, he had to send to the governor to get his conduct ratified. I found, also, opposition to our interest in the Pittsburg country. As the whole was divided into violent parties between the Virginians and Pennsylvanians respecting territory, each trying to counteract the idea of men being raised for the state of Virginia affected the vulgar of one party; and, as my real instructions were kept concealed, and only an instrument from the governor, written designedly for deception, was made public, wherein I was authorized to raise men for the defense of Kentucky, many gentlemen of both parties conceived it to be injurious to the public interest to draw off men at so critical a moment for the defense of a few detached inhabitants, who had better be removed, etc. These circumstances caused some confusion in the recruiting service. On the 29th March I received a letter from Major Smith by express, informing me that he had raised four companies on the Holston, to be marched immediately to Kentucky, agreeably to his orders; and an express from Kentucky informed me that they had much strengthened since I Ieft that quarter. This information of four companies being raised, with Bowman's and Helm's, which I knew were on their way to join me at Red Stone, caused me to be more easy respecting recruits than otherwise I should have been. The officers only got such as had friends in Kentucky, or those induced by their own interest and desire to see the country. Meeting with several disappointments, it was late in May before I could leave the Red Stone settlement with those companies and a considerable number of families and private adventurers. Taking in my stores at Pittsburg and Wheeling, I proceeded down the river with caution.
On our arrival at the mouth of the Great Kanawha, Captain Arbuckle, the commandant, informed us that about 250 Indians had warmly attacked his post the day before and wounded a few of his men; that the enemy had directed their course to the settlements of Greenbrier; that he had sent out (an) express to give the alarm; that; if I thought it prudent, he was sensible that the forces I had, with the addition of part of the garrison, could, in all probability, overtake them before they got to the settlement and give them a total rout. The prospect was flattering, but uncertainty of getting the advantage of the enemy, the loss of the time and perhaps a number of men, which (would) end in the destruction of the enterprise that I was on, and the almost certainty of the frontiers getting the alarm by the express in time might repel them, which they did. Those ideas induced me to decline it. I proceeded on, being joined by Captain James O'Hara on his way to the Arkansas on public business.
I landed at the mouth of Kentucky, where I intended to have fortified, as the growth of Kentucky greatly depended on a post being fixed on the Ohio river, and a place of security for the emigrants that wished to come down the river; but, taking in view my designs to be westward, I found that Kentucky was not the spot except we could afford to keep two posts. In case of success, it would be absolutely necessary to have a post of communication on the river between the Illinois and Kentucky, and of course the falls was the most eligible spot as it would answer all the more desirable purposes, and in a great measure protect the navigation of the river, as every vessel would be obliged to stop some time at that place. They would be always exposed to the Indians.
I had learned that but one company, Captain Dillard's, of Major Smith's troops, had yet arrived in Kentucky, which alarmed me, as I was afraid the disappointment would prove fatal to our schemes. I wrote to Colonel Bowman, informed him of my intention of fixing a garrison at the falls, and that I had an object in view of the greatest importance to the country; desired him to meet me there with what troops there was of Major Smith's, and what militia could be spared with safety from the different posts.
I moved on to the falls and viewed the different situations, but, reflecting that my secret instructions were yet unknown, even to the party with me, and not knowing what would be the consequences when they should be divulged on our being joined by the whole, I wished to have everything (secure) as much as possible. I observed the little island of about (seventy?) acres, opposite to where the town of Louisville now stands, seldom or never was entirely covered by the water. I resolved to take possession and fortify (it), which I did on __th of June, dividing the island among the families for gardens. These families that followed me I now found to be of real service, as they were of little expense, and, with the invalids, would keep possession of this little post until we should be able to occupy the main shore, which happened in the fall, agreeable to instructions I had sent from the Illinois. The people on the Monongahela, learning by (word ) I had sent them of this post, great numbers had moved down. This was one of the principal, among other, causes of the rapid progress of the settlement of Kentucky.
