Our Red-Haired Revolutionary: George Rogers Clark and the Campaign on Vincennes

It’s been quite a week of weather around Louisville! Locust Grove was closed for tours for almost an entire week, but now we are back open and ready for the next few weeks of events! Next week, March 6-8 is the Spring Used Book Sale–22,000 books, ranging from general fiction to mystery to children’s books to cookbooks to travel and so much more! On Friday, March 6, the sale will be open from 10-7:30pm and on Saturday and Sunday, we’ll be selling 10-4:30pm. If you’re a member, there’s a special preview just for you from 5-7:30pm! If you’re not already a member, memberships will be sold at the door or you can find more information about membership here. I’ve accepted quite a few boxes of books for donation, so I know we’ll have a great selection. And if you want to donate books before you buy new ones, feel free to stop buy during regular business hours any time at all during the year–even if it’s the day before the sale! Thank you for all your support of Locust Grove’s programs!

One more quick announcement: this week, we’re holding auditions for our 2015 costumed interpreter season! We’re especially looking for people over 30, so if you’re interested, click here here for the full announcement or contact Brian Cushing at bcushing@locustgrove.org to schedule a time or get your questions answered. We look forward to having you join our family to portray members of our historical family!


This week marks the 236th anniversary of George Rogers Clark’s campaign against Fort Sackville at Vincennes, Indiana on February 23, 1779. While this much snow is a bit of an anomaly for the region, can you imagine advancing across the frontier in the cold and snow to take on the mighty British army at a well-positioned fort? The more I read about this event, the more exciting it seems–almost like the Northwest Territory version of George Washington crossing the Delaware to attack Trenton! GRC’s forces had previously captured the fort earlier in the Illinois Campaign, but it had been retaken by the British forces under Henry Hamilton, then the Lieutenant Governor of Detroit in December 1778. Clark received word of this in January 1779, and decided to march on Fort Sackville with his men before Hamilton could raise an Indian force strong enough to withstand an attack. In February, he wrote to Patrick Henry, the governor of Virginia, that “I am Resolved to take the advantage of [Hamilton’s] present Situation and Risque the whole on a Single Battle […] I know the Case is Desperate but Sr we must Either Quit the Cuntrey or attact Mr. Hamilton” (Potts and Thomas 33).  At the time, Clark commanded less than 200 hundred men, while Hamilton was holding Vincennes with 162 men, and 70 Indians. The playing field seems even enough, but Hamilton was well-supplied and benefited from the protection of the fort (Barnhardt 40).

Boo, Henry Hamilton, boooo (Image: Ohio History Central).

In an attempt to bolster his position, Clark’s cousin, John Rogers, outfitted a boat named the Willing with seven large guns and 46 men, rowing it up the Ohio to the mouth of the Wabash to prevent the British from escaping. Beginning on February 5, Clark and his men marched 180 miles overland from Kaskaskia to Vincennes, with limited provisions, through “a Drowned Cuntrey in the Debth of Wintor”, hunting for game and often in water up to their shoulders (Potts and Thomas 33). The conditions were so poor that Clark had to keep some from deserting. The Illinois Regiment arrived within sight of Vincennes on February 23, seventeen days after they set out. Surprisingly, their movements remained undetected by the British during this time, as the French inhabiting this region were increasingly pro-American, due to the recent alliance between the United States and France.

The march to Vincennes looks fun, right? (Illustration by F.C. Yohn, 1929.)

On February 24, 1779, Clark began his great deception–tricking the British into thinking he was accompanied by more than 1,000 men. Clark concealed his men behind a small hill but flew all the flags they possessed to give the appearance of a much larger company (Potts and Thomas 34). The regiment’s wet powder was replaced by sympathetic residents of Vincennes, and on February 24, they began firing on the fort with such accuracy that the British were not immediately able to respond. There were a few wounded on each side, and Hamilton suggested a three-day truce, which was rejected by Clark. Clark and Hamilton then met at a local church to discuss the terms of a surrender. However, Clark’s men had captured six men–four Indians and two Canadiens–of a war party unaware of the inevitable British surrender. The Canadiens were released, but the Indians were tomahawked within view of the fort. While Hamilton saw this as an act of “so little mercy”, Clark viewed the event as a way of showing the Indians that the British would not protect them. After three tries, Clark and Hamilton agreed upon the conditions of the surrender, and Fort Sackville was turned over to Clark’s control at 10am on February 25, 1779. It was renamed Fort Patrick Henry, after the Governor of Virginia. Hamilton was sent to Williamsburg, where he was jailed until 1780. He would later become the Deputy-Governor at Quebec (Potts and Thomas 35).

Following his victory, Clark returned to his headquarters at Kaskaskia, having successfully secured the Northwest Territory–the future states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin–for the United States (Potts and Thomas 37). The territory was officially ceded to the United States through the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and many credit Clark with doubling the size of the United States through the Illinois Campaign. Clark himself wrote before the siege that “great things have been affected by a few Men well Conducted […] We have this Consolation that our Cause is Just and that our Cuntrey will be greatful and not condemn our conduct […] If so this Country as well as Kentucky I believe is lost” (Potts and Thomas 34). Thanks to Clark, the Kentucky we know and love is safe and sound. Following the war, Clark was made an Indian Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, and in 1929, the 150th anniversary of the siege at Vincennes was honored with a postage stamp.

Being on a postage stamp really is the highest honor. (United States Postal Service, 1929.)

George Rogers Clark certainly had some adventures in his time, and we love celebrating them at Locust Grove. While we wait for our next adventure, we’ll be hanging out with our friendly garden snowman. Drop by soon to visit! We’re always glad to see you.

Snowily yours,




Barnhart, John Donald. Henry Hamilton and George Rogers Clark in the American Revolution, with the unpublished Journal of Henry Hamilton. Crawfordsville: R.E. Banta, 1951. Archive.org.  https://archive.org/stream/henryhamiltongeo00barn/henryhamiltongeo00barn_djvu.txt

Potts, Gwynne Tuell, and Samuel Thomas. George Rogers Clark, Military Leader in the Pioneer West and Locust Grove, the Croghan Homestead Honoring Him. Louisville: Historic Locust Grove, Inc., 2006.

National Park Service, “History and Culture.” NPS.gov.https://www.nps.gov/gero/learn/historyculture/index.htm (accessed February 25, 2015.)


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