Conquest of the Old Northwest - James Baldwin

The Hannibal of the Northwest

I. The County of Kentucky

George Rogers Clark was but twenty-two years old when he accompanied Lord Dunmore's expedition into the Ohio wilderness. He was born of good parentage in Albermarle county, Virginia, and had the true instincts of a bold frontiersman and leader of men. His business was that of surveyor, and upon his first visit to the border, a short time before Cresap's murderous exploits, he made himself known among the frontiersmen by his skill in woodcraft, no less than by his fearlessness and untiring energy.

Early in the spring, after the close of Dunmore's war, Clark gave up his claim on the Kenawha and went down to Kentucky where Daniel Boone and other bold pioneers were just beginning to found a new commonwealth in the wilderness. After spending some weeks in that land of promise, he returned to his home in Virginia, where he learned that the war between the colonies and the mother country had actually begun.



The next summer he was again in Kentucky, having walked there alone through the unbroken wilderness. He spent much of his time in the woods, but visited all the little settlements and became acquainted with the hardy pioneers, making himself useful to them in many ways, and being chosen ` by them to command the backwoods militia. The settlements were in constant danger of attacks by the Indians; and since the region was claimed by Virginia as a part of her possessions, the pioneers naturally looked to her for some sort of protection. But Virginia was very busy with other affairs just then, and the handful of pioneers in distant Kentucky began to feel as if they had been forgotten.

At last the Kentuckians chose two delegates to go to Virginia and lay their case before the governor and the state convention at Williamsburg. George Rogers Clark was one of the delegates; and in accepting the appointment he declared that if their petition should be refused, the Kentucky colonists ought to take matters in their own hands and set up an independent state.

[Illustration] from Conquest of the Old Northwest by James Baldwin


When the two men reached Williamsburg, they found that the convention had already adjourned, and they must deal directly with the governor, Patrick Henry. The petition which they carried prayed that the new settlements might be formed into an independent county, and that the "prime riflemen "of Kentucky might be given an opportunity to do their part in the struggle that was then going on with Great Britain. Clark also asked for five hundred pounds of gunpowder for the use of the riflemen; and when this was about to be refused he pointedly told the governor that a country which was not worth defending was not worth claiming. In the end he obtained the powder; and later, when the convention reassembled, the new county of Kentucky was formed with boundaries nearly the same as those of the present state.

II. The "Long Knives" of the Border

In the following spring the Indian raids upon the border settlements became so frequent as to be truly alarming. One savage band after another crossed the Ohio, hunting for scalps to sell to the British commander at Detroit. They skulked stealthily through the forest and appeared suddenly where they were least expected. The pioneer working in his clearing was shot down by some hidden foe; his house was burned; his cattle were destroyed; his family was carried into captivity. The hunter returning home with his game was waylaid and murdered. Women going to the spring for water were tomahawked by lurking savages. Children playing on the doorstep were snatched up by some Indian hawk and never again seen by their parents. Outside of the forts no life was safe. If matters went on in this way, there would soon be an end to the settlements west of the Alleghanies.

No man understood the situation better than George Rogers Clark; and he at once began making plans not only to protect the Kentucky settlements but to save the whole Northwest. He first sent two young hunters to Vincennes and the Illinois Country to learn how strong the British were at those places, and whether the French settlers were friendly to them. They came back in June, and their report was so favorable that Clark decided to make a bold movement for the conquest of the entire region north of the Ohio. The "prime riflemen "of Kentucky were willing to follow him wherever he should lead, but they were too few to undertake so great an enterprise without aid from others. He must have more men; and he therefore hurried back to Virginia to lay his scheme before the governor. Winter had already begun when he reached Williamsburg.

Patrick Henry, the governor, listened with great interest to the plans which Clark unfolded. He was willing and anxious to help carry out the enterprise, but the fighting men of Virginia were all needed to oppose the British armies along the seaboard, and none could be spared for the defense of the West. At last, however, Clark was given a colonel's commission, and was authorized to raise seven companies, each of forty men, in the backwoods settlements west of the Alleghanies. To each man was promised a bounty of three hundred acres of land in the conquered territory.

