Robert Livingston Schuyler.

The transition in Illinois from British to American government online

. (page 6 of 13)
Online LibraryRobert Livingston SchuylerThe transition in Illinois from British to American government → online text (page 6 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

It was the American principle, he said, to make men free,
not slaves, and if they would espouse the American cause,
they should at once enjoy all the privileges of American
government; but this favor was made to appear as a
privilege extended to a people who, by the fate of war,
were at his mercy. 38 Equally tactful was his treatment of
the most influential inhabitants. Cerre, the leading mer-
chant of Kaskaskia, who had been strongly opposed to the
American cause, happened to be in Spanish Illinois on busi-
ness. In spite of accusations made by his enemies, Clark
gave him a hearing. Cerre took an oath of allegiance and,
says Clark, "became a most valuable man to us." 39 Father
Gibault became a zealous "Clark man" when informed that
the church would be protected, and that under the laws of
Virginia all religions enjoyed equal privileges. 40 The atti-
tude taken by Clark, and the information he gave of the
French treaty, brought the town completely to his feet. 41

35 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 416-417; Colls. III. St. Hist.
Lib., II, xliv.

36 See, e. g., Cal. Va. St. Papers, II, 675, and Clark's Memoir,
English, op. cit., I, 478.

"Ibid., 477.

88 Letter to Mason, ibid., 417.

39 Clark's Memoir, ibid., 484-487; Am. Hist. Rev., VIII, 498-500.
For a sketch of Cerre, see Trans. III. St. Hist. Soc., 1903, 275 et seq.

40 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 418.

"Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 536, and Letter to Mason, English,
op. cit., I, 417.


It may well be that hopes of a speedy restoration to France,
the only government for which the Illinois Creoles felt any
real attachment, partially explain the tameness of the sur-
render of Kaskaskia. 42 With a few exceptions, Clark
allowed any who chose to leave the country.

On July 5, Bowman, with a detachment of thirty mounted
men, and accompanied by a number of Kaskaskians, was
sent to take possession of the northern towns of Prairie du
Rocher and St. Philippe. 43 They surrendered immediately,
and without resistance. 44 Within ten days about three hun-
dred of the inhabitants of these northern towns took an
oath of fidelity, and appeared to be attached to the
American cause. 45

Clark now turned his attention to the reduction of Vin-
cennes. In the case of this town, a repetition of the attack
on Kaskaskia was not possible, for the inhabitants were
aware of his proximity and could not be surprised. 46
Gibault's friendship was now found to be of the utmost
service. His spiritual jurisdiction extended over Vincennes,
and he offered to win the town for Clark by peaceful means.
Though he had nothing to do with temporal business, he
said, he would give the people such hints in the spiritual
way as would be "very conducive to the business." 47 The
priest, in company with Dr. Laffont, the principal of the
Jesuit school at Kaskaskia, and a few others, soon started for
Vincennes, taking with him a proclamation from Clark to the
people. 48 His "hints" were effective. No resistance was
made to the transfer of allegiance from England to the

42 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 536.

43 This party was mounted on Illinois horses ; Clark had brought
none with him.

44 Bowman to Brinker, English, op. cit., I, 559 ; Bowman to Kite,
ibid., 564-565 ; Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 536.

45 Bowman to Brinker, English, op. cit., I, 560 ; Bowman to Kite,
ibid., 565.

"Letter to Mason, ibid., 419.

47 Ibid. For Gibault's services to Clark see Am. St. Papers, "Public
Lands," I, 21.

48 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 419, and Trans. III. St. Hist.
Soc., 1907, 271 et seq. See also Am. Hist. Rev., XIV, 544 et seq.


United States, and in a few days an oath of fidelity was taken
by the people. 49 They had even less reason than the Kaskas-
kians to feel attachment to Great Britain, 50 and their
acquiescence in a change of masters is neither difficult to
understand nor discreditable. Legras, who had been left
by Abbott in command of the Vincennes militia, seems to
have done nothing to stem the tide of pro-American senti-
ment, and was later accused of treason by Hamilton. 51 The
post of Ouiatanon soon followed the example of Vincennes,
and came under American control. 52 Clark placed Captain
Helm in charge at Vincennes as commandant and super-
intendent of Indian affairs. 53

