Robert Livingston Schuyler.

The transition in Illinois from British to American government online

. (page 5 of 13)
Online LibraryRobert Livingston SchuylerThe transition in Illinois from British to American government → online text (page 5 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

88 Germain to Stuart, 2 Apr., 1777, Bancroft MSS.

" Howe to Stuart, 13 Jan., 1777, Bancroft MSS. He says, ". . .
the general revolt of the colonies justifies every measure that can
be used to annoy and humble them, and, though I point out circum-
stances under which I more particularly think the Indians should
be brought to act, you must not infer from thence that I would have
them restrained on any occasion when the propriety of such measures
shall appear to His Majesty's Governor and yourself." Governor
Tryon also favored this policy. See Tryon to Germain, 9 Apr., 1777,
Bancroft MSS.

58 Butterfield, of. cit., 46.

"Mich. P. Colls., IX, 351.


In June, 1777, he read a proclamation to the savages assem-
bled at Detroit, setting them against the rebel frontiers.
The first fruit of his activity was an Indian attack in
September, 1777, upon Fort Henry at Wheeling, which
greatly alarmed the whole frontier and threatened the
annihilation of American settlements in the West. 60

The nature of the revolting business upon which Ham-
ilton was engaged is revealed by unimpeachable evidence,
two letters of his, one to Carleton, and the other to Carle-
ton's successor, General Haldimand. In the first of these
Hamilton reported that the Indians had "brought in 73
prisoners alive, 20 of which they presented to me, and 129
scalps." In the second he stated that from May to Sep-
tember, 1778, "the Indians in the district have taken 34
prisoners, 17 of which they delivered up, and 81 scalps." 61
Among all the British officers in the Revolution none was
so universally execrated by the frontiersmen as Hamilton,
nicknamed the "Hair-Buyer," because he was supposed
to reward his Indian myrmidons according to the number
of scalps they brought in. 62

Early in the course of the Revolution, Congress, as
already stated, was impressed with the desirability of send-
ing an expedition against Detroit, 63 and realized that only
by destroying British influence over the northwestern tribes
could the frontiers enjoy peace. 6 * In November, 1777,
Congress seriously considered such an enterprise. 65 The
Indians of the upper Ohio, who had remained quiet since
the Treaty of Fort Pitt in 1775, were becoming restless.
The Americans could not furnish the articles necessary for

80 Butter field, Washington-Irvine Correspondence, 13.

61 Mich. P. Colls., IX, 476 et seq. The installment of Haldimand
Papers printed in this volume give a clear idea of how Hamilton
managed the Indians.

82 For the general and correct belief in Hamilton's responsibility
for Indian outrages along the frontiers, see Journals Cont. Cong.,
Ford's ed., IX, 942-944; Cal. Va. St. Papers, I, 321-324.

88 Journals Cont. Cong., Ford's ed., IV, 373.

64 Ibid., IX, 942-944.

65 Ibid.


trade, and consequently the majority of the tribes would not
fight the British, but waited to see which party would gain
the upper hand. 66 General Hand, the Continental officer
placed in command at Fort Pitt in 1777, was instructed to
mobilize a militia force and attack those tribes that were
hostile to the United States ; but a conflict of Congressional
and state action arose and nothing was effected. 67 The
possibility and desirability of an American expedition into
the Northwest were thus generally understood early in the

The year 1777 was critical in the history of the infant
Kentucky settlements. The fury of the Indian attacks was
such that the less resolute abandoned the country and
crossed the mountains to the east. The few that remained
held out bravely in the blockhouse forts at Harrodsburg,
Boonesborough, and a few smaller stations. Their work,
incessant and intense, consisted in defense, procuring provi-
sions, caring for the wounded and burying the dead. Clark,
who remained in Kentucky through the terrible autumn of
1777, considered the possibility of saving the country by a
counter attack on the British posts in the Northwest. While
in eastern Virginia in 1776, he may have learned of the
intercepted letter written by Connolly to Lord, 68 and this
may have first suggested to him an expedition into the
Northwest. It is just possible, too, that on his journey
west in 1776 he had talked with Morgan, since he is known
to have gone by way of Fort Pitt. 69 It is not likely, how-
ever, for if he had, he would almost certainly have known
later much more about conditions in Illinois. But he did
know as well as Congress that the motive power directing
and impelling the Indian raids on Kentucky was British
influence, and that it was from Detroit, Michilimackinac,

66 Hand to Yeates, Fort Pitt, 12 July, 1777. Emmet MSS., N. Y.
Public Library.

67 Henry, op. cit., I, 569 et seq.

68 See Butterfield, History of George Rogers Clark's Conquest, 58.

69 Clark's Memoir, English, op. cit., I, 463. For the view that he
had talked with Morgan, see Butterfield, op. cit., 58.