On the arrival of Colonel (John) Bowman, part of the militia and several of the gentlemen of the country, we found, on examination, that we were much weaker than expected, and the Indians continued, without intermission, and were more numerous the longer they continued, as the British continued to add to their strength by exciting others to join them. Under those circumstances we could not think of leaving the posts of Kentucky defenseless; that it was better to run a great risk with one party than to divide our forces in such manner as to hazard the loss of both; of course, we agreed to take but one complete company and part of another from Kentucky, expecting that they would be replaced by troops we yet expected from Major Smith. Those were our deliberations. After my making known my instructions almost every gentleman warmly espoused the enterprise, and plainly saw the utility of it, and supposed they saw the salvation of Kentucky almost in their reach; but some repined that we were not strong enough to put it beyond all doubt. The soldiery, in general, debated on the subject, but determined to follow their officers; some were alarmed at the thought of being taken at so great a distance into the enemy's country, that if they should have success in the first instance they might be attacked in their posts without a possibility of getting succor or making their retreat. Spies were continually among the whole. Some dissatisfaction was discovered in Captain Dillard's company, consequently, the boats were well secured and sentinels placed where it (was) thought there was a possibility of their wading from the island. My design was to take those from the island down on our way who would not attempt to desert, but got outgeneraled by their lieutenant, whom I had previously conceived a very tolerable opinion of. They had, by swimming in the day, discovered that the channel opposite their camp might be waded, and a little before day himself and the greater part of the company slipped down the bank and got to the opposite shore before they were discovered by the sentinels. Vexed at the idea of their escape in the manner they did, as one of my principal motives for taking post on the island was to prevent desertion, and, intending to set out the next day, I was undetermined for (a) few minutes what to do, as it might take a party several days to overtake (them), and, having no distrust of those who remained, the example was not immediately dangerous but might prove so hereafter; and recollecting that there was a number of horses (belonging) to gentlemen from Harrodsburg, I ordered a strong party to pursue them, and for the foot and horse to relieve each other regularly, and so put to death every man in their power who would not surrender. They overhauled them in about twenty miles. The deserters, discovering them at a distance, scattered in the woods; only seven or eight were taken. The rest made their way to the different posts; many who were not woodsmen almost perished. The poor lieutenant, and few who remained with him, after suffering almost all that could be felt from hunger and fatigue, arrived at Harrodstown. Having heard of his conduct (they) would not, for some time, suffer him to come into their houses, nor give him anything to eat.
On the return of the party, the soldiers hung and burnt his effigy. Every preparation was made for our departure. After spending a day of amusement in parting with our friends of Kentucky, they to return to the defense of their country and we in search of new adventures.
On the (24th) of June, 1778, we left our little island and run about a mile up the river in order to gain the main channel, and shot the falls at the very moment of the sun being in a great eclipse, which caused various conjectures among the superstitious. As I knew that spies were kept on the river, below the towns of the Illinois, I had resolved to march part of the way by land, and, of course, left the whole of our baggage, except as much as would equip us in the Indian mode. The whole of our force, after leaving such as were judged not competent to the expected fatigue, consisted only of four companies, commanded by Captains John Montgomery, Joseph Bowman, Leonard Helm and William Harrod. My force being so small to what I expected, owing to the various circumstances already mentioned, I found it necessary to alter my plans of operations.
As post St. Vincennes at this time was a town of considerable force, consisting of near four hundred militia, with an Indian town adjoining, and great numbers continually in the neighborhood, and in the scale of Indian affairs of more importance than any other, I had thought of attacking it first, but now found that I could by no means venture near it. I resolved to begin my career in the Illinois where there were more inhabitants, but scattered in different villages, and less danger of being immediately overpowered by the Indians; in case of necessity, we could probably make our retreat to the Spanish side of the Mississippi, but if successful, we might pave our way to the possession of Post St. Vincent.
I had fully acquainted myself that the French inhabitants in those western settlements had great influence among the Indians in general, and were more beloved by them (the Indians) than any other Europeans-that their commercial intercourse was universal throughout the western and northwestern countries-and that the governing interest on the lakes was mostly in the hands of the English, who were not much beloved by them.
These, and many other ideas similar thereto, caused me to resolve, if possible, to strengthen myself by such train of conduct as might probably attach the (French inhabitants) to our interest and give us influence at a greater distance than the (limits of the) country we were aiming for. These were the principles that influenced my future conduct; and, fortunately, I had just received a letter from Colonel Campbell, dated Pittsburg, informing me of the contents of the treaties between France and America.
