[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous part]

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Conquest of The Illinois

George Rogers Clark

in the reprint
of the 1920 edition by Milo Quaife,
Southern Illinois University Press, 2001

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next part]
Part 2

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p3  (Part 1)


In fulfilling my engagement to you with respect to the war in Kentucky I must commence with the first settlement of that district, which had been but partially explored prior to the year 1773, when a considerable number of surveyors and private adventurers passed through it. The first settlement was that of Harrodsburg, undertaken by Colonel J. Harrod​1 in the spring of 1774. Before much progress had been made, however, the settlers  p4 were compelled to abandon the country on account of the war with the Shawnee. They marched through the wilderness and joined Colonel Lewis' army,​2 but at the close of the war they returned and resumed possession of their town in the spring of 1775. In the meanwhile Colonel Henderson​3 and company had purchased the Kentucky country from the Cherokee and made an establishment and opened a land office at Boonesborough, but with these circumstances you are well acquainted.

It was at this period that I first entertained the thought of concerning myself about the interest of this country. The proprietors at first took great pains to win the favor of the settlers, but too soon for their own self-interest they began to raise the prices on their lands, which gave rise to much complaint. A few gentlemen made some effort to persuade the people to pay no attention to them. I saw clearly that the proprietors were working their own ruin, that their greatest security lay in  p5 making it to the interest of the settlers to support their claim, and that their conduct would shortly exasperate the people and afford the opportunity to overthrow them.

I left the country in the fall of 1775 and returned the following spring. While in Virginia diverse opinions were held respecting Henderson's claim. Many thought it good, while others doubted whom Virginia could with propriety advance any pretensions to the country. This was what I wanted to know. I immediately formed the plan of assembling the settlers and persuading them to elect delegates to proceed to Virginia and treat with that state concerning the Kentucky country; if suitable conditions were secured we would declare ourselves citizens of that state; if not, we would establish an independent government and by giving away a large part of the lands, and making other disposition of the remainder,  p6 we could not only gain a large number of inhabitants but in large measure protect them.

To carry this project into effect I appointed a general meeting of the settlers at Harrodsburg June 6, 1776, giving out that something would be proposed to them which much concerned their interest. My reason for withholding information as to what I wished to be done was in part to prevent the settlers from dividing into parties on the subject, in part to insure a more general attendance, as every one would wish to know what was to be done. Unfortunately, it was late in the evening of the day appointed before I could get to the place. The people had been in some confusion, but had at length concluded that the design was simply to send delegates to Virginia with a petition praying the Assembly to accept them as such and to establish a county government, etc. The polls were opened before my arrival, and the settlers had entered into the election with such spirit and carried matters so far that I could not get them to alter the plan of delegates with petitions to that of deputies under the authority of the people. In short, I did not make much effort to bring this about. John Gabriel Jones and myself were elected as delegates, the papers were prepared, and in a few days we set out for Williamsburg. We hoped to arrive before the Assembly should adjourn, for there was great apprehension that the Indians, stirred up by the British, would  p7 shortly make an attack upon Kentucky, and no time ought to be lost in putting it in a state of defence.

Apprehending no immediate danger on the Wilderness Road,​4 Mr. Jones and I set out without waiting for other company. We soon had cause to repent our rashness, however, for on the second day we discovered alarming signs of Indians. On the third day Mr. Jones' horse gave out. With our few belongings on my horse, and in so hilly a country, it was impossible for two to ride at a time. The weather was very rainy. Our feet were wet continuously for three or four days and nights, and, not daring to make a fire to dry them, we both got what the hunters call "scald feet," a most shocking complaint. In this situation we traveled on, in greater torment than I have ever before or since experienced, hoping to get relief at the station in Powell's Valley, ten or twelve miles from Cumberland Gap.

Greatly to our disappointment, we found the place totally abandoned and partly burned down. My companion, being but little used to such  p8 hardship, became greatly discouraged at this blow to our hopes. I encouraged him by representing the certainty of the settlers being at Martin's fort, about eight miles ahead, as I supposed the whole had embodied there. Although the danger was much greater than we had apprehended, we were now fully apprised of it, and if we could make out to walk through the woods, both of us riding where there was level ground, we could reach the place without any great risk. This we attempted, but in vain; we were obliged to keep to the road, for the one on foot could not endure the torture of walking through the thick woods. Hearing Indian guns frequently, we had hopes they were hunters from the station to which we were bound, but to our surprise we found on arrival that the fort had been abandoned for some time. There were a few human tracks which we knew to be Indian, as also the guns we had heard.