When Colonel Clark was ready to leave Williamsburg the governor handed him two sets of instructions. One

of these directed him to give full protection to the Kentucky settlements; the other, which was kept secret, authorized him to attack the British post at Kaskaskia. The governor also gave him twelve hundred dollars in paper money, together with an order upon the American commandant at Fort Pitt for as much powder as his men would need.

The name of George Rogers Clark was well known to the backwoodsmen in the valley of the Monongahela, and many of them hastened to enlist under his command. But in May, when he finally started from Redstone Old Fort (Brownsville), Pennsylvania, and by way of Fort Pitt embarked upon the Ohio, only about one hundred and fifty men were ready to follow him. They went down the river in a small flotilla of boats, and with them were several families of fearless settlers, intent on finding new homes in the distant West, despite of the dangers to be encountered there. At the mouth of the Kenawha River another company of backwoodsmen joined the little army; but as yet no one except Clark himself supposed that they were to go beyond the Kentucky border.

The men whom Colonel Clark was leading to the conquest of the Northwest had been gathered from the scattered clearings, the hunters' camps, and the lonely log cabins along the streams which flow down the western slopes of the mountains. They were of the same type as their Kentucky kinsmen whom they were hastening to succor. You must not think of them as uniformed soldiers, marching in rank and file to the sound of the drum and fife. They were clad in their hunter's garb: a fur cap, a fringed hunting shirt of buckskin, held at the waist by a broad belt, leggings also of buckskin, and moccasins of untanned leather.



For weapons each carried a long flintlock rifle, very heavy and clumsy, but sure to hit the mark at a hundred paces; and some had scalping knives and small tomahawks stuck in their belts. They knew nothing about military drill, but they were skilled in woodcraft and in Indian fighting, and were famed alike for their hardihood and daring. Among the savages they were known as "Long Knives," probably because of their weapons, but more probably because of their fearless energy and the terrible determination with which they were accustomed to punish their enemies.

When the flotilla reached the falls of the Ohio, all landed on a little island opposite the site of the present city of Louisville. Here the settlers who were in the company decided to remain with their families, and a stockade was built for their protection. Log cabins were put up inside of the stockade; the trees and underbrush surrounding it were cleared away; and corn was planted in the rich soil. The island was named Corn Island, and its location seemed so safe and withal so pleasant that many of the backwoodsmen were tempted to make it their home.

Colonel Clark spent several days on Corn Island, drilling his rude soldiers; and there he was joined by a number of recruits from the Kentucky settlements and from eastern Tennessee. At length, when he deemed that the time had come for going forward, he made known to his men the plan which he had in mind to march against the British posts. The most of them received this announcement with cheers, and were eager to follow him; but a few openly refused to go farther, and finally deserted him and returned to their homes.

III. The Capture of Kaskaskia

On the 24th of June, the little army again embarked upon the Ohio. The boats were poled up the stream until they were fairly within the main channel; then, being skillfully propelled with the current, all passed safely over the falls. At the very moment that they were shooting swiftly through the rapids, the sun was darkened in a total eclipse. The backwoodsmen, ignorant of the cause of this phenomenon, hailed it as an omen of success, and with cheers and shouts of encouragement rowed onward down the swift stream.

After two days and two nights of steady work at the oars, the party landed near the spot where stood the old French post of Fort Massac, now deserted and in ruins. Some hunters who had just come from the French settlements on the Mississippi happened to be encamped at the same place, and one of them agreed to pilot the little army across the country.

Colonel Clark had decided to strike the first blow at Kaskaskia, for he had learned that the British garrison there was not so strong as that at Vincennes. He had also made up his mind that in case he should not be successful, he would retreat across the Mississippi, and find refuge among the Spanish at St. Louis. He was now a hundred and thirty mid from Kaskaskia, and the country through which he intended to march would have been impassable to any ordinary army. It would have been easier to go all the way by water, but he knew that spies were kept on the Mississippi below the British posts, and these might carry the news to Kaskaskia of his coming and thus put the enemy on guard. He therefore hid his boats in a little creek near Fort Massac, and began the toilsome march across the country.

