George Rogers Clark — the Washington of the West

1752–1818

George Rogers Clark (1752–1818) was an explorer, soldier, and hero of the American Revolutionary War. He is famous for leading American forces in a series of raids against British forts in the Northwest Territory during the war, earning him the nickname “Conqueror of the Old Northwest” and “Washington of the West.”

George Rogers Clark, Portrait, Longacre

George Rogers Clark. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

George Rogers Clark, a Short Biography

George Rogers Clark (1752–1818) is recognized for securing the region between the Ohio River and Mississippi River for the United States of America during the American Revolutionary War. With support from Virginia’s government, he set out with a small force in 1778 and successfully captured Kaskaskia and Vincennes. While Clark initially planned to launch an operation against the British in Detroit, it never came to fruition due to Loyalist and Native American Indian attacks on Patriot settlers. In the late stages of the war, Clark responded to these attacks with more raids, including two on Chillicothe.

George Rogers Clark Quick Facts

  • Date of Birth: George Rogers Clark was born on November 9, 1792, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • Parents: His parents were John and Ann Rogers.
  • Nicknames: Clark has several nicknames, including “Conqueror of the Old Northwest,” “Hannibal of the West,” Washington of the West,” “Father of Louisville,” and “Founder of the Commonwealth.”
  • Died: He died on February 13, 1818, at the age of 65.
Siege of Fort Vincennes, Surrender of Hamilton, Illustration
This illustration depicts British forces surrendering to George Rogers Clark at Vincennes. Image Source: George Rogers Clark by Russell Roberts, 2007, Archive.org.

Early Life and Career of George Rogers Clark

George Rogers Clark was born in Charlottesville, Virginia on November 19, 1752. As a youth, he received little education, was mostly self-educated, and had an interest in history and geography. However, he did spend some time attending a school, where one of his classmates was James Madison. Despite his lack of formal schooling, his grandfather trained him to be a surveyor, and he was working in the field by the age of 19.

Clark and Kentucky

In June 1772, Clark traveled to Kentucky, embarking on a flatboat at Pittsburgh and sailing down the Ohio River. He spent time in the Kahawha Region, surveying land for the Ohio Company, and claimed land at Fish Creek, 130 miles downriver from Pittsburgh.

During this time, settlers started moving into the area, as a result of the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, which altered the Proclamation Line of 1763. The Proclamation Line was moved further west, allowing American colonists to move into some areas west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Lord Dunmore’s War

Clark’s military career started in 1774, working as a scout for Virginia Governor John Murray, Lord Dunmore, in Kentucky. The region was part of Virginia but was unorganized and largely uninhabited.

Hostilities broke out in the region between settlers and Indian tribes who used the region for their hunting grounds, including the Shawnee.

Clark also served as a captain in the Virginia Militia, which ended with the Battle of Point Pleasant (October 10, 1774). Virginia forces defeated a coalition of Indians, consisting of Mingo and Shawnee warriors, under the command of Cornskalk, Pukeshinwa, and Blue Jacket.

Following the battle, Cornstalk agreed to the Treaty of Camp Charlotte and Shawnee lands south of the Ohio River — including present-day Kentucky and West Virginia — were ceded to Virginia.

John Murray, Earl of Dunmore
Lord Dunmore. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Clark and the Start of the American Revolutionary War

Clark was still a Captain in the Virginia Militia when the American Revolutionary War started a little more than six months after the Battle of Point Pleasant. From the beginning, he played an important role in organizing the defenses of the frontier settlements, taking the lead in securing weapons and ammunition.

Clark and the Transylvania Colony

Early on, he became involved in a dispute in Kentucky. Richard Henderson, a land speculator, purchased land from the Cherokee and established his own proprietary colony, which he called Transylvania. However, the settlers needed military protection from Virginia. 

Virginia Establishes Kentucky County

In June 1776, the settlers elected Clark and John Gabriel Jones to represent them in the Virginia Assembly. Clark carried a petition to the Virginia Assembly, asking it to formally organize the region as a county and provide protection. The Assembly refused to seat them because it did not recognize Transylvania as part of Virginia. However, legal issues over Henderson’s treaties raised questions about the legality of his transaction with the Indians. The Assembly decided to annex the territory and created Kentucky County. 

British Supply Indian Tribes with Weapons

Meanwhile, several tribes, including the Miami, Wyandot, and Shawnee, sought military assistance from the British. Henry Hamilton, the commander at Detroit, responded by providing the Indians with weapons. 

Clark’s Plan to Capture British Outposts

Clark was given a commission as a Major in the Virginia Militia, making him the highest-ranking military officer in Kentucky. He returned to Kentucky and started to devise a plan to capture British outposts on the frontier. He sent spies to scout Vincennes and Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River.

Virginia Supports Clark’s Plan

In October 1777, he traveled to Williamsburg, following the Wilderness Road, and delivered the report to Governor Patrick Henry on December 10. Henry endorsed the plan, Clark was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, given the financial support he needed, and tasked with the defense of the Kentucky settlements.

Patrick Henry, Founding Father, Illustration
Patrick Henry. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Clark’s expedition was presented as being for the defense of Kentucky, but its true purpose was the capture of British outposts in the Illinois Country, which was largely kept secret. Only a handful of key members of the Assembly were aware of the full plan, including Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and George Wythe

Clark Recruits the Illinois Regiment

Clark was given the authority to raise 7 companies of militia, each containing 50 men with an enlistment of three months. Clark’s force, known as the “Illinois Regiment,” was part of the Virginia Militia, not the Continental Army.

