Border Warfare of the Revolution

THE barbarous border fighting of the Revolutionary War was largely due to the fact that powerful tribes of wild Indians still confronted us on every part of our steadily advancing frontier. They would have tortured and scalped our backwoodsmen even if we had had no quarrel with George III., and there could he no lasting peace until they were crushed completely. When the war broke out, their alliance with the British was natural, but the truculent spirit which sought to put that savage alliance to the worst uses was something which it would not be fair to ascribe to the British commanders in general; it must be charged to the account of Lord George Germaine and a few unworthy men who were willing to be his tools.

In the summer of 1778 this horrible border warfare became the most conspicuous feature of the struggle, and has afforded themes for poetry and romance, in which the figures of the principal actors are seen in a lurid light. One of these figures is of such importance as to deserve especial mention. Joseph Brant, or Thayendanegea, was perhaps the greatest Indian of whom we have any knowledge; certainly the history of the red men presents no more many-sided and interesting character. A pure-blooded Mohawk, descended from a line of distinguished sachems,1 in early boyhood he became a favorite with Sir William Johnson, and the laughing black eyes of his handsome sister, Molly Brant, so fascinated the rough baronet that he took her to Johnson Hall as his wife, after the Indian fashion. Sir William believed that Indians could be tamed and taught the arts of civilized life, and he labored with great energy, and not without some success, in this difficult task. The young Thayendanegea was sent to be educated at the school in Lebanon, Connecticut, which was afterwards transferred to New Hampshire and developed into Dartmouth College. At this school he not only became expert in the use of the English language, in which he learned to write with elegance and force, but he also acquired some inkling of general literature and history. He became a member of the Episcopal Church, and after leaving school he was for some time engaged in missionary work among the Mohawks, and translated the Prayer-Book and parts of the New Testament into his native language. He was a man of earnest and serious character, and his devotion to the church endured throughout his life. Some years after the peace of 1783, the first Episcopal church ever built in Upper Canada was erected by Joseph Brant, from funds which he had collected for the purpose while on a visit to England. But with this character of devout missionary and earnest student Thayendanegea combined, in curious contrast, the attributes of an Iroquois war-chief developed to the highest degree of efficiency. There was no accomplishment prized by Indian braves in which he did not outshine all his fellows. He was early called to take the war-path. In the fierce struggle with Pontiac he fought with great distinction on the English side, and about the beginning of the War of Independence he became principal war-chief of the Iroquois confederacy.

It was the most trying time that had ever come to these haughty lords of the wilderness, and called for all the valor and diplomacy which they could summon. Brant was equal to the occasion, and no chieftain ever fought a losing cause with greater spirit than he. We have seen how at Oriskany he came near turning the scale against us in one of the most critical moments of a great campaign. From the St. Lawrence to the Susquehanna his name became a name of terror. Equally skillful and zealous, now in planning the silent night-march and deadly ambush, now in preaching the gospel of peace, he reminds one of some newly reclaimed Frisian or Norman warrior of the Carolingian age. But in the eighteenth century the incongruity is more striking than in the tenth, in so far as the traits of the barbarian are more vividly projected against the background of a higher civilization. It is odd to think of Thayendanegea, who could outyell any of his tribe on the battle-field, sitting at table with Burke and Sheridan, and behaving with the modest grace of an English gentleman. The tincture of civilization he had acquired, moreover, was not wholly superficial. Though engaged in many a murderous attack, his conduct was not marked by the ferocity so characteristic of the Iroquois. Though he sometimes approved the slaying of prisoners on grounds of public policy, he was flatly opposed to torture, and never would allow it. He often went out of his way to rescue women and children from the tomahawk, and the instances of his magnanimity toward suppliant enemies were very numerous.

