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George Rogers Clark Memoir- Part Eight

The introduction to the memoir and text of the memoir, which follows in nine parts, are quoted from Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio 1778-1783 and Life of Gen. George Rogers Clark by William Hayden English. The two volumes were published by The Bowen-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Kansas City, Missouri, in 1897.

Part eight (of nine)

Sections of the memoir have been titled to facilitate navigation within the document.

Part eight:

Fort at St. Vincent is surrounded.
Lamotte and reinforcement of twenty arrive at the garrison.
February 24, 1779.
British commander Hamilton proposes three-day truce.
Clark refuses truce.
Articles of surrender of Fort Sackville.
Indians are tomahawked.
After the surrender.
Detroit is considered.
February 27, 1779.

CLARK'S MEMOIR. (continued)

Ammunition was scarce with us, as the most of our stores had been put on board of the galley. Though her crew was but few, such a reinforcement to us at this period would have been invaluable in many instances. But, fortunately, at the time of its being reported that the whole of the goods in the town were to be taken for the king's use, for which the owners were to receive bills, Colonel Legras, Major Bosseron and others had buried the greatest part of their powder and ball. This was immediately produced, and we found ourselves well supplied by those gentlemen.

The Tobacco's Son being in town with a number of warriors, immediately mustered them, and let us know that he wished to join us, saying that by the morning he would have a hundred men. He received for answer that we thanked him for his friendly disposition, and, as we were sufficiently strong ourselves, we wished him to desist and that we would counsel on the subject in the morning; and, as we knew that there were a number of Indians in and near the town who were our enemies, some confusion might happen if our men should mix in the dark, but hoped that we might be favored with his counsel and company during the night, which was agreeable to him.

Fort at St. Vincent is surrounded.

The garrison was now completely surrounded, and the firing continued without intermission, except about fifteen minutes a little before day until about nine o'clock the following morning. It was kept up by the whole of the troops-joined by a few of the young men of the town, who got permission-except fifty men kept as a reserve in case of casualty happening, which was many and diverting in the course of the night. I had made myself fully acquainted with the situation of the fort, town, and the parts relative to each. The gardens of St. Vincent were very near, and about two-thirds around it; the fencing of good pickets, well set, and about six feet high where those were watching. Breast-works were soon made by tearing down old houses, gardens, etc., so that those within had very little advantage to those without the fort, and not knowing the number of the enemy, thought themselves in a worse situation than they really were.

The cannons of the garrison were on the upper floors of strong block-houses, at each angle of the fort, eleven feet above the surface, and the ports so badly cut that many of our troops lay under the fire of them within twenty or thirty yards of the walls. They did no damage, except to the buildings of the town, some of which they much shattered, and their musketry, in the dark, employed against woodsmen covered by houses, palings, ditches, the banks of the river, etc., was but of little avail and did no damage to us, except wounding a man or two, and as we could not afford to lose men, great care was taken to preserve them sufficiently covered and to keep up a hot fire in order to intimidate the enemy as well as to destroy them. The embrasures of their cannons were frequently shut, for our riflemen, finding the true direction of them, would pour in such volleys when they were open that the men could not stand to the guns - seven or eight of them in a short time got cut down. Our troops would frequently abuse the enemy in order to aggravate them to open their ports and fire their cannons, that they might have the pleasure of cutting them down with their rifles, fifty of which, perhaps, would be leveled the moment the port flew open, and I believe that if they had stood at their artillery the greater part of them would have been destroyed in the course of the night, as the most of our men lay within thirty yards of the wall, and in a few hours were covered equally to those within the walls and much more experienced in that mode of fighting. The flash of our guns detected them, perhaps, the instant the man moved his body. The moment there was the least appearance at one of their loop-holes, there would probably be a dozen guns fired at it.

Sometimes an irregular fire, as hot as possible, was kept up from different directions for a few minutes, and then only a continual scattering fire at the ports as usual, and a great noise and laughter immediately commenced in different parts of the town by the reserved parties, as if they had only fired on the fort a few minutes for amusement, and as if those continually firing at the fort were only regularly relieved. Conduct similar to this kept the garrison eternally alarmed. They did not know what moment they might be stormed or [blown up?], as they could plainly discover that we had flung up some entrenchments across the streets, and appeared to be frequently very busy under the bank of the river, which was within thirty feet of the walls.

