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Indiana Historical Bureau

George Rogers Clark > Letter from George Rogers Clark to his Friend George Mason > Letter - Part Four Letter - Part Four

Having so far fixed matters as to have a moment's leisure, which was taken up with deeper reflections than I ever before was acquainted with, my situation and weakness convinced me that more depended on my own behavior and conduct than all the troops that I had. Far removed from the body of my country, situated among French, Spaniards, and numerous bands of savages on every quarter, watching my actions, ready to receive impressions, favorable or not, of us, which might be hard to remove and would perhaps produce lasting good or ill effects---it was now that I saw my work was only begun. Maturely examining every circumstance of my past actions, fixing such resolutions, that, in case of misfortune or loss of interest, it should be for want of judgment only, strict subordination among the troops was my first object, and (I) soon effected it, it being a matter of the greatest consequence to persons in our situation, our troops being all raw and undisciplined. You must (be) sensible of the pleasure I felt when haranguing them on parade, telling them my resolutions and the necessity of strict duty for our own preservation, etc., for then to return me an answer that it was their zeal for their country that induced them to engage in the service; that they were sensible of their situation and danger; that nothing could conduce more to their safety and happiness than good order; which they would try to adhere to, and hoped that no favor would be shown those that would neglect it. In a short time, perhaps, no garrison could boast of better order, or a more valuable set of men.

By this time, the English party at Detroit, finding their influence among the savages abating, sent out messengers through the different nations as far as they dare venture; redoubled their presents and insinuations to little purpose, as I had a number of persons well acquainted with the Indians spread through the whole, that had treated with me, and spies continually in and about Detroit for a considerable time.

One of the British agents (Mons. Celeron) residing at Oueaugh (Ouiatenon), *[ A short distance below where Lafayette, Indiana, now stands] about eighty leagues above St. Vincent, hurt our growing interest much. The Indians in that quarter being inclined to desert the British interest, but in some measure kept from their good intention by that person, I resolved, if possible, to take him off, and sent a detachment of men from Kaskaskia under the command of Lieutenant Bailey to join Captain Helm at St. Vincent, and, if possible, surprise him. The captain, with about one hundred men in number, part French militia and Indians, set out by water.

The agent, hearing of it, collected a few savages from the neighborhood that he could trust, in order to give battle (the Indians in general neutrals); but a few days before he captain's arrival Mr. Celeron thought proper to make his escape, leaving his friendly Indians in the fort, who, being assembled in a grand council to determine what was best to be done, neglecting to shut the gate or keep sentinels (not supposing the enemies to be so near), in the height of deliberation Captain Helm, Bailey and his small party entered the fort and ordered them to surrender, before they were apprised, about forty in number being made prisoners. The captain made a valuable treaty (and) gave them their liberty. This stroke completed our interest on the Wabash.

St. Vincent being a post of great importance, and not being able to spare many men to garrison it, I took uncommon pains entirely to attach them to our interest, as well as the inhabitants of the Illinois. Knowing no other kind of government than what might be expected from the lust of power, pride and avarice of the officers commanding in that country, whose will was a law to the whole, and certain destruction to disobey the most trifling command, nothing could have been more to my advantage, as I could temper the government as I pleased, and every new privilege appeared to them as fresh laurels to the American cause.

I, by degrees, laid aside every mercenary restriction they labored under, as I was convinced that it was the mercenary views of their former governors that established them, paying no regard to the happiness of the people---and those customs strictly observed that were most conducive to good order. I made it a point to guard the happiness and tranquillity of the inhabitants, supposing that their happy change, reaching the ears of their brothers and countrymen on the lakes and about Detroit, would be paving my way to that place, and (have) a good effect on the Indians. I soon found it had the desired effect, for the greatest part of the French gentlemen and traders among the Indians declared for us. Many letters of congratulation were sent from Detroit to the gentlemen of the Illinois, which gave me much pleasure.

I let slip no opportunity in cultivating our growing interest in every quarter where there was the least appearance of a future advantage, and had as great success as I had any right to expect. Great tranquillity appeared on every countenance. Being apprehensive that the British party at Detroit, finding it hard to regain their lost interest among the savages, would probably make a descent on the Illinois, if they found themselves capitulated, for fear of their finding out our numbers (parties of men coming and going from Kentucky and other places, recruits, etc.), I suffered no parade, except the guards, for a considerable time, and took every other precaution to keep every person ignorant of our number, which was generally thought to be nearly double what we really had. I found that my ideas, respecting the movement of the English, just---having certain accounts by our spies that Governor Hamilton was on his march from Detroit with a considerable party, taking his route up the Meamies river. In a few days, receiving certain intelligence that General McIntosh had left Pittsburg for Detroit with a considerable army, knowing the weakness of the fortification of that post; at that time, their numbers, etc., I made no doubt of its being shortly in our possession, and that Governor Hamilton, sensible that there was no probability of his defending the fort, had marched with his whole force to encourage the Indians to harass the general on his march, as the only probable plan to stop him, little thinking that he had returned, and that Mr. Hamilton had the same design on me that I supposed he had at General McIntosh. It being near Christmas we feasted ourselves, with the hopes of immediately hearing from Detroit, and began to think that we had been neglected in an express not being sent with the important news of its being ours.