At the beginning of the war the influence of the Johnsons had kept all the Six Nations on the side of the Crown, except the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, who were prevailed upon by New England missionaries to maintain an attitude of neutrality. The Indians in general were utterly incapable of understanding the issue involved in the contest, but Brant had some comprehension of it, and looked at the matter with Tory eyes. The loyalists in central New York were numerous, but the patriot party was the stronger, and such fierce enmities were aroused in this frontier society that most of the Tories were obliged to abandon their homes and flee to the wilds of western New York and Upper Canada, where they made the beginnings of the first English settlement in that country. There, under their leaders, the Johnsons, with Colonel John Butler and his son Walter, they had their headquarters at Fort Niagara, where they were joined by Brant with his Mohawks. Secure in the possession of that remote stronghold, they made it the starting-point of their frequent and terrible excursions against the communities which had cast them forth. These rough frontiersmen, many of them Scotch Highlanders of the old stripe, whose raiding and reaving propensities had been little changed by their life in an American wilderness, were in every way fit comrades for their dusky allies. Clothed in blankets and moccasins, decked with beads and feathers, and hideous in war-paint, it was not easy to distinguish them from the stalwart barbarians whose fiendish cruelties they often imitated and sometimes surpassed. Border tradition tells of an Indian who, after murdering a young mother with her three children, as they sat by the evening fireside, was moved to pity by the sight of a little infant sweetly smiling at him from its cradle; but his Tory comrade picked up the babe with the point of his bayonet, and, as he held it writhing in midair, exclaimed. “ Is not this also a d—d rebel ? ” There are many tales of like import, and whether always true or not they seem to show the reputation which these wretched men had won. The Tory leaders took less pains than Thayendanegea to prevent useless slaughter, and some of the atrocities permitted by Walter Butler have never been outdone in the history of savage warfare.

During the year 1778 the frontier became the scene of misery such as had not been witnessed since the time of Pontiac. Early in July there came a blow at which the whole country stood aghast. The valley of Wyoming, situated in northeastern Pennsylvania, where the Susquehanna makes its way through a huge cleft in the mountains, has long been celebrated for the unrivaled fertility and beauty which, like the fatal gift of some unfriendly power, served only to make it an occasion of strife. The lovely spot lay within the limits of the charter of Connecticut, granted in 1662, according to which that colony or plantation was to extend westward to the Pacific Ocean. It also lay within the limits of the charter of 1681, by which the proprietary colony of Pennsylvania had been founded. About one hundred people from Connecticut had settled in Wyoming in 1762, but within a year this little settlement was wiped out in blood and fire by the Delaware Indians. In 1768 some Pennsylvanians began to settle in the valley, but they were soon ousted by a second detachment of Yankees, and for three years a miniature war was kept up, with varying fortunes, until at last the Connecticut men, under Zebulon Butler and Lazarus Stewart, were victorious. In 1771 the question was referred to the law-officers of the Crown, and the claim of Connecticut was sustained. Settlers now began to come rapidly, — the forerunners of that great New England migration which in these latter days has founded so many thriving States in the West. By the year 1778 the population of the valley exceeded 3000, distributed in several pleasant hamlets, with town - meetings, schools and churches, and all the characteristics of New England orderliness and thrift. Most of the people were from Connecticut, and were enthusiastic and devoted patriots, but in 1776 a few settlers from the Hudson Valley had come in, and, exhibiting Tory sympathies, were soon after expelled. Here was an excellent opportunity for the loyalist border ruffians to wreak summary vengeance upon their enemies. Here was a settlement peculiarly exposed in position, regarded with no friendly eyes by its Pennsylvania neighbors, and, moreover, ill provided with defenders, for it had sent the best part of its trained militia to serve in Washington’s army.

These circumstances did not escape the keen eye of Colonel John Butler, and in June, 1778, he took the warpath from Niagara, with a company of his own rangers, a regiment of Johnson’s Greens, and a band of Senecas; in all about 1200 men. Reaching the Susquehanna, they glided down the swift stream in bark canoes, landed a little above the doomed settlement, and began their work of murder and pillage. Consternation filled the valley. The women and children were huddled in a block-house, and Colonel Zebulon Butler, with 300 men, went out to meet the enemy. There was no choice but to fight, though the odds were so desperate. As the enemy came in sight, late in the afternoon of July 3d, the patriots charged upon them, and for about an hour there was a fierce struggle, till, overwhelmed by weight of numbers, the little band of defenders broke and fled. Some made their way to the fort and a few escaped to the mountains, but nearly all were overtaken and slain, save such as were reserved for the horrors of the night. The second anniversary of independence was ushered in with dreadful orgies in the valley of Wyoming. Some of the prisoners were burned at the stake, some were laid upon hot embers and held down with pitchforks till they died, some were hacked with knives. Sixteen poor fellows were arranged in a circle, while an old halfbreed hag, known as Queen Esther, and supposed to be a granddaughter of the famous Frontenac, danced slowly around the ring, shrieking a death-song as she slew them one after the other with her tomahawk.