In attempting to explain Clark's success in this expedition
against Illinois, account must be taken of the secrecy and
speed of his movements, his spirit of dauntless perseverance
in the face of disappointment, the absence of- British troops
in the country and the attitude of the inhabitants. The
element of secrecy is especially emphasized by Clark him-
self, 54 and by Captain Montgomery. 55 A few companies of
British regulars could probably have held the country
against any force which the Americans could have sent.
This, at least, was the opinion of General Haldimand, Carle-
ton's successor as governor of Quebec. 56 But the attitude
of the inhabitants, it seems to me, was the decisive factor
in the collapse of British rule in Illinois. Rocheblave
attributed the failure of the people to defend themselves to
Spanish intrigues, and to the treachery of the English-
speaking merchants. 57 What Clark could have done, had
military resistance been encountered, cannot be known, for
there was none ; and consequently there was ho occasion for

49 Trans. III. St. Hist. Soc., 1907, 270 et seq.
60 Supra, ch. II.

51 Butterfield, op. cit., 175.

52 Ibid., 194.

M Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 420.

"Ibid., 415.

BB Col. Va. St. Papers, III, 441.

66 Mason, Early Chic, and III., 369.

67 Ibid., 418.


the display of great military ability. In other words, the
explanation of his success in 1778 is to be sought for in con-
ditions in the country before his arrival. The British
regime fell mainly from internal causes.

Within a few weeks Clark was in possession of the
territory along the Mississippi from Kaskaskia to Cahokia,
and on the Wabash from Vincennes to Ouiatanon. But
he had not men enough to hold it securely. The time of
his three months' recruits had expired and most of them
were anxious to return. It was only with great difficulty,
and by usurping authority, that he induced about one hun-
dred to reenlist for eight months. 58 To preserve appear-
ances and create an impression of greater strength, he gave
out that he could at any moment secure reinforcements
from the Falls of the Ohio. The several companies were
soon filled by the enlistment of Creole volunteers, who were
anxious to serve under him. 59 The men who insisted on
returning were sent east under Captain Montgomery, who
conveyed Rocheblave as a prisoner, and letters from Clark
to the governor of Virginia informing him of the situation
in Illinois and the necessity of more troops. 60 Garrisons
were placed in Fort Clark at Kaskaskia, in Fort Bowman
at Cahokia, and in Fort Sackville at Vincennes. 61

The establishment of friendly relations with the neigh-
boring tribes was a task which immediately confronted
Clark. We have seen that it was primarily Indian attacks on
Kentucky that had occasioned his expedition. 62 The counter-
action of British influence among the northwestern tribes
was, then, an essential part of his programme. His unex-
pected appearance, and the position taken by the people of
Illinois, greatly perplexed and alarmed the savages, most
of whom had been hostile to the Americans. The French
traders, who possessed great influence over the Indians,

M Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 419.
"Ibid., 420.

^Ibid.; Clark's Memoir, ibid., 489; Cat. Va. St. Papers, III, 441.
81 Clark's Memoir, English, op. cit., I, 489; Butterfield, op. cit., 138.
81 Governor Henry to Virginia's Delegates in Congress, 14 Nov.,
1778, English, op. cit., I, 245.


advised them to make their peace with Clark. By the middle
of August they were flocking to Cahokia, some, Qark says,
from a distance of five hundred miles, to smoke the pipe
of peace with the "Big Knives," as they called the Virginia
frontiersmen. 63 Clark did not believe in the methods com-
monly employed by English colonists in dealing with Indians.
Abundant use of presents and over-conciliatory speeches
savored, in his opinion, of weakness. He seems, indeed,
always to have held these views. 64 He determined, accord-
ingly, to employ "harsh language"; in other words, bluff
and braggadocio. During a five-weeks' residence at
Cahokia he concluded treaties with ten or twelve tribes. 65
At the same time Captain Helm at Vincennes was making
treaties with several of the Wabash tribes.

Hamilton realized the importance of maintaining British
influence over the Wabash Indians, and thought they should
be utilized as a barrier against rebel inroads towards
Detroit. 66 As soon, therefore, as he learned of Clark's
success in Illinois, he sent an agent named De Celoron, to
hold these tribes firm in their alliance with Great Britain. 67
De Celoron arrived at Ouiatanon about the time Helm
reached Vincennes. The latter, with a detachment of Clark's
men from Kaskaskia, started up the Wabash to capture the
British agent, who fled at his approach, leaving Helm to
negotiate a treaty with the Indians about Ouiatanon, which,
however, did not long keep them on the American side. 68
Hamilton later criticised De Celoron sharply, and accused
him of treason. 69 Though Clark undoubtedly exaggerated
the extent of American influence over the northwestern

63 Letter to Mason, ibid., 420, 422.

64 Cal. Va. St. Papers, III, 488.

63 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 420-421, 426.

"Mich. P. Colls., IX, 459.

