CLARK, GEORGE ROGERS (1752–1818), American frontier military leader, was born near Charlottesville, in Albemarle county, Virginia, on the 19th of November 1752. Early in life he became a land-surveyor; he took part in Lord Dunmore’s War (1774), and in 1775 went as a surveyor for the Ohio Company to Kentucky (then a district of Virginia), whither he removed early in 1776. His iron will, strong passions, audacious courage and magnificent physique soon made him a leader among his frontier neighbours, by whom in 1776 he was sent as a delegate to the Virginia legislature. In this capacity he was instrumental in bringing about the organization of Kentucky as a county of Virginia, and also obtained from Governor Patrick Henry a supply of powder for the Kentucky settlers. Convinced that the Indians were instigated and supported in their raids against the American settlers by British officers stationed in the forts north of the Ohio river, and that the conquest of those forts would put an end to the evil, he went on foot to Virginia late in 1777 and submitted to Governor Henry and his council a plan for offensive operations. On the 2nd of January 1778 he was commissioned lieutenant-colonel, received £1200 in depreciated currency, and was authorized to enlist troops; and by the end of May he was at the falls of the Ohio (the site of Louisville) with about 175 men. The expedition proceeded to Fort Kaskaskia, on the Mississippi, in what is now Illinois. This place and Cahokia, also on the Mississippi, near St Louis, were defended by small British garrisons, which depended upon the support of the French habitants. The French being willing to accept the authority of Virginia, both forts were easily taken. Clark gained the friendship of Father Pierre Gibault, the priest at Kaskaskia, and through his influence the French at Vincennes on the Wabash were induced (late in July) to change their allegiance. On the 17th of December Lieut.-Governor Henry Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit, recovered Vincennes and went into winter quarters. Late in February 1779 he was surprised by Clark and compelled to give up Vincennes and its fort, Fort Sackville, and to surrender himself and his garrison of about 80 men, as prisoners of war. With the exception of Detroit and several other posts on the Canadian frontier the whole of the North-West was thus brought under American influence; many of the Indians, previously hostile, became friendly, and the United States was put in a position to demand the cession of the North-West in the treaty of 1783. For this valuable service, in which Clark had freely used his own private funds, he received practically no recompense either from Virginia or from the United States, and for many years before his death he lived in poverty. To him and his men, however, the Virginia legislature granted 150,000 acres of land in 1781, which was subsequently located in what are now Clark, Floyd and Scott counties, Indiana; Clark’s individual share was 8049 acres, but from this he realized little. Clark built Fort Jefferson on the Mississippi, 4 or 5 m. below the mouth of the Ohio, in 1780, destroyed the Indian towns Chillicothe and Piqua in the same year, and in November 1782 destroyed the Indian towns on the Miami river. With this last expedition his active military service virtually ended, and in July 1783 he was relieved of his command by Virginia. Thereafter he lived on part of the land granted to him by Virginia or in Louisville for the rest of his life. In 1793 he accepted from Citizen Genet a commission as “major-general in the armies of France, and commander-in-chief of the French Revolutionary Legion in the Mississippi Valley,” and tried to raise a force for an attack upon the Spanish possessions in the valley of the Mississippi. The scheme, however, was abandoned after Genet’s recall. Disappointed at what he regarded as his country’s ingratitude, and broken down by excessive drinking and paralysis, he lost his once powerful influence and lived in comparative isolation until his death, near Louisville, Kentucky, on the 13th of February 1818.
See W. H. English, Conquest of the Country north-west of the River Ohio, 1778–1783, and Life of George Rogers Clark (2 vols., Indianapolis and Kansas City, 1896), an accurate and detailed work, which represents an immense amount of research among both printed and manuscript sources. Clark’s own accounts of his expeditions, and other interesting documents, are given in the appendix to this work.
Clark, William (1770–1838), the well-known explorer, was the youngest brother of the foregoing. He was born in Caroline county, Virginia, on the 1st of August 1770. At the age of fourteen he removed with his parents to Kentucky, settling at the falls of the Ohio (Louisville). He entered the United States army as a lieutenant of infantry in March 1792, and served under General Anthony Wayne against the Indians in 1794. In July 1796 he resigned his commission on account of ill-health. In 1803–1806, with Meriwether Lewis (q.v.), he commanded the famous exploring expedition across the continent to the mouth of the Columbia river, and was commissioned second lieutenant in March 1804 and first lieutenant in January 1806. In February he again resigned from the army. He then served for a few years as brigadier-general of the Louisiana territorial militia, as Indian agent for “Upper Louisiana,” as territorial governor of Missouri in 1813–1820, and as superintendent of Indian affairs at St Louis from 1822 until his death there on the 1st of September 1838.