Our situation now appeared deplorable. The nearest inhabitants we knew were sixty miles away, we were unable to travel, and the Indians appeared to be in full possession of the surrounding country. We sat still for a few moments looking at each other, and I found myself reduced to a state of perfect despair. Mr. Jones asked me what we should do. I told him it was impossible to make the settlement in our present condition, while if we hid in the mountains and the weather continued wet our situation would become worse rather  p9 than better and we would perhaps perish; that we knew a party was to follow us from Kentucky in eight or ten days; that oil and ouse made of oak bark would cure our feet in a few days, and I thought our only possible plan was to take possession of the best cabin in the place, fortify ourselves in it, and burn down the rest of the fort; that there were plenty of hogs around the corn cribs, and with a few of them and a barrel of water and some corn we probably could stand a siege until relieved by the party we expected to follow us from Kentucky; that ten or twelve Indians could not drive us from the place, as I was well acquainted with them and knew they would not storm us at great disadvantage to themselves; that we were well armed, having a rifle, two case of good pistols, and a hangar; and that I was confident we could defend ourselves against a larger number of Indians than he had any idea of.

He was overjoyed at the proposition and we fell to work. I sent him to kill a hog which was eating corn, by running a sword through it to prevent noise. I selected a small strong cabin of Captain Martin's which stood a little detached from the rest. The door being locked with some tables and chairs inside, I climbed to the top of the chimney and flung it down until it was so low that I could drop into the house without hurting myself (not being able to support myself with my feet against the logs) and  p10 cut off the lock of the door. By this time my friend had got his hog. Being better able to walk, he filled a keg with water, and we collected some wood and brought in some corn. We then barred the door, knocked out some portholes, set the table in the middle of the floor and spread our arms and ammunition in order upon it, and waited impatiently for the wind to shift so that we might set fire to the fort without burning our own castle. Our agreement was that in case of an attack Mr. Jones should continue to load the pieces as I discharged them, without paying any attention to the enemy unless they stormed the house. We cooked some provisions, dressed our feet with oil, and continued diligently preparing for defense until late in the evening. Then, the wind having died away, we proposed to set fire to the houses as we had planned. We had no sooner unbarred the door, however, than we heard a horse bell open on the road and in a few minutes stop again. We were fully convinced that the enemy was at hand, and immediately secured ourselves as well as possible, determined to execute our first plan, and if they should attempt to burn us out to knock off the roof of the cabin. We waited in suspense for some time, but at last to our great joy we found they were white men who had come from the settlement on Clinch River to collect some things they had hid at the time they had left this place. When they came in sight of the  p11 fort the bell on one of their horses became untied. When they discovered the smoke of our fire, supposing us to be Indians, they approached under cover in order to discover the full situation and gain an advantage over us. While they were thus engaged we had a full view of them, and accordingly we disclosed ourselves to them. They appeared to be happy over having it in their power to relieve us, and we crossed the mountains with them to the settlements.

Having recruited our strength, we resumed our journey as far as Boutetourtº County, and there learned we were too late for the Assembly, which had already adjourned. For some time we were at a loss to determine what our future course should be. We finally concluded to remain in Virginia until the fall season, and that in the meantime I should go to Williamsburg and endeavor to procure someº powder for the settlers in Kentucky, and in general look after their interests.