The route lay for the most part through a low, flat, prairie region, intersected by sluggish streams and muddy swamps. It was a strange army that struggled through this untrodden wilderness to the conquest of an empire. There was neither a horse, nor a cannon, nor a uniformed soldier in the entire force. Wading through ponds and marshes, swimming across creeks and rivers, floundering in boundless fields of black mud, toiling through seas of matted weeds and prairie grass, the dauntless Long Knives pushed bravely on in a northwestwardly course.

Soon after dark on the 4th of July, they reached a point on the south bank of the Kaskaskia River, which they were told was less than a mile above the town. Here was a farmhouse in which a Frenchman lived with his large family; and from the Frenchman, Colonel Clark learned many particulars about the state of affairs at the British post. A number of boats were found moored to the bank, and soon the whole army was rowed across to the opposite shore, and landed in the outskirts of the town. Colonel Clark hastily formed his men in fighting order, and made them a brief speech, telling them that "the place must be taken at all events."

The garrison was under the command of a certain M. Rochebiave, a French officer who had joined the British army; and at the time of Colonel, Clark's arrival, most of the men were at a dance in the guard hall of the fort, having no thought that an enemy was marching against them. The commandant himself was in bed.

Some of the Americans, with Colonel Clark at their head, burst suddenly upon the party of merrymakers, and demanded the surrender of the fort.

"You may go on with your fun," said Clark, "but remember that you are now dancing under the flag of Virginia, instead of that of Great Britain."

There was no resistance. Some of the Virginians who could speak French ran through the village, telling the people what had happened, and warning them that every person seen in the streets would be shot down. All the roads were guarded to prevent any one from escaping and carrying the alarm to the other villages.

Clark, George Rodgers


"I don't suppose," says Clark, "that greater silence ever reigned among the inhabitants of a place than did at this. Not a person could be seen; not a word could be heard from them for some time. But, designedly, the greatest noise was kept up by our troops through every quarter of the town; . . . and in about two hours the whole of the inhabitants were disarmed, and informed that if one was taken attempting to make his escape, he should be immediately put to death."

The French people were much alarmed. They had heard strange tales of the barbarity and cruelty of the Long Knives, and had been taught to regard them as wild beasts in human form. They waited in great fear throughout the night, expecting to be massacred in their homes.

Father Gibault


Early in the morning, Father Gibault, the priest of the village, came with some of the leading citizens, and begged Colonel Clark to be merciful to the unoffending people. "If they must be carried into captivity," said the priest, "we trust that, in the goodness of your heart, you will not separate parents from their children; and we also pray that you will permit each person to carry away such clothing and food as may be necessary for the support of life."

"Do you take us for savages?" cried Colonel Clark. "Do you think that Americans intend to strip women and children, or take the bread out of their mouths? Please inform your people that they are at liberty to go about their business as usual, and that none of them will be disturbed."

The priest lost no time in carrying the good news to his flock, and soon there was general rejoicing through the village. French settlers, relieved from all fear, hastened to welcome the Americans as their deliverers from the yoke of the British. M. Michel, one of the wealthiest men in the village, invited Colonel Clark to his home a fine French house with broad piazzas on every side, an ideal place in the midst of half-savage surroundings.

A volunteer company of French militia joined the Americans, and a detachment of thirty horsemen under Captain Bowman was sent up the left bank of the Mississippi to surprise Cahokia, and the other French settlements north of Kaskaskia. The people of these places, hearing how kindly the Americans had treated the Kaskaskians, joyfully welcomed them as friends. Fort Chartres, which had once been the "most commodious and best-built fort in North America," was found deserted and in ruins. The river had undermined its walls.

