Winning the Illinois Country in the American Revolution

the Illinois Country was already occupied by settlers, most of whom who spoke Siouan languages, before the French and English arrived
the Illinois Country was already occupied by settlers, most of whom who spoke Siouan languages, before the French and English arrived
Source: Library of Congress, Partie occidentale de la Nouvelle France ou du Canada (by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, 1755)

After winning the French and Indian War in 1763, the British controlled forts at Detroit and in what is now Indiana and Illinois.

After the American Revolution started, those British bases became a threat to Virginians rather than a source of protection. The British repeated the tactics used by the French in the French and Indian War. Delivery of guns and ammunition to Native American enabled them to attack backcountry farms and settlements, with the greatest impacts on Virginians in Kentucky County. The General Assembly had created Kentucky County in 1776, to counter efforts by Richard Henderson and the Transylvania Company to split that territory off from Virginia.

The British built a new fort on the Wabash River at Vincennes in 1777, enhancing the supply route. The Virginian response to the threat to western settlement during the American Revolution matched the British response in the French and Indian War - capture the supply bases to cut off supplies to the Native Americans, as Fort Duquesne was captured in 1758.

George Rogers Clark, the ranking militia officer in Kentucky County, traveled back to Williamsburg. There he convinced Gov. Patrick Henry and other key officials that a military response was necessary. The cost was a concern to the officials in Williamsburg, but Clark managed to get two sets of orders from Governor Henry.

His public orders authorized him to defend Kentucky, but the secret orders allowed him to launch an attack west into British-held territory. Clark desired to seize Detroit, but started with capture of easier targets which had no British forces to defend them.

Governor Patrick Henry provided secret orders in 1778 for George Rogers Clark to attack Kaskaskia and Vincennes
Governor Patrick Henry provided secret orders in 1778 for George Rogers Clark to attack Kaskaskia and Vincennes
Source: Indiana Memory, Patrick Henry's secret orders to George Rogers Clark (January 2, 1778)

Clark gathered about 175 men to form the Illinois Regiment, recruiting from Carolina to Fort Pitt. He was assured, in a private letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and George Wythe, that his recruits would be granted a bounty of 300 acres of land in addition to standard pay.

He managed to move by boat downstream from Louisville on the Ohio River, the by marching cross-country to Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River. The few British officials at Kaskaskia were caught by surprise and offered no resistance. The Roman Catholic vicar there championed the America cause, and the French residents welcomed Clark's force. The residents at Cahokia and Vincennes were equally supportive, and in July 1778 the British lost control of the territory south of Detroit.

George Rogers Clark obtained supplies in Virginia, then traveled to Kentucky and seized control of the future Northwest Territory in 1778-1779
George Rogers Clark obtained supplies in Virginia, then traveled to Kentucky and seized control of the future Northwest Territory in 1778-1779
Source: National Park Service, George Rogers Clark National Historic Park

In December, however, Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton brought a handful of regular British troops from the 8th Regiment of Foot, Detroit militia, and Native American from Detroit and quickly recaptured Vincennes. He chose to upgrade Fort Sackville there, rather than attack Clark at Kaskaskia. Because getting supplies to Vincennes was so difficult, Hamilton sent most of his men back to Detroit.1

Clark chose to make a middle-of-winter march to recapture Vincennes before Hamilton could strengthen defenses there even more. Clark led an expedition of nearly 175 men, including French allies recruited at Kaskaskia, a total of 180 miles east through flooded wilderness, through swamps with water at times as high as their shoulders.

in February 1779, the Virginians marched from Kaskaskia to Vincennes through prairie and forests that were flooded by seasonal high waters
in February 1779, the Virginians marched from Kaskaskia to Vincennes through prairie and forests that were flooded by seasonal high waters
Source: Wikipedia, Illinois Campaign

the winter march from Kaskaskia to Vincennes required 17 days to cover over 150 miles
the winter march from Kaskaskia to Vincennes required 17 days to cover over 150 miles
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Clark wrote later in his memoirs:2

We knew that Governor Hamilton, in the spring... would be at the head of such a force that nothing in this quarter could withstand his arms; that Kentucky must immediately fall... We saw but one alternative, which was to attack the enemy in their quarters... the enemy could not suppose that we should be so mad as to attempt to march eighty leagues through a drowned country in the depths of winter; that they would be off their guard and probably would not think it worth while to keep out spies; that... we might surprise them.

Kentucky County was exposed to raids by Native Americans which the British supplied from Detroit and other forts
Kentucky County was exposed to raids by Native Americans which the British supplied from Detroit and other forts
Source: Newberry Library, Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

Hamilton was caught by surprise and lacked adequate manpower to defend the fort. After a brief resistance, he surrendered.

George Rogers Clark recaptured Fort Sackville at Vincennes and made Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton a prisoner in 1779
George Rogers Clark recaptured Fort Sackville at Vincennes and made Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton a prisoner in 1779
Source: National Park Service, George Rogers Clark National Historic Park

Clark had Hamilton and the British officers taken 1,200 miles east to Williamsburg. He was imprisoned as a common criminal rather than treated as an officer captured in war. Hamilton was treated harshly because Governor Thomas Jefferson and top Virginia officials thought he was responsible for Native American raids in the backcountry in which settlers were scalped. Because the British provided resources for the raiders, Hamilton was called the "Hair Buyer."