67 Ibid.

88 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 427-428 ; Butterfield, op. cit.,
193-194, 197, 243.

69 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., I, 359, and Colls, of the State Hist. Soc.
of Wisconsin, XI, 181.


tribes, his achievements in this direction were considerable
enough to worry the British officials at the lake posts.

He devoted some attention to cultivating friendly rela-
tions with Francisco de Leyba, the Spanish commandant
of Upper Louisiana. That Leyba was as glad to see Clark
in possession along the Mississippi as the latter implies, 70
seems doubtful, however, in view of later events.

70 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 426.



Meanwhile Hamilton was not inactive. He was in many
respects an able and energetic soldier, and it was almost
certain that he would attempt to drive the Americans
out of Illinois. He learned of Clark's invasion in August,
1778, and immediately informed Carleton. 1 Early in the
same month the disconsolate Rocheblave wrote a dolorous
letter to Quebec, stating the fact of his capture by
"the self-styled colonel." 2 In September, General Haldi-
mand, who had in June succeeded Carleton as governor of
Quebec, 3 wrote to Germain, informing the British govern-
ment that Illinois had been "overrun" by parties of
rebels. 4 Haldimand thought that the Indians, if properly
directed by Hamilton, might be able to clear Illinois of the
Americans, 5 but he did 'not authorize Hamilton to under-
take a regular expedition for this purpose. 6 The latter
was, however, authorized by the British government to
employ the Wabash Indians to dislodge the Americans, but
this instruction could not have reached him, since it was
not written till after he had started from Detroit against
Clark'. 7 But Hamilton was eager to lead such an expedition.
In the spring of 1778 he had been meditating an attack on
Fort Pitt, which had, however, been disapproved by Haldi-
mand. 8 He now began to plan the recovery of Illinois.
But it was not a mere Indian raid which he had in mind.

1 Mich. P. Colls., IX, 459.
2 Mason, Early Chic, and III., 418-419.

8 Haldimand to Sir Henry Clinton, received i Aug., 1778, Bancroft

4 Haldimand to Germain, n Sept., 1778, ibid.

5 Butterfield, op. cit., 163.
8 Ibid., 163-164.

7 For proof that he was ordered to try to recover Illinois see
Germain to Stuart, 2 Dec., 1778, Bancroft MSS.

8 Mich. P. Colls., IX, 398.


He would lead the expedition in person. 9 He hoped
first to recover Vincennes, and then to retake all the other

He wrote Major De Peyster, commandant at Michili-
mackinac, informing him of his plans, and asking for the
cooperation of the Indians in that vicinity. 10 De Peyster
had already sent a "belt" to the Illinois tribes to stir them
up against the rebels, 11 and he tried to convince the tribes
over whom he had influence that commercial considerations
bound them to Great Britain. 12 He lent Hamilton his
hearty cooperation, but the Indians about Michilimackinac
were at that season so greatly dispersed that he was unable
to dispatch a formidable party, 13 and his efforts to reenforce
the lieutenant-governor were not successful. 14

Hamilton's work of preparation was effected with speed
and efficiency, 15 and on October 7, he started from Detroit
for Vincennes at the head of about 230 men, regulars,
irregulars, militia and Indians. 16 He was acting on his own
responsibility, without orders from Haldimand. 17 The route
followed by Hamilton was down the Detroit river to Lake
Erie, on Lake Erie to the mouth of the Maumee, up the
Maumee to its source, over a portage to a source of the
Wabash, the "Petit Rivierre," and down the Wabash to
Vincennes. The details of the journey need not be
described. 18 It was about 600 miles in length, and consumed
seventy-one days. During its progress Hamilton was joined
by considerable numbers of Indians. 19 The journey down

9 Butterfield, op. cit., 164.

10 Mich. P. Colls., IX, 476.

11 Ibid., 371.

"Colls. St. Hist. Soc. Wis., XI, 117.
"Ibid., 119.

14 Ibid., 121-122, 124-125.

15 Butterfield, op. cit., 170 et seq.

18 For the numbers see ibid., 180, 648-652.

"Mich. P. Colls., XIX, 474; Haldimand to Clinton, 26 May, 1779,
Bancroft MSS.

18 The longest primary source for this expedition is a letter written
by Hamilton in 1781. See Mich. P. Colls., IX, 489-516.

"Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., I, 220, and Butterfield, op. cit., 206.


the Wabash was very difficult and slow, for the river was
low and full of floating ice.