But a circumstance soon happened that convinced us that our hopes were vain. A young man at the town of Cohos, holding a correspondence and sending intelligence to Governor Hamilton's party, was detected and punished accordingly, by which we learned the return of General McIntosh and Governor Hamilton's intentions on the Illinois, but not so fully expressed in the latter as to reduce it to a certainty; but supposing that, in case of its being true, they would make their first descent on Kaskaskia, it being the strongest garrison and headquarters. I kept spies on all the roads to no purpose, Mr. Hamilton having the advantage of descending the Wabash, and, with eight hundred men, French, Indians and regulars, took possession of Post St. Vincent on the 17th day of December; he had parties on the road that took some of our spies. Hard weather immediately setting in, I was at a loss to know what to do. Many supposed that he had quit his design and came no further than Ome, *[Omee a corruption of Aux Miamis, an Indian Village at the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Mary rivers, on the site of the present city of Fort Wayne, Indiana] but no intelligence from St. Vincent, I was still under some doubt of his being there, except that the commander had kept back the express on account of the high waters. In this situation we remained for many days. I intended to evacuate the garrison of Cohos in case of a siege, but was anxious to have a conference with the principal inhabitants that I knew to be zealous in our interest, to fix on certain plans for their conduct when in possession of the English, if it should be the case, and set out on the ----- day of January, 1779, for that town, with an intention of staying but a few days. Mr. Hamilton, in meantime, had sent a party of forty savages, headed by white men from St. Vincent, in order if possible, to take me prisoner, and gave such instructions for my treatment as did him no dishonor.

This party lay concealed, keeping a small party near the road to see who passed. They lay by a small branch about three miles from Kaskaskia---there being snow on the ground. I had a guard of about six or seven men, and a few gentlemen in chairs, one of them swamped within one hundred yards of the place where these fellows lay hid, where we had to delay upwards of an hour. I believe nothing here saved me but the instructions they had not to kill, or the fear of being overpowered, not having an opportunity to alarm the main body, which lay half a mile off, without being discovered themselves. We arrived save at the town of La Prairie du Rocher, [An old French village in Randolph county, on the American bottom near the rocky bluffs, from which it derives its name, fourteen miles northwest of Kaskaskia] about twelve miles above Kaskaskia. The gentlemen and ladies immediately assembled at a ball for our entertainment. We spent the fore part of the night very agreeably, but about 12 o'clock there was a very sudden change by an express arriving informing us that Governor Hamilton was within three miles of Kaskaskia with eight hundred men, and was determined to attack the fort that night, which was expected would be before the express got to me, for, it seems, that those fellows were discovered by a hunter, and after missing their aim on me, discovered themselves to a party of negroes and told them (such) a story as suited their purpose. I never saw greater confusion among a small assembly than was that time, every person having their eyes on me as if my word was to determine their good or evil fate. It required but a moment's hesitation in me to form my resolutions; communicated them to two of my officers who accompanied me, which they approved of. I ordered our horses saddled in order, if possible, to get into the fort before the attack could be made. Those of the company who had recovered their surprise, so far as to enable them to speak, begged of me not to attempt to return; that the town was certainly in possession of the enemy, and the fort warmly attacked. Some proposed conveying me to the Spanish shore, some one thing and some another. I thanked them for the care they had of my person, and told them it was the fate of war; that a good soldier never ought to be afraid of his life where there was a probability of his doing service by venturing of it, which was my case; that I hoped that they would not let the news spoil our diversion sooner than was necessary; that we divert ourselves until our horses were ready; forced them to dance and endeavored to appear as unconcerned as if no such thing was in agitation. This conduct inspired the young men in such a manner that many of them were getting their horses to share fate with me. But, choosing to lose no time, as soon as I could write a few lines on the back of my letter to Captain Bowman, at Cohos, I set out for Kaskaskia. Each man (took) a blanket that in case the fort was attacked, we were to wrap ourselves in them, fall in with the enemy, fire at the fort until we had an opportunity of getting so near as to give the proper signals, knowing that we would be let in.