As I intended to leave the Ohio at Fort Massac, three leagues below the Tennessee, I landed on a small island (Barrataria?) in the mouth of that river, in order to prepare for the march. In a few hours after, one John Duff and a party of hunters coming down the river were brought to by our boats. They were men formerly from the states, and assured us of their happiness in the adventure (their surprise having been owing to their not knowing who we were). They had been but lately from Kaskaskia, and were able to give us all the intelligence we wished. They said that Governor Abbott had lately left Post Vincennes and gone to Detroit on some business of importance; that Mr. Rochblave commanded Kaskaskia; that the militia was kept in good order, and spies on the Mississippi; and that all hunters, both Indians and others, were ordered to keep a good lookout for the rebels; that the fort was kept in good order as an asylum, etc.; but they believed the whole to proceed more from the fondness for parade than the expectation of a visit; that they were convinced that if they received timely notice of us they would collect and give us a warm reception, as they were taught to harbor a most horrid idea of the barbarity of rebels, especially the Virginians; but that, if we could surprise the place, which they were in hopes we might, they made no doubt of our being able to do as we pleased; that they hoped to be received as partakers in the enterprise, and wished us to put full confidence in them, and they would assist the guides in conducting the party. This was agreed to, and they proved valuable men.
The acquisition to us was great, as I had no intelligence from these posts since the spies I sent twelve months past. But no part of their information pleased me more than that of the inhabitants viewing us as more savage than their neighbors, the Indians. I was determined to improve upon this if I was fortunate enough to get them into my possession, and conceived the greater the shock I could give them at first the more sensibly would they feel my lenity, and become more valuable friends. This I conceived to be agreeable to human nature, as I had observed it in many instances. Having everything prepared, we moved down to a little gully, a small distance above Massac, in which we concealed our boats, and set out a northwestern course. Nothing remarkable on this route. The weather was favorable; in some parts water was scarce as well as game; of course we suffered drought and hunger, but not to excess. On the third day, John Saunders, our principal guide, appeared confused, and we soon discovered that he was totally lost, without there was some other cause of his present conduct. I asked him various questions, and from his answers could scarcely determine what to think of him, whether or not he was sensible that he was lost or that he wished to deceive us. The cry of the whole detachment was that he was a traitor. He begged that he might be suffered to go some distance into a plain that was in full view, to try to make some discovery whether or not he was right. I told him he might go, but that I was suspicious of him from his conduct; that from the first day of his being employed he always said he knew the way well; that there was now a different appearance; that I saw the nature of the country was such that a person once acquainted with it could not, in a short time, forget it; that a few men should go with him to prevent his escape, and that if he did not discover and take us into the hunter's road that led from the east into Kaskaskia, that he had frequently described, I would have him immediately put to death, which I was determined to have done; but after a search of an hour or two he came to a place that he knew perfectly, and we discovered that the poor fellow had been, as they call it, bewildered.
On the 4th of July, in the evening, we got within a few miles of the town, where we lay until near dark, keeping spies ahead, after which we commenced our march and took possession of a house wherein a large family lived, on the bank of the Kaskaskia river about three-quarters of a mile above the town, where we were informed that the people, a few days before, were under arms, but had concluded that the cause of the alarm was without foundation, and that at that time there was a great number of men in town, but that the Indians had generally left it, and at present all was quiet. We soon procured a sufficiency of vessels, the more in ease to convey us across the river, (and) formed the party into three divisions. I was now convinced that it was impossible that the inhabitants could make any resistance, as they could not now possibly get notice of us time enough to make much resistance. My object now was to conduct matters so as to get possession of the place with as little confusion as possible, but to have it even at the loss of the whole town. Not perfectly relying on the information we got at the house, as he seemed to vary in his information, and as (a noise) was just heard in town, which he informed us he supposed was the negroes at a dance, etc.
With one of the divisions, I marched to the fort and ordered the other two into different quarters of the town. If I met with no resistance, at a certain signal, a general shout was to be given, and certain parts were to be immediately possessed, and the men of each detachment who could speak the French language were to run through every street and proclaim what had happened, and inform the inhabitants that every person who appeared in the streets would be shot down. This disposition had its desired effect. In a very little time we had complete possession, and every avenue was guarded to prevent any escape to give the alarm to the other villages, in case of opposition. Various orders had been issued not worth mentioning. I don't suppose greater silence ever reigned among the inhabitants of a place than did at present; not a person to be seen, not a word to be heard from them for some time; but, designedly, the greatest noise kept up by our troops through every quarter of the town, and patrols continually the whole night round it, as intercepting any information was a capital object, and in about two hours the whole of the inhabitants were disarmed, and informed that if one was taken attempting to make his escape, he would be immediately put to death.
