Robert Livingston Schuyler.

The transition in Illinois from British to American government online

. (page 10 of 13)
Online LibraryRobert Livingston SchuylerThe transition in Illinois from British to American government → online text (page 10 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dissatisfaction." 174

The withdrawal of most of the troops from the Illinois
villages threw the work of defense more upon the inhabi-
tants. In July, 1780, the Kaskaskians defended themselves

99 Cal. Va. St. Papers, I, 381 ; Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xcvii, 481.

70 Cal. Va. St. Pafers, I, 379-380.

71 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xcviii.

72 Cal. Va. St. Papers, I, 381.
n Ibid., 11,77.

74 Ibid., II, 45.


successfully against an Indian attack. 175 In August the
Cahokia court, in expectation of a similar attack, convoked
the militia officers and principal inhabitants to deliberate on
the best means to avoid a surprise. 176 They decided to move
against the enemy, rather than stand an attack, and directed
that provisions for a fortnight should be kept on hand. A
reconnoitering party was sent up to the Illinois river to
locate the enemy. 177 By the autumn of 1780, indeed, the
idea was prevalent among the people that Virginia had
practically abandoned Illinois.

While the inhabitants, in constant apprehension of Indian
attacks, were being robbed of their all by the officers and
speculators, the troops themselves were suffering. The
commissaries were inefficient and probably dishonest. In
1779, the Virginia Assembly, appreciating the importance
of holding Illinois, had passed resolutions that the civil and
military establishments there ought to be supported and
augmented, that the governor should be authorized to pro-
cure credit for that purpose in New Orleans, and that the
assembly would provide funds to fulfill any engagement
which he, with the consent of the council, might enter
into. 178 But Virginia's treasury was empty, and the only
way to increase expenditures was to increase indebtedness.
The fact is that the state could not support its troops in
Illinois. The possession of the country, moreover, was felt
to be extremely precarious. 179 The soldiers had to live off
the land and the people as best they could. "The less you
depend for supplies from this quarter," wrote Jefferson to
Clark in 1780, "the less will you be disappointed." 180 How
badly the troops fared can be imagined. From Louisville,
Vincennes and Fort Jefferson came the same story of
neglect and privation. 181

n lbid., I, 368; Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, Ixxxviii.
"Ibid., 59.

77 Ibid., 61, 63.

78 Rowland, op. cit., I, 345.

78 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Ford's ed., II, 345.
80 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, Ixvii.
181 Cal. Va. St. Papers, II, 306-307, 313, 33&


Then, too, Virginia's interest in her western county was
declining. As early as 1777, the proposition that Congress
should exercise sovereign powers over the West had been
made by Maryland's delegates in Congress. 182 The western
claims of Virginia and some of the other states seemed at
that time likely to prove fatal to the formation of a con-
federation, since the smaller states, whose cause Maryland
was representing, considered themselves entitled to a right,
in common with all the others, to the West. 183 In order to
facilitate the unanimous ratification of the Articles of Con-
federation, the Virginia Assembly, on January 2, 1781,
resolved that the commonwealth would yield to Congress
all its claims to territory northwest of the Ohio, upon cer-
tain conditions. 18 * The prospect of this cession to Congress
was in view by the Virginia authorities at least as early as
the autumn of I78o. 185 Though it was not finally com-
pleted until 1784, Virginia's interest in the Northwest
naturally declined, and the county organization of Illinois,
as has been said, was allowed to expire in 1781.

In the autumn of 1780, a conflict arose between the
Bentley-Dodge-Rogers clique and the Kaskaskia court.
Bentley brought a suit in November, but the court refused
to recognize his standing till he took an oath of fidelity to
the United States and to Virginia. This he refused to do,
but instead produced a certificate signed by Rogers which
declared that he had taken the oath. The court refused to
accept the certificate. The civil and military authorities thus
collided, and Rogers addressed a bullying note to the court,
threatening to set it aside. But that body, which was sup-
ported by Winston, was not intimidated. Bentley left for
the East in the spring of 1781 to carry his case before the
governor and council, and also to get what he could for the
certificates which he and Dodge had bought up. He was