Clark lacked the resources to attack Detroit, and the British ended up occupying the fort there until 1796.3

George Rogers Clark and the Illinois Regiment recaptured Vincennes in 1779
George Rogers Clark and the Illinois Regiment recaptured Vincennes in 1779
Source: Library of Virginia - UnCommonwealth blog, Records Of The Revolution: John Todd And The George Rogers Clark Illinois Expedition

The Virginia General Assembly asserted its claim to the captured territory by creating Illinois County in 1780. In 1781, it authorized the officers in the Illinois Regiment to identify a 150,000-acre parcel north of the Ohio River where land grants would be awarded for service in that regiment. General Clark was given over 8,000 acres, officers all received over 2,000 acres each, and privates were granted just 108 acres each. Clark's Grant of 150,000 acres, including 1,000 acres designated for creating the town of Clarksville, ended up being within the state of Indiana.4

the General Assembly created Illinois County in December, 1778, after George Rogers Clark captured Vincennes and brought Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton to Williamsburg as a captive
the General Assembly created Illinois County in December, 1778, after George Rogers Clark captured Vincennes and brought Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton to Williamsburg as a captive
Source: Newberry Library, Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

During the 1783 peace negotiations that ended the American Revolution, American control of the territory was acknowledged. The Northwest Territory was ceded to the United States of America in the Treaty of Paris. The western boundary was drawn from Lake of the Woods:5

Thence by a Line to be drawn along the Middle of the said river Mississippi until it shall intersect the Northernmost Part of the thirty-first Degree of North Latitude, South...

The British refused to evacuate forts, citing that the Americans were violating the treaty by refusing to allow British lenders to collect on debts owed by Americans. British forces left the fort at Detroit only in 1796, after the British and their Native American allies were defeated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, many tribal leaders signed the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795, and the US Senate ratified the Jay Treaty in 1796.6

A statue honoring George Rogers Clark as "Conqueror of the Northwest" was installed on the grounds of the University of Virginia in 1921, enhancing a small park created two decades earlier to replace a coal bin and blacksmith shop. The scupltor placed Clark on horseback in a dominant position, towering over four submisssive Native Americans. It was erected as one of four monuments funded by Paul Goodloe McIntire. The others honored Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee.

As described in the nomination form to place the George Rogers Clark monument on the National Register of Historic Places:7

McIntire commissioned Robert Ingersoll Aitken to create a heroic-sized bronze sculptural group that portrays George Rogers Clark mounted and at the head of three members of his expedition who, with guns ready but pointed down, cautiously look out from behind their leader's horse at an Indian chief and two others of his tribe who stand, sit, and kneel ahead of the party...

Clark's dress - a cap, a loose-fitting shirt laced at the sides, and tight breeches - is typical of a frontiersman, but a bear skin cape tied under his chin and worn across his shoulders gives him a regal appearance appropriate to his role as a conqueror and peacemaker.

There were proposals in the late 1980's to move the statue, since it had been designed to be viewed head-on but ended up being placed parallel to the main roadway. The expected $250,000 cost for aesthetic reasons was judged to be too expensive at that time.

Circumstances changed after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 led to discussions on systemic racism and symbols of white supremacy. In 2017, City Council decided to move the statue of Robert E. Lee. That decision was followed by a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in which a protester and two police officers died. That which drew nationwide attention, including controversial remarks by President Trump, and the Charlottesville City Council quickly decided to move the Stonewall Jackson staue as well.

In 2019, the city also determined that the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark represented Sacagawea in an inappropriate subservient position, rather than acknowledging her significant contribution during the 1803-1805 journey to the Pacific Ocean. The Monacan Indian Nation supported moving that statue away from its prominent location in front of the Federal courthouse.

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the University of Virginia decided to move the George Rogers Clark statue. With greater sensitivity to the perspective in Native Americans, the Board of Visitors could accept the estimated $400,000 cost to reduce the visibility of the statue's portrayal of Native Americans in a subordinate status.8

The University of Virgina's "Conqueror of the Northwest" statue was taken down in July, 2021 and placed in storage. The university acted one day after the city of Charlottesville was finally moving its statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from city parks, after a long legal battle. The moving company offered to move the city's statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea at no extra cost, and in a quick vote the City Council took advantage of that opportunity.

A co-founder of the Native American and Indigenous Studies program at the University of Virginia andd leader of the George Rogers Clark Statue Disposition Committee described the removal as "bittersweet." While the stature represented to him the removal of indigenous nations from their homelands, it was also the only public, large-scale depiction of Native Americans on the "grounds" of the University of Virginia. Without the statue as a focal point for demonstrations, discussions about Native Americans could fade away:9

The statue expressed a certain truth about the legacy of America's treatment of Indigenous peoples. You know there was some truth in the statute, there was value in it. But without it there - without a real substantive commitment - we've been erased.