On December 15 a party of scouts captured a small
detachment sent out from Vincennes by Helm to recon-
noiter. 20 From these men Hamilton learned that Helm
depended for defense almost entirely on the militia of Vin-
cennes, who, the former wrongly imagined, were in the pay
of Congress. 21 Helm was isolated. Clark, it is true, had
supposed that Hamilton would attempt the recovery of
Illinois, 22 and he knew as early as September that the latter
was trying to rouse the northern tribes. 23 But when his
spies reported that the British commander was marching
south by the Maumee, 24 he completely mistook his object.

In May, 1778, Congress, ignorant of Clark's expedition,
voted to raise three thousand men for western service.
General Hand was succeeded at Fort Pitt by General
Mclntosh, who arrived there in August. Mclntosh was
instructed to lead an expedition against Detroit. 25 After
spending some time in attempting to conciliate the Indians
whose hunting-grounds he would have to traverse, he
advanced thirty miles down the Ohio, where, at much loss
of time, he erected Fort Mclntosh. The furthest point
reached in this "campaign" was the headwaters of the
Muskingum, where another fort was built. Leaving 150
men there, Mclntosh returned in December to Fort Pitt,
disbanded his militia and went into winter quarters. 26
When certain information reached Clark that Hamilton was
on the march, he supposed that he was moving against
Mclntosh, "little thinking," he says, "that Mr. Hamilton
had the same design on me that I supposed he had at Gen.

20 Butterfield, op. cit., 216.

21 Hamilton to Stuart, 25 Dec., 1778, Bancroft MSS.

22 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 428.

23 Henry, op. cit., Ill, 194.

24 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 429.

25 For the resolution of Congress leading to this expedition see
Journals Cont. Cong., Ford's ed., XI, 588.

26 Justin Winsor, Western Movement, 125.


Mclntosh." 27 Clark cannot justly be blamed for not fore-
seeing- Mclntosh's utter failure. The latter's inability to
menace Detroit gave Hamilton a free hand, and he had
actually captured Vincennes before Clark received accurate
information of his whereabouts.

After arriving in the neighborhood of Vincennes, Hamil-
ton sent out parties to watch the lines of communication
from that village to Kaskaskia and to the Falls of the Ohio,
and sent word in advance to the inhabitants that no mercy
would be shown them unless they abandoned the American
cause. Helm's militia proved useless, and resolved to make
as good terms as possible with Hamilton. Helm, indeed,
said he had not four men upon whom he could depend;
"not one of the militia will take arms, though before
sight of the enemy no braver men." 28 He was hopelessly
outnumbered, and could make no resistance to a party as
large as that which was approaching. By this time it had
been increased by the addition of Indians to about five
hundred men. 29 On December 17, Helm surrendered Fort
Sackville. In the town Hamilton encountered no resistance.
The inhabitants laid down their arms to the number of
22O. 30 On December 19, the people were summoned to the
church, where Hamilton, after reproaching them for their
past treachery, read an oath of allegiance, which was signed
by more than 150 in a few days. 31 Those who had accepted
American commissions gave them up, and all who took the
oath received back their arms. Hamilton hoped that lenity
shown to the people of Vincennes would have a good effect
on those of Kaskaskia and the other villages. For his
success thus far he alone deserved the credit. He had acted,

27 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 429.

28 Am. Hist. Rev., I, 90-91; English, op. cit., I, 233.

29 Butterfield, op. cit., 225. Clark (Letter to Mason) exaggerates
the number in placing Hamilton's force at 800. He comes nearer
the actual figure in a letter to the governor of Virginia (Cal. Va. St.
Papers, I, 315-316), placing it at 600.

30 Hamilton to Stuart, 25 Dec., 1778.. Bancroft MSS.

31 Butterfield, op. cit., 228-229.


as has been said, on his own responsibility, without orders
from his superior at Quebec. 32

He at once put the fort, which he found " a miserable
stockade," in better condition, and erected blockhouses and
barracks. 33 Parties were sent out in every direction to bar
intercourse between the Falls of the Ohio and the Illinois
settlements, 3 * and means were taken to intercept boats on
the Ohio. He deliberated on the project of an immediate
advance on Kaskaskia. But it was the dead of winter, the
route to be traversed (over 200 miles) was through a
country subject to inundation, and it was necessary to
maintain a garrison in Fort Sackville. These considerations
induced the British commander to winter at Vincennes and
postpone the attack on Kaskaskia till spring.