Thus, without the loss of a man, Colonel Clark had by one bold stroke made himself the master of all the posts in the Illinois Country. This was but little more, however, than the beginning of the great work which he had set out to do. His next move was to overawe and conciliate the Indians. At Cahokia he held numerous councils with the chiefs of the leading tribes of the Northwest, and by his skillful management won their friendship.

"The Long Knife is our brother," said they. "We will help him fight the redcoats."

"I do not want your help," said Clark. "All I ask is that you stand out of my way while I am driving the red-coats out of your country."

Ten days after the capture of Kaskaskia Father Gibault and a few other Frenchmen of great influence were sent to Vincennes to persuade the settlers on the Wabash to surrender peaceably to the Americans. The British commander at Vincennes had lately gone to Detroit, and the place was without defenders. After listening to Father Gibault, the people went in a body to the church and there took the oath of allegiance to Virginia. Officers were chosen, a body of militia was formed, and they hastened to take possession of the empty fort, which was known as Fort Sackville, and to hoist the American flag above its walls. The French began now "to act as freemen," says Colonel Clark. "They began as citizens of the United States, and informed the Indians that their old father, the king of France, was come to life again and was mad at them for fighting for the English, that they would advise them to make peace with the Americans as soon as they could. The Indians began to think seriously. Throughout the country this was the kind of language they generally got from their ancient friends of the Wabash and the Illinois."

About the first of August, Father Gibault returned to Kaskaskia with the good news. Colonel Clark was greatly pleased with the success of the enterprise. Had he, indeed, conquered the whole of the Northwest without fighting? In order to give the people of Vincennes the support which they had a right to expect, he sent Captain Leonard Helm with a single soldier whose name was Henry, to take charge of the post at that place.

IV. "The Grand Door to the Wabash"

The two Americans arrived safe at Vincennes and were welcomed with much heartiness by the French inhabitants. Captain Helm carried with him a letter from Colonel Clark to the chief of the Piankeshaws who lived in the neighborhood. This chief was called by his people "The Grand Door to the Wabash," and such was his power that nothing could be done among the Indians without his consent. Colonel Clark was very anxious, therefore, to make this man his friend.

In a few days a messenger brought from the chief an answer to the letter. He told Captain Helm that he was glad to see one of the Long-Knife chiefs in Vincennes; but that, since the matter to be decided was an important one, he must talk with his counselors about it. Would not the chief of the Long Knives be patient?

The captain tried to be very patient, and in the course of time he received an invitation to attend a council of the Piankeshaws and their friends. The council met; the chiefs and the captain smoked long and solemnly; and then the Grand Door to the Wabash arose to speak. He declared that the eyes of his people had been opened and that his warriors would bloody the land no more for the English. He leaped in the air, struck his breast, called himself a brave chief, said that he was a Long Knife, and took Captain Helm by the hands. The other chiefs followed his example, and the evening was spent in merriment. The next day Captain Helm went back to his fort, glad that this matter had been brought to so happy an ending.

In the meanwhile, still other good fortune was in store for Colonel Clark at Kaskaskia. A rich Spanish trader named Francois Vigo, whose home was at the Spanish post of St. Louis, came across the river to visit him. He was anxious, he said, to take the hand of the American commander who had so skillfully captured the Illinois posts. He was so highly pleased with what had been done that he gave Clark twelve thousand dollars in gold, in exchange for written orders on the French commandant at New Orleans; for France had lately made a treaty with the United States and was now actively aiding the Americans in their war for freedom. Not long afterward, Vigo supplied Clark with still other funds; and from New Orleans came seventy-three hundred dollars in gold, besides a boat load of powder and swivels for the use of the backwoods army.

Without the aid of Vigo, Colonel Clark could not have paid his soldiers, he could not have maintained himself in the Illinois Country, and the conquest of the Northwest might never have been completed. It is sad to relate that this benefactor of our country, Francois Vigo, was never repaid for the services which he so generously rendered. Nearly sixty years later he died at Terre Haute, Indiana, childless and in poverty, while nearly twenty thousand dollars which he had lent to Clark remained unpaid. A county in Indiana has been named in his honor. The people of the Northwest should remember his services and build him a monument.