182 Adams, "Maryland's Influence in Founding a National Com-
monwealth," Md. Hist. Soc. Fund Pub., No. u, 27-28.

183 Hening, op. cit., X, 549.

184 Ibid., $64.

185 Writ, of Jef., Ford's ed., II, 347.


accompanied by the latter and Rogers. In order to counter-
act "aspersions" against himself while in command in
Illinois, Rogers wrote to Governor Jefferson, blaming Win-
ston and McCarty for the existing disorders and commend-
ing the disinterested zeal and public spirit of Bentley. 186
It is pleasant to learn that the latter failed to win the support
of the Virginia government. The council refused to regard
his claims, and implied that he was an imposter. 187 This
called forth a letter from Bentley in which he appealed to
Clark's expressed opinion of his character, and to testimony
of Dodge and Montgomery regarding his services in behalf
of the troops, and complained of his treatment by the
court. 188 But the greater part of his claims were still unpaid
when he died, probably in I783- 189 Rogers was back in Kas-
kaskia in November, 1781, but we hear no more talk of his
setting aside the court. 190

The determination of Bentley to appeal from the court
to the governor caused the people of Kaskaskia and Cahokia
to send representatives to the Virginia government, to
counteract the mischief that might be done and to present
their claims and grievances. Early in April, 1781, the
Cahokians chose Pierre Prevost to represent their interests,
and the Kaskaskians chose Prevost and McCarty. 191 A
memorial addressed to the governor was prepared and
signed by a number of the Kaskaskians, and other papers
were drawn up by the court. 192 A similar memorial was
signed by inhabitants of Vincennes in June. 193 But
McCarty was killed by Indians and his papers were taken
to Detroit. They revealed to the British authorities the fact
that the people of Illinois were suffering great misery
and were heartily tired of the tyranny of the Virginia

186 Cal. Va. St. Papers, II, 76-77.

187 Ibid., 238.

188 Ibid.

189 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, cix.
m lbid.

191 Ibid., cii-ciii, 479, 481.

182 Ibid., ciii.

108 Cal. Va. St. Papers, II, 192-193.


authorities. 194 Bentley, as we have seen, had made a similar
statement to Haldimand the previous summer.

After 1779, British authorities in the Northwest had
never been wholly free from anticipations of an American
attack on Detroit. 195 Of all Americans, Clark was the man
best qualified to lead an expedition against that post. His
preeminent fitness for the task was generally recognized, 198
and the unbounded confidence reposed in him by the western
frontiersmen was a matter of common knowledge. 197 As
we have seen, he had desired to attack Detroit immediately
after the successful issue of the Vincennes campaign in
1779. But the favorable opportunity was lost for want of
men. Even after Mclntosh's failure in 1778, Washington
had the reduction of Detroit constantly in mind, 198 for only
by this, in his opinion, could the frontiers secure peace. 199
Jefferson took a similar view. 200 Military men most fami-
liar with conditions in the West were keenly alive to the
importance of effecting this object. 201 It was chiefly to
discuss an expedition against Detroit that Clark went east
in the autumn of 1780.

Jefferson endorsed the plan and detailed instructions were
prepared for Clark, who was to lead the expedition. 202
Washington heartily ccooperated with the proposed enter-
prise and directed Colonel Brodhead, the Continental com-
mandant at Fort Pitt, to furnish Clark with supplies and
as many men as he could spare. 203 But the British invasion
of Virginia in 1781 prevented the governor from furnishing
the intended number of men, 204 and Brodhead declined to

194 Mich. P. Colls,, XIX, 646.

195 Butterfield, op. cit., 481 ; Mich. P. Colls., XX, 3.
198 Rowland, op. cit., I, 366.

197 Butterfield, Washington-Irvine Corresp., 53 ; Writ, of Jef.,
Ford's ed., II, 347.

198 Butterfield, Washington-Irvine Corresp., 53.
M Ibid., 83.

200 Writ, of Jef., Ford's ed., II, 346.

201 Butterfield, Washington-Irvine Corresp., 79.

202 Cal. Va. St. Papers, I, 441.

203 English, op. cit., II, 704-707.

204 Cal. Va. St. Papers, II, 108-109.


spare any. 205 The war had lasted so long that some of the
earlier enthusiasm had worn off and a disinclination to
enlist, was apparent. This and the decline of Virginia's
credit made it impossible to raise the number necessary to
insure success. 206

By August Clark himself, who had started down the Ohio
from Fort Pitt with what men he could collect, had almost
despaired of success. 207 Intending to join him, a party of
about one hundred militia, recruited from the western
counties of Pennsylvania, followed down the Ohio. Their
commander was Captain Archibald Laughery, county-lieu-
tenant of Westmoreland County. They arrived at Wheeling
on August 8. The chief Joseph Brant, with a party of
Indians, was watching for Clark near the mouth of the
Miami, 208 but Clark passed them in the night undetected.
Laughery's party, however, was annihilated by Brant and
his followers. 207 This disaster gave the coup de grace to
the expedition against Detroit. Again Clark was baffled,
and again for the same reason, lack of men.