Clark went to the area of present-day Pittsburgh and assembled a force of 175 men, mostly Frontiersmen. He was unable to recruit the 350 men he wanted, due to various reasons, including the reality that he was competing with the Continental Army for recruits.

In May 1778, Clark and his expedition left Redstone Fort and started the journey down the Ohio River, traveling by flatboats. They stopped at Fort Pitt and Fort Henry, picked up supplies, and then made their way to Fort Randolph at Point Pleasant, Virginia.

Clark at the Falls of the Ohio

He reached the Falls of the Ohio on May 27, where he was joined by reinforcements, including Simon Kenton, the famous Frontiersman and scout. Clark stayed at the Falls for nearly a month, drilling his men, and preparing them for the Illinois Campaign. While he was there, he received a message informing him the French had agreed to the Treaty of Alliance and were allies of the United States.

Some of the settlers that accompanied his expedition to Kentucky established a settlement, which became present-day Louisville, Kentucky.

George Rogers Clark and the Illinois Expedition

On June 24, Clark’s expedition departed from Corn Island with approximately 175 men. Four days later, the expedition arrived at the mouth of the Tennessee River, where they stopped and made final preparations for the attack on Kaskaskia.

Kaskaskia and Cahokia

From the Tennessee River, the route travelers usually took to Kaskaskia was via the Mississippi River. However, Clark intended to keep his movements secret and planned to march 120 miles across southern Illinois to Kaskaskia.

During the march, Clark’s men captured a boat that turned out to be carrying a group of American hunters who were coming from Kaskaskia. The group, which was led by a known thief and counterfeiter named John Duff, agreed to join the expedition as guides.

Clark’s expedition made its way to present-day Metropolis, Illinois, and then marched 50 miles, arriving outside of Kaskaskia on the night of July 4. Unfortunately, the march took longer than expected and most of Clark’s men had gone at least two days without food.

They crossed the Kaskaskia River around midnight, surrounded Kaskaskia, and surprised the garrison at Fort Gage. However, Clark was surprised to find the fort was occupied by the French, not the British.

The settlers and garrison were apparently unaware of the Franco-American Alliance, which Clark informed them of. He also had them swear Oaths of Loyalty to both Virginia and the United States. Within 10 days, an estimated 300 people living in Kaskaskia and surrounding settlements, including Cahokia, agreed to the oaths.

Clark and his men were generally welcomed with open arms because the French and Indians living in the area did not care for the British. In Kaskaskia, the parish church bell was rung to announce Clark’s presence. The bell is known as the “Western Liberty Bell.”

Vincennes and Father Gibault

Clark sent a contingent to Vincennes, and the inhabitants there also agreed to the oaths, as did the garrison at Fort Sackville. Captain Leonard Helm and a small garrison remained at Vincennes.

Father Pierre Gibault, a French Priest, played a key role in helping Clark secure the settlements. In his role with the church, Gibault traveled between the parishes in the area, including Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. Although the Catholic Church was sanctioned by the Quebec Act of 1774, Gibault was a supporter of the Americans. Apparently, he had been in Quebec in 1775, where he learned about the Patriot Cause, which he preferred. Clark is also said to have promised Gibault the United States would guarantee religious freedom.

Hamilton Retakes Vincennes

When British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton, who commanded British forces at Detroit, found out what Clark had done, he organized an expedition, marched 600 miles, and recaptured Vincennes on December 17, 1778. Captain Helm and the other Americans were taken as prisoners.

Hamilton’s expedition included around 500 soldiers, Loyalists, and Indians. However, he did not have enough supplies to support everyone for the entire winter, so he sent the Indians back to their villages and some of the Loyalists also returned to their homes. Hamilton was left with approximately 100 men to garrison the fort.

At that point, Hamilton settled in at Fort Sackville, intending to make preparations to recapture Kaskaskia in the spring of 1779. Meanwhile, he put his men to work repairing the fort and improving its defenses. In January, he sent a party of Indians to scout Clark’s position and the strength of his forces.

Clark Marches to Vincennes

Clark was informed about the British occupation of Vincennes on January 29, 1779, by Francis Virgo, a Fur Trader from St. Louis. Virgo provided important information about Hamilton’s defenses and the condition of Fort Sackville.

Clark decided to take action, even though it was winter. He knew if he waited until the spring Hamilton’s forces would return to the fort and he would have a significant advantage. Clark decided to take the risk of marching to Vincennes and attacking Fort Sackville.

Clark led his men on the march across Illinois, covering roughly 180 miles. Although it was a mild winter, frequent rain, and waterlogged ground made the march difficult. The ground was often flooded with several inches of water. The men carried provisions on packhorses and supplemented their supplies with wild game they hunted along the way.

February 4 — Clark arrived at Cahokia. From there, he loaded his artillery and ammunition on a boat, the Willing. He put his cousin, Captain John Rogers, in command of the boat and gave him 40 men. Rogers intended to sail down the Kaskaskia River to the Mississippi River, then sail up the Ohio River to the Wabash River. He planned to stop about 10 miles from Vincennes, where Clark’s army would meet him and retrieve the cargo.

February 5 — Clark and his men left Cahokia, with a blessing from Father Gibault. Clark had roughly 200 men, roughly half Virginians, and half French.

February 13 — Clark reached the flooded Little Wabash River, which had expanded to about 5 miles wide due to water. They built a large canoe to ferry men and supplies across. The next few days were difficult, as provisions started to run low and the men were constantly wading through water.