Niagara and Kaskaskia that England's forest allies were
directed. And he knew that the salvation of Kentucky
depended upon checking the Indian raids.

He had apparently begun to think seriously of an attack
on the British posts in the spring of 1777, for in the early
summer of that year he sent two members of the Kentucky
militia as spies to the Illinois villages, without disclosing
his motives. These men went to Kaskaskia and returned
with valuable information. 70 They told Clark that the
militia, consisting mainly of French Creoles, officered by
Englishmen, were trained and in good order ; that pains
were taken to inflame the inhabitants against the "rebels,"
but that traces of goodwill towards the latter were to be
discerned, and that there was no expectation of an American
invasion. 71 Clark, encouraged by their report, continued
speculating on the possibility of attacking the Illinois

It has been asserted that he had got no further, while in
Kentucky in 1777, than to think an expedition against
Illinois would be possible; that when he went east, as he
did in the autumn of that year, he had no developed plans
in that direction, and that it was not till he had been east
some time that he decided to encourage such an expedi-
tion. 72 There is extant, however, a letter of his, written
probably to Governor Henry not later than the autumn
of 1777, which seems to place the conception of the
definite plan to conquer Illinois in the period before
he went east in October. 73 In this letter he wrote,
"According to promise I haste to give you a descrip-
tion of the town of Kuskuskies [Kaskaskia], and my
plan for taking it The town of Kuskuskies con-

70 Butterfield, op. cit., 60 and his authorities.

71 The spies were misinformed in regard to this last fact (see above,
ch. II, 30 et seq.), and they probably failed to get into communication
with the pro-American party in Illinois.

72 Butterfield, op. cit., 69, 71, 73.

73 October is the date given in Clark's Memoir, and seems more
probable than that given in his Letter to Mason. See Butterfield,
op. cit., 69.


tains about one hundred families of French and English.
.... On the commencement of the present war the troops

were called off to reenforce Detroit In June last I

sent two young men there. The principal inhabitants are

entirely against the American cause If it [Kaskas-

kia] was in our possession it would distress the garrison
at Detroit for provisions, it would fling the command of
the two great rivers into our hands, which would enable

us to get supplies of goods from the Spaniards

I have always thought the town of Kuskuskies to be a place,
worthy of our attention, and have been at some pains to
make myself acquainted with its force, situation and

strength Was I to undertake an expedition of this

sort and had authority from Government to raise my own
men .... I should make no doubt of being in [posses-
sion] by April next I am sensible that the case

stands thus that [we must] either take the town of Kus-
kuskies, or in less than a twelve-month send an army against
the Indians on Wabash, which will cost ten times as much,
and not be of half the service." 74

Clark had several reasons for going east in the autumn
of 1777. There were some accounts of the Kentucky
militia to settle, some private business to attend to, and the
expedition to the Northwest to discuss. 75 He reached Wil-
liamsburg early in November. After settling the militia
accounts and visiting his father's home, he developed his
plans to a few leading hien in the capital. These gentle-
men approached the governor, but it was not till December

74 Am. Hist. Rev., VIII, 491-494.

n For an extended discussion of Clark's motives for going east see
Butterfield, op. cit., 546-557. I cannot accept Butterfield's opinion
that Clark, when he went east, had no serious thoughts of leading an
expedition to Illinois, and that his desire. to do so was partially
caused by the alarming nature of the situation he found in the East.
Butterfield bases his opinion upon Clark's Letter to Mason (English,
op. cit., I, 411-412). This account, however, should be modified by
the conflicting one which CJark gives in his Memoir {ibid., 468). In
reality, the state of affairs in the East, in the autumn of 1777, was
better, not worse, than Clark had supposed, for Burgoyne's surrender
had just taken place.