The situation of the magazine we knew well. Captain Bowman began some works in order to blow it up in case our artillery should arrive, but as we knew that we were daily liable to be overpowered by the numerous bands of Indians on the river, in case they had again joined the enemy (the certainty of which we were unacquainted with), we resolved to lose no time but to get the fort in our possession as soon as possible. If (our) vessel did not arrive before the ensuing night, we resolved to undermine the fort, and fixed on the spot and plan of executing this work, which we intended to commence the next day.

The Indians of different tribes that were inimical had left the town and neighborhood. Captain Lamothe continued to hover about it, in order, if possible, to make his way good into the fort. Parties attempted in vain to surprise him. A few of his party were taken, one of which was Maisonville, a famous Indian partisan. Two lads, who captured him, tied him to a post in the street, and fought from behind him as a breastwork-supposing that the enemy would not fire at them for fear of killing him, as he would alarm them by his voice. The lads were ordered, by an officer who discovered them at their amusement, to untie their prisoner and take him off to the guard, which they did, but were so inhuman as to take part of his scalp on the way. There happened to him no other damage. As almost the whole of the persons who were most active in the department of Detroit were either in the fort or with Captain Lamothe, I got extremely uneasy for fear that he would not fall into our power, knowing that he would go off if he could not get into the fort in the course of the night.

Lamotte and reinforcement of twenty arrive at the garrison.

Finding that, without some unforeseen accident, the fort must inevitably be ours, and that a reinforcement of twenty men, although considerable to them, would not be of great moment to us in the present situation of affairs, and knowing that we had weakened them by killing or wounding many of their gunners, after some deliberation we concluded to risk the reinforcement in preference of his going again among the Indians. The garrison had at least a month's provisions, and if they could hold out, in the course of that time he might do us much damage. A little before day the troops were withdrawn from their positions about the fort, except a few parties of observation, and the firing totally ceased. Orders were given, in case of Lamotte's approach, not to alarm or fire on him without a certainty of killing or taking the whole. In less than a quarter of an hour he passed within ten feet of an officer and a party who lay concealed. Ladders were flung over to them, and as they mounted them our party shouted. Many of them fell from the top of the walls-some within and others back; but as they were not fired on they all got over, much to the joy of their friends, which was easily discovered by us; but, on considering the matter, they must have been convinced that it was a scheme of ours to let them in, and that we were so strong as to care but little about them or the manner of their getting into the garrison, our troops hallooing and diverting themselves at them while mounting, without firing at them, and being frequently told by our most blackguard soldiers of the scheme, and reason for suffering them to get into the fort-which on reflection they must have believed-but we knew that their knowledge of it could now do us no damage, but rather intimidate them. However, the garrison appeared much elated at the recovery of a valuable officer and party.

The firing immediately commenced on both sides with double vigor, and I believe that more noise could not have been made by the same number of men-their shouts could not be heard for the firearms; but a continual blaze was kept around the garrison, without much being done, until about daylight, when our troops were drawn off to posts prepared for them, from about sixty to a hundred yards from the garrison. A loophole then could scarcely be darkened but a rifle-ball would pass through it. To have stood to their cannon would have destroyed their men without a probability of doing much service. Our situation was nearly similar. It would have been imprudent in either party to have wasted their men, without some decisive stroke required it.

February 24, 1779.

Thus the attack continued until about nine o'clock on the morning of the 24th. Learning that the two prisoners they had brought in the day before had a considerable number of letters with them, I supposed it an express that we expected about this time, which I knew to be of the greatest moment to us, as we had not received one since our arrival in the country; and, not being fully acquainted with the character of our enemy, we were doubtful that those papers might be destroyed, to prevent which I sent a flag, with a letter, demanding the garrison and desiring Governor Hamilton not to destroy them, with some threats of what I would do in case that he did if the garrison should fall into my hands. His answer was that they were not disposed to be awed into anything unbecoming British subjects.

The firing then commenced warmly for a considerable time, and we were obliged to be careful in preventing our men from exposing themselves too much, as they were now much animated, having been refreshed during the flag. They frequently mentioned their wishes to storm the place and put an end to the business at once This would at this time have been a piece of rashness. Our troops got warm.

British commander Hamilton proposes three-day truce.

The firing was heavy, through every crack that could be discovered in any part of the fort, with cross shot. Several of the garrison got wounded, and no possibility of standing near the embrasures. Towards the evening a flag appeared, with the following proposition:

[The proposition here referred to was not in this copy, but is inserted from Bowman's journal.]