The next day, when the fort surrendered, no more lives were taken, but the Indians plundered and burned all the houses, while the inhabitants fled to the woods or to the nearest settlements on the Lehigh and Delaware, and the vale of Wyoming was for a time abandoned. Dreadful sufferings attended the flight. A hundred women and children perished of fatigue and starvation in trying to cross the swamp, which has since been known to this day as the “Shades of Death.” Several children were born in that fearful spot, only to die there with their unhappy mothers. Such horrors needed no exaggeration in the telling, yet from the confused reports of the fugitives, magnified by popular rumor, a tale of wholesale slaughter went abroad which was even worse than the reality, but which careful research has long since completely disproved.

The popular reputation of Brant as an incarnate demon rests largely upon the part which he was formerly supposed to have taken in the devastation of Wyoming. But the “ monster Brant,” who figures so conspicuously in Campbell’s celebrated poem, was not even present on this occasion. Thayendanegea was at that time at Niagara. It was not long, however, before he was concerned in a bloody affair in which Walter Butler was principal. The village of Cherry Valley, in central New York, was destroyed on the 10th of November by a party of 700 Tories and Indians. All the houses were burned, and about fifty of the inhabitants murdered, without regard to age or sex.2 Many other atrocious things were done in the course of this year ; but the affairs of Wyoming and Cherry Valley made a deeper impression than any of the others. Among the victims there were many refined gentlemen and ladies, well known in the Northern States, and this was especially the case of Cherry Valley.

The wrath of the people knew no bounds, and Washington made up his mind that exemplary vengeance must be taken, and the source of the evil extinguished as far as possible. An army of 5000 men was sent out in the summer of 1779, with instructions to lay waste the whole country of the hostile Iroquois and capture the nest of Tory miscreants at Fort Niagara. The command of the expedition was offered to Gates, and when he testily declined it, as requiring too much hard work from a man of his years, it was given to Sullivan. To prepare such an army for penetrating to a depth of four hundred miles through the forest was no light task; and before they had reached the Iroquois country, Brant had sacked the town of Minisink and annihilated a force of militia sent to oppose him. Yet the expedition was well timed for the purpose of destroying the growing crops of the enemy. The army advanced in two divisions. The right wing, under General James Clinton, proceeded up the valley of the Mohawk as far as Canajoharie, and then turned to the southwest; while the left wing, under Sullivan himself, ascended the Susquehanna. On the 22d of August the two columns met at Tioga, and one week later they found the enemy at Newtown, on the site of the present town of Elmira, — 1500 Tories and Indians, led by Sir John Johnson in person, with both the Butlers and Thayendanegea. In the battle which ensued, August 29, 1779, the enemy was routed with great slaughter, while the American loss was less than fifty. No further resistance was made, but the army was annoyed in every possible way, and stragglers were now and then caught and tortured to death. On one occasion, a young lieutenant, named Boyd, was captured while leading a scouting party, and fell into the hands of one of the Butlers, who threatened to give him up to torture unless he should disclose whatever he knew of General Sullivan’s plans. On his refusal, he was given into the hands of a Seneca demon, named Little Beard ; and after being hacked and plucked to pieces with a refinement of cruelty which the pen refuses to describe, his torments were ended by disemboweling.