He knew of the aid extended to the Americans by
the Spaniards, and resolved, if possible, to put a stop
to it. As early as January, 1779, he suspected that war
had already broken out between Spain and England
and regretted that he had no information which would
justify him in taking the offensive against the Spaniards in
the West, "as there would be so little difficulty in pushing
them entirely out of the Mississippi." 35 In the same month
he wrote to Galvez, briefly describing his capture of Vin-
cennes. "Your Excellency," he said, "cannot be unac-
quainted with what was commonly practised in the time of
your predecessor in the government of New Orleans, I
mean the sending supplies of gunpowder and other stores to
the rebels then in arms against their sovereign. Though
this may have been transacted in a manner unknown to the
Governor by the merchants, I must suppose that under your
Excellency's orders, such commerce will be positively pro-
hibited I think it incumbent on me to represent to

your Excellency that the rebels at Kaskaskia being in daily
apprehension of the arrival of a body of men from the

3 " Butterfield, op. cit., 226.

88 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., I, 390.

34 Hamilton to Stuart, 25 Dec., 1778, Bancroft MSS.

35 Hamilton to Haldimand, 24-30 Jan., 1779, Bancroft MSS.


upper posts accompanied by the savages from that quarter
have declared that they will take refuge on the Spanish
territory as soon as they are apprised of their 'coming. As
it is my intention early in the spring to go towards the
Illinois, I shall represent to the officers commanding several
small forts and posts on the Mississippi for His Catholic
Majesty the impropriety of affording an asylum to rebels
in arms against their lawful sovereign. If after such a
representation the rebels should find shelter in any fort or
post on the Mississippi, it will become my duty to dislodge
them, in which case their protectors must blame their
own conduct, if they should suffer any inconvenience in
consequence." 36

But Hamilton was meditating something more momen-
tous than the expulsion of the rebels from Illinois. He
anticipated for the coming season the greatest gathering of
Indians that had ever been collected on the American
frontier. 37 Stuart was to incite the southern tribes ; Ham-
ilton, who expected reinforcements from the commander-
in-chief, would, with the northern Indians, as circumstances
should decide, either first sweep the Americans from
Illinois, or immediately attack Kentucky. 38 He hoped to
capture the post at the Falls of the Ohio, and also to build
a fort at the mouth of that river. 39 Concerted Indian action
was to annihilate the American settlements west of the
Alleghanies. The danger to the American cause in the West
was never greater than at the opening of I779. 40 The
center of hostile operations, moreover, had come nearer.
It was now at Vincennes.

By February 22, 1779, the fort at Vincennes, Hamilton
says, was "in a tolerable state of defense." Scouting parties
were kept on the alert. Most of his Indians, however, were

86 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., I, 377 et seq.

87 Hamilton to the commandant at Natchez, 13 Jan., 1779, Bancroft

88 Ibid., and Hamilton to Stuart, 25 Dec., 1778, Bancroft MSS.

m Colls. St. Hist. Soc. Wis., XI, 180, and Mich. P. Colls., IX, 477.
40 Ibid., 497, and Butterfield, op. cit., 259-260.


allowed to return to their homes, as were some volunteers
from Detroit. The people of Vincennes never became
attached to him, and were ready at a favorable moment to
desert, if such desertion would not endanger their own
safety. Haldimand later expressed astonishment that a
competent officer would remain at Vincennes "when he
knew the impracticability of my supplying him with pro-
visions or assistance, and after he must have received notice
of the rebels approaching toward Detroit." 41 Had Hamil-
ton's antagonist, however, been a man of ordinary caliber,
his own occupation of Vincennes would have been tolerably

As late as Christmas, 1778, Clark was completely in the
dark concerning Hamilton's whereabouts, and supposed
that Mclntosh had taken Detroit. 42 Shortly after this,
however, an inhabitant of Cahokia was detected in a
treasonable correspondence with the British commander, in
which the failure of Mclntosh and Hamilton's aggressive
intentions were revealed, "but not so fully expressed ....
as to reduce it to a certainty." 43 Clark was still misled by
the supposition that the enemy's first attack would be
directed against Kaskaskia rather than Vincennes. In this
event he determined to recall the garrison from Cahokia
and concentrate his forces at Kaskaskia. In January he
started for the northern town to confer with the people and
determine lines of policy. While he was on the way, a
party sent out from Vincennes nearly succeeded in captur-
ing him. Failing to do this, they spread the false report
that Hamilton with 800 men was marching on Kaskaskia.
Clark, believing the story, was forced to return post haste
to that village, where his calmness prevented a panic. The
Kaskaskians were thoroughly frightened, but the arrival of
Bowman's troops and a company of volunteers from
Cahokia reassured them. "I believe," says Clark, "had

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryRobert Livingston SchuylerThe transition in Illinois from British to American government → online text (page 6 of 13)