February 17 — Clark arrived at the Embarras River, just 9 miles from Fort Sackville. However, the river was too high to cross. They followed the Embarras River downstream to the Wabash River and started building boats. By then, the men were without food, morale was low, and Clark was struggling to keep men from leaving.

February 20 — Clark’s men apprehended a group of hunters from Vincennes who were traveling by boat. They told Clark the British had no idea he was moving toward Fort Sackville, and the inhabitants of Vincennes favored the Americans.

February 21 — Clark and his men crossed the Wabash River in canoes, leaving their packhorses behind, and marched toward Vincennes. Clark sent a small contingent down the river to meet the Willing, however, they were unable to find the boat.

The last few days of the march were the most difficult because they had to cross a flooded plain that was four miles wide, with water sometimes as high as their shoulders. They alternated between wading through the water and using the canoes as needed.

Siege of Fort Vincennes, Wading Through Water, Illustration
This illustration depicts Clark’s men wading through the deep water. Image Source: George Rogers Clark by Russell Roberts, 2007, Archive.org.

When they approached the settlement, they came across a settler who was out hunting. He was apprehended and told Clark the British were still unaware of his presence. 

Clark gave the man a letter for the inhabitants of Vincennes. The letter announced to them he was arriving soon, and to stay in their homes if they did not want to be seen as enemies. The letter was apparently read out loud in the public square and the British were still unaware of the presence of Clark and his army.

George Rogers Clark and the Siege of Fort Sackville at Vincennes

Around sunset on February 23, Clark and his men arrived at Vincennes. They marched in two divisions, with Clark leading one and Joseph Bowman the other. Somehow, Clark arranged his men, with their flags held high, so it looked like he had more men than he really did. He did it so the settlers would be hesitant to warn the British.

Clark marched into Vincennes, secured the town, and prepared to attack Fort Sackville. During the march to Vincennes, a significant amount of Clark’s gunpowder became wet. The inhabitants of the settlement helped Clark by providing dry gunpowder, along with weapons and ammunition they had hidden from the British. Meanwhile, the British garrison at the fort remained unaware of the presence of Clark’s army.

Night Attack on Fort Sackville

Clark sent a contingent of men to the fort. When they arrived, some of the men started to build earthworks about 200 yards from the front of the fort, while others started firing on the fort with their weapons.

The British, finally aware of Clark’s presence, responded by firing into the town with their cannons, destroying some houses. Clark’s men ended the cannonade by moving up to the fort and firing directly into the cannon portholes, killing or wounding the artillerymen.

Around 9:00 a.m. the next morning, February 24, Clark sent a message to Hamilton, demanding his surrender. Hamilton initially refused, leading to two more hours of gunfire. Finally, agreed to negotiate. Clark and Hamilton agreed to meet at the church in Vincennes to discuss the terms of surrender.

Atrocities Against the Indians

At some point, an incident took place, culminating in the killing of a group of Indians taken captive by Clark’s army. The killings were carried out on Clark’s orders. Accounts vary as to exactly when the incident took place. Whether it was before or after the negotiations is unclear, however, all accounts agree the incident did happen.

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, Clark was informed by his Indian allies that an enemy war party of about 15 men was on its way to Fort Sackville. Clark responded by sending Captain John Williams and 70 men to capture the war party. 

When the war party saw the British flag flying over Fort Sackville, they fired their weapons into the air, signaling their approach. However, it also gave their position away to Williams and his men.

In his account of the expedition, Joseph Bowman wrote, “Our men having got news of it, pursued them, killed two on the spot, wounded three, took six prisoners; brought them into town.” The prisoners were one Frenchman and five Indians, however, the Frenchman was released.

One of the Indians was a young man, around 18, who was apparently the son of one of Clark’s French volunteers. According to Clark:

“An old French Gent, of the name of St. Croix, Lieut. of Capt. McGarty’s Volunteers from Cohos had but one Son, who headed these Indians and was made Prisoner.  He at first didn’t recognize his son through the  war paint.”

When he heard the young man’s voice, St. Croix recognized him and asked Clark to release him, which Clark agreed to. 

Clark made the decision to have the four remaining prisoners executed. Clark himself said:

“I had now a fair opportunity of making an impression on the Indians that I could have wished for; that of convincing them that Governor Hamilton could not give them that protection that he had made them to believe he could…”

He ordered the “Prisoners to be Tomahawked in the face of the Garrison.”

Bowman remembered the incident in his account, saying Indians were taken in front of the fort gate, tomahawked, and then thrown into the river. 

In Hamilton’s account, he was critical of Clark and accused him of carrying out the killings while a flag of truce was hanging from the fort. 

Hamilton the Hair-Buyer General

However, Hamilton had his own reputation for atrocities. He was known as the “Hair-Buyer General” because he is believed to have paid rewards to Indian raiding parties for prisoners and scalps of Americans — both soldiers and civilians.

Hamilton Surrenders Fort Sackville

Hamilton and Clark eventually came to terms and the fort was surrendered. At 10:00 a.m. on February 25, Hamilton and his men marched out, the American flag was raised, and the fort was renamed Fort Patrick Henry. Hamilton and his officers were taken as prisoners and sent to Williamsburg.

The Northwest Territory After the Siege of Vincennes

Following his victory, Clark ordered cannons to be fired in celebration. However, one of them exploded, severely injuring Joseph Bowman. In August, still suffering from his wounds, Bowman died at Vincennes.