Such horrors served only to exasperate the American troops, and while they do not seem to have taken life unnecessarily, they certainly carried out their orders with great zeal and thoroughness. The Iroquois tribes had so far advanced toward the agricultural stage of development that they were more dependent upon their crops than upon the chase for subsistence ; and they had besides learned some of the arts of civilization from their white neighbors. Their long wigwams were beginning to give place to framed houses, with chimneys ; their extensive fields were planted with corn and beans; and their orchards yielded apples, pears, and peaches in immense profusion. All this prosperity was now brought to an end. From Tioga the American army marched through the entire country of the Cayugas and Senecas, laying waste every cornfield, burning every house, and cutting down all the fruit-trees. More than forty villages, the largest containing 128 houses, were razed to the ground. So terrible a vengeance had not overtaken the Long House since the days of Frontenac. The region thus devastated had come to be the most important domain of the Confederacy, which never recovered from the blow thus inflicted. The winter of 1779-80 was one of the coldest ever known in America, — so cold that the harbor of New York was frozen solid enough to bear troops and artillery,3 while the British in the city, deprived of the aid of their fleet, spent the winter in daily dread of attack. During this extreme season the houseless Cayugas and Senecas were overtaken by famine and pestilence, and the diminution in their numbers was never afterwards made good. The stronghold at Niagara, however, was not wrested from Thayendanegea. That part of General Sullivan’s expedition was a failure. From increasing sickness among the soldiers and want of proper food, he deemed it impracticable to take his large force beyond the Genesee River, and accordingly he turned back toward the sea-board, arriving in New Jersey at the end of October, after a total march of more than seven hundred miles.

Though so much harrying had been done, the snake was only scotched, after all. Nothing short of the complete annihilation of the savage enemy would have put a stop to his inroads. Before winter was over dire vengeance fell upon the Oneidas, who were now regarded by their brethren as traitors to the Confederacy ; they were utterly crushed by Thayendanegea. For two years more the tomahawk and firebrand were busy in the Mohawk Valley. It was a veritable reign of terror. Block-houses were erected in every neighborhood, into which forty or fifty families could crowd together at the first note of alarm. The farmers ploughed and harvested in companies, keeping their rifles within easy reach, while pickets and scouts peered in every direction for signs of the stealthy foe. In battles with the militia, of which there were several, the enemy, with his greatly weakened force, was now generally worsted ; but nothing could exceed the boldness of his raids. On one or two occasions he came within a few miles of Albany. Once a small party of Tories actually found their way into the city, with intent to assassinate General Schuyler, and came very near succeeding. In no other part of the United States did the war entail so much suffering as on the New York border. During the five years ending with 1781, the population of Tryon County was reduced by two thirds of its amount, and in the remaining third there were more than three hundred widows and two thousand orphan children.

This cruel warfare, so damaging to the New York frontier settlements and so fatal to the Six Nations, was really part of a desultory conflict which raged at intervals from north to south along our whole western border, and resulted in the total overthrow of British authority beyond the Alleghanies. The vast region between these mountains and the Mississippi River — a territory more than twice as large as the German Empire — was at that time an almost unbroken wilderness. A few French towns garrisoned by British troops, as at Natchez, Kaskaskia, and Cahokia on the Mississippi River, at Vincennes on the Wabash, and at Detroit, sufficed to represent the sovereignty of George III., and to exercise a very dubious control over the wild tribes that roamed through these primeval solitudes. When the thirteen colonies declared themselves independent of the British Crown, the ownership of this western territory was for the moment left undecided. Portions of it were claimed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, on the strength of their old charters or of their relations with the Indian tribes. Little respect, however, was paid to the quaint terminology of charters framed in an age when almost nothing was known of American geography; and it was virtually left for circumstances to determine to whom the western country should belong. It was now very fortunate for the United States that the policy of Pitt had wrested this all-important territory from the French. For to conquer from the British enemy so remote a region was feasible; but to have sought to obtain it from a power with which we were forming an alliance would have been difficult indeed.

The commanding approach to this territory was by the town and fortress of Pittsburg, the “Gateway of the West,” from which, through the Ohio River and its tributary streams, an army might penetrate with comparative ease to any part of the vast Mississippi Valley. The possession of this gateway had for some years been a subject of dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia. Though the question was ultimately settled in favor of Pennsylvania, yet for the present Virginia, which had the longest arm, kept her hold upon the commanding citadel. To Virginia its possession was then a matter of peculiar importance, for her population had already begun to overflowits mountain barriers, and, pressing down the Ohio Valley, had made the beginnings of the State of Kentucky. Virginia and North Carolina, lying further westward than any of the other old States, were naturally the first to send colonies across the Alleghanies. It was not long before the beginning of the war that Daniel Boone had explored the Kentucky River, and that Virginia surveyors had gone down the Ohio as far as the present site of Louisville. Conflicts ensued with the Indians, so fierce and deadly that this region was long known as the “ Dark and Bloody Ground.”

