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George Rogers Clark Memoir - Part Three

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 three (of nine)

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

Part three:

July 6, 1778 - taking Cahokia.

CLARK'S MEMOIR. (continued)

All they appeared to aim at was some lenity shown their women and families, supposing that their goods would appease us. I had sufficient reason to believe that there was no finesse in this, but that they really spoke their sentiments and the heights of their expectation. This was the point I wanted to bring them to. I asked them very abruptly whether or not they thought they were speaking to savages; that I was certain they did from the tenor of their conversation. Did they suppose that we meant to strip the women and children, or take the bread out of their mouths, or that we would condescend to make war on the women and children or the church? It was to prevent the effusion of innocent blood by the Indians, through the instigation of their commanders' emissaries, that caused us to visit them, and not the prospect of plunder; that as soon as that object was attained, we should be perfectly satisfied; that as the king of France had joined the Americans, there was a probability of there shortly being an end to the war (this information very apparently affected them). They were at liberty to take which side they pleased, without any dread of losing their property or having their families destroyed. As for their church, all religions would be tolerated in America, and so far from our intermeddling with it, that any insult offered to it should be punished; and to convince them that we were not savages and plunderers, as they had conceived, that they might return to their families and inform them that they might conduct themselves as usual, with all freedom and without apprehensions of any danger; that from the information I had got since my arrival, so fully convinced me of their being influenced by false information from their leaders, that I was willing to forget everything past; that their friends in confinement should immediately be released and the guard withdrawn from every part of the town, except Cerre's, and that I only required compliance to a proclamation; This was the substance of my reply to them. They wished to soften the idea of my conceiving that they supposed us to be savages and plunderers; that they had conceived that the property in all towns belonged to those that reduced it, etc. I informed them that I knew that they were taught to believe that we were but little better than barbarians, but that we would say no more on the subject; that I wished them to go and relieve the anxiety of the inhabitants. Their feelings must be more easily guessed than expressed. They retired, and, in a few minutes, the scene was changed from an almost mortal dejection, to that of joy in the extreme-the bells ringing, the church crowded, returning thanks, in short, every appearance of extravagant joy that could fill a place with almost confusion. I immediately set about preparing a proclamation to be presented to them before they left the church; but wishing to prove the people further, I omitted it for a few days, as I made no doubt but that any report that would be now made of us through the country would be favorable.

I was more careless who went or came into the town; but, not knowing what might happen, I yet (felt) uneasy as (to) Kohokia, and was determined to make a lodgment there as soon as possible, and gain the place by something similar to what had been done. I ordered Major Bowman to mount his company and part of another, and a few inhabitants, to inform their friends what had happened, on horses procured from the town, and proceed without delay, and if possible get possession of Kohokia before the ensuing morning; that I should give him no further instructions on the subject, but for him to make use of his own prudence. He gave orders for collecting the horses, on which numbers of the gentlemen came, and informed me that they were sensible of the design; that the troops were much fatigued; that they (thought) I would not take it amiss at their offering themselves to execute whatever I should wish to be done at Kohokia; that the people were their friends and relations, and would follow their example-at least they hoped that they might be permitted to accompany the detachment. Conceiving that it might be good policy to show them that we felt confidence in them-and this (was) in fact what I wished for from obvious reasons-I informed them that I made no doubt but that Major Bowman would be fond of their company, and that as many as chose it might go, though we were too weak to be otherways than suspicious, and much on our guard; and knowing that we had a sufficient security for their good behavior, I told them (if) they went they ought to equip for war, although I was in hopes that every(thing) would be amicably settled; but, as it was the first time they ever bore arms as free men, it might be well to equip themselves and try how they felt as such, especially as they were going to put their friends in the same situation, etc. (They) appeared highly pleased at the idea, and in the evening the major set out with a troop but a little inferior to the one we had marched into the country. The French being commanded by the famous militia officers, those new friends of ours were so elated at thought of the parade they were to make at Kohokia, that they were too much engaged in equipping themselves to appear to the best advantage, that it was night before the party moved, and the distance twenty leagues, that it was late in the morning of the 6th before they reached Kohokia. Detaining every person they met with, they got into the border of the town before they were discovered. The inhabitants were at first much alarmed at being thus suddenly visited by strangers in a hostile appearance, and ordered to surrender the town, even by their friends and relations; but as the confusion among the women and children appeared greater than they expected, from the cry of the big knife being in town, they immediately assembled and gave the people a detail of what had happened at Kaskaskia. The major informed them not to be alarmed; that though resistance at present was out of the question, he would convince them that he would prefer their friendship than otherwise; that he was authorized to inform them that they were at liberty to become free Americans, as their friends at Kaskaskia had, or (they) that did not choose it might (go) out of the country, except those who had been engaged in inciting the Indians to war.