10 that Clark had his first interview with Henry. The
governor was impressed with the possibilities of the plan. 76
He appreciated, however, the danger of dispatching a force
to so great a distance and he understood the necessity of
absolute secrecy. It would be unsafe to have the project
discussed in the assembly, for in that case it would soon
be talked of on the frontiers, and prisoners taken by the
Indians would be sure to divulge it to the British. 77 An
act passed in the autumn of 1777 gave the governor power,
with the advice of the council, to order out the militia in
an expedition against the western enemies. 78 Henry asked
the advice of a few prominent men who were members
of the assembly but not in the council, George Mason,
George Wythe and Thomas Jefferson. This informal com-
mittee deliberated over Clark's proposals and studied his
plans of operation. Particular stress was laid upon the pos-
sibility of a retreat from Illinois in case of disaster to the
Spanish settlements across the Mississippi 79 where, it was
believed, Americans would be well received. 80 The informal
committee decided in favor of the expedition, and on Jan-
uary 2, 1778, the plan was communicated to the council.
They advised Henry to authorize the expedition as quickly
and secretly as possible, to issue his warrant on the state
treasurer for 1,200 payable to Clark, and to prepare
instructions for him. 81

These instructions were delivered to Clark on the same
day. There were two sets, one public, and the other
private. 82 By the former he was authorized to enlist with-


78 English, op. cit., I, 468.

"Henry, op. cit., I, 583-584. For text of this act, see Hening,
op. cit., IX, 374-375-
Clark's Memoir, English, op. cit., I, 468.

80 The correspondence between Henry and Governor Galvez of
New Orleans shows that the two were on friendly terms. Tran-
scripts of these letters are in the Bancroft MSS.

81 Henry, op. cit., I, 585.

82 Both are printed in the appendix to Clark's Sketch of His Cam-
paign in the Illinois, Cincinnati, 1869.


out loss of time seven companies, to be recruited from any
of the counties of Virginia. They were to proceed to
Kentucky and obey his orders for the period of three
months. If they remained on duty longer, they were to
receive compensation. These instructions conveyed the
impression that the recruits were for the defense of Ken-
tucky only. The private instructions were longer. In
these Clark was authorized to apply to the commanding
officer at Fort Pitt for transportation down the Ohio, and
to attack Kaskaskia, but he was to keep his real destina-
tion secret. "Its success depends upon this." Kaskaskia
was claimed as within the lawful boundaries of Virginia. 83
Clark was to show humanity to British subjects, and, if
possible, to conciliate them. His troops were to receive the
pay of Virginia militia. The establishment of a post near
the mouth of the Ohio was stated as in contemplation. In
a letter writter by the governor to Clark a few days later,
the latter was authorized to extend his operations from
Kaskaskia to the enemy's settlements "above or across, as
you may find it proper." The reference was probably to
Detroit and Vincennes. He was also advised to consult
with Colonel David Rogers, who was on his way to New
Orleans with a letter from Henry to Galvez, and who had
an extensive knowledge of conditions in the West. 84 The
government of Virginia was thus committed to the support
of Clark's plan.

On January 3, a letter was written to him by the
informal committee, and signed by Wythe, Mason and
Jefferson. In this the conquest of territory was clearly in
view. English and Indian aggressions were to be punished
"by carrying the war into their own country." Clark was
congratulated upon his appointment, and rewards were
virtually promised, in case of success, to officers and men. 85

83 The reference is to Virginia's charter claims.

84 Am. Hist Rev., VIII, 494. A transcript of the letter from Henry
to Galvez is in the Bancroft MSS.

86 A facsimile of this letter is given in English, op. cit., I, 102-103.



Clark, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, immediately
left Williamsburg and hastened to the frontier. 1 Clothed
with large discretionary power, in possession of 1,200 in
depreciated Virginia paper currency, a request for powder
and lead addressed to General Hand, and an authorization
to draw for extra funds on Oliver Pollock at New Orleans,
he set about the work of recruiting. 2 Before the end of
January he had recruiting parties along the frontier from
Fort Pitt to North Carolina. 3 He advanced 150 to Major
William B. Smith to recruit on the Holston in the expecta-
tion that Smith would join him in Kentucky. 4 Captain
Leonard Helm of Fauquier County, and Captain Joseph
Bowman of Frederick County, were each to raise a company
and meet Clark at Redstone on the Monongahela, where he
arrived early in February. 5

Clark and his recruiting officers experienced many diffi-
culties. As already explained, the country about Fort Pitt
was in excitement over the rival claims to jurisdiction of
Virginia and Pennsylvania, and there was much opposition
in that vicinity to the recruiting of troops who were to be
used, judging from Clark's public instructions, for the
defense of a Virginia county. Helm reported that in his
county there was opposition, "as no such service was known

1 Probably on Jan. 4, 1778, as he says in his Memoir, English,
op. cit., I, 469, not Jan. 18, as he says in the Letter to Mason. See
Butter-field, op. cit., 86.