During this troubled period, the hostile feeling between Pennsylvania and Virginia was nourished by the conflicting interests of the people of those two colonies in respect to the western country and its wild inhabitants. The Virginians entered the country as settlers, with intent to take possession of the soil and keep the Indians at a distance ; but there were many people in Pennsylvania who reaped large profits from trade with the savages, and therefore did not wish to see them dispossessed of their border forests and driven westward. The Virginia frontiersmen were angry with the Pennsylvania traders for selling rifles and powder to the redskins, and buying from them horses stolen from white men. This, they alleged, was practically inciting the Indians to deeds of plunder and outrage. In the spring of 1774, there seemed to be serious danger of an outbreak of hostilities at Fort Pitt, when the attention of Virginia was all at once absorbed in a brief but hard-fought war, which had a most important bearing upon the issue of the American struggle for independence.

This border war of 1774 has sometimes been known as “ Cresap’s War,” but more recently, and with less impropriety, as “ Lord Dunmore’s War.” It was conducted under the general direction of the Earl of Dunmore, last royal governor of Virginia ; and in the political excitement of the time there were some who believed that he actually contrived to stir up the war out of malice aforethought, in order to hamper the Virginians in their impending struggle with the mother country. Dunmore’s agent, or lieutenant, in western Virginia, Dr. John Connolly, was a violent and unscrupulous man, whose arrogance was as likely to be directed against friendly as against hostile Indians, and it was supposed that he acted under the earl’s secret orders with intent to bring on a war. But the charge is ill - supported and quite improbable. According to some writers, the true cause of the war was the slaying of the whole family of the friendly sachem Logan, and doubtless this event furnished the occasion for the outbreak of hostilities. It was conspicuous in a series of outrages that had been going on for years, such as are always apt to occur on the frontier between advancing civilization and resisting barbarism. John Logan, or Tagahjutè, was of Cayuga descent, a chief of the Mingus, a brave and honest man, of fine and stately presence. He had always been kind and hospitable to the English settlers, perhaps in accordance with the traditional policy of his Iroquois forefathers, — a tradition which by 1774 I bad lost much of its strength. In April of that year some Indian depredations occurred on the upper Ohio, which led Dr. Connolly to issue instructions, warning the settlers to be on their guard, as an attack from the Shawnees was to be apprehended. Captain Michael Cresap was a pioneer from Maryland, a brave man and sterling patriot; but as for the Indians, his feelings toward them were like those of most backwoodsmen. Cresap not unnaturally interpreted the instructions from Dunmore’s lieutenant as equivalent to a declaration of war, and be proceeded forthwith to slay and scalp some friendly Shawnees. As is apt to he the case with reprisals and other unreasoning forms of popular vengeance, the blow fell in the wrong quarter, and innocent people were made scapegoats for the guilty. Cresap’s party next started off to attack Logan’s camp at Yellow Creek ; but presently bethinking themselves of Logan’s well-known friendliness toward the whites, as they argued with one another, they repented of their purpose, and turned their steps in another direction. But hard by the Mingo encampment a wretch named Greathouse had set up a whiskey shop, and thither, on the last day of April, repaired Logan’s family, nine thirsty savages, male and female, old and young. When they had become dead drunk, Greathouse and two or three of his cronies illustrated their peculiar view of the purport of Connolly’s instructions by butchering them all in cold blood. The Indians of the border needed no stronger provocation for rushing to arms. Within a few days Logan’s men had taken a dozen scalps, half of them from young children. Mingos and Shawnees were joined by Wyandots, Delawares, and Senecas, and the dismal tale of blazing cabins and murdered women was renewed all along the frontier. It was in vain that Lord Dunmore and his lieutenant disclaimed responsibility for the massacre at Yellow Creek. The blame was by all the Indians and many of the whites laid upon Cresap, whose name has been handed down to posterity as that of the archvillain in this rough border romance. The pathetic speech of the bereaved Logan to Dunmore’s envoy, John Gibson, was preserved and immortalized by Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia, and has been declaimed by thousands of American school-boys. In his comments Jefferson spoke of Cresap as “ a man infamous for the many murders he had committed upon these injured people.” Jefferson here simply gave voice to the tradition which had started into full life as early as June, 1774, when Sir William Johnson wrote that “ a certain Mr. Cressop had trepanned and murdered forty Indians on the Ohio, . . . and that the unworthy author oi this wanton act is fled.” The charge made by Jefferson was answered at the time, but continued to live on in tradition, until finally disposed of in 1851 by Brantz Mayer.4 The origin of the misconception is doubtless to be traced to the insignificance of Greathouse. In trying to shield himself, Connolly deposed Cresap from command, but he was presently reinstated by Lord Dunmore.