The Willing finally arrived on February 27 and the supplies were transported to Fort Sackville. Afterward, the Willing returned to Virginia, carrying Hamilton and the other prisoners.

As spring arrived, Clark made plans to lead an expedition to Detroit. He traveled to Kentucky to raise volunteers. Meanwhile, the enlistments of the Virginians who served in the Illinois Regiment expired, and they departed, leaving Fort Patrick Henry in the hands of local militia.

With the Northwest Territory under control of the United States, settlers started moving into Kentucky, traveling west along the Wilderness Road. In 1779, Virginia started to recognize land claims in Kentucky, and Louisville was established.

The capture of Fort Sackville is widely recognized as Clark’s most impressive accomplishment. He marched hundreds of miles with a small, undersupplied army, and did not lose a single man. He was hailed as a hero in Virginia, and his cooperation with the French militia was a sign the military alliance between the two nations could be successful.

In December 1778, Virginia claimed the region, calling it the “Illinois County.” The territory was eventually ceded to Congress to help gain Maryland’s ratification of the Articles of Confederation and became known as the Northwest Territory.

Clark was never able to gain the support he needed for an expedition against Detroit. Instead, he returned to the Falls of the Ohio and turned his attention to defending Illinois County from attacks by the British and their Indian allies.

The War of Posts and Attack on Chillicothe

While Clark was capturing the outposts in Illinois, the Shawnee carried out raids in Kentucky. They were usually carried out by small war parties who used tactics similar to those used by Francis Marion against British forces in South Carolina. The Indians would strike quickly and then disappear into the wilderness. These attacks were called the “War of Posts.”

In 1779, Colonel John Bowman of the Kentucky Militia decided to attack the Shawnee village at Chillicothe, in retaliation for ongoing raids. Bowman gathered his men on May 27 at the mouth of the Licking River. From there, they marched north, following the Little Miami River, and attacked Chillicothe during the night of June 1.

Although Bowman had nearly 300 men under his command, they were repulsed by roughly 40 Shawnee men and boys and forced to withdraw. The attack made it clear to the Shawnee that their villages were no longer remote enough to be safe from attacks by Americans.

When Clark learned of Bowman’s expedition, he was furious. He had expected Bowman to support him in an expedition against Detroit, instead of taking action on his own. Further, Clark apparently had no intention of engaging the tribes in Ohio, who were primarily the Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, and Mingo. With Bowman’s defeat, Clark abandoned the idea of attacking Detroit in 1779.

Clark’s Defense of the Northwest Territory

In early 1780, Virginia’s Governor, Thomas Jefferson, considered two options for Clark. One was to lead an expedition to Detroit. The other was to carry out an expedition against the Ohio tribes. Jefferson preferred the second option and wanted to remove the Indians from Ohio.

On May 10, the settlers living at Boonesborough also asked Clark to carry out an expedition against the Shawnee. Their appeal was followed on March 13 by petitions from settlers living at Bryan’s Station and Lexington. Clark responded on April 4 and declined to increase hostilities with the Indians. He continued to prefer a strike against the British at Detroit.

Thomas Jefferson, Painting, Rembrandt Peale
Thomas Jefferson. Image Source: Google Arts & Culture.

British Expedition to Attack Kentucky

Major Arent DePeyster, the commandant at Detroit, decided the Kentucky settlements were a threat. He organized an expedition that included British troops and Indian allies, for the purpose of retaking Vinceness and the other outposts in Illinois. DePeyster also wanted to take Fort Pitt, Fort Cumberland, and Clark’s base at the Falls of the Ohio. Another potential target was St. Louis, which was controlled by the Spanish. Spain had entered the war in 1779 and was allied with the United States and France.

The British expedition to Kentucky was led by Captain Henry Bird and Alexander McKee, a Loyalist who was a Captain in the Indian Department. 

Construction of Fort Jefferson

While the British were on their way to Kentucky, Clark was overseeing the construction of Fort Jefferson on the Mississippi River. On March 19, Jefferson sent a letter to Clark, instructing him to make plans to carry out the expedition against the Ohio Tribes.

Bird was in Kentucky by June 1 and intended to carry out a major attack while Clark was away from Louisville. However, the Indians in Bird’s expedition did not want to attack Louisville, fearing the Kentuckians would respond with attacks on their villages. 

Attacks on Ruddle’s Station and Martin’s Station

The Indians preferred to attack the smaller settlements at Ruddle’s Station and Martin’s Station. Bird had no choice but to agree, and easily captured both locations. Although the Indians wanted to keep going and attack Lexington, Bird decided to return to Detroit with around 350 prisoners. He arrived there on August 4.

Clark Arrives in Kentucky

Clark arrived at Wilson’s Station near Harrodsburg, Kentucky soon after the British attacked Ruddle’s Station and Martin’s Station. Clark received another letter from Jefferson, instructing him to raise a militia to end the attacks against the Kentucky settlements. Clark responded by organizing an expedition to go north of the Ohio River to attack villages at Chillicothe and Pickaway.

Skirmish on the Ohio River

While Clark organized his men, a small skirmish took place. A small group of militia under the command of Captain Hugh McGeary was hunting on the north bank of the Ohio River when they stumbled into an empty Indian camp. Realizing they were in danger, the Americans looked for cover. However, they were ambushed by the Indians and 10 of McGeary’s 30 men were killed. Following this incident, Clark forbade his men from hunting north of the Ohio River, which meant the only food they had was what they carried with them.