When the news of Clark's conquest reached the capital of Virginia, the governor and assembly began at once to devise means for holding on to the possessions thus wrested from Great Britain. The whole country north of the Ohio was erected into a new county, to be known as the County of Illinois, with its seat of government at Kaskaskia. Captain John Todd, a Virginian of influence who was serving in Clark's army, was appointed the first governor of this vast region, and he was instructed to "cultivate and emulate the affections of the French and Indians," and to aid Colonel Clark in his military operations.

V. The "Hair-Buyer General"

Long before any word of these matters could be carried to Kaskaskia, a new danger threatened which seemed likely to turn the tide of American success. Of course the news of Clark's invasion soon reached the ears of Henry Hamilton, the lieutenant-governor of Canada and British commandant at Detroit. The "hair-buyer general," as Hamilton was called on account of his paying bounties for scalps, was just then busy planning an expedition against Fort Pitt; for he had never dreamed that the Americans would venture to attack the Illinois posts. On the very day that the first rumor came of the surrender of Vincennes he had sent out a party of savage warriors to harry the defenseless settlements beyond the Ohio. "I pray the Master of Life to give you success," he said, as he presented a bright new tomahawk to a painted chief and sent him forth on his bloody errand.

The first news from Vincennes did not trouble him much. "The post has probably been surprised by a strolling company of backwoodsmen," he said; "it will be easy enough to take it again." But when word came soon after that not only Vincennes but all the Illinois posts were in the hands of the Americans, he began to bestir himself. He saw that he must make some decisive movement or else lose the entire Northwest. His first care was to secure the help of his Indian neighbors. He held a great powwow with the Ottawas, the Pottawattomies, and the Chippewas whose villages were near Detroit. Oxen were roasted whole over glowing heaps of charcoal; and red men and white men feasted together, and danced the war dance, and whetted their scalping knives, and vowed to stand by each other as brothers until every Long-Knife rebel was destroyed.

For many days every man at DetroitóBritish, French, or Indianówas busy helping to get things ready. Fifteen large boats were loaded with provisions, powder and lead, clothing, and other supplies, and sent on in advance to the mouth of the Maumee. On the 7th of October, Hamilton with his little army was ready to start. His force consisted of a hundred and seventy-seven British and French, and about sixty Indians; but so many other savages joined him on the way that before he reached Vincennes he found himself in command of more than five hundred men.

As the men in their boats pushed off into the Detroit River, Father Potier, the venerable Jesuit priest, stood on the bank and gave his solemn blessing to the French volunteers who were thus embarking in the service of the king of England. The party rowed down the Detroit River to. Lake Erie, and then crossed, in the face of a blinding snowstorm, to a point near the mouth of the Maumee, where now stands the city of Toledo. There they remained a day, putting their boats in order and shivering with cold, for the wind was so strong that they could not light a fire. Very early on the following morning they began the ascent of the river, some in boats, some in canoes, and some marching in a disorderly manner along the shore.

Wabash River Valley


There had been but little rain during the fall, and the waters of the Maumee were very low. In some places the boats scraped upon the muddy bottom, or grounded upon a sand bank. The progress of the party was very slow, and it took more than two weeks to reach the portage at the forks of the river. Some of the boats, with all the baggage, besides several canoes, were then carried nine miles to Little River, one of the sources of the Wabash. "Here," says Hamilton, "the waters were so uncommonly low that we should not have been able to pass but that at a distance of four miles from the landing place the beavers had made a dam which kept up the water; this we cut through to give a passage to our boats, and having taken in our lading at the landing passed all the boats. The beaver are never molested at that place by the traders or Indians, and soon repair their dam, which is a most serviceable work upon this difficult communication."

