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Mr. Hamilton appeared we should have defeated him with

41 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., I, 446.

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

43 Ibid.


a good deal of ease, not so numerous, but the men being
much better. 44 He soon learned from scouts that the
"army" which gave the alarm consisted of only about forty
whites and Indians "making their retreat as fast as pos-
sible to St. Vincent [Vincennes], sent for no other purpose,
as we found after, than to take me." 45 The enemy he now
knew to be at Vincennes.

Late in January, 1779, Francisco Vigo, 46 a merchant of
St. Louis, whose business operations brought him into close
contact with the Illinois and Wabash settlements, arrived
in Kaskaskia from Vincennes with full information con-
cerning that place, its capture by Hamilton, etc. From him
Clark learned that no attack would be made on Kaskaskia
till spring ; that Hamilton had sent most of his Indians out,
and had only eighty men in garrison ; that belts and presents
had been sent to all the tribes south of the Ohio, who were
asked to meet at a general council at the mouth of the
Tennessee and lay plans for the reduction of Illinois and
Kentucky, and that Hamilton "made no doubt of clearing
the western waters by the fall." 47 "It was at this moment,"
says Clark, "I would have bound myself seven years a slave
to have had 500 troops." 48

The situation was desperate. The only escape from dis-
aster or immediate retreat from Illinois was to attack Ham-
ilton before Hamilton attacked him. This would involve
a march of over 200 miles in the dead of winter, over snow-
clad prairies and drowned lands, concluded by the storming

"For this episode see Letter to Mason, ibid., 430-435.


49 Vigo was an important figure in the annals of the Northwest. A
Sardinian by birth, he had served in the Spanish army and was
stationed in Louisiana. Leaving the army he became a merchant.
A friendship sprang up between him and Clark, and he transferred
his allegiance to the United States. He was a financial power
throughout the country and rendered Clark much pecuniary service.
See English, op. cit., I, 267 et seq.

"For the information brought by Vigo see Cal. Va. St. Papers,
I. 3i5-3i6 ; English, op. cit., I, 395-402, 436, 568.

*Ibid., 436.


of a fort a task which Hamilton had decided was too diffi-
cult for himself to attempt. "I was sensible," wrote Clark,
"the resolution was as desperate as my situation, but I saw
no other probability of securing the country." 49 It was
nearly a year since he had heard from the Virginia authori-
ties. He was thrown entirely on his own resources and
responsibility. 50 He called a council of his officers and
found that their sentiments coincided with his own. 51 An
immediate march against Vincennes was agreed upon. All
was to be risked in a single encounter. 52 The issue was
thus expressed by Clark : "We must either quit the country
or attack Mr. Hamilton." 53

A large boat was rigged, equipped with two four-pound-
ers and four swivels, and manned by forty-six men under
command of Lieutenant John Rogers. Loaded with stores
and ammunition, the "Willing," as she was called, left
Kaskaskia on February 4. Rogers was instructed to take
his boat down the Mississippi and up the Ohio and Wabash
to within a few leagues of the town, and there to await
further orders. If discovered, he was to do the enemy all
the harm possible without losing his vessel, and if Clark
was defeated, he was to join Colonel David Rogers on the
Mississippi. 54

Very gratifying to Clark was the enthusiastic manner in
which the French inhabitants responded at this crisis, and
the evidence which they gave of attachment to himself. 55
Up to this time he had been doubtful of them, but they now
proved their fidelity to the new regime. 56 Without their
cooperation it is more than doubtful if he could have car-

49 English, op. cit., I, 396.
60 Cal Va. St. Papers, I, 315-316.

31 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 436; Bowman's Journal,
ibid., 568.

52 Cal Va. St. Papers, I, 315-316.

53 Ibid.

"Ibid.; Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 436-437; Clark's
Memoir, ibid., 520, Bowman's Journal, ibid., 568.
65 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib.. II, 526.
"Ibid., Iviii.


ried out his plans. They contributed liberally, both in men
and in money. 57 On February 4, a volunteer company from
Cahokia under Captain Richard McCarty arrived at Kas-
kaskia, and on the next day another one was raised under
Captain Francis Charleville. 58