We parted. Mr. Jones returned to Holston, there to join the force that was being raised to repel the Cherokee, who had recently commenced hostilities, while I proceeded on my way. Governor Henry of Virginia lay sick at his home in Hanover, where I waited on him and presented my credentials. He appeared much disposed to favor the Kentuckians and gave me a letter to the Council on the subject. I waited upon that body. My application was  p12 for 500 pounds of powder to be conveyed to Kentucky for immediate use. After various questions had been asked, and consultations held, the Councillors agreed to furnish the powder; but as we were a detached people not yet united to the state of Virginia, and until the session of the Assembly it was uncertain whether we would become united, they could only lend us the ammunition as to friends in distress, and I must become responsible in case the Assembly should not receive us as citizens of the state. I informed them it was beyond my power to pay the expense of transporting and guarding these supplies. The British officers on our frontier were employing every energy to engage the Indians in the war. The settlers might be destroyed for want of this small supply, and I hoped they would reconsider the matter and do us the favor of sending us the ammunition at public expense. They replied that they were disposed to do for us everything in their power, consistent with their official duty, and this I believed to be true.

After advancing many arguments to convince me that even what they had proposed was a stretch of power, they informed me that they could venture no further, and an order was issued to the keeper of the magazine to deliver the ammunition to me. For twelve months past I had reflected so much upon the several continental factors which affected us that my resolution was formed before I left the council  p13 chamber. I resolved to return the order I had received and repair immediately to Kentucky, knowing the settlers would readily adopt my first plan, as what had occurred had rendered its success practically certain. I wrote to the Council and enclosed the order for the powder. I told them I had weighed the matter and found it was out of my power to convey these stores at my own expense such a distance through a hostile country; that I was sorry to find that we would have to seek protection elsewhere, which I did not doubt of getting; and that if a country was not worth protecting it was not worth claiming. What transpired on the reception of this letter I do not know. I was now sent for by a set of gentlemen who were zealous in the welfare of their country, and I fully apprised them of the probable course of events in Kentucky. Being somewhat prejudiced in favor of my mother country, I was willing to meet them half way. Orders were immediately issued, dated August 23, 1776, for conveying the ammunition to Pittsburgh, there to await further orders from me.

Matters being thus amicably arranged, I wrote a letter informing the Kentuckians what had been done and recommending that they send to Pittsburgh for the powder and convey it by water to Kentucky, but they never received the letter. I myself remained in Virginia until the fall session, when I was joined by my colleague, Mr. Jones, and we laid our  p14 papers before the Assembly. That body decided that we could not take our seats as members, but that our business should be attended to. Colonel Henderson, one of the purchasers from the Cherokees, was present and greatly retarded our business. Colonel Arthur Campbell,​5 a member of the Assembly, also strongly opposed the project for a new county, wishing us to remain annexed to the county on whose frontier we lay and which he himself represented. This caused it to be late in the session before we secured the establishment of a new county by the name of Kentucky.

Mr. Jones and I parted at Williamsburg, but learning there that the ammunition was still at Pittsburgh, we resolved to return that way and take it down the river. We agreed to meet there, but the weather proving severe it was late in the fall before we could set out. However trifling a small quantity of ammunition  p15 or the loss or acquisition of a few men may appear to the country as a whole, I knew that by the Kentuckians the loss of either would be severely felt, and accordingly I exercised all possible care. I found the Indians to be fully prepared for war in the spring, and those who came in to Fort Pitt under color of friendship were in fact acting as spies: also that they suspected our intention of going down the river and would attempt to intercept us.

Realizing that our safety depended solely upon expedition, without waiting to recruit our party we set out with but seven hands in a small vessel, and by the most indefatigable labor accomplished our journey. We passed the Indians in the night, or by some other means got ahead of them, for the day before we landed at Limestone​6 we plainly discovered they were pursuing us. We hid our stores in four or five places, scattered at considerable distances, and, running a few miles farther down the river, turned our vessel adrift and set out by land for Harrodsburg to get an adequate force of men to return for the ammunition. We passed the Blue Licks​7 and on the third day  p16 after leaving the river arrived at Hinkston's cabin​8 on the west fork of Licking Creek. While we were resting here four men who had been out looking up land in that section came up and informed us concerning the situation of affairs in Kentucky. They told us the late Colonel John Todd​9 was out with a party somewhere in the vicinity, and if we could find him we would be strong enough to return to the river. But whether we could find him was uncertain.