Clark Organizes His Ohio Expedition

On July 31, Clark’s men gathered at the mouth of the Licking River. In total, there were around 1,000. Many wanted nothing to do with the expedition and had been forced to sign up. Clark’s second-in-command was Colonel Benjamin Logan. Among Clark’s troops were Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, the legendary Frontiersmen.

The Beginning of Cincinnati

Clark had his men build a small blockhouse, which he intended to use for supplies. Over time, the blockhouse expanded to a fort and later became the city of Cincinnati. Clark left a small garrison at the blockhouse, and various sources indicate Boone was one of the men who stayed there.

Clark’s Raid on Chillicothe

On August 1, Clark’s army crossed the Ohio River in rowboats and started to march north on August 2. A defector from Clark’s army, John Clairy, warned the Shawnee, who helped him travel to Detroit where he informed the British of Clark’s plan.

Clark was forced to cut a road as he went, so his men and artillery could make their way through the wilderness. On August 5, he was about five miles from Chillicothe, which had been completely rebuilt after Bowman’s attack the year before.

Clark sent scouts out to gather information and they found the inhabitants were preparing to abandon the village. Clark and his men immediately set out for Chillicothe, but everyone was gone by the time they arrived, and the Indians had set fire to some of the buildings. Clark decided to raze the entire village, along with hundreds of acres of cornfields.

Clark and the Battle of Pickaway (Piqua)

While Clark’s men set fire to everything at Chillicothe, the Shawnee made their way to Pickaway, which was 12 miles away. Clark was forced to delay his march to Pickaway for a day, due to a thunderstorm that lasted through the night.

The next morning, Clark’s army checked their weapons and made sure they had enough dry gunpowder. They marched to Pickaway and came within sight of the town around 2:30 in the afternoon.

Clark’s men advanced through the waters of the Mad River, with some sections reaching knee- and waist-deep, half a mile below the fortified settlement.

The Americans emerged from the river onto a prairie that led to a low line of ridges. Clark found the Shawnee were gathered, along with Wyandot, Delaware, and Mingo warriors. The Indians had roughly 300 men in total.

Clark Enters Pickaway

However, the Indians were in the middle of listening to a scout tell them about Clark’s army when the Americans marched into the village. The Indians scattered, and some of them fled from the battle. The ones who stayed to fight were apparently led by Silverheels, the brother of Cornstalk, and two Loyalist interpreters, James Girty and George Girty.

Clark’s men forced the Indians to take refuge in a stockade and blockhouse, and the fighting paused for about 30 minutes. During the break, Clark had a cannon brought up, which was used to bombard the stockade. The Indians were forced to evacuate as the stockade collapsed on them. 

Clark Destroys the Settlement

When the Indians gathered together, Clark ordered his men to stop firing and he hoisted two white flags, indicating he wanted to negotiate. However, the Indians decided to charge Clark’s army and ran directly at the Americans. When the Indians were about 40 paces away, Clark lowered the white flags and had his men open fire. The volley broke the Indian line and they scattered. Then Clark used the cannon to fire on cabins and other buildings, destroying them.

The settlement was destroyed, but Clark was unsatisfied because so many of the Indian warriors had been able to escape.

Aftermath of the Battle of Piqua

On August 9, Clark had his men burn the extensive fields of crops the Indians had grown. The fields stretched for approximately five miles and included corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins. It took the entire day to burn everything.

By the time Clark was done, he had overseen the destruction of two significant settlements, along with hundreds of acres of crops. His intent was likely to force the Indians to turn their attention to their own survival, rather than continuing to carry out raids in support of the British.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Piqua, Clark considered continuing to Detroit. He was roughly 200 miles away, but ultimately decided against it because he did not have sufficient artillery to attack Fort Lernoult.

On August 9, Clark started the march back to the Ohio River. He arrived there on August 14 and then sailed back to Louisville. Over 31 days, Clark and his army traveled around 480 miles.

Indian raids decreased for about a month after the destruction of Chillicothe and Pickaway. However, the British enticed the Indians to resume attacks in late October.

The Americans were unable to mount a decisive campaign against the Indians in Ohio because they did not have enough men, supplies, and weapons. The reality is that most of the resources were used to fight the war in the east, which was starting to turn in favor of the United States following the American victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain (October 9, 1780).

In May 1782, Clark wrote a letter to General George Washington, and said, “The Indian war is now more general than Ever, any attempts to appease them Except by the sword would be fruitless.” The conflict between the United States and the Indians in the Northwest Territory would continue for more than another decade.

Washington Before the Battle of Trenton, Painting, Trumbull
George Washington. Image Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Clark’s 1781 Expedition and Lochry’s Defeat

By January 1781, Clark was in Virginia, working to convince Governor Thomas Jefferson to authorize and support a new expedition to attack Detroit. Jefferson appointed Clark to the rank of Brigadier General and gave him command of all militia forces in Kentucky and Illinois.

Jefferson and Clark decided to mount the expedition against Detroit, but with British forces threatening Virginia, Clark had a difficult time finding volunteers. However, Colonel Archibald Lochry, commander of the Westmoreland County Militia in Pennsylvania, wanted to support Clark. He received permission from Joseph Reed, President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, but Lochry was only able to raise about 100 volunteers.

Clark gathered 400 volunteers of his own at Fort Pitt and left in August, intending to join Lochry at Fort Henry in present-day Wheeling, West Virginia.

