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Indiana Historical Bureau

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

On the evening of the 4th of July, we got within three miles of the town (of) Kaskaskia, having a river of the same name to cross to the town. After making ourselves ready for anything that might happen, we marched after night to a farm that was on the same side of the river, about a mile above the town, took the family prisoners and found plenty of boats to cross in, and in two hours transported ourselves to the other shore with the greatest silence.

I learned that they had some suspicion of being attacked and had made some preparations---keeping out spies---but they, making no discoveries, had got off their guard. I immediately divided my little army into two divisions. Ordered one to surround the town. With the other, I broke into the fort---secured the governor, Mr. Rochblave; in fifteen minutes had every street secured; sent runners through the town ordering the people, on pain of death, to keep close to their houses, which they observed, and before daylight had the whole town disarmed. Nothing could excel the confusion these people seemed to be in, being taught to expect nothing but savage treatment from the Americans. Giving all for lost---their lives were all they could dare beg for, which they did with greatest fervancy---they were willing to be slaves to save their families. I told them it did not suit me to give them an answer at that time. They repaired to their houses, trembling as if they were led to execution; my principles would not suffer me to distress such a number of people, except through policy it was necessary. A little reflection convinced me that it was my interest to attach them to me---according to my first plan---for the town of Cohos (Cahokia) and St. Vincent, and the numerous tribes of Indians attached to the French, (were) yet to influence, for I was too weak to treat them any other way. I sent for all the principal men of the town, who came in as if to a tribunal that was to determine their fate forever, cursing their fortune that they were not apprised of us time enough to have defended themselves. I told them that I was sorry to find that they had been taught to harbor so base an opinion of the Americans and their cause; explained the nature of the dispute to them in as clear a light as I was capable of. It was certain that they were a conquered people, and, by the fate of war, was at my mercy, and that our principle was to make those we reduced free, instead of enslaving them as they imagined; that if I could have surety of their zeal and attachment to the American cause, they should immediately enjoy all the privileges of our government, and their property (be) secured to them; that it was only to stop the further effusion of innocent blood by the savages under the influence of their governor, that made them an object of our attention, etc.

No sooner had they heard this than joy sparkled in their eyes, and (they) fell into transports of joy that really surprised me. As soon as they were a little moderated, they told me that they had always been kept in the dark as to the dispute between America and Britain; that they had never heard anything before but what was prejudicial and tended to incense them against the Americans; that they were now convinced that it was a cause that they ought to espouse; that they should be happy of an opportunity to convince me of their zeal, and think themselves the happiest people in the world if they were united with the Americans, and begged that I would receive what they said as their real sentiments.

In order to be more certain of their sincerity, I told them that an oath of fidelity was required from the citizens, and to give them time to reflect on it, I should not administer it for a few days. In the meantime, any of them that chose was at liberty to leave the country with their families, except two or three particular persons; that they might repair to their families and conduct themselves as usual without any dread. The priest, Father Pierre Gibault, (who) had lately come from Canada, had made himself a little acquainted with our dispute (contrary to the principles of his brother in Canada), was rather prejudiced in favor of us. He asked if I would give him liberty to perform his duty in his church. I told him that I had nothing to do with churches more than to defend them from insult. That by the laws of the state, his religion had as great privileges as any other. This seemed to complete his happiness. They returned to their families, and, in a few minutes, the scene of mourning and distress was turned to an excess of joy---nothing else seen nor heard---adorning the streets with flowers and pavilions with different colors, completing their happiness by singing, etc.

In (the) meantime I prepared a detachment, on horseback, under Captain Bowman, to make a descent on Cohos, about sixty miles up the country. The inhabitants told me that one of their townsmen was enough to put me in possession of that place, by carrying the good news that the people would rejoice. However, I did not, altogether, choose to trust them; dispatched the captain, attended by a considerable number of the inhabitants, who got into the middle of the town before they were discovered---the French gentlemen calling aloud to the people to submit to their happier fate, which they did with very little hesitation. A number of Indians being in town, on hearing of the big knives, immediately made their escape. In a few days, the inhabitants of the country took the oath (prescribed) by law, and every person appeared to be happy. Our friends, the Spaniards, doing everything in their power to convince me of their friendship, a correspondence immediately commenced between the governor and myself.