As several of our party were much fatigued, we agreed that I and two others should proceed to Harrodsburg for the proposed party, while Mr. Jones and the others should remain in that  p17 neighborhood until our return. Shortly after I had set out, however, Colonel Todd arrived at the place, and after some consultation concluded they were strong enough to go to the river and bring in the ammunition and other stores. Accordingly he set out with ten men, but on December 25, between the Licking and the Ohio, he met the Indians who were following our trail, and was totally routed. Mr. Jones was killed and three others were either killed or taken prisoners.​10 Fortunately for us, the prisoners did not reveal to the Indians our hidden stores.

On December 29th a large party of Indians attacked McClelland's Fort​11 on Elkhorn. They killed McClelland and White and wounded two others, after which the survivors moved to Harrodsburg. The inhabitants of Kentucky at this period consisted of about ––––– men in  p18 the stations of Harrodsburg, Boonesborough, and Colonel Logan's (station),​12 which had been established about this time. The information I gave sufficiently alarmed them. The settlers had scarcely time enough to prepare themselves when a large body of Indians advanced, on March 7, 1777, (on the 5th the militia of the city had been embodied), to the attack on Harrodsburg. They fired on some boys in the evening five miles from town, killing one of them. The others made their escape and gave the alarm. A party from the fort advanced to the place, but fortunately, it being late in the evening, they did not fall in with the Indians, as in all probability our party would have been cut to pieces and of course the country lost. The loss of a single man at this time was sensibly felt, and general actions with the enemy must be avoided except when we had an evident superiority, as the enemy could easily retrieve their losses by recruits from numerous tribes, an advantage we could not expect to enjoy for some time.

On the following morning the Indians entered the upper part of the town (which had been evacuated the evening before), and a little  p19 after daylight set fire to one of the houses. A small party of men immediately went to see what was the cause of this and were fired upon by the Indians. However, they were covered by a party from the fort and made good their retreat. In this affair one man was killed on each side, and a few were wounded.

Being the superior officer, I had the country put into as good a state of defense as our situation would admit, determined if possible to stand our ground in hopes of relief, as the governor of Virginia had uniformly appeared to be our friend. From this period we may date the commencement of that bloody war in Kentucky which has continued with savage fury ever since. Upward of two thousand souls have perished on our side, in a moderate calculation, and the war has been severely felt by the most active Indian nations. It is impossible to enumerate all the little actions that took place. They were continual, and frequently severe when compared to our small forces. The forts were frequently attacked. Good policy would seem to have required that the whole force be embodied in one place, but our dependence upon hunting for the greatest portion of our provisions forbade this. No people could be in a more alarming position. Detached at least two hundred miles from the nearest settlement of the states, we were surrounded by numerous Indian nations, each one far superior to ourselves in numbers and  p20 spurred on by the British government to destroy us, as appeared from many instruments of writing left us on the breasts of persons killed by them.

I frequently feared the settlers would consider making peace with Detroit and suffer themselves and families to be carried off. Their distress may be easily conceived from our situation; yet they remained firm in the hope of relief, which they received by the arrival of a company of men under Colonel John Bowman​13 on the second of September. This reinforcement, though small, gave an appearance of new life to the situation. Encouraged by this and by the stand they had already made, every one seemed determined to exert himself in strengthening the country by encouraging as many of his friends to move out, and in the end this measure was successful. After the arrival of Colonel Bowman I left Kentucky, in October, 1777, and returned to Virginia with a party of young men who had been detained on the promise of being liberated upon his arrival. During the severe spring preceding,  p21 our conduct had been very uniform. The defense of our forts, the procuring of provisions, and when possible surprising the Indians (which was frequently done), burying the dead and dressing the wounded, seemed to comprise our entire business.