However, British officials and their Indian allies found out about the expedition. Major Arent DePeyster coordinated an attack on Clark’s army with Alexander McKee, Simon Girty, and Joseph Brant. In mid-August, the three of them led a force of primarily Iroquois, Shawnee, and Wyandot warriors south toward the Ohio River.

Joseph Brant, Portrait
Joseph Brant. Image Source: Wikipedia.

It was still early August when Clark arrived at Wheeling, where he waived for Lochry for five days. Unwilling to wait longer, Clark left Wheeling on August 8, just a few hours before Lochry arrived. He sent a message to Clark, informing him he would follow him and catch up.

On the night of August 18, Clark and his men passed the mouth of the Great Miami River, sailing right past a party under the command of Joseph Brant. Clark sailed past Brant, who did not feel that he had enough men to launch a successful ambush.

However, three days later, Brant captured some of the men from one of the detachments that was following Clark. Brant read the letters the Americans carried and realized Lochry would be arriving soon. Brant sent word to McKee and asked for reinforcements.

Lochry and his men arrived on the north bank of the Ohio River on the morning of August 24. When the Americans went ashore, Brant and his men ambushed them. The Americans were quickly overwhelmed and Lochry ordered his men to surrender. 

All of the Americans were either killed or captured. Some of them, including Lochry, were killed after they surrendered.

Without Lochry, Clark was forced to cancel the expedition.

Lochrey's Defeat, 1781, Illustration
This illustration depicts the ambush at Lochry’s Defeat. Image Source: Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio by William Hayden English, 1897, Archive.org.

The Long Run Massacre in Kentucky

Most of the British-Indian force dispersed, but McKee led 200 men into Kentucky, intending to attack the settlement at Painted Stone Station. When the settlers found out McKee was on his way, they abandoned the settlement. Some of them headed to Linn’s Station. 

On September 13, McKee’s expedition attacked the settlers who were headed to Linn’s Station. It is believed at least 7 settlers were killed. The rest were able to escape and made it to Linn’s Station.

The next day, a contingent of settlers and the Kentucky Militia, led by Colonel John Floyd, returned to the spot to bury the dead and were ambushed. Another 15 settlers and 17 militiamen were killed. However, a Wyandot chief was also killed, and the Indians abandoned McKee following the battle.

Battle of Blue Licks

Despite the surrender of British forces at Yorktown in October 1781, fighting continued in some areas. The British garrison at Detroit continued to conduct the war in the Northwest Territory, including inciting Indians to raid settlements in Kentucky.

In July 1782, a significant gathering of Indian leaders and British officials took place at the Shawnee villages near the headwaters of the Mad River in the Ohio Country. Various tribes were in attendance, including the Shawnee, Mingo, Wyandot, Miami, Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi. Officials representing the British Indian Department included Alexander McKee, Simon Girty, and Matthew Elliott. 

Together, they decided to organize an expedition to attack the settlement at Wheeling. The expedition included Captain William Caldwell and 150 men from Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist militia force.

The expedition was called off when scouts reported — inaccurately — that Clark was preparing to invade Ohio again.

However, Caldwell and McKee took 50 of the rangers and about 300 Indians and planned an attack on Bryan Station. They were discovered and the settlers at Bryan Station took refuge. The British responded by laying siege to Bryan Station on August 15.

The siege lasted for two days and was lifted when the British found out the Kentucky Militia was on its way. The militia, under the command of Colonel John Todd, arrived on August 18. Todd’s officers included Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Boone, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Trigg, and Major Hugh McGary. 

Daniel Boone, Portrait, Harding
Daniel Boone. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

They expected to be joined by Major Benjamin Logan, but he was late. Boone suggested waiting for Logan to arrive, but the others insisted on leaving without him to pursue the British force.

On August 19, the Kentuckians reached the Licking River, near the salt lick at Lower Blue Licks. They saw Indian scouts from Caldwell’s force watching them, and Boone suggested they were being led into an ambush.

Hugh McGary decided to take immediate action. He shouted “Them that ain’t cowards, follow me!” and rode across the ford toward where the Indian scouts had been. Many of the officers and men followed him. Boone is said to have remarked, “We are all slaughtered men.”

As the Kentuckians advanced up the other side of the river bank, Caldwell and his men, who were hidden in ravines, attacked. Many of the Kentuckians, including Todd and Trigg, were killed in the attack. The Kentuckians turned and fled.

Boone ordered his men to retreat, grabbed a horse, and told his son Israel to take it and escape. As he did so, Israel was shot and killed. Boone took the horse himself and escaped to safety.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Blue Licks, Clark received heavy criticism from Kentuckians for allowing the British force to cross into Kentucky.

Clark Retaliates for Blue Licks

Clark responded by organizing another expedition against the Ohio Indians. He targeted several villages along the Great Miami River and, once again, the village at Piqua. Clark funded most of this expedition out of his own pocket.

Abraham Thomas, one of the men who served under Clark on the expedition, provided an account of the events, which was later published in the Troy Times. Not only did Thomas serve under Clark, but he is also said to have been the man who cut the first tree for the blockhouse that was built at the site of Cincinnati. 

This expedition was the last major offensive of the American Revolutionary War.

Abraham Thomas’s Account of Clark’s Second Expedition to Piqua

In the year 1782, after corn planting, I again volunteered in an expedition under General Clarke with the object of destroying some Indian villages about Piqua, on the Great Miami river. On this occasion nearly 1,000 men marched out of Kentucky by the route of Licking river. We crossed the Ohio at the present site of Cincinnati where our last year’s stockade bad been kept up, and a few people then resided in log cabins.