With these two companies, and two companies of his
troops, many of whom, it will be remembered, were Creoles,
under Captains Bowman and Worthington, Clark left
Kaskaskia for Vincennes on February 5. He had with him
about 170 men. 59 "We were conducted out of the town,"
says Clark, "by the inhabitants and Mr. Gibault, the priest,
who after a very suitable discourse to the purpose gave us
all absolution, and we set out on a forlorn hope indeed,
for our whole party, with the boat's crew, consisted of
only a little upwards of two hundred." 60 There were a
few pack-horses, but no tents or provision for shelter.
Over muddy trails and drowned lands, Clark's greatest
care was to keep up the spirits of his men. After much
hardship caused by the weather, the condition of the country
and the failure of provisions, he arrived in the immediate
neighborhood of Vincennes on February 23. 61

His approach seems to have been entirely unexpected by
Hamilton. 62 The British commander could probably have
defended himself in the fort for some time; and, in the
event of a regular siege, reinforcements might arrive from
Detroit and oblige Clark to retire. The latter, therefore,
resolved to resort to diplomacy. His men had captured a
prisoner, who turned out to be friendly to the Americans

87 See English, op. cit., II, 1054, for sums collected by Clark from
the French inhabitants. See also Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, li, note
3, xlvi.

58 Bowman's Journal, English, op. cit., I, 568.


60 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 437.

81 This famous march, which John Randolph compared with
Hannibal's passage of the Trasimene Marsh, can be followed in the
laconic journal of Captain Bowman (English, op. cit., I, 56$ et seq.).
For the route taken, see Hulbert, op. cit., 34 et seq.

62 Bowman's Journal, English, op. cit., I, 571-572.


and gave valuable information. The people of Vin-
cennes, Clark knew, were not attached to Hamilton or
to the government which he represented ; there was, more-
over, a chance that some of the Indians might abandon him.
Clark accordingly sent on in advance by a prisoner a proc-
lamation addressed "To the inhabitants of Post St. Vin-
cent," requesting all friendly to the American cause to
remain in their houses, and telling those who were opposed
to it to repair to the fort and fight like men. Everyone
found under arms would be treated as an enemy. 63 Before
dark he appeared in sight of the town, which speedily sur-
rendered. 64 A number of Indians joined him, and the
inhabitants furnished his starving and half -naked men with
food, clothing and powder. 65 A detachment of troops was
sent to attack the fort, though Clark did not expect to be
able to effect its reduction till the arrival of the artillery
on the "Willing." 66 There was almost incessant firing
for eighteen hours. 67 The hostile commanders held several
conferences on December 24, and in the evening articles
of surrender were signed. 68 The fort was delivered over
to Clark, and the garrison became prisoners of war. The
reasons given at this time by Hamilton for the surrender
were remoteness from succor, the low state of pro-
visions, the unanimity of officers and men in its expediency,
and confidence in a generous enemy. 69 Clark's total casual-
ties were one man wounded. Though the attitude of the

63 Bowman's Journal, English, op. cit., I, 571-572.

64 Ibid., 397-

65 Mich. P. Colls., IX, 503.
68 English, op. cit., I, 397.

68 Bowman's Journal, English, op. cit., I, 573-575 ; Mich. P. Colls.,
IX, 504; Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 441-444; Clark's
Journal, Am. Hist. Rev., I, 91-94.

69 In view of the last reason, the story told by Hamilton of Clark's
savage behavior (Mich. P. Colls., IX, 502) seems strange. Its
truth becomes doubtful when we compare with it a letter written
by Hamilton a few days after the surrender, in which he testifies to
the honorable behavior of Clark's officers and men. See Hamilton to
Lernoult, 28 Feb., 1779, Bancroft MSS.


people of Vincennes must be taken into account as a factor
of great importance in Clark's victory, he had undoubtedly
throughout this campaign displayed military ability of a
high order. He needs, perhaps, no greater praise than that
accorded by Hamilton : "The difficulties and danger of Col.
Clark's march from the Illinois were such as required great
courage to encounter and great perseverance to overcome."

On the morning of February 25, Fort Sackville was again
occupied by Americans, and its name was changed to
Fort Patrick Henry. Clark dispatched some troops to
ascend the Wabash and capture a party which had been
sent back by Hamilton to bring down stores from the port-
age at the head of the river. Forty men and seven boats
loaded with provisions, together with dispatches from
Detroit, were captured. 70

On February 27, the "Willing" arrived. During her
voyage from Kaskaskia she had picked up a messenger with
letters from the Virginia government to Clark. 71 He was
notified of his promotion to the rank of full colonel, and
reinforcements were promised.