July 6, 1778-taking Cahokia.

Liberty and freedom, and huzzaing for the Americans, rang through the whole town. The Kaskaskian gentlemen disappeared among their friends. In a few hours the whole was amicable, and Major Bowman snugly quartered in the old British fort. Some individuals said that the town was given up too tamely, but little attention was paid to them. A considerable number of Indians was encamped in the neighborhood, as this was a principal post of trade, immediately fled; one of them, who was at St. Louis some time after this, got a letter written to me excusing himself for not paying me a visit. By the 8th Major Bowman got everything settled agreeable to our wishes. The whole of the inhabitants took the oath of allegiance cheerfully. He set about repairing the fort and regulating the internal police of the place, etc. The intermediate villages followed the example of the others, and, as a strict examination was not made as to those who had a hand in encouraging the Indians to war, in a few days the country appeared to be in a most perfect state of harmony. A friendly correspondence immediately sprung up between the Spanish officers and ourselves, (and) added much to the general tranquillity and happiness, but, as to myself, enjoyments of this nature were not my fortune. I found myself launched into a field that would require great attention, and all the address I was master of, to extricate myself from in doing that service to my country which appeared now in full view, with honor to them and credit to myself, as I could now get every piece of information I wished for. I was astonished at the pains and expense the British were at in engaging the Indians, and that they had emissaries in every nation throughout those extensive countries, and even bringing the inhabitants of Lake Superior by water to Detroit and fitting them out from thence; that the sound of war was universal among them; scarcely a nation but what had declared it and received the bloody belt and hatchet. Post St. Vincent I found to be a place of infinite importance to us. To gain it was now my object, but, sensible that all the forces we had, joined by every man in Kentucky, would not be able to approach it, I resolved on other measures than that of arms. I determined to send no message to the Indians for some time, but, wishing for interviews between us to happen, through the means of the French gentlemen, and appear careless myself, and all the titles I gave myself unnecessaries, etc. The falls of Ohio was mentioned (in order to have them believe) that the troops we had were only a detachment from that place, though sufficient to answer our purpose; that the body of our force was there fortifying; that great numbers more were daily expected to arrive, from whence we intended to proceed to war; every man we had was taught to speak in this strain. From many hints and (from) information of mine before I left that place, the greatest part of them believed the most of this to be true. In short, anxious for our marching into the Illinois with so small a force, was really necessary. This idea had, at an early period, struck me. I inquired particularly into the manner the people had been governed formerly, and much to my satisfaction, (I found) that it had been generally as severe as under the militia law. I was determined to make an advantage of it, and took every step in my power to cause the people to feel the blessings enjoyed by an American citizen, which I soon discovered enabled me to support, from their own choice, almost a supreme authority over them. I caused a court of civil judication to be established at Kohokia, elected by the people. Major Bowman, to the surprise of the people, held a poll for a magistracy, and was elected and acted as judge of the court. [Manuscript here illegible.] After this similar courts were established in the towns of Kaskaskia and St. Vincent.

