George Rogers Clark

George Rogers Clark
George Rogers Clark.jpg
1825 portrait by Matthew Harris Jouett
Nickname(s)Conqueror of the Old Northwest[1]
Hannibal of the West[2]
Washington of the West[3]
Father of Louisville
Born(1752-11-19)November 19, 1752
Albemarle County, Virginia
DiedFebruary 13, 1818(1818-02-13) (aged 65)
Louisville, Kentucky
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchVirginia Militia
Years of service1776–1790
RankBrigadier General
UnitIllinois Regiment, Virginia State Forces
Commands heldWestern Frontier
Battles/warsLord Dunmore's War

American Revolutionary War

Northwest Indian War
RelationsJohn Clark III (father)
Ann Rogers Clark (mother)
General Jonathan Clark (brother)
Captain William Clark (brother)
Ann Clark Gwatmey (sister)
Captain John Clark (brother)
Lieutenant Richard Clark (brother)
Captain Edmund Clark (brother)
Lucy Clark Croghan (sister)
Elizabeth Clark Anderson (sister)
Frances "Fanny" Clark O'Fallon Minn Fitzhugh (sister)
SignatureGeorge Rogers Clark Signature.svg

George Rogers Clark (November 19, 1752 – February 13, 1818) was an American surveyor, soldier, and militia officer from Virginia who became the highest ranking American military officer on the northwestern frontier during the American Revolutionary War. He served as leader of the militia in Kentucky (then part of Virginia) throughout much of the war. He is best known for his celebrated captures of Kaskaskia (1778) and Vincennes (1779) during the Illinois Campaign, which greatly weakened British influence in the Northwest Territory. The British ceded the entire Northwest Territory to the United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and Clark has often been hailed as the "Conqueror of the Old Northwest".

Clark's major military achievements occurred before his thirtieth birthday. Afterwards, he led militia in the opening engagements of the Northwest Indian War but was accused of being drunk on duty. He was disgraced and forced to resign, despite his demand for a formal investigation into the accusations. He left Kentucky to live on the Indiana frontier but was never fully reimbursed by Virginia for his wartime expenditures. He spent the final decades of his life evading creditors and living in increasing poverty and obscurity. He was involved in two failed attempts to open the Spanish-controlled Mississippi River to American traffic. He became an invalid after suffering a stroke and the amputation of his right leg. He was aided in his final years by family members, including his younger brother William, one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He died of a stroke on February 13, 1818.

Early years

George Rogers Clark was born on November 19, 1752 in Albemarle County, Virginia, near Charlottesville, the hometown of Thomas Jefferson.[4][5] He was the second of 10 children of John and Ann Rogers Clark, who were Anglicans of English and Scottish ancestry.[6][7] Five of their six sons became officers during the American Revolutionary War. Their youngest son William was too young to fight in the war, but he later became famous as a leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The family moved from the Virginia frontier to Caroline County, Virginia around 1756, after the outbreak of the French and Indian War, and lived on a 400-acre (1.6 km2) plantation that later grew to include more than 2,000 acres (8.1 km2).[8]

Clark had little formal education.[5] He lived with his grandfather so that he could receive a common education at Donald Robertson's school with James Madison and John Taylor of Caroline.[9] He was also tutored at home, as was usual for Virginian planters' children of the period. His grandfather trained him to be a surveyor.[citation needed]

In 1771 at age 19, Clark left his home on his first surveying trip into western Virginia.[10] In 1772, he made his first trip into Kentucky via the Ohio River at Pittsburgh and spent the next two years surveying the Kanawha River region, as well as learning about the area's natural history and customs of the Indians who lived there.[11][12] In the meantime, thousands of settlers were entering the area as a result of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1768.[13]

Clark's military career began in 1774, when he served as a captain in the Virginia militia. He was preparing to lead an expedition of 90 men down the Ohio River when hostilities broke out between the Shawnee and settlers on the Kanawha frontier that eventually culminated in Lord Dunmore's War. Most of Kentucky was not inhabited by Indians, although several tribes used the area for hunting. Tribes were angry in the Ohio country who had not been party to the treaty signed with the Cherokee, because the Kentucky hunting grounds had been ceded to Great Britain without their approval. As a result, they tried to push the American settlers out of the area, but were unsuccessful. Clark spent a few months surveying in Kentucky, as well as assisting in organizing Kentucky as a county for Virginia prior to the American Revolutionary War.[12][14]