Twenty miles below this place the little army reached the Wabash, but their troubles were not yet at an end. The river was not only shallow, but was full of floating ice, which threatened to crush the boats, and made all progress dangerous. "It was sometimes a day's work," says Hamilton, "to get the distance of half a league." They stopped at every Indian village to hold council with the chiefs, to give presents, and to persuade the warriors to join them. Near the Wea village, where stood the old fort of Ouiatenon, they captured four Frenchmen from Vincennes, whom Captain Helm had sent out as scouts to look for their approach. Soon afterward heavy rains came on, and the river grew deeper. The boats were now more easily managed, and the rest of the voyage was soon accomplished. Hamilton, with his motley following, reached Vincennes on the 17th of December, having been seventy-one days in coming from Detroit.

[Illustration] from Conquest of the Old Northwest by James Baldwin


Captain Helm did not learn of the approach of the enemy until the red coats of the British were within sight of the town. The French militia who had helped him garrison the fort were much alarmed, for they knew that they could not hold the place against so strong a M force. They were therefore allowed to go to their homes, and the only garrison left in the fort was Captain Helm and his single soldier, Henry. How should these two men defend the place against five hundred? 4 Fort Sackville was in a half-ruined plight. It was a mere stockade, without barracks, and was in no way fitted to withstand a siege. There was not even a well inside the walls, and there was no lock to the gate. But it contained two cannon, two swivels, and some ammunition; and Captain Helm made up his mind not to surrender without some show of resistance.

A loaded cannon was wheeled to the open gate, and Henry stood by it, ready to fire upon the approaching enemy. Hamilton, at the head of his British regulars, came forward and demanded the surrender of the garrison.

No man shall enter here," said Captain Helm, until I know the terms."

"You shall have the honors of war," said Hamilton, supposing that the fort was filled with Long Knives.

Helm, after a short parley, accepted the terms, and between lines of red-coated British and painted Indians the garrison marched outóone officer and one man. Just what were Hamilton's feelings when he saw that this was the entire strength of the Americans at Vincennes he does not tell us. He at once took possession of the fort, and began to put it in better condition. Some of his Indian allies camped on the outskirts of the town, and others returned to their homes. The winter was now well begun, and he deemed it prudent to wait until spring before marching against Colonel Clark at Kaskaskia.

On the second day after taking the fort, Hamilton summoned all the people of Vincennes to meet in the church. There were in all six hundred and twenty-one men, women, and children; but some of the men were absent hunting buffaloes. When they had assembled according to his order, he required them to ask God's forgiveness for being so wicked as to take sides with the Americans; and then every man was made to take an oath to be a good and faithful subject of the king of England. It is not likely that many of these light-hearted Frenchmen regarded this oath as a binding one, or remembered it longer than their own safety required.

VI. The Winning of Vincennes

In the meanwhile Colonel Clark was spending most of his time at Cahokia, making treaties with the Indians and otherwise strengthening his position. It was not until in January that he heard that Hamilton had retaken Vincennes. What should he do? He knew that if he staid

in the Illinois towns until spring, the British and Indians would march against him with a superior force, and either capture his little band of backwoodsmen or drive them across the Mississippi. But he was not the man to think of retreating. He began at once to prepare for defense. He sent out scouts and runners to keep him informed of Hamilton's movements. He strengthened the fort at Kaskaskia. He drilled his soldiers every day and kept them in constant readiness for an attack.

One day near the end of January Colonel Vigo suddenly appeared in Kaskaskia, bringing important news from the Wabash. Some time before Christmas he had gone from Kaskaskia to Vincennes to carry money and other aid to Captain Helm. Not knowing that the latter place had been captured by the British, he had been taken prisoner by an Indian scouting party and delivered up to the "hair-buyer general." Hamilton, he said, had treated him kindly, and, as he was a Spanish citizen, had allowed him to return to St. Louis upon his promise that, during his journey thither, he should do nothing to injure the British cause. Vigo had hastened back to St. Louis; and then, feeling no longer bound by his promise, he had recrossed the Mississippi and hurried to Kaskaskia to tell Colonel Clark all that he had learned.

He said that Hamilton had sent the most of his troops back to Detroit, and that only about eighty men remained in the garrison at Vincennes. Most of the Indians also were gone to their homes for the winter. It was Hamilton's intention to recall all these in the early spring and, with five hundred southern Indians who had promised to join him, make an attack up Kaskaskia.