* Butterfield, op. cit., 85-86. The statement in the Memoir
(English, op. cit., I, 468), that he had an "order" on Hand is incor-
rect, for Governor Henry could not issue orders to a Continental

8 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 413.

4 Clark's Memoir, ibid., 469.

5 Ibid.


by the Assembly." 6 While at Redstone, Clark had word
from Smith that he would join him at the Falls of the Ohio
with 200 men. By the middle of April he thought that
six companies had been recruited, in addition to those of
Helm and Bowman, which had joined him at Redstone, and
that he would have his "full quota." 7 On May 12, he left
Redstone with about 150 men, divided into three companies,
and "set sail" for the Falls of the Ohio, General Hand
having furnished him with all necessities. 8 At Fort Ran-
dolph, at the mouth of the Great Kanawha, he was joined
by a few Virginians under Captain James O'Hara. 9 He
next touched at the mouth of the Kentucky, where dis-
appointing news awaited him. Smith had experienced
great difficulties from desertion, and from a Continental
draft which interfered with his recruiting, and only a very
few of the men he had promised had arrived in Kentucky. 10
Clark feared this would prove fatal to his plans. He
immediately wrote to County-Lieutenant John Bowman
at Harrodsburg, asking him to join the expedition at the
Falls with all the men he could spare. 11 Towards the close
of May, Clark encamped his little force on Corn Island in
the Ohio, opposite the modern city of Louisville, where the
channel of the river was interrupted by falls. His object
in choosing this island for a camp was better to control his
troops and check desertion. 12 Here he was joined by a few
men whom Bowman could spare from Kentucky, under
Captain Montgomery, 13 and by a few of Smith's men from
Holston under Captain Dillard. 14 He now made known
his real destination. In spite of precautions, one lieutenant

6 Memoir, English, op. cit., I, 469, Letter to Mason, ibid., 413.

7 Clark to Hand, Redstone, 17 Apr., 1778. Emmet MSS.
"Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 413.

8 Butterfield, op. cit., 96.

10 Am. Hist. Rev., VIII, 496; Letter to Mason, English, op. cit.,
I, 414, and Memoir, ibid., 471.

11 Butterfield, op. cit., 98.

12 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 414.

13 Cal. Va. St. Papers, III, 441.

14 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 414.


and a few men of Dillard's company made good their
escape; 15 but the sentiment of the majority was revealed
by burning the lieutenant in effigy. 16 A number of families,
who had followed Clark for the sake of protection, were
found useful in guarding a blockhouse which he erected
on the island. 17

While here Clark acquired a piece of information most
valuable to him in the coming campaign. He received a
letter from Fort Pitt announcing the treaties which had
recently been concluded between France and the United
States. 18 The advantages which the French treaty would
give him in dealing with the French of Illinois are
obvious. 19

On June 24, Clark's little army left Corn Island, shooting
the Falls at a moment when the sun was in nearly total
eclipse, an incident "which caused various conjectures
among the superstitious." 20 His whole force was about 180,
including officers. 21 The men were divided into four com-
panies, commanded by Captains John Montgomery, Joseph
Bowman, Leonard Helm and William Harrod. 22 This
number fell far short of the "seven companies" which
Governor Henry had authorized him to raise.

Speed and secrecy alone, Clark believed, could make up
for his numerical weakness. Accordingly, he rowed down
the Ohio as quickly as possible till he reached an island in
the mouth of the Tennessee. Here he landed on June 28

is lbid.

18 Memoir, ibid., 473.

17 The presence of these families can scarcely be said to have given
Clark's expedition a migratory character, as stated by Roosevelt,
Winning of the West, II, 39.

18 Memoir, English, op. cit., I, 474; Am. Hist. Rev., VIII, 497.
"Professor Alvord (Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xlv) calls the

French treaty Clark's "trump card."

20 English, op. cit., I, 159-160, 473.

"Bowman to Brinker, July 30, 1778, says, "about 175"; English,
op. cit., I, 558. Governor Henry says, "one hundred and seventy
or eighty," ibid., 245. See also, Butterfield, op. cit., 582.