The whole of my time when not thus employed was devoted to reflecting upon things in general; particularly whether or no it accorded with the interest of the United States to support Kentucky. This led me to a long train of thinking, the result of which was to lay aside every private view and engage seriously in the war, having the interest and the welfare of the public my only concern until the fate of the continent should be known; divesting myself of prejudice and partiality in favor of any particular parts of the country, I determined to pursue what I considered to be the interest of the whole. This has influenced my conduct throughout the course of the war, and enabled me better to judge of the importance of Kentucky to the Union, situated as it was almost in the midst of the Indians, who had commonly engaged in the Kentucky war as an impediment in their way to the more interior frontiers. I saw that as soon as they should accomplish the destruction of Kentucky they would descend upon our frontiers; and instead of the states receiving supplies from thence, they would be obliged to keep large bodies of troops for their defense. It would be almost impossible to  p22 move an army at so great a distance to attack their towns, even if they could be found. By supporting Kentucky and encouraging its growth these obstacles would in great measure be removed; for should the British officers perceive their mistaken policy in carrying on the war against Kentucky by the Indians and, withdrawing from them, bend their whole force against the interior frontiers as a certain mode of distressing the states, we might, with a little assistance, march with ease at any time from this country to any part of their country we might choose. (This is the only circumstance that can excuse their conduct.)

These ideas caused me to view Kentucky in the most favorable point of view, as a place of the greatest consequence, which ought to meet with every encouragement, and to perceive that nothing I could engage in would be of more general utility than its defense. As I knew the commandant of the different towns of the Illinois country and the Wabash was busily engaged in exciting the Indians against us, their reduction became my first object. I sent two young hunters, S. Moore and B. Linn,​14 to those places as spies, with proper instructions  p23 for their conduct. To prevent suspicion, neither they nor anyone in Kentucky knew anything of my design until it was ripe for execution. They returned to Harrodsburg with all the information I could reasonably have expected. I found by them that the Illinois people had but little expectation of a visit from us. Things were kept in good order, however, the militia trained, etc., that they might be prepared in case of a visit. I learned that the greatest pains were taken to inflame the minds of the French inhabitants against the Americans, notwithstanding which the spies had discovered traces of affection for us on the part of some of the inhabitants; and that the Indians from that region were generally engaged in the war upon us.

Milo Quaife's Notes:

1 James Harrod was a native and resident of Pennsylvania who in March, 1774, advertised that he would lead a party to take up lands in Kentucky, which he had visited the preceding year. About thirty men assembled at his call and this party he piloted down the Ohio to the mouth of the Kentucky and up that stream and the Licking to the site of Harrodsburg. The war between the American settlers commonly known as Lord Dunmore's War of 1774 was about to break out, and before launching it two hardy woodsmen, Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner, were sent out as runners to Kentucky to warn the surveyors and other white men in that region of the impending conflict. At their warning the infant settlement of Harrodsburg was abandoned, and the settlers returned to the older Holston settlement. The year following Harrod returned to Kentucky, re-established Harrodsburg, and made the place his home until his death in 1793.

[decorative delimiter]

2 General Andrew Lewis, commander in the notable battle of Point Pleasant, where the Great Kanawha River empties into the Ohio, October 10, 1774. Lewis long played a prominent rôle on the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontiers. In 1775 his appointment was urged by Washington as commander-in‑chief of the Continental army.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Colonel Richard Henderson was a prominent citizen of North Carolina who, like Harrod, conceived a project of settlement in Kentucky. He organized the Transylvania Company, purchased a vast quantity of goods, and invited the Cherokee, who claimed the tract which Henderson proposed to settle, to hold a treaty with him on the Watauga River in March, 1775. Some twelve hundred natives assembled, and on March 17 the treaty was consummated. The Transylvania Company thereupon settled Boonesborough, opened a land office, and held one legislative session in Kentucky. Their claim was disputed, however, and in 1778 the Virginia legislature granted the company 200,000 acres of land on Green River by way of payment for the expense incurred in settling Kentucky. Henderson went out with the first group of settlers, and his journal is now preserved in the Draper collection at Madison, Wisconsin.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Before the conclusion of this treaty with the Cherokee at Watauga in the spring of 1775, Henderson sent Daniel Boone with a company of woodsmen to open a road to the Kentucky River, a distance of some two hundred miles. This was the origin of the famous Wilderness Road, over which thousands of emigrants later poured into the West. Its interesting history is told by Archer B. Hulbert in Boone's Wilderness Road (Cleveland, 1903).