"I think that this is your time for action," said Vigo.

I think so, too," answered Clark; and he began to get ready to march immediately against Vincennes. Within a week he had equipped a large rowboat with two small cannon and six swivels and loaded her with supplies. This boat, which he named the Willing, he placed in command of Captain John Rogers with forty-six men, who was directed to take her round to the mouth of the Wabash and there wait for further orders. On the afternoon of the 4th of February, the Willing started on her voyage, while the soldiers and the people of Kaskaskia stood on the shore and bade her Godspeed. It is worth remembering that she was the first American gun-boat that ever floated on our inland waters.

The very next day Colonel Clark with one hundred and seventy men marched out of Kaskaskia. Father Gibault, standing by the roadside, blessed the backwoods heroes as they passed, and the whole town turned out to see them start on their long journey. They crossed the Kaskaskia River and marched to a knoll three miles away, where they encamped to wait for some needful supplies. Two days later they started in earnest across the bleak prairies. The distance to Vincennes by the route which they followed was more than two hundred miles. The winter had been a mild one, and the spring freshets had already begun. The prairies were covered with mud and ice, the water courses were swollen, the meadows were flooded, there were no roads, no bridges. Often the men were obliged to wade; sometimes they were waist deep in water; none but those accustomed to the hardships of pioneer life could have endured that painful march. But Clark himself led them, suffering cold and hunger and privation with the rest, and by his cheerful words encouraging every man to do his best.

On the thirteenth day after starting, they were within nine miles of Vincennes, and heard the morning gun from the fort. But the whole country was covered with water, and there was no place on which to encamp. It was necessary now to change their course, and on the following morning they reached a spot of dry ground on the bank of the Wabash some distance below the town. Here they paused for a little rest. A rough canoe was hewn from a drifting log, and two men undertook to paddle it down the river to meet the Willing.

Soon afterward a boat with five Frenchmen in it was seen crossing the stream. On being hailed by the sentry, the men came ashore and were questioned by Colonel Clark. They told him that the British in the fort were resting at their ease and had no thought of an enemy being near. The people of Vincennes, they said, were heartily tired of English rule and would gladly welcome the Virginians. They not only offered Colonel Clark their boat, but told him of two canoes that were adrift above them and could easily be obtained.

Three days later, in the boat and the canoes, the army was ferried across the Wabash to a little hill, called by the Frenchmen the "Mamelle." From this spot the soldiers were obliged to wade four miles through water which came sometimes to their necks. "We plunged into it with courage," says one of the men, "Colonel Clark being first, taking care to have the boats take those that were weak and numbed with cold."

They finally reached a dry spot of ground covering about ten acres, and there the little army had a much-needed rest. "Fortunately, as if designed by Providence," says Colonel Clark, "a canoe of Indian squaws and children was coming up to town and took through part of the plain as a nigh way. It was discovered by our canoes. They gave chase and took the Indian canoe, on board of which was near half a quarter of buffalo, some corn, tallow, and kettles. This was a grand prize, and was invaluable. Broth was immediately made and served out to the most weakly with care. This little refreshment, and fine weather, by the afternoon, gave new life to the whole. Crossing a narrow deep lake, in the canoes, and marching some distance, we came to a copse of timber called Warriors Island. We were now in full view of the town, not a shrub between us, at about two miles distant."

In the meanwhile Hamilton, secure in his fort, was unaware of the approach of an enemy. He supposed that Clark and his backwoodsmen were still in Kaskaskia. One night word was brought to him that a number of camp fires could be seen on the high ground south of the town. This did not alarm him, for he supposed that they had been built by Indians; but in the morning he sent out a company of scouts to find out about them. The scouts, rather than cross the great stretch of water that lay between them and the place where the fires were seen, rode out by another way and failed to find anything at all. That very evening Clark and his men made a bold rush into the town. Some of the soldiers went through the streets to let the people know of their coming, and a band of riflemen pushed forward and threw up earthworks in front of the fort.