This proposed expedition, while not immediately con-
nected with the internal history of Illinois, explains to some
extent the fact that the British commandants at the lake
posts were forced to act on the defensive, and dared not
weaken their garrisons by sending troops to conquer
Illinois. 210 For offensive operations they relied upon the
Indians, who were held to their alliance only by presents,
which, it was said, made them inactive and lazy, 211 and Indian
attacks, on account of the cruelty that always accompanied
them, the people of Illinois were sure to resist to the extent
of their power. 212 Information similar to that revealed by

**Ibid., 116.

206 Ibid., 116, 131, 294-295, English, op. cit., II, 710-712.

207 Cal. Va. St. Papers, II, 294-295.

208 Mich. P. Colls., XIX, 655.

209 For this massacre see Indiana Historical Society Publications,
II, 106-107, 109-110; also Butterfield, Washington-Irvine Corresp.,
77; Mich. P. Colls., XIX, 658.

Mich. P. Colls., XIX, 623, 629.

211 Ibid., 622-623.

212 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 561.


the capture of McCarty's papers had, for some time, been
coming to the ears of the British commandants in the North-
west. It naturally aroused the hope that British authority
might be reestablished over the Illinois villages by peaceful

Early in the summer of 1781, Patrick Sinclair, who had
been in command at Michilimackinac since October, I77Q, 213
dispatched a small party under a man named Clairmont,
with a letter to the inhabitants of Cahokia and Kaskaskia. 214
The object of this mission was to promote friendship
between the inhabitants and the British. 215 But Clairmont
made the mistake of stopping at St. Louis. Since Spain
was now openly at war with Great Britain, the Spanish
commandant, Cruzat, caused Clairmont and his party to be
arrested, and sent a copy of their letter to Major Williams,
then in command of the few troops remaining at Kaskaskia.
It is unlikely, however, that Cruzat was as well disposed
towards the Americans as this action makes it appear. He
certainly allowed two of the emissaries to proceed to
Cahokia, where they were obliged by the court to find bonds-
men answerable for them while they remained. 216

That this mission might have succeeded in reestablishing
British control in Illinois is possible. Considerable dissatis-
faction, at any rate, was expressed in Cahokia and Kaskas-
kia at the action of the Spanish commandant in arresting
the emissaries. 217 Antoine Gerardin, one of the most
influential men in Cahokia and a former member of the
court, who undoubtedly knew the state of public opinion,
wrote to Sinclair in November, 1781, that he thought the
people, partly for commercial reasons, were ready to receive

213 Colls. St. Hist. Soc. Wis., XI, 141, note.

214 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 553, 557. Also Houck, op. cit., II, 49.
!15 The three sources for this episode in Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib.,

II, 552-563, differ as to the exact purpose of the mission. One says
it was to put the people on their guard against the Spaniards ;
another, to raise militia to be paid by the British, and the third, to
negotiate a commercial treaty.

218 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 95.

217 Ibid., 555-


the English and renew their allegiance to England. He
offered his services, and agreed to prepare them to receive
the English, provided they brought no savages with them. 218
Had a British party of respectable strength, unaccompanied
by Indians, been promptly sent, it is difficult to believe that
it would not have succeeded, since Illinois by this time had
been almost completely evacuated by the Virginia troops. 219

But the military operations in Virginia in the autumn
of 1781 decided the war and no such party was sent. Vir-
ginia's nominal possession of Illinois survived the Revolu-
tion, though legally the county organization of that
territory, as explained above, expired in 1781. The Kas-
kaskia court was abolished in I782. 220 The Cahokia court
continued to sit till 1790, and conditions in that town were
less anarchical than at Kaskaskia, possibly because there
were fewer Americans in it. The Vincennes court con-
tinued in existence till I787. 221

The financial condition of Virginia made prudent what
the termination of the war made possible, and the Illinois
troops were disbanded. 222 In July, 1783, Clark was relieved
of his command. 223 From the close of the Revolution till
the establishment of government under the Northwest
Ordinance the people of Illinois were cut off from associa-
tion with the outside world, though they continued to regard
themselves as subjects of Virginia. 224 But though relieved
of the burden of the troops, confusion continued, and there
was no tranquility or happiness for them. Hoping for
better things, they learned in 1784 of their transference to
the jurisdiction of Congress. 225

518 Ibid., 559-563.

m Cat. Va. St. Papers, III, 68, 198.