In a few days Hamilton, his officers and a few men, were
sent under guard to Williamsburg, where they arrived in
June. Hamilton was kept in confinement till October, 1780.
General Haldimand protested against this, 72 but Governor
Jefferson justified it on the grounds of "national retalia-
tion," and "personal punishment" for his instigation of
Indian atrocities. The terms of the capitulation, Jefferson
asserted, did not guarantee Hamilton against confinement. 75
After being exchanged, Hamilton finally reached England
in 1781. In the account of these campaigns which he wrote,
he attributes his failure "chiefly if not entirely to the treach-
ery of persons whom I had reason to expect lenity and
moderation would have gained."

70 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 444.

71 Bowman's Journal, ibid., 575, and Clark to the governor of
Virginia, 29 Apr., 1779, ibid., 398.

72 Haldimand to Washington, 29 Aug., 1779, Bancroft MSS.
78 Writings of Jefferson, Ford's ed., II, 248 et seq.


Upon the disposition of the Indians the effect of Ham-
ilton's capture was great. It was to him they looked for
guidance and instructions, and the disaster which befell
him cooled their ardor for the British cause. 74 Haldimand
called Hamilton's defeat a second "tour de Burgoyne." 75
In the spring and early summer information reached Quebec
from the lake posts that the spirit of the Indians was shaken.
The friendship of the Illinois French for Clark contributed
to the same result. 76 The attitude of the French in the
lake posts and in Quebec, upon whom the French treaty
of 1778 had its natural effect, alarmed the British authori-
ties. Haldimand knew the Americans had not abandoned
their designs on Canada. 77 Small parties were constantly
entering the province and escaping unhurt. 78 The home
government was aware of the importance and gravity of the
situation in Canada. 79 Clark, indeed, had accomplished a
more important work than he knew. Had Hamilton been
able to maintain himself at Vincennes, and bring about the
wholesale onslaught upon the American settlements which
he had been contemplating, the American cause in the West
would have suffered a disaster.

Clark remained at Vincennes till March 20, when he
returned to Kaskaskia. While at Vincennes, he concluded
a number of treaties with the Wabash Indians, who flocked
to the village to take the child of fortune by the hand. 80

The dispatches brought to him by the "Willing," as
has been explained, were encouraging, and he was led to
hope for the reduction of Detroit. 81 They informed him
that reinforcements would be sent from Virginia. He knew

74 For the effect on the Indians of Hamilton's defeat, see Mich. P.
Colls., IX, 382, 429; XIX, 383, 393. See also Kept, on Can. Archives,
1885, 326.

Rept. on Can. Archives, 1886, 471.

"Mich. P. Colls., IX, 382.

77 Haldimand to Clinton, 10 Nov., 1778, Bancroft MSS.

78 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., I, 447-448.

79 Germain to Clinton, 4 Nov., 1778, Bancroft MSS.

80 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 445-448.
"English, op. cit., I, 399.


that the Illinois militia would turn out for an expedition
against Detroit, and he believed that he could secure two
or three hundred men from Kentucky. 82 The French
inhabitants, moreover, manifested commendable zeal in the
proposed enterprise. 83 Clark felt with true military instinct
that the time to attack Detroit was before the enemy
recovered from the shock of Hamilton's defeat. Three
hundred men, he thought, would suffice to capture the place,
weakened as it was both by the loss of Hamilton's force,
and by the existence of a pro-American sentiment among
the French inhabitants. 84 The commanding officer at
Detroit, in expectation of an American attack, prepared
himself as well as he could. 85

When Clark returned from Vincennes to Kaskaskia he
found his force strengthened by the arrival of a company
from New Orleans under Captain Robert George. 86 But
disappointments were in store. Captain Montgomery
arrived from Virginia at the close of May, with, however,
only half the men Clark had expected. 87 In July, instead
of the two or three hundred promised him from Ken-
tucky only about thirty arrived. 88 It was with genuine
sorrow that he was forced temporarily to abandon the
plan near to his heart. His settled conviction was that
the frontiers could enjoy no lasting tranquility with Detroit
in British hands. 89 The reason why it was never captured
by the Americans was always the same, want of men. The
narrative of Clark's further efforts to capture it is not
germane to the present study. They will, therefore, be

84 Ibid., 444.

88 Bowman to Clark, 28 May, 1779, Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 611.

"English, op. cit., I, 399, 449. For proof of the weakness of
Detroit see Hamilton to Haldimand, 27 Sept., 1778, Mich. P. Colls.,
IX, 481.