Post St. Vincent, a town about the size of Williamsburg, was the next object in my view. As the whole was apprised of me, I was by no means able to march against it. (Their governor, a few months be fore going to Detroit), I was resolved, if possible, to win their affection, which I thought myself in a fair way of doing, more fully to know the sentiments of the inhabitants about there; and to execute my plans. I pretended that I was about to send an express to the falls of Ohio for a body of troops to join me at a certain place in order to attack it. It soon had the desired effect. Advocates immediately appeared among the people in their behalf. Mr. Gibault, the priest, to fully convince me of his attachment, offered to undertake to win that town for me if I would permit him, and let a few of them go. They made no doubt of gaining their friends at St. Vincent to my interest. The priest told me he would go himself, and gave me to understand that, although he had nothing to do with temporal business, that he would give them such hints in the spiritual way that would be very conducive to the business.

In a few days the priest and Dr. Lefont, the principal, with a few others, set out, and (with) a proclamation I sent for that purpose, and other instructions, in case of success. In a few weeks they returned with intelligence agreeable to my wishes. I now found myself in possession of the whole, in a country where I found I could do more real service than I expected, which occasioned my situation to be the more disagreeable, as I wanted men.

The greater part of my men was for returning, as they were no longer engaged. Surrounded by numerous nations of savages, whose mind had been long poisoned by the English, it was with difficulty that I could support that dignity that was necessary to give my orders (the) force that was necessary, but by great presents and promises, I got about one hundred of my detachment enlisted for eight months, and to color my staying with so few troops, I made a feint of returning to the falls, as though I had sufficient confidence in the people, hoping that the inhabitants would remonstrate against my leaving them, which they did in the warmest terms, proving the necessity of the troops at that place that they were afraid if I returned the English would again possess the country. Then, seemingly by their request, I agreed to stay with two companies of troops, and that I hardly thought, as they alleged, that so many (were) necessary; but, if more (were) wanted, I could get them at any time from the falls, where, they were made to believe, was a considerable garrison.

As soon as possible, I sent off those that could not be got to stay, with Mr. Rochblave, and letters to His Excellency, letting him know my situation, and the necessity of troops in the country. Many of the French (being) fond of the service, the different companies soon got complete. I stationed Captain Bowman at Cohos; Captain Helm (in) command at St. Vincent, superintendent, etc.

Domestic affairs being partly well settled, the Indian department came next the object of my attention, and of the greatest importance. My sudden appearance in their country put them under the greatest consternation. They (were) generally at war against us, but the French and Spaniards appearing so fond of us confused them. They counseled with the French traders, to know what was best to be done, and of course was advised to come and solicit for peace, and did not doubt but we might be good friends. It may appear otherwise to you, but (I) always thought we took the wrong method of treating with Indians, and (I) strove, as soon as possible, to make myself acquainted with the French and Spanish mode, which must be preferable to ours, otherwise they could not possibly have such great influence among them. When thoroughly acquainted with it, (it) exactly coincided with my own idea, and (I) resolved to follow the same rule as near as circumstances would permit. The Kaskaskias, Peoreanas and Mechegames immediately treated for peace. I sent letters and speeches by Captain Helm to the chief of the Kickebues and Peankeshaws residing at Post St. Vincent, desiring them to lay down their tomahawk, and if they did not choose it---to behave like men and fight for the English as they had done, but they would see their Great Father, as they called him, given to the dogs to eat. (I) gave harsh language to supply the want of men, well knowing that it was a mistaken notion in many that soft speeches was best for Indians; but if they thought of giving their hands to the big knives, to give their hearts also, and that I did not doubt but, after being acquainted, that they would find that the big knives (were) of better principles than what the bad birds, the English, had taught them to believe. They received the speeches from the captain, with another of his own, and, after some consultation, they resolved to take the big knives by the hand, and came to a conclusion of peace, and said the Americans must be warriors and no deceivers, or they would never have spoken as they did; that they liked such people, and that the English (were) liars and they would listen to them no longer; that by what they had heard (from) the big knives, the Indians had as great a right to fight the English as they had; that they (were) convinced that it was truth.