We proceeded immediately onward through the woods without regard to our former trail, and crossed Mad River not far from the present site of Dayton; we kept up the east side of the Miami and crossed it about four miles below the Piqua Towns. 

Shortly after gaining the bottom on the west side of the river, a party of Indians on horseback with their squaws came out of a trace that led to some Indian villages near the present site of Granville. 

They were going on a frolic, or powwow, to be held at Piqua, and had with them a Mrs. McFall, who was some time before taken prisoner from Kentucky; the Indians escaped into the woods leaving their women, with Mrs. McFall, to the mercy of our company. We took those along with us to Piqua and Mrs. McFall returned to Kentucky. 

On arriving at Piqua we found that the Indians had fled from the villages, leaving most of their effects behind. During the following night I joined a party to break up an encampment of Indians said to be lying about what was called their French store. 

We soon caught a Frenchman, tied him on horseback for our guide and arrived at the place in the night. The Indians had taken alarm and cleared out; we, however, broke up and burned the Frenchman’s store, which for a long time been a place of outfit for Indian marauders and returned to the main body early in the morning, many of our men well stocked with plunder. 

After burning and otherwise destroying everything about upper and lower Piqua towns we commenced our return march.

In this attack five Indians were killed during the night the expedition lay at Piqua; the Indians lurked around the camp, firing random shots from the hazel thickets without doing us an injury; but two men who were in search of their stray horses were fired upon and severely wounded; one of those died shortly after and was buried at what is now called “Coe’s Ford,” where we recrossed the Miami on our return. The other, Capt. McCracken, lived until we reached the site of Cincinnati, where he was buried. 

On this expedition we had with us Capt. Barbee, afterwards Judge Barbee, one of my primitive neighbors in Miami county, Ohio, a most worthy and brave man, with whom I have hunted, marched and watched through many a long day, and finally removed with him to Ohio.

Clark’s Impact on the Treaty of Paris and the Northwest Territory

After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, Clark’s military commission was rescinded by Virginia, however, his efforts to secure the Northwest Territory played a role in Britain ceding the region to the United States.

  • In 1783, Clark was named as a trustee for Transylvania Seminary, which later became part of Transylvania University. 
  • Later that year, he was certified as a surveyor by the College of William and Mary. 
  • In 1784, he took on a position as the principal surveyor for the lands allocated by Virginia to compensate Continental Army veterans. 
  • He also served on a board that was responsible for overseeing the distribution of lands in the Illinois Country.

Clark and the Northwest Indian War

In 1784, Virginia ceded its “Western Lands” to the United States. Clark was appointed as one of the commissioners tasked with negotiating with the Indians who were living in the Northwest Territory.

Clark was present when the 1785 Treaty of Fort McIntosh was signed. In that treaty, the Indian Tribes ceded most of the lands north of the Ohio River to the United States. He was also involved in the 1786 Treaty of Fort Finney with the Shawnee, which saw them agree to recognize U.S. control over all lands ceded by Great Britain.

Despite the treaties, Indians continued to carry out raids in Kentucky. 

Clark and Benjamin Logan led separate columns of the Kentucky Militia into Ohio, intending to attack the villages along the Wabash River.

Logan was able to carry out his mission and attacked the towns along the Mad River. However, Clark was forced to abandon his mission, because his men threatened to mutiny. Clark was also plagued by rumors that he was drinking heavily and drunk most of the time. It is believed James Wilkinson was responsible for spreading the rumors.

Clark took his men to Vincennes. While he was there, he seized goods from a group of Spanish traders, forcing Congress to issue a formal apology to the King of Spain for the incident.

The Indians in the Northwest Territory responded to these expeditions by organizing what has come to be called the Northwest Indian Confederacy.

The Indians prepared to stop American encroachment into the region. However, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which organized the territory for settlement. Arthur St. Clair was appointed Governor of the territory and moved to Marietta, Ohio.

From 1786 to 1795, the Northwest Indian War carried on. It was finally resolved when American forces under the command of General Anthony Wayne won the Battle of Fallen Timbers (August 20, 1794). The Northwest Indians signed the Treaty of Greenville on August 3, 1795, ending the war and giving control of most of Ohio to the United States.

General Anthony Wayne, Portrait
General Anthony Wayne. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Wartime Debt and Clark’s Grant

Following the accusations of drunkenness, Clark left Kentucky and moved across the Ohio River to present-day Clarksville, Indiana. He also started to write his memoirs.

In his later years, Clark was plagued by the debt he incurred by funding his expeditions against the British and Indians. Unfortunately, many of the receipts for his expenses were missing or lost, and Virginia refused to repay him. 

However, Virginia did give him a grant of 150,000 acres in present-day southern Indiana. The grant covered all of Clark County and portions of Floyd County and Scott County. Unfortunately, Clark did not have the financial resources to develop the land so he could profit from it or sell it.

After his death, Clark’s receipts were discovered in a building in Richmond, Virginia. The bookkeeping error was not Clark’s fault, but rather Virginia’s. The state eventually repaid the debt, with the last payment having been made in 1913.

Clark’s Involvement with Spain and France

In an effort to secure an income, Clark became involved in schemes that involved both Spain and France.

Clark and the Spanish Colony

In 1792, Clark apparently offered his services to Spanish officials and offered to help organize a colony in the Mississippi Valley. However, he was unable to come to an agreement with the Spanish. Afterward, he considered setting up an independent colony, similar to the Transylvania Colony, however, the plan was abandoned.