Hamilton, when he first heard the noise in the town, supposed that it was made by some carousing Indians; but when he saw the Americans actually within rifle shot of the fort he hastily manned his guns and tried to open fire upon them. By this time many of Clark's men were in position, and as often as the portholes were opened, they poured in such a volley of musket shots that the cannon were very soon silenced. Several men in the fort were severely wounded.

The next morning Colonel Clark sent a letter to Hamilton ordering him to surrender, and declaring that if it became necessary to storm the fort he should have the "treatment justly due to a murderer." While waiting for answer to this summons the Americans ate a breakfast which had been supplied to them by the townspeople. It was the first "meal of victuals "they had had for six days.

In a short time an answer came from the fort: "Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton begs leave to acquaint Colonel Clark that he and his garrison are not disposed to be awed into any action unworthy of British subjects."

Then the firing began again, hot on both sides; but in the afternoon Hamilton sent a second letter, this time asking for a truce of three days. Clark answered that, while he would consider no terms but surrender, he would consent to have a conference at the church, if Hamilton would meet him there with Captain Helm who was a prisoner in the fort.

There was a stormy meeting at the church. Hamilton tried in vain to secure favorable terms of surrender; while Clark, stubbornly refusing, upbraided him for sending out Indian marauding parties to lay waste the border settlements. "I told him that I knew the greater part of the principal Indian partisans of Detroit were with him; that I wanted an excuse to put them to death, or otherwise treat them as I thought proper; that the cries of the widows and the fatherless, on the frontiers, now required their blood at my hands."

In the meantime a terrible tragedy was going on outside. A party of Indians whom Hamilton had sent across the Ohio on a foray upon the border settlements had just returned in triumph, expecting the usual rewards. As they did not know that the Americans were in the town, they were easily entrapped and captured. While Clark was parleying in the church, his men tomahawked these savages in front of the fort and threw their bodies into the river.

Before the day was ended, Hamilton agreed that the garrison should surrender as prisoners of war. It was a great humiliation to him to be obliged to yield, as he said, to "a set of uncivilized Virginia woodsmen armed with rifles "; but what else could he do? His men seventy-nine in all marched out and laid down their arms. The British flag was hauled down, the American colors were again hoisted, and the stockade received a new name, Fort Patrick Henry.

News had already come that some volunteers from Detroit were on their way down the Wabash to reinforce Hamilton, bringing with them several boat loads of provisions, clothing, and ammunition. No sooner was the fort in his hands than Colonel Clark sent Captain Helm with fifty-two men to meet and capture this party. Three weeks later Helm returned, having met the boats near Ouiatenon and taken forty prisoners besides the supplies which were valued at fifty thousand dollars. At about the same time the gunboat Willing arrived, having been long delayed by the strong currents of the flooded river. The men on board were much cast down because they were too late to help with the fighting; but they rejoiced with their comrades over the complete victory that had been gained.

So many prisoners had been taken, that Clark found himself unable to keep them, and he released the most of them on parole. Hamilton and his leading officers were sent under a guard to Virginia. The journey thither, as we already know, was a long and hard one in those days, and they traveled for the greater part of the way on foot. It was already May when the guard reached Williamsburg, and they were the first to tell in Virginia the story of the conquest of Vincennes. So slowly did news travel in those days.

Hamilton, for "instigating the Indians to practice every species of barbarism upon American citizens without distinction of age, sex, or condition," was imprisoned in irons. He remained a prisoner for nearly eighteen months, and was then permitted to go to New York on parole.

Pioneer village


Colonel Clark was now in full control of the Illinois Country and the Wabash Valley, and the British had no longer a sufficient force at Detroit to cause him any uneasiness. In a word, by a bold march and a series of masterly movements comparable to the famous achievements of Hannibal in olden times, he had won the entire Northwest for the United States of America. When the treaty of peace should be signed at the close of the Revolutionary War, the vast region between the Ohio and the Great Lakes would not be a part of Canada but a possession of the new republic.