88 Ibid., 407.

88 English, op. cit., I, 399.

87 Cal. Va. St. Papers, III, 442 ; Letter to Mason, English, op. cit.,

I, 449-
"Ibid., 450.

88 Ibid., 400, 448.


referred to only so far as necessary to understand the course
of events in Illinois.

In the summer Clark divided his small forces between
Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Vincennes and the Falls of the Ohio, 90
taking up his headquarters at the last-mentioned place "as
the most convenient spot to have an eye over the whole." 91
The post which he had established the previous year at
Corn Island to secure communication between Kentucky
and Illinois 92 had been garrisoned by the families who had
followed him. In his absence they had crossed to the south
side of the Ohio, where they were laying the foundations
of Louisville. This post, strengthened and fortified by
Clark, contributed to the further settlement of Kentucky. 93
Montgomery was placed in general charge of the troops in
Illinois, with headquarters at Kaskaskia. 9 * McCarty was
put in command of the detachment at Cahokia, 95 while Helm
was left in charge at Vincennes. 96

90 Cal. Va. St. Papers, III, 433.

81 Clark's Memoir, English, op. cit., I, 553.

" 2 Cal. Va. St. Papers, III, 441.

98 The town of Louisville was established by act of the General
Assembly of Virginia in May, 1780 ; Hening, op. cit., X, 293.

94 Cal. Va. St. Papers, III, 442, and Clark's Memoir, English,
op. cit., I, 553.

98 Colls. 111. St. Hist. Lib., II, 548.

98 Clark's Memoir, English, op. cit., I, 550.



The campaign which resulted in the capture of the
British posts in Illinois was an enterprise planned and
executed by Clark under authority of the State of Vir-
ginia. Though many of the people of Illinois imagined that
he was acting under authority of Congress, that view was,
as has been shown, entirely erroneous. Clark, his captains,
and most of his men were Virginians. His recruits were
Virginia militia, and not on the Continental establishment. 1

From July, 1778, to May of the following year the only
government in Illinois was that exercised by him. The
posts were held by his officers and Virginia's authority was
sustained by his militia. In the secret instructions given to
him by Governor Henry in January, 1778, he was directed
to treat the inhabitants of Illinois as fellow-citizens, and see
that their persons and property were secure, if they would
"give undoubted evidence of their attachment to this state
.... by taking the test prescribed by law." Clark was
obliged to devote a large part of his time to civil administra-
tion, pending the formal organization of a government by
Virginia. It was his policy to attach the people to the new
regime by making government mild. 2 Business was done
without the imposition of fees. 3 He established "courts
of civil judication" at Cahokia, Vincennes, and probably
at Kaskaskia, with right of appeal to himself in certain
cases. 4 The members of the courts were elected by the
people. The Cahokia court began its sessions at least as early

1 For the campaign as an example of state sovereignty see Van
Tyne, "Sovereignty in the American Revolution," Am. Hist. Rev.,
XII, 54i.

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

* Clark's Memoir, ibid., 498.

4 Ibid., 484. Alvord (Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, xlviii) thinks
Clark may be mistaken about the establishment of a court at


as October, 1778. It was composed almost entirely of
Creoles. Clark was successful in winning the favor of the
inhabitants, which he never wholly lost. The enthusiasm
with which they rallied to his support in the Vincennes cam-
paign proves at least that, at that time, they preferred him to
the reestablishment of British control. 6 Clark appears to
have taken a serious view of his duties, and to have tried to
provide for the safety and welfare of the people. He was
obliged to employ stringent measures to suppress disorders
in Kaskaskia which were attributed to the slaves. Several
murders had been committed. On December 24, 1778, he
issued an order forbidding slaves to walk the streets after
sunset without their masters' permission, and prohibited the
sale of liquor to them. 7

In the first flush of enthusiasm following his appear-
ance and the news of the French-American alliance, listen-
ing to the new talk of liberty, and many of them believing,
they knew not how, that they would speedily be restored to
France, the people of Illinois gave freely to Clark, receiving
in return Continental paper money or drafts on the treasurer
of Virginia or on Oliver Pollock. 8 The paper money was
worth only a small fraction of its face value, but the unsus-
pecting French for a while accepted it at par. 9 Pollock
exerted himself to maintain the credit of Virginia, 10 but it
was sinking rapidly. Had it not been for the assistance of
the French, and the English-speaking merchants, Clark
could not have maintained himself. 11 The financial basis
of his government was unsound, and as soon as the enthu-
siasm which had greeted his appearance subsided trouble
was bound to arise.