In June of the next year, Captain Cresap marched to Cambridge at the head of 130 Maryland riflemen ; but during the early autumn he was seized with illness, and while making his way homeward died at New York, at the age of thirty-three. His grave is still to be seen in Trinity churchyard, near the door of the north transept. The Indian chief with whose name his has so long been associated was some time afterwards tomahawked by a brother Indian, in the course of a drunken affray.

The war thus ushered in by the Yellow Creek massacre was an event of cardinal importance in the history of our western frontier. It was ended by the decisive battle at Point Pleasant, on the Great Kanawha (October 10, 1774), in which the Indians, under the famous Shawnee chief Cornstalk, were totally defeated by the backwoodsmen under Andrew Lewis. This defeat so cowed the Indians that they were fain to purchase peace by surrendering all their claims upon the hunting-grounds south of the Ohio. It kept the northwestern tribes comparatively quiet during the first two years of the Revolutionary War, and thus opened the way for white settlers to rush into Kentucky. The four years following the battle of Point Pleasant saw remarkable and portentous changes on the frontier. It was just at the beginning of Lord Dunmore’s war that Parliament passed the Quebec Act, of which the practical effect, had it ever been enforced, would have been the extension of Canada southward to the Ohio River. In contravention of old charters, it would have deprived the American colonies of the great northwestern territory. But the events that followed upon Lord Dunmore’s war soon rendered this part of the Quebec Act a nullity.

In 1775, Richard Henderson, of North Carolina, purchased from the Cherokees the tract between the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers, and at the same time Boonesborough and Harrodsburg were founded by Daniel Boone and James Harrod. As a party of these bold backwoodsmen were encamping near the sources of the southern fork of the Licking, they heard the news of the victory which ushered in the War of Independence, and forthwith gave the name of Lexington to the place of their encampment, on which a thriving city now stands. These new settlements were not long in organizing themselves into a State, which they called Transylvania. Courts were instituted, laws enacted, and a militia enrolled, and a delegate was sent to the Continental Congress; but finding that Virginia still claimed their allegiance, they yielded their pretensions to autonomy, and were organized for the present as a county of the mother State. The so-called ” county ” of Kentucky, comprising the whole of the present State of that name, with an area one fourth larger than that of Scotland, was indeed of formidable dimensions for a county.

The settlement of Tennessee was going on at the same time. The movement of population for some time had a southwestward trend along the great valleys inclosed by the Appalachian ranges, so that frontiersmen from Pennsylvania found their way down the Shenandoah, and thence the stream of Virginian migration reached the Watauga, the Holston, and the French Broad, in the midst of the most magnificent scenery east of the Rocky Mountains. At the same time there was a westward movement from North Carolina across the Great Smoky range, and the defeat of the regulators by Governor Try on at the battle of the Alamance in 1771 no doubt did much to give strength and volume to this movement. The way was prepared in 1770 by James Robertson, who penetrated the wilderness as far as the banks of the Watauga. Forts were soon erected there and on the Nolichucky. The settlement grew apace, and soon came into conflict with the most warlike and powerful of the Southern tribes of Indians. The Cherokees, like the Iroquois at the North, had fought on the English side in the Seven Years’ War, and had rendered some service, though of small value, at the capture of Fort Duquesne. Early in the Revolutionary War fierce feuds with the encroaching settlers led them to take sides with the British, and in company with Tory guerrillas they ravaged the frontier. In 1776 the Watauga settlement was attacked, and invasions were made into Georgia and South Carolina. But the blow recoiled upon the Cherokees. Their country was laid waste by troops from the Carolinas, under Andrew Williamson and Griffith Rutherford; their attack upon the Watauga settlement was defeated by James Robertson and John Sevier; and in 1777 they were forced to make treaties renouncing for the most part their claims upon the territory between the Tennessee and the Cumberland rivers.