Mr. Rochblave was secured, but, as it had been some time before he could be got out of his room, I suppose it was in order to inform his lady what to do-I suppose to secure his public letters, etc., as but few were got; his chambers not being visited for the night, she had full opportunity of doing (so), but by what means we never could learn-I don't suppose among her trunks, although they never were examined. She must have expected the loss of even her clothes, from the idea she entertained of us. Several particular persons were sent for, in the course of the night, for information, etc., but (we) got very little (beyond) what we already knew, except, from the conduct of several persons then in town, there was reason to suppose they were inclined to the American interest; that a great number of Indians had been, and was then, in the neighborhood of Kaskaskia (Kahokia?), sixty miles from this; that a Mr. Cerre, a principal merchant, one of the most inveterate enemies we had, left the place a few days past, with a large quantity of furs for Michilimackinac, from thence to Quebec, from (whence) he had lately arrived; that he was then in St. Louis, the Spanish capital; that his lady and family were then (in) town, with a very considerable quantity of goods, etc. I immediately suspected what those informers aimed at - that of making their peace with me at the expense of their neighbors. My situation required too much caution to give them much satisfaction. I found that Mr. Cerre was one of the most eminent men in the country, of great influence among the people. I had some suspicion that his accusers were probably in debt to him and wished to ruin him; but, from observations I had made, from what I had heard of him, he became an object of consequence to me; that perhaps he might be wavering in his opinion respecting the contest; that, if he should take a decisive part in our favor, he might be a valuable acquisition. In short, his enemies caused me much to wish to see (him), and, as he was then out of my power, I made no doubt of bringing it about, through the means of his family, having them then in my power. I had a guard immediately placed at his house, his stores sealed, etc., as well as all others, making no doubt but that when he heard of this he would be extremely anxious to get an interview. Messrs. R. Winston and Daniel Murray, who proved to have been in the American interest, by the morning of the 5th, had plenty of provisions prepared. After the troops had regaled themselves, they were withdrawn from within the town, and I posted (them) in different positions on the border of it, and I had every person expressly forbid holding any conversation with the inhabitants. All was distrust; their town in complete possession of an enemy whom they entertained the most horrid idea of, and not yet being able to have any conversation with one of our people, even those that I had conversation with were ordered not to speak to the rest. After some time they were informed that they (could ) walk freely about the town. After finding they were busy in conversation, I had a few of the principal militia officers put in irons, without naming a reason for it or hearing anything they had to say in their own defense. The worst was now expected by the whole. I saw the consternation the inhabitants were in, and I suppose, in imagination, felt all they experienced in reality, and felt myself disposed to act as an arbiter between them and my duty. After some time, the priest got permission to wait on me. He came with five or six elderly gentlemen with him. However shocked they already were, from their present situation, the addition was obvious and great when they entered the room where I was sitting with the other officers, (all in) a dirty, savage appearance, as we had left our clothes at the river (and) we were almost naked, and torn by the bushes and briers. They were shocked, and it was sometime before they would venture to take seats, and longer before they would speak. They at last were asked what they wanted. The priest informed me (after asking which was the principal), that, as the inhabitants expected to be separated, never, perhaps, to meet again, they begged, through him, that they might be permitted to spend some time in the church, to take their leave of each other. I knew they expected their very religion was obnoxious to us. I carelessly told him I had nothing to say to his church; that he might go there if he would; if he did, to inform the people not to venture out of the town. They attempted some other conversation, but were informed that we were not at leisure. They went off, after answering me a few questions that I asked them, with a very faint degree (of hope) that they might (not be) totally discouraged from coming again, as they had not yet come to the point I wanted. The whole town seemed to have collected to the church; infants were carried, and the houses generally left without a person in them, (except) it was such as cared but little how things went, and a few others who were not so much alarmed. Orders were given to prevent the soldiers from entering a house. They remained a considerable time in church, after which the priest and many of the principal men came to me to return thanks for the indulgence shown them, and begged permission to address me farther on the subject that was more dear to them than anything else; that their present situation was the fate of war; that the loss of their property they could reconcile, but were in hopes that I would not part them from their families; and that the women and children might be allowed to keep some of their clothes and a small quantity of provisions. They were in hopes by industry, that they might support them; that their whole conduct had been influenced by their commanders, whom they looked upon themselves bound to obey; and that they were not certain of being acquainted with the nature of the American war, as they had had but little opportunity to inform themselves; that many of them frequently expressed themselves as much in favor of the Americans as they dare to. In short, they said everything that could be supposed that sensible men in their alarming situation would advance.