220 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, cxvii.

221 Am. St. Papers, "Public Lands," I, 10.

222 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, ex.
228 English, op. cit., II, 783.

Address to Congress from the French Inhabitants of Post
Vincennes, Kaskaskia, etc., 1788.
225 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 567.



'The actual establishment of American rule in Illinois was
the work of the revolutionary government of Virginia. A
legal title to the territory was secured by the treaty of peaceV,
The scene shifts to the French capital, and the final step in
the transition was made in the negotiations which concluded
the Revolution.

The surrender of Cornwallis in October, 1781, settled the
question of American independence. In British official
circles the feeling was strong that peace must be secured. 1
Before Lord North's ministry fell, speculation was rife as
to the extent of the surrenders which the government would
have to make. Independence, it was hoped, would satisfy
the United States. 2 France expected territorial and com-
mercial gains. The policy of Spain will be discussed later.
On March 20, 1782, Lord North, virtually forced out of
office, handed in his resignation, and the king was reluc-
tantly obliged to resort to the Rockingham Whigs. Under
the Marquis of Rockingham, a ministry was formed whose
avowed policy was to end the war. In his cabinet, the home
and colonial departments were intrusted to Lord Shel-
burne, while Mr. Charles James Fox took the foreign

As early as September, 1779, Congress had appointed
John Adams sole commissioner to discuss terms of peace
with the British government. He was instructed to claim
the Mississippi as the western boundary of the United
States, and the cession of Canada was stated as desirable.
He was to be governed by the terms of the French alliance. 3

^rafton to Shelburne, 14 Nov., 1781, Bancroft MSS. Trans-
cripts from the State Paper Office and Lansdowne House MSS.,
concerning Negotiations for Peace, 1781-1783. 6 vols. These
documents will be referred to as Bancroft MSS., Peace Negotiations.

2 Ibid.

* Sparks, op. cit., IV, 339 et seq.


But his relations with the French foreign minister, Ver-
gennes, then regarded as the European sponsor of the
United States, were not cordial, 4 and in June, 1781, Con-
gress, influenced by Luzerne, annulled Adams' commission
and issued another to him and four others. The additional
commissioners named were Franklin, Jay, Laurens and
Jefferson. 5

Just as the Rockingham ministry was coming into power,
Franklin, the only one of the American commissioners then
in France, wrote to Shelburne, with whom years before he
had had pleasant relations, expressing an earnest hope for a
general pacification. 6 In response the colonial secretary
sent Mr. Oswald, a Scotch merchant in whom he reposed
great confidence and who had extensive interests in
America, to interview Franklin in an informal manner. 7
Shelburne attached great importance to this preliminary
negotiation and said that, if it failed, the war would be
vigorously carried on, since the nation at large was not
reconciled to American independence. 8 It was his policy
to reserve the concession of this as a valuable consideration
to be offered to the colonies, and to foment difficulties and
disagreements between America, France and Spain wher-
ever their interests conflicted. 9 He was determined at all
events that the United States, if independent, should be
so of all the world, and should not become the protege and
permanent ally of France. 10 He hoped, indeed, to detach
the United States from the other enemies of England.

4 Durand, New Materials for the History of the American
Revolution, 232-233.
8 Sparks, op. cit., Ill, 220.
e Ibid., 381.

7 Oswald had previously been consulted by Lord North on
American affairs. For events leading to the decision of the Rocking-
ham cabinet to open informal negotiations with Franklin see Fitz-
maurice, Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, III, 175.

8 Paper marked "Private, to be burnt," Shelburne to Oswald, no
date, probably April, 1782. Bancroft MSS., Peace Negotiations.

9 Fitzmaurice, op. cit., Ill, 169.

10 Memorandum to Mr. Oswald in conversation, 28 Apr., 1782.
Bancroft MSS., Peace Negotiations. Cf. also Sparks, op. cit., X, 12.