22 Clark's Memoir, English, op. cit., I, 473.


to prepare for an overland march to Kaskaskia. 23 The
water route down the Ohio to its mouth and up the Mis-
sissippi would have been easier. But it could not have
been followed with secrecy, for the Mississippi was
patrolled. Clark understood the importance of delivering
his attack from an unexpected quarter, and decided to fol-
low the Ohio only as far as the site of old Fort Massac,
near the mouth of the Tennessee, thence to march overland
in a northwesterly direction and enter Kaskaskia by the
back door. While in the mouth of the Tennessee, his men
seized a boatload of strangers. They turned out to be
hunters, who had recently been at Kaskaskia, and they
seemed to favor the American cause. Their intelligence
was not specially favorable to Clark, but they took
an oath of allegiance to the United States and joined
the expedition. 24 In the evening of the twenty-eighth
Clark ran his boats into a creek near Fort Massac, and the
next morning started on the trail for Kaskaskia, one hun-
dred and twenty miles distant. 25 He had no wagons, pack-
horses, or artillery. John Fiske's account of the early part
of this campaign is singularly inaccurate. "Clark," he says,
"had a hard winter's work in enlisting men, but at length
in May, 1778, having collected a flotilla of boats and a few
pieces of light artillery, he started from Pittsburg with
1 80 picked riflemen, and rowed swiftly down the Ohio
river a thousand miles to its junction with the Missis-
sippi." 26 He had no artillery, did not start from Pittsburg
with 180 men, and did not row down to the mouth of the

For about fifty miles the march was difficult and fatigu-
ing. Clark's men then reached the open, level prairies,
where his greatest fear was the likelihood of detection,

13 Butterfield, op. tit., 105.

M Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 415.

* For Clark's route to Kaskaskia see Hulbert, "Military Roads of
the Mississippi Basin," Historic Highways of America, VIII, 18, 25
et seq. Also Butterfield, op. cit., 591-594.

w Fiske, American Revolution, II, 105.


which would have spoiled his plans. 27 The march, however,
was uneventful, save that once the guide lost his way.
Towards the end, food gave out, but the spirit of the men
remained excellent. 28 On the evening of July 4, after a
six days' march, they reached the eastern bank of the Kas-
kaskia river, opposite the village. Taking possession of
a farmhouse, they found plenty of boats, and in two hours
were all transported across the river. 29 Clark learned that
there had been some suspicion in Kaskaskia of an Ameri-
can attack, but that the people, having made no discoveries,
had "got off their guard." 30

The story of how he surprised the gay Creoles at a dance
is mythical. Clark himself thus baldly describes the taking
of Kaskaskia: "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. Rocheblave; 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 dis-
armed." 31 One of his captains describes the capture
as follows : "About midnight we marched into the town
without ever being discovered. We pitched for the fort
and took possession. The commanding officer we caught
in bed, and immediately confined him." 32 The fort men-
tioned was Fort Gage, the residence of Rocheblave. It was
now renamed Fort Clark. 33 With Rocheblave were captured
the instructions and papers which he had received from
Detroit and Quebec. 34

ZT Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 415.

28 Bowman to Brinker, ibid., 559.

29 Letter to Mason, ibid., 416. Professor Alvord suggests (Colls.
III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xlii, note) that these boats may have been placed
here by members of the pro-American party in Kaskaskia, in expec-
tation of an American attack.

30 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 416.

31 Ibid.

32 Bowman to Brinker, ibid., 559.

33 Butterfield, op. cit., 138.

34 English, op. cit., I, 559, 564; Alvord, The Old Kaskaskia
Records, 43.


Clark describes in vivid but probably exaggerated lan-
guage the abject terror of the Kaskaskians. 35 As a matter
of fact, an American attack was not, as we have seen,
unexpected. Persons friendly to the Americans supplied
Clark's hungry troops with food, and urged the French to
submit. 36 He himself was not long in learning of a pro-
American sentiment in the town. 37

The policy adopted by Clark in treating with the towns-
men shows that he was gifted with true diplomatic insight.
He summoned the leading citizens to a conference, told
them he was sorry they had entertained so bad an opinion
of Americans, and explained, after a fashion, the nature
of the dispute between England and the United States.

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryRobert Livingston SchuylerThe transition in Illinois from British to American government → online text (page 5 of 13)