Robertson and Sevier were the most commanding and picturesque figures in Tennessee history until Andrew Jackson came upon the scene; and their military successes, moreover, like those of " Old Hickory,” were of the utmost importance to the whole country. This was especially true of their victory at the Watauga ; for had the settlement there been swept away by the savages, it would have uncovered the great Wilderness Road to Lexington and Harrodsburg, and the Kentucky settlements, thus fatally isolated, would very likely have had to be abandoned. The Watauga victory thus helped to secure in 1776 the ground won two years before at the Great Kanawha.5

Such were the beginnings of Kentucky and Tennessee, and such was the progress already made to the west of the mountains, when the next and longest step was taken by George Rogers Clark. During the years 1776 and 1777, Colonel Henry Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit, was Busily engaged in preparing a general attack of Indian tribes upon the northwestern frontier. Such concerted action among the savages was difficult to organize, and the moral effect of Lord Dunmore’s war doubtless served to postpone it. There were isolated assaults, however, upon Boonesborough and Wheeling and in the neighborhood of Pittsburg. While Hamilton was thus scheming and intriguing, a gallant young Virginian was preparing a most effective counterstroke. In the late autumn of 1777, George Rogers Clark, then just twentyfive years old, was making his way back from Kentucky along the Wilderness Road, and heard with exultation the news of Burgoyne’s surrender. Clark was a man of bold originality. He had been well educated by that excellent Scotch school-master, Donald Robertson, among whose pupils was James Madison. In 1772, Clark was practicing the profession of a land surveyor upon the upper Ohio, and he rendered valuable service as a scout in the campaign of the Great Kanawha. For skill in woodcraft, as for indomitable perseverance and courage, he had few equals. He was a man of picturesque and stately presence, like an old Norse viking, tall and massive, with ruddy cheeks, auburn hair, and piercing blue eyes sunk deep under thick yellow brows.

When he heard of the “ convention ” of Saratoga, Clark was meditating a stroke as momentous in the annals of the Mississippi Valley as Burgoyne’s overthrow in the annals of the Hudson. He had sent spies through the Illinois country, without giving them any inkling of his purpose, and from what he could gather from their reports he had made up his mind that by a bold and sudden movement the whole region could be secured and the British commander checkmated. On arriving in Virginia, he laid his scheme before Governor Patrick Henry ; and Jefferson, Wythe, and Madison were also taken into his confidence. The plan met with warm approval; but as secrecy and dispatch were indispensable, it would not do to consult the legislature, and little could be done beyond authorizing the adventurous young man to raise a force of 350 men and collect material of war at Pittsburg. People supposed that his object was merely to defend the Kentucky settlements. Clark had a hard winter’s work in enlisting men, but at length in May, 1778, having collected a flotilla of boats and a few pieces of light artillery, he started from Pittsburg with 180 picked riflemen, and rowed swiftly down the Ohio River a thousand miles to its junction with the Mississippi. The British garrison at Kaskaskia had been removed, to strengthen the posts at Detroit and Niagara, and the town was an easy prey. Hiding his boats in a creek, Clark marched across the prairie, and seized the place without resistance. The French inhabitants were not ill-disposed toward the change, especially when they heard of the new alliance between the United States and Louis XVI., and Clark showed consummate skill in playing upon their feelings. Cahokia and two other neighboring villages were easily persuaded to submit, and the Catholic priest Gibault volunteered to carry Clark’s proposals to Vincennes, on the Wabash; and upon receiving the message this important post likewise submitted. As Clark had secured the friendship of the Spanish commandant at St. Louis, he felt secure from molestation for the present, and sent a party home to Virginia with the news of his bloodless conquest. The territory north of the Ohio was thus annexed to Virginia as the " county ” of Illinois, and a force of 500 men was raised for its defense.