Franklin, however, feeling that a separate treaty between
his country and Great Britain would be dishonorable, as
well as contrary to the terms of the French-American alli-
ance and Congress' instructions of 1781, at once informed
Oswald that the United States would treat only in concert
with France, 11 and that no definite action could be taken
until his fellow-commissioners arrived. 12

In order to secure the West as far as the Mississippi,
Congress considered it necessary to show either that the
states as individual sovereignties had succeeded to all
rights which they had possessed when colonies, or that,
when the king of Great Britain ceased to be king of the
thirteen colonies, all vacant lands of which he was seised
in that capacity passed to the United States collectively. 13
In other words, Congress desired to secure the West on
one principle or the other, and was apparently unwilling to
commit itself to either. According to the second principle,
the United States could claim the West, even if the procla-
mation of 1763 were held to confine the individual colonies
to lands east of the Alleghanies. 14 American statesmen,
however, understood that abstract claims would be greatly
strengthened by actual conquest and occupation. Jefferson
had expressed the view that Clark's expedition would have
an important bearing on the final establishment of the north-
western boundary of the United States. 15 George Mason,
who had also been concerned in Clark's enterprise, was of
the same opinion. 16 They evidently considered it of great
importance that, when the treaty of peace was finally made,
the American commissioners should be able to argue the
principle of "uti possidetis" with respect to the West. v

u Sparks, op. cit., Ill, 381.

" Moore, Digest of International Law, V, 634.

18 Sec. Journ. of Cong., Ill, 170, 198.

"For this national theory respecting the West, see Thomas Paine,
"Public Good," Writ, of Paine, Conway's ed., II. Cf. also Pelatiah
Webster's essay on Western Lands, in Political Essays on the
Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finances, and other Sub-
jects: Philadelphia, 1791.

15 Bancroft, History of the United States: Boston, 1878, VI, 192.

16 Rowland, op. cit., I, 365.


In January, 1782, an important letter dealing with the
question of the West in the coming peace negotiations was
written to Franklin by the American foreign secretary,
Robert R. Livingston. 17 '*.... Our western and northwest-
ern extent," wrote Livingston, "will probably be contested
with some warmth, and the reasoning on that subject be
deduced from general principles, and from proclamations

and treaties with the Indians I believe it will appear

that our extension to the Mississippi is founded in justice,
and that our claims are at least such as the events of the
war give us a right to insist upon." The proclamation of
1763, he argued, was a temporary measure which did not
nullify the claims of any colony to western land. He even
argued from the wording of the document itself that such
was the case; otherwise it would not have been necessary
to forbid colonial governors to make grants in the West,
since they would have had no power to do so. The treaty of
Fort Stanwix, in his opinion, constituted no obstacle to
colonial claims. Arguments against American extension, he
admitted, might be derived from the Quebec Bill, but as
that was one of the laws that had occasioned the war,
"to build anything upon it would be to urge one wrong
in support of another." He referred to a map which had
been made by the king's geographer, shortly after the
Seven Years' War, on which Virginia and the Carolinas
were represented as extending to the Mississippi. "The
rights of the King of Great Britain .... to America,"
he said, "were incident to his right of sovereignty over
those of his subjects that settled America and explored the

lands he claims If we admit .... that the right

of sovereignty over the people of America is forfeited, it
must follow that all rights founded on that sovereignty are

forfeited with it Upon this principle Great Britain

is left without a foot of land in America beyond the limits
of those governments which acknowledge her jurisdiction."
To strengthen theoretical arguments, Livingston adduced
the fact that actual settlements had been made in the West

17 Sparks, op. cit., Ill, 268, et seq.


by people who acknowledged the jurisdiction of the United
States. In his opinion it would be impolitic as well as unjust
to abandon them. In expectation, however, that there would
be much dispute over the boundary, he unofficially suggested
that, if the Mississippi could not be obtained, the territory
between that river and the western limits assigned to the
states should be left to the Indians under a joint guaranty
of France, Spain, Great Britain and the United States.
An analysis of this document shows that the American
government was disposed to urge charter claims as ground
for claiming the West and the Mississippi boundary, that
the argument of actual settlement, and "the events of the
war," were to be advanced to strengthen these claims, but
that Congress would probably not insist upon the Mis-

In the instructions given in 1780 by Congress to John
Jay, when he was sent as American agent to Spain,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13

Online LibraryRobert Livingston SchuylerThe transition in Illinois from British to American government → online text (page 10 of 13)