[decorative delimiter]

5 Colonel Arthur Campbell was one of the prominent men of the Virginia border. At the age of fifteen he was captured by a band of Northwestern Indians and spent three years as a captive in the vicinity of Lake Erie. In 1765 his father settled on the Middle Fork of Holston in modern Smyth County. Here young Campbell built the first mill in 1770, served as justice of the peace, and took part in all the stirring events of the Virginia border in the following years. In 1780 he conducted a brilliant campaign against the Cherokee. The leader­ship at the famous battle of King's Mountain the following year he resigned to his cousin, William Campbell. He died near Middlesborough, Kentucky, in 1811.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Modern Maysville, long the chief river post for Kentucky.

[decorative delimiter]

7 On Licking River. Here were noted salt deposits. While making salt here in 1778 Daniel Boone was captured by the Indians. In August, 1782, occurred here the disastrous battle of Blue Licks, wherein a large number of Kentucky frontiersmen were slain.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Major John Hinkston, a native of Pennsylvania, was a noted scout and woodsman who in 1775 led a company of settlers into Kentucky and erected a station near modern Paris. This was abandoned in July, 1776, through fear of Indian ravages. Four years later, Hinkston brought his family to Kentucky, but had just arrived at his old station when he was captured by a British-Indian force under Col. Henry Bird.

Thayer's Note: The explorer's name is also often spelled Hinkson. An excellent biography of him is available online.

[decorative delimiter]

9 John Todd was a native of Pennsylvania who was educated in Virginia. He practiced law for a time and in 1774 took part in the campaign against the Shawnee which ended in the battle of Point Pleasant. In 1775 he removed to Kentucky, served in the Transylvania legislature, and was one of the first delegates from Kentucky County to the Virginia legislature. After Clark's conquest of the Illinois country Todd was sent out to serve as county-lieutenant of the newly-organized county of Illinois. He held this office one year, when he returned to Kentucky. He was killed in the battle of the Blue Licks in 1782.

[decorative delimiter]

10 One of those thus captured was Joseph Rogers, a cousin of Clark. He was held in captivity several years. At length when Clark led his expedition against the Shawnee towns of Ohio in the summer of 1780, Rogers found his opportunity to escape. In the fighting which attended Clark's capture of Piqua, he ran towards the Americans, shouting to them not to shoot him for he was a white man. He fell mortally wounded, however, and expired a short time after Clark reached his side.

[decorative delimiter]

11 McClelland's station had been established late in 1775 or early in 1776 near the site of modern Georgetown. The attack here noted was made by Captain Pluggy's band of Indians. Pluggy was himself slain in this attack.

Thayer's Note: McClelland's Fort or Station is commemorated by a marker in Big Spring Park in Georgetown, just west of Water Street and College Street, where I've placed the marker. I don't know whether this is the actual site of the fort.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Logan's station, about ten miles from Boonesborough, was established in 1775. Its founder, Benjamin Logan, was a native of Virginia who bore a prominent part in the development of Kentucky. He was a noted Indian fighter, and served in numerous campaigns of this period. He died in Shelby County in 1802.

Thayer's Note: A very few years later, certainly by 1790, Logan's Fort or Station was renamed Stanford. The 2000 U. S. census records it as having 3,430 inhabitants.

[decorative delimiter]

13 Colonel John Bowman, a native of Virginia, visited Kentucky in 1775. The following summer he was at Harrodsburg, where he served on the committee of safety. In the autumn of 1776 he was chosen colonel of Kentucky militia, and led thither a company for the defense of the settlers, arriving in August, 1777. In 1779 he led an expedition into the Miami country, but nothing decisive was accomplished. He died in Lincoln County, Kentucky, in 1784.

[decorative delimiter]

14 These were Lieutenant Samuel Moore and Lieutenant Benjamin Linn. The latter was a younger brother of Colonel William Linn. He spent his early life in western Maryland, moving in 1769 to the Monongahela River. He went to Kentucky early in 1776 and the following spring was chosen a lieutenant of the Kentucky County militia. On the mission to Kaskaskia, here noted, he narrowly escaped detection, and retired in haste at the suggestion of a friend to the Americans. He did not go on Clark's expedition against Kaskaskia, but in 1779 he joined him at Vincennes. He later became a somewhat noted Baptist preacher, and founded the second church of that denomination in Kentucky. He died at Huntsville, Alabama, in December, 1814.

Valid HTML 4.01.

Page updated: 26 Oct 18