Governor Hamilton proposes to Colonel Clark a truce for three days, during which time he proposes there shall be no defensive work carried on in the garrison, on condition that Colonel Clark shall observe, on his part, a like cessation of any offensive work. That is, he wishes to confer with Colonel Clark as soon as can be, and promises, that, whatever may pass between these two and another person, mutually agreed upon to be present, shall remain secret till matters be finished, as he wishes that, whatever the result of their conference, it may be to the honor and credit of each party. If Colonel Clark makes a difficulty of coming into the fort, Lieutenant Governor Hamilton will speak to him by the gate.

(Signed) 24th. February, 1779.


I was greatly at a loss to conceive what reason Governor Hamilton could have for wishing a truce of three days on such terms as he proposed. Numbers said it was a scheme to get me into their possession. I had a different opinion and no idea of his possessing such sentiments, as an act of that kind would infallibly ruin him, but was convinced that he had some prospect of success, or otherways, of extricating himself. Although we had the greatest reason to expect a reinforcement in less than three days that would at once put an end to the siege, I yet did not think it prudent to agree to the proposals, and sent the following answer:

Clark refuses truce; agrees to meet Hamilton at the church.

Colonel Clark's compliments to Governor Hamilton, and begs leave to inform him that he will not agree to any other terms than that of Mr. Hamilton surrendering himself and garrison prisoners at discretion. If Mr. Hamilton is desirous of a conference with Colonel Clark, he will meet him at the church, with Captain Helm, 24th February, 1779.


We met at the church, about eighty yards from the fort-Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton, Major Hay, superintendent of Indian affairs; Captain Helm, their prisoner; Major Bowman and myself. The conference began. Governor Hamilton produced articles of capitulation, signed, that contained various articles, one of which was that the garrison should be surrendered on their being permitted to go to Pensacola on parole. After deliberating on every article, I rejected the whole. He then wished that I would make some proposition. I told him that I had no other to make than what I kind already made-that of his surrendering as prisoners at discretion. I said that his troops had behaved with spirit, that they could not suppose they would be worse treated in consequence of it, with their viewing us as savages; that if he chose to comply with the demand, though hard, perhaps the sooner the better; that it was in vain to make any proposition to me; that he, by this time, must be sensible that the garrison would fall; that both of us must [view?] that all blood spilled for the future by the garrison as murder; that my troops were already impatient, and called aloud for permission to tear down and storm the fort; if such a step was taken, many, of course, would be cut down, and the result of an enraged body of woodsmen breaking in must be obvious to him-it would be out of the power of an American officer to save a single man.

Various altercations took place for a considerable time. Captain Helm attempted to moderate our fixed determination. I told him he was a British prisoner, and it was doubtful whether or not he could, with propriety, speak on the subject. Governor Hamilton then said that Captain Helm was from that moment liberated, and might use his pleasure. I informed the captain that I would not receive him on such terms; that he must return to the garrison and await his fate. I then told Governor Hamilton that hostilities should not commence until fifteen minutes after the drums gave the alarm. We took our leave and parted but a few steps when the governor stopped, and, politely, asked me if I would be so kind as to give him my reasons for refusing the garrison on any other terms than those I had offered. I told him I had no objections in giving him my real reasons, which were simply these: That I knew the greater part of the principal Indian partisans of Detroit were with him; that I wanted an excuse to put them to death, or otherwise treat them, as I thought proper; that the cries of the widows and the fatherless on the frontiers, which they had occasioned, now required their blood from my hands, and that I did not choose to be so timorous as to disobey the absolute commands of their authority, which I looked upon to be next to divine; that I would rather lose fifty men than not to empower myself to execute this piece of business with propriety; that if he chose to risk the massacre of his garrison for their sakes, it was at his own pleasure, and that I might, perhaps, take it into my head to send for some of those widows to see it executed.

