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In late 1777, George Rogers Clark went to Williamsburg, Virginia to present a plan to Governor Patrick Henry.
The goal of the plan was to protect the western settlements by gaining control of the area north of the Ohio River, currently controlled by the British.
The plan required winning the loyalty of mainly French-speaking settlers in the region, gaining the neutrality of American Indian tribes, and removing British troops. Clark also wanted to attack Detroit.
Governor Henry, fearing the plan would not be approved by the Virginia Assembly, provided Clark with "Secret Orders" to undertake his daring plan.
Public orders only gave Clark permission to raise a militia for the protection of Kentucky settlements when attacked, but they did provide for needed supplies and munitions.
Governor Patrick Henry doubted that Clark's expedition would be approved by the Virginia Assembly. He also realized the importance of keeping the plan a secret from pro-British spies.
Henry presented the plan to Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and George Whyte. They approved and promised that if the expedition was successful, they would use their influence in the Assembly to secure each enlisted man of the expedition three hundred acres of the land they won.
On January 2, 1778, Clark received these "secret orders" giving permission to organize a military expedition and capture French settlements and British-held forts north of the Ohio River, in what was then called the Illinois Country.
The original "Secret Orders," issued by Virginia Governor Patrick Henry to George Rogers Clark on January 2, 1778, will be on display from February 25 to March 20, 2004 at the William Henry Smith Memorial Library of the Indiana Historical Society.
The library is in the Indiana History Center, 450 West Ohio Street. The library is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; it is closed Sunday and Monday.