When these proceedings came to the ears of Colonel Hamilton at Detroit, he started out with a little army of about 500 men, regulars, Tories, and Indians, and after a march of seventy days through the primeval forest reached Vincennes, and took possession of it. He spent the winter intriguing with the Indian tribes, and threatened the Spanish governor at St. Louis with dire vengeance if he should lend aid or countenance to the nefarious proceedings of the American rebels. Meanwhile, the crafty Virginian was busily at work. Sending a few boats, with light artillery and provisions, to ascend the Ohio and the Wabash, Clark started overland from Kaskaskia with 130 men; and after a terrible winter march of sixteen days across the drowned lands in what is now the State of Illinois, he appeared before Vincennes in time to pick up his boats and cannon. In the evening of February 23d the town surrendered, and the townspeople willingly assisted in the assault upon the fort. After a brisk cannonade and musket-fire for twenty hours, Hamilton surrendered at discretion, and British authority in this region was forever at an end.6 An expedition descending from Pittsburg in boats had already captured Natchez and ousted the British from the lower Mississippi. Shortly after, the Cherokees and other Indians whom Hamilton had incited to take the war-path were overwhelmed by Colonel Shelby, and on the upper Ohio and Alleghany the Indian country was so thoroughly devastated by Colonel Brodhead that all along the frontier there reigned a profound peace, instead of the carnival of burning and scalping which the British commander had contemplated.

The stream of immigration now began to flow steadily. Fort Jefferson was established on the Mississippi River to guard the mouth of the Ohio. Another fortress, higher up on the beautiful river which La Salle had discovered and Clark had conquered, became the site of Louisville, so named in honor of our ally, the French king. James Robertson again appeared on the scene, and became the foremost pioneer in middle Tennessee, as he had already led the colonization of the eastern part of that great State. On a bold bluff on the southern bank of the Cumberland River, Robertson founded a city, which took its name from the gallant General Nash, who fell in the battle of Germantown ; and among the cities of the fair South there is to-day none more beautiful or thriving than Nashville. Thus by degrees was our grasp firmly fastened upon the western country, and year by year grew stronger.

In the gallery of our national heroes, George Rogers Clark deserves a conspicuous and honorable place. It was due to his boldness and sagacity that when our commissioners at Paris, in 1782, were engaged in their difficult and delicate work of thwarting our not too friendly French ally, while arranging terms of peace with the British enemy, the fortified posts on the Mississippi and the Wabash were held by American garrisons. Possession is said to be nine points in the law, and while Spain and France were intriguing to keep us out of the Mississippi Valley, we were in possession of it. The military enterprise of Clark was crowned by the diplomacy of Jay. The four cardinal events in the history of our western frontier during the Revolution are : (1) the defeat of the Shawnees and their allies at Point Pleasant in 1774; (2) the defeat of the Cherokees on the Watauga in 1776 ; (3) Clark’s conquest of tlie Illinois country in 1778-79 ; (4) the detection and thwarting of the French diplomacy in 1782 by Jay. When Washington took command of the Continental army at Cambridge, in 1775, the population and jurisdiction of the thirteen united commonwealths scarcely reached beyond the Alleghanies ; it was due to the series of events here briefly recounted that when he laid down his command at Annapolis, in 1783, the domain of the independent United States was bounded on the west by the Mississippi River.

Clark’s last years were spent in poverty and obscurity at his sister’s home, near Louisville, where he died in 1818. It was his younger brother, William Clark, who in company with Meriwether Lewis made the famous expedition to the Columbia River in 1804, thus giving the United States a hold upon Oregon.

John Fiske.

  1. He has been sometimes described incorrectly as a half-breed, and even as a son of Sir William Johnson. His father was a Mohawk, of the Wolf clan, and son of one of the five sachems who visited the court of Queen Anne in 1710. The name is sometimes wrongly written “Brandt.” The Indian name is pronounced as if written " Thayendanauga,” with accent on penult.
  2. It has Been shown that on this occasion Thayendanegea did what he could to restrain the ferocity of his savage followers. See Stone’s Life of Brant, i, 379-381.
  3. Cannon were wheeled on the solid ice from Staten Island to the city. See Stone’s Life of Brant, ii. 54.
  4. In a paper read before the Maryland Historical Society. See also his Logan and Cresap, Albany, 1867. The story is well told by Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, in his admirable book. The Winning of the West, New York, 1889. Though I leave the present article mainly as it was written in 1883, I have, in revising it for publication, derived one or two valuable hints from Mr. Roosevelt’s work.
  5. This point has been well elucidated by Mr. Roosevelt in his Winning of the West, vol. i. pp. 240, 306.
  6. Mr. Roosevelt’s account of Clark’s expedition (vol. ii. p. 31-90) is extremely graphic and spirited.