Major Hay paying great attention, I had observed a kind of distrust in his countenance, which, in a great measure, influenced my conversation during this time. On my concluding, "Pray, sir," said he, "who is that you call Indian partisans?" "Sir," I replied, "I take Major Hay to be one of the principals." I never saw a man in the moment of execution so struck as he appeared to be-pale and trembling, scarcely able to stand. Governor Hamilton blushed, and, I observed, was much affected at his behavior in (our) presence! Major Bowman's countenance sufficiently explained his disdain for the one, and his sorrow for the other. I viewed the whole with such sentiments as I supposed natural to some men in such cases. Some moments elapsed without a word passing, as we could now form such disposition with our troops as render the fort almost useless. To deface that then could be no danger of course; supposed it prudent to let the British troops remain in the fort until the following morning. We should not have had (such) suspicions as to make so much precaution, but I must confess that we could not help doubting the honor of men who could condescend to encourage the barbarity of the Indians, although almost every man had conceived a favorable opinion of Governor Hamilton. I believe what effected myself made some impression on the whole, and I was happy to find that he never deviated, while he staid with us, from that dignity of conduct that became an officer in his situation. The morning of the 25th approaching, arrangements were made for receiving the garrison (which consisted of seventy-nine men), and about ten o'clock it was delivered in form, and everything was immediately arranged to the best advantage on either side. From that moment my resolutions changed respecting Governor Hamilton's situation. I told him that we would return to our respective posts; that I would reconsider the matter, and that I would let him know the result. If we thought of making any further proposals (than) that of (his) surrendering at discretion, he should know it by the flag-if not, to be on his guard at a certain beat of the drum. No offensive measures should be taken in the meantime. Agreed to, and we parted.

Articles of surrender of Fort Sackville.

What had passed being made known to our officers, it was agreed that we should moderate our resolutions. The following articles were sent to the garrison and an answer immediately returned:

In the course of the afternoon of the 24th the following articles [Major Bowman's MS. journal] were signed and the garrison capitulated:

1. Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton engages to deliver up to Colonel Clark Fort Sackville, as it is at present, with all the stores, etc.

2. The garrison are to deliver themselves as prisoners of war and march out, with their arms and accoutrements, etc.

3. The garrison to be delivered up at ten o'clock to-morrow.

4. Three days' time to be allowed the garrison to settle their accounts with the inhabitants and traders of this place.

5. The officers of the garrison to be allowed their necessary baggage, etc.

Signed at Post St. Vincent [Vincennes], 24th February, 1779.

Agreed, for the following reasons: The remoteness from succor, the state and quantity of provisions, etc.; unanimity of officers and men in its expediency, the honorable terms allowed, and, lastly, the confidence in a generous enemy.



Lieutenant-Governor and Superintendent.

The business being now nearly at an end, troops were posted in several strong houses around the garrison and patroled during the night to prevent any deception that might be attempted. The remainder, off duty, lay on their arms, and, for the first time for many days past, got some rest.

Indians are tomahawked.

During the last conference a party of about twenty warriors who had been sent to the falls for scalps and prisoners, were discovered on their return, as they entered the plains near the town, and, there being no firing at this time, they had no suspicion of an enemy. Captain John Williams was ordered to meet and salute them. He went on, meeting them. The Indians supposed it a party of their friends coming to welcome them, gave the scalp and war-whoop and came on with all the parade of successful warriors. Williams did the same, approaching each nearer. The Indians fired a volley in the air; the captain did so, approaching within a few steps of each other; the chief stopped, as being suspicious; Captain Williams immediately seized him. The rest (of the Indians) saw the mistake and ran. Fifteen of them were killed and made prisoners. Two partisans and two prisoners were released and the Indians tomahawked by the soldiers and flung into the river.

We after this learned that but one of this party ever returned who got off, so that seventeen must have been destroyed. It was known by us that mostly the whole of them were badly wounded, but, as we yet had an enemy to contend with of more importance than they were, there was no time for pursuit, and (spent) but a few moments in executing the business before Captain Williams drew off his party and returned. Of course, the Indians who did not immediately fall, or were taken, got off.

One reason why we wished not to receive the garrison until the following morning was its being late in the evening before the capitulation was signed, and the number of prisoners that we should have, when compared to our own small force, we doubted the want of daylight to arrange matters to advantage, and we knew we could now prevent any misfortune happening.

After the surrender.

On viewing the inside of the fort and stores, I was at first astonished at its being given up in the manner it was, but weighing every circumstance I found that it was prudent, and a lucky circumstance, and probably saved the lives of many men on both sides. As the night passed we intended to attempt undermining it, and I found it would have required diligence to have prevented our success. If we had failed in this, on further examination I found that our information was so good that in all probability the first hot shot, after the arrival of our artillery, would have blown up the magazine, and would at once have put an end to the business, as its situation and the quantity of powder in it was such that it must have nearly destroyed a great part of the garrison. We yet found ourselves uneasy. The number of prisoners we had taken, added to those of the garrison, was so considerable when compared to our own numbers, that we were at a loss how to dispose of them so as not to interfere with our future operations.

Detroit is considered.

