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George Rogers Clark

Clark, George Rogers, 1752–1818, American Revolutionary general, conqueror of the Old Northwest, b. near Charlottesville, Va.; brother of William Clark. A surveyor, he was interested in Western lands, served (1774) in Lord Dunmore's War (see Dunmore, John Murray, 4th earl of), and later went to what is now Kentucky for the Ohio Company. In 1776 he secured the Virginia legislature's assertion of sovereignty over the Kentucky region, thereby obtaining military and financial support. He returned in time to repel British and Native American attacks on Harrodsburg, Ky., and other posts.

In 1778, Clark made plans for aggressive action against the British in the Old Northwest and, going to Virginia, persuaded Gov. Patrick Henry and his council to send an expedition. At its head, he swept into the Illinois country and took the British-held settlements of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. The British under Gen. Henry Hamilton advanced from Detroit and retook Vincennes after Clark had left. Winter and Ohio floods halted Hamilton there, but Clark and his men, defying cruel conditions of cold and hardship, braved the flooded bottom lands to return to Vincennes. With the heroic aid of Francis Vigo, François Bosseron, and Father Gibault, he struck at the British fort and surprised and captured Hamilton and the garrison in Feb., 1779. After this, the greatest of his exploits, Clark hoped to capture Detroit, but adequate supplies never came from Virginia to the fort he had built (Fort Nelson, where Louisville now stands), and he remained inactive.

In 1782 the British and Native Americans disastrously defeated the Kentuckians in the battle of Blue Licks. The ensuing unrest led Clark, who had not taken part in the battle, to lead another expedition northward against the Native Americans and again establish control of the region. His services had been rewarded by the rank of brigadier general in the Virginia militia, and he was made an Indian commissioner. In 1786 he led another expedition against the Native Americans in Ohio. His own narrative of the capture of Vincennes is in Milo M. Quaife, ed., The Capture of Old Vincennes (1927).

See biographies by J. A. James (1928, repr. 1970) and J. Bakeless (1957); A. W. Derleth, Vincennes: Portal to the West (1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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