6 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 2.

* For evidence of attachment to Clark at this time see ibid., 526.

7 For this episode see ibid., xlviii-xlix, 13 et seq.

8 A number of these drafts in payment for supplies for the troops
furnished by the Creoles, are in Illinois Papers (MSS.) in the
Virginia State Library. They were signed by Clark, and were drawn
on Pollock, or the treasurer of Virginia, usually at thirty days.

8 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 1, and notes.

10 Evidence of this is in the Illinois Papers (MSS.).

11 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, li, and notes.


It is probable that when Montgomery escorted Rocheblave
to Williamsburg, the letters which he carried from Clark to
Governor Henry suggested the establishment of civil gov-
ernment for Illinois. To Clark, who desired to concentrate
his attention on military matters, civil affairs were distaste-
ful. 12 The arrival of Montgomery's party in eastern Vir-
ginia in the autumn of 1778 naturally aroused excitement
and interest. A regular government had to be created for
the French villages, for Illinois was something other than
conquered territory which could be held under prolonged
military rule.

On November 14, Governor Henry wrote a letter inform-
ing Virginia's delegates in Congress of the successful issue
of Clark's expedition, and suggesting the possibility of his
cooperation with measures which Congress might have in
view respecting the West. 13 On November 19, Clark's
communications were referred to a committee of the
assembly, which prepared a bill for the establishment of
county government for Illinois. 14 This was reported to the
house of delegates on the thirtieth, and passed December
9. A few days later it was passed by the senate. 15

The preamble of the act declared that several British
posts within the territory of Virginia had been captured by
the militia of the commonwealth; that the inhabitants had
taken an oath of fidelity and acknowledged themselves
citizens of Virginia ; that they ought to be protected ; and
that, since it might be impracticable to govern them imme-
diately by the laws of the commonwealth, a temporary
government should be established. All citizens of Virginia
settled, or about to settle, west of the Ohio, including the
Illinois French who had become citizens, were formed into
a "distinct county," to be called "Illinois County." No

12 Letter to Mason, English, op. cit., I, 449.

"English, op. cit., I, 245-247. November 16, the date given in
English, is wrong. The original of this letter is in the Papers of the
Continental Congress, Library of Congress, volume lettered "Vir-
ginia State Papers," vol. I.

14 Rowland, Life of George Mason, I, 307.

15 Colls. III. St. Hist. Lib., II, 9, note.


definite boundaries were established. The governor, with
the consent of the council, was empowered to appoint a
county-lieutenant, to hold office during pleasure, who
might appoint and commission deputy-commandants, militia
officers and commissaries, during pleasure. The inhabitants
were to enjoy their religion, civil rights and property. All
civil officers to whom the people had been accustomed were
to be chosen by a majority of the citizens, convoked by the
county-lieutenant in the respective districts which might
be established. They were to be commissioned by the
county-lieutenant, paid in the customary manner, and were
to conduct themselves according to the laws to which the
people had been used. For the payment of officials to whom
the people had not been accustomed, the governor, with
the advice of the council, was empowered to draw warrants
on the treasury of Virginia up to 500. The county-lieu-
tenant might pardon any crime except murder or treason.
In these he might respite execution, till the sense of the
Virginia government was obtained. The governor was
authorized to raise 500 men, to march immediately to
Illinois. The act was put in force for twelve months, and
thence "to the end of the next session of Assembly, and
no longer." It was thus temporary in its nature and
intended operation. 16 It was afterwards extended to 1781, 17
when it legally expired; after that, till the enactment by
Congress of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, there was no
legal government in the country northwest of the Ohio. 18
The act reveals a wise and conservative spirit, and a desire
on the part of Virginia's legislators to make the transition
to American government in Illinois as easy as possible.

Governor Henry quickly took measures to set in motion
the machinery for the establishment of civil government.
He appointed John Todd, a Pennsylvanian by birth but a
citizen of Virginia, as county-lieutenant. Todd had been

16 For the text of the act see Hening, op. cit., IX, 552 et seq.

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Online LibraryRobert Livingston SchuylerThe transition in Illinois from British to American government → online text (page 7 of 13)