Detroit opened full in our view-not more than eighty men in the fort, great part of them invalids, and we found that a considerable number of the principal inhabitants were disaffected to the British cause. The distance of any succor they could get, except the Indians, was very considerable. The Indians on our route we knew would now more than ever be cool towards the English; that this matter was never rightly considered by the continent-if it had, the execution was but faintly attempted. (With) possession of Detroit, and a post of communication at Guihoga (Cuyahoga?), supplies might be always easily sent through that channel from Pittsburg, and Lake Erie we might easily have in our possession, which would completely put an end to all our troubles in this quarter, and perhaps open a door to further advantageous operations. Those were the ideas that influenced us at present. We could now augment our forces in this quarter to about four hundred men, as near half the inhabitants of St. Vincent would join us. Kentucky we knew could, perhaps, furnish immediately two hundred men, as there was a certainty of their receiving a great addition of settlers in the spring; with the addition of our own stores, which we had learned were safe on their passage, added to those of the British, there would not be a single article wanting for such an attempt, and supplies of provisions might be got at Detroit. For some time we privately resolved to embrace the object that seemed to court my acceptance without delay, giving the enemy no time to recover from the present blows they had received, but wished it to become the object of the soldiery and the inhabitants before we should say anything about it; but it immediately became the common topic among them, and in a few days (they) had arranged things so that they were, in their imaginations, almost ready to march. They were discountenanced in such conversation, and such measures taken as tended to show that our ideas were foreign from such an attempt, but at the same time (we) were taking every step to pave our way. The great quantity of public goods brought from Detroit, added to the whole of those belonging to the traders of St. Vincent that had been taken, was very considerable. The whole was immediately divided among the soldiery, except some Indian medals that were kept in order to be altered for public use. The officers received nothing except a few articles of clothing they stood in need of. The soldiers got almost rich; others envied their good fortune, and wished that some enterprise might be undertaken to enable them to perform some exploit. Detroit was their object. The clamor had now got to a great height; to silence it and to answer other purposes they were told that an army was to march the ensuing summer from Pittsburg to take possession of Detroit, although from the last fall's proceedings we knew that no such thing was to be apprehended.

A complete company of volunteers from Detroit of Captain Lamothe's, mostly composed of young men, was drawn up, and when expecting to be sent off into a strange country, and probably never again returning to their connections, were told that we were happy to learn that many of them were torn from their fathers and mothers and (sent) on this expedition; others, ignorant of the true cause in contest, had engaged from a principle that actuates a great number of men--that of being fond of enterprise--but that they now had a good opportunity to make themselves fully acquainted with the nature of the war, which they might explain to their friends, and that, as we knew that sending them to the states, where they would be confined in a jail probably for the course of the war, would make a great number of our friends at Detroit unhappy, we had thought proper, for their sakes, to suffer them to return home, etc. A great deal was said to them on this subject. On the whole, they were discharged, on taking an oath not to bear arms against America until exchanged, and received an order for their arms, boats and provisions to return with. The boats were to be sold and (proceeds) divided among them when they got home. In a few days they set out, and, as we had spies who went among them as traders, we learned that they made great havoc to the British interest on their return, publicly saying that they had taken an oath not to fight against Americans, but they had not sworn not to fight (for) them, etc., and things were carried to such a height that the commanding officer thought it prudent not to take notice of anything that was said or done. Mrs. McComb, who kept a noted boarding-house, I understood, had the assurance to show them the stores she had provided for the Americans. This was the completion of our design in suffering the company to return. Many others that we could trust we suffered to enlist in the cause, so that our charge of prisoners was much reduced. Finding that ten boats loaded with goods and provisions were daily expected down the Wabash, and, for fear of the British who had them in charge getting intelligence and returning, on the 26th Captain Helm, Majors Bosseron and Legras, with fifty volunteers, were sent in three armed boats in pursuit of them.

February 27, 1779.

On the 27th our galley arrived all safe, the crew much mortified, although they deserved great credit for their diligence. They had, on their passage, taken up William Myers, express from government. The dispatches gave much encouragement. Our own battalion was to be completed and an additional one to be expected in the course of the spring, but in the end proved unfortunate, and, on first reading, gave both pleasure and pain. We had but a day or two time to study on the subject, to fix on the plan of operation; that we were almost certain of success in case we without delay made the attempt on Detroit, as we knew our own strength and supplies, and wanted no farther information respecting that post; but, on the other hand, we were flattered with the prospect of an immediate reinforcement. A council was called on the subject.