There was an appeal to myself in certain cases, and I believe that no people ever had their business done more to their satisfaction than they had through the means of these regulations for a considerable time.

Mr. Cerre, formerly mentioned at the time of Major Bowman's arrival at Kohokia, was yet in St. Louis, and, preparing to prosecute his journey to Canada, was stopped in consequence of the information. After learning the situation of things, agreeable to my expectations, he resolved to return; but learning that there was a guard kept at his house, and at no other, and that several had attempted to ruin him by their information to me, (as) you were advised, not to venture over without a safe conduct, he applied to the Spanish governor for a letter to that purpose and came to St. Genevieve, opposite to Kaskaskia, and got another from the commandant of that post, to the same purpose, and sent them to me; but all the interest he could make through the channel of the Spanish officers, and the solicitations of his particular friends, which I found to be a great majority of the people, could (not) procure him a safe conduct. I absolutely denied it, and hinted that I wished to hear no more on the subject; neither would I hear any person that had anything to say in vindication of him, informing them that I understood that M. Cerre was a sensible man; that if he was innocent of the allegations against him he would not be afraid of delivering himself up; that his backwardness seems to prove his guilt; that I cared very little about him. I suppose a rumor immediately gave him this information. In a few hours he came over, and before visiting his family presented himseIf before me. I told him that I supposed that he was fully sensible of the charges that were exhibited against (him), particularly that of inciting the Indians to murder, etc.-a crime that ought to be punished by all people that should be so fortunate as to get that person in their power; that his late backwardness almost confirmed me in his guilt. He replied that he was a mere merchant; that he never concerned himself about state affairs further than the interest of his trade required; that he had, as yet, no opportunity so fully to acquaint himself with the principle of the present contest as to enable (him) finally to settle his own opinion to his satisfaction; that his being generally so far detached from the seat of affairs that he was always doubtful of his only hearing one side of the question; that he had learned more in a few days past than he ever before knew; that it only confirmed his former suspicion. I read him part of a letter from Governor Hamilton of Detroit to Mr. Rochblave, wherein he was alluded to with much affection. He said that when he was there he behaved himself as became a subject; that he defied any man to prove that he ever encouraged an Indian to war; that many had often heard him disapprove the cruelty of such proceedings; that there was a number in town that was much in debt to him-perhaps the object of some of them (was) to get clear of it by ruining of him; that it would be inconsistent for him, in his present situation, to offer to declare his present sentiments respecting the war, but wished to stand every test as that of encouraging the Indians is what he ever detested. He excused his fearing coming over the Mississippi as soon as he could have wished. I told him to retire into another room, without making him any further reply. The whole town was anxious to know the fate of Mr. Cerre. I sent for his accusers-a great number following them-and had Mr. Cerre called. I plainly saw the confusion his appearance made among them. I opened the case to the whole-told them that I never chose to condemn a man unheard; that Cerre was now present; that I was ready to do justice to the world in general, by the punishment of Mr. Cerre, if he was found guilty of encouraging murder, or acquit him if innocent of the charge that they would give in their information. Cerre began to speak to them, but was ordered to desist. His accusers began to whisper to each other, and retire for private conversation; at length but one of six or seven were left in the room. I asked him what he had to say to the point in question. In fact I found that none of them had anything to say to the purpose. I gave them a suitable reprimand, and after some general conversation I informed Mr. Cerre that I was happy to find that he had so honorably acquitted himself of so black a charge; that he was now at liberty to dispose of himself and property as he pleased. If he chose to become a citizen of the Union, that it would give us pleasure; if not, he was at full liberty to dispose of himself. He made many acknowledgments, and concluded by saying that many doubts that he had were now cleared up to his satisfaction, and that now he wished to take the (oath) immediately. In short, he became a most valuable man to us. As simple as this may appear, it had great weight with the people, and was of infinite service to us, everything in this quarter having a most promising appearance.