Clark's Grant (1781)

The Revolutionary War in Virginia

Virginia's Cession of the Northwest Territory

Links

key officials in Williamsburg provided assurance to George Rogers Clark that he could offer a 300-acre land incentive to recruit troops to attack western British forts
key officials in Williamsburg provided assurance to George Rogers Clark that he could offer a 300-acre land incentive to recruit troops to attack western British forts
Source: HathiTrust, Conquest of the country northwest of the river Ohio, 1778-1783; and life of Gen. George Rogers Clark (by William Hayden English, 1896, p.

References

1. William Hayden English, Conquest of the country northwest of the river Ohio, 1778-1783; and life of Gen. George Rogers Clark, Bowen-Merrill Company, 1896, p.99, https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008521584; "Vincennes - Siege of Fort Vincennes / Siege of Fort Sackville," American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/vincennes; "Patrick Henry's Secret Orders," Voices of Sackville, http://gretakswain.org/sackville/exhibits/show/voices/grc/secret_orders; Joshua Shepherd, "George Rogers Clark At Vincennes: 'You May Expect No Mercy'," Journal of the American Revolution, February 17, 2015, https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/02/you-may-expect-no-mercy-george-rogers-clark-at-vincennes/ (last checked January 17, 2021)
2. "Clark Learns about Hamilton's Move," Indiana Historical Bureau, https://secure.in.gov/history/2986.htm; "March to Vincennes - February 23, 1779 - The Dry Ground," Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/2981.htm (last checked January 17, 2021)
3. Donald W. Gunter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, "George Rogers Clark (1752-1818)," Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Humanities, October 23, 2019, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Clark_George_Rogers_1752-1818; "Detroit Places: Fort Detroit - British Rule - 1760-1796," Detroit History, http://historydetroit.com/places/fort_british.php (last checked January 17, 2021)
4. "Atlas of Historical County Boundaries," Newberry Library, https://publications.newberry.org/ahcbp/map/map.html#VA; "George Rogers Clark - Clark's Grant," Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/for-educators/all-resources-for-educators/resources/george-rogers-clark/george-rogers-clark-clarks-grant/; "George Rogers Clark - Land Allotments - Officers and Soldiers," Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/for-educators/all-resources-for-educators/resources/george-rogers-clark/george-rogers-clark-land-allotments-officers-and-soldiers/ (last checked January 23 2021)
5. "Treaty of Paris, 1783," Iowa Historical Society, https://iowaculture.gov/sites/default/files/history-education-pss-revolutionary-treaty-transcription.pdf.pdf; "George Rogers Clark - Clark's Grant," Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/for-educators/all-resources-for-educators/resources/george-rogers-clark/george-rogers-clark-clarks-grant/; "George Rogers Clark - Land Allotments - Officers and Soldiers," Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/for-educators/all-resources-for-educators/resources/george-rogers-clark/george-rogers-clark-land-allotments-officers-and-soldiers/ (last checked January 23 2021)
6. "John Jay’s Treaty, 1794–95," US Department of State, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/jay-treaty; "Battle of Fallen Timbers," Ohio History Central, https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Battle_of_Fallen_Timbers (last checked January 17, 2021)
7. "George Rogers Clark Scuplture," National Register of Historic Places nomination form, 1996, https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/VLR_to_transfer/PDFNoms/104-0252_George_Rogers_Clark_Sculpture_1997_Final_Nomination.pdf (last checked June 5, 2021)
8. "George Rogers Clark Scuplture," National Register of Historic Places nomination form, 1996, https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/VLR_to_transfer/PDFNoms/104-0252_George_Rogers_Clark_Sculpture_1997_Final_Nomination.pdf; "Charlottesville votes to remove another statue, and more controversy follows," Washington Post, November 29, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/charlottesville-votes-to-remove-another-statue-and-more-controversy-follows/2019/11/29/fe6a53fe-0fda-11ea-bf62-eadd5d11f559_story.html; "UVA and the History of Race: The George Rogers Clark Statue and Native Americans," University of Virginia, July 27, 2020, https://news.virginia.edu/content/uva-and-history-race-george-rogers-clark-statue-and-native-americans; "Removal of George Rogers Clark statue to cost UVa $400,000," Daily Progress, June 5, 2021, https://dailyprogress.com/news/uva/removal-of-george-rogers-clark-statue-to-cost-uva-400-000/article_4c3cc630-c569-11eb-b8d6-df8a8e61d0ce.html (last checked June 5, 2021)
9. "George Rogers Clark statue removed from University Grounds," Cavalier Daily, July 11, 2021, https://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2021/07/george-rogers-clark-statue-removed-from-university-grounds; "George Rogers Clark statue at UVA comes down," C'Ville Tomorrow, July 11, 2021, https://www.cvilletomorrow.org/articles/george-rogers-clark-statue-at-uva-comes-down; "Charlottesville takes down two more statues, deemed offensive to Native Americans, in weekend of removals," Washington Post, July 11, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/charlottesville-statues-removed/2021/07/11/a539169e-e25b-11eb-a41e-c8442c213fa8_story.html (last checked July 13, 2021)


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