Clark and the Citizen Genêt Affair

In 1792, Clark offered his services to Edmond Charles Genêt, the French Ambassador who was actively trying to raise volunteers to help France fight against Great Britain.

Edmond Charles Genet, Citizen Genet Affair
Edmond Charles Genêt. Image Source: Albany Institute of History & Art.

Clark was given a military commission as a Major General in the “French Revolutionary Legion on the Mississippi River” by Genêt  Clark started to organize an expedition to capture key Spanish cities, including St. Louis, Natchez, and New Orleans, on behalf of France. 

As with his Ohio expeditions, he paid for supplies out of his own pocket and hoped to be reimbursed by the French government. 

However, President George Washington decided to protect the economic interests of the United States and issued the Proclamation of Neutrality on April 22, 1793. The proclamation declared the United States was going to maintain a neutral position in the war “between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great-Britain, and the United Netherlands, of the one part, and France on the other…” Washington also prohibited citizens of the United States from providing aid, in any way, to the nations involved in the conflict.

Although there was public support for Clark’s expedition, Genêt was recalled to France, and President Washington threatened military action if Clark proceeded. Americans supported the idea of taking the Spanish cities, especially New Orleans, because Spain controlled access to the Mississippi River, and Americans needed access in order to do business.

Ultimately, Clark canceled the expedition and the incident further damaged his financial situation when France refused to reimburse him for his expenses.

According to some sources, Clark’s military commission with France was revoked when Genêt was recalled. However, others indicate he was forced to resign after he visited Philadelphia in 1798 and was accused of violating the Proclamation of Neutrality, risking arrest, and the loss of his United States citizenship. Clark fled Philadelphia and went to St. Louis, where he was safe and beyond the reach of U.S. authorities.

Later Years and the Death of George Rogers Clark

Clark’s later years were spent in obscurity.

  • In 1799, Clark returned to Louisville and lived with members of his family, who also helped financially support him.
  • In 1803, he moved into a small cabin on the north side of the Ohio River, across from Louisville. While living there, he ran a gristmill.
  • In 1809, Clark suffered a stroke, which caused him to fall into a fireplace. He was severely burned, which led to an infection in his right leg. Unfortunately, Clark had to have his leg amputated. After the surgery, he went to live at Locust Grove in Jefferson County, Kentucky with his sister Lucy and her husband, Major William Croghan.
  • In 1812, the Virginia General Assembly granted him an annual pension of $400. The Assembly also gifted him a sword, as a way of thanking him for his service to the state during the American Revolutionary War.
  • In 1813, Clark suffered another stroke.

Clark died on February 13, 1818, at Locust Grove. He was buried on the property, but his remains were moved to Cave Hill National Cemetery, in Louisville, in 1869.

George Rogers Clark, Receiving Sword, Illustration
This illustration depicts Clark receiving his sword from the Virginia Assembly. Image Source: Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio by William Hayden English, 1897, Archive.org.

George Rogers Clark Significance

George Rogers Clark is important to United States history for the role he played in helping secure Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois from the British during the American Revolutionary War. He also played an important role in helping organize Kentucky as a county in the State of Virginia. Clark is widely recognized by historians for his efforts in establishing the Northwest Territory, however, he is also criticized for his harsh treatment of Native American Indians living in the region.

George Rogers Clark’s Legacy

At least 6 counties, including Clark County, Ohio, and Clark County, Indiana are named for Clark, as is Clarksville, Indiana.

  • On May 23, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge ordered a memorial to Clark to be erected at Vincennes, Indiana. The George Rogers Clark Memorial was completed in 1933 and dedicated on June 14, 1936, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was built on what is believed to have been the site of Fort Sackville. The site, now called the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, became part of the National Park Service in 1966.
  • A bronze statue commemorating Clark stands in Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Indiana. It is part of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.
  • George Rogers Clark Park in Clark County, Ohio includes the area where the 1780 Battle of Piqua took place.

George Rogers Clark Interesting Facts

  • As early as 1779, George Mason, the Founding Father and Signer of the Declaration, referred to Clark as the “Conqueror of the Old Northwest.”
  • Clark was only 25 years old when he captured Fort Vincennes.
  • Clark never married but is believed to have been romantically involved with Teresa de Leyba, the sister of the Lieutenant Governor of Spanish Louisiana, Fernando de Leyba.
  • Clark’s younger brother, William Clark, was one of the leaders of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition that explored the Louisiana Territory following the Louisiana Purchase.
  • An older brother, Jonathan, served in the Continental Army and was at the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777), Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777), and Battle of Monmouth ( June 28, 1778).

George Rogers Clark APUSH, Review, Notes, Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study George Rogers Clark, the American Revolutionary War, and the Northwest Territory for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

George Rogers Clark Definition APUSH

George Rogers Clark was an American military leader during the American Revolutionary War, renowned for his campaigns in the Western frontier. He is best known for his successful capture of British-held Forts Vincennes and Kaskaskia in the Illinois Country, which expanded American control over the Ohio River Valley and the Northwest Territory. Clark’s efforts were instrumental in securing this vast region for the United States in the Treaty of Paris of 1783, but his contributions often went unrecognized, leading to personal and financial difficulties in his later life.

George Rogers Clark Video for APUSH Notes

This video from the Daily Bellringer discusses the career and accomplishments of George Rogers Clark.