Biographical Notes
George Rogers Clark

The Clark family traces their heritage back to a John Clark who emigrated from England to Virginia in the early seventeenth century. The early Clarks were farmers and became important land owners in Virginia. George Rogers Clark's father, John Clark and his mother Ann Rogers, moved from King and Queen County in tidewater Virginia to the newly established county of Albemarle on the Rivanna River in the western Piedmont region of the state in 1749. A neighbor, Peter Jefferson, had been among the region's very first settlers in 1837. Peter's son, Thomas, would later become president of the United States. John and Ann had inherited 410 acres from John's father and they established a small tobacco farm. Their first son, Jonathan, was born in 1750, and their second, George Rogers, on November 19, 1752. That year English settlers, organized into the "Ohio Company" pushed across the Appalachian Mountains into the watershed of the Ohio River. At the time, France claimed the Mississippi and it's tributaries and reacted quickly to what they perceived as an English invasion. After ejecting the settlers from the Ohio region, the French built a fort at the Forks of the Ohio (present day Pittsburgh). In 1754, the French, along with their Indian allies, forced Lieutenant George Washington to surrender Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania and triggered the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War). In 1755 Major General Edward Braddock was ambushed by an Indian force near the Forks of the Ohio and suffered a serious defeat.

Settlers in the Virginia Piedmont area became concerned for their safety and some retreated to the east to avoid hostilities. John and Ann Clark moved their family back to Caroline County in tidewater Virginia to a small farm that John had inherited from an uncle. In the succeeding years John and Ann had eight more children. The ninth child, William, was born in 1770. (In 1804 William would accompany Meriwether Lewis in the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition.) The Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War in 1763 and the French gave up their claims to North America. At the same time Indian unrest intensified. In 1763 the Ottawa chief Pontiac led a fiercely fought assault on English settlers and King George III issued a proclamation that proscribed trans-Appalachian settlement. The British government was concerned that conflict with the Indians would harm the lucrative fur trade and wanted to keep settlers out of the trans-mountain region. King George was ignored and settlement of the Ohio Valley continued virtually unchecked with many prominent Americans participating in various lucrative land schemes. In the spring of 1772 George Rogers Clark explored the Ohio River Valley and, together with James Higgins, laid claim to a stretch of land on Fish Creek about forty miles south of present day Wheeling, West Virginia. In early 1774 hostilities broke out between settlers and Indians and Clark was involved in a number of small skirmishes. At the end of April 1774, a trader named Greathouse killed the family of an Iroquois Indian chief named Logan (Tahgahjute). Logan declared war in retaliation for what was called the Greathouse Massacre. The Ohio River Valley included land claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia. Logan had lived among Pennsylvanians and protected them where he could. He regarded Virginians as his principal enemy. In response, Lord Dunsmore, Governor of Virginia, called out the Virginia Militia to protect the settlers. On May 14, 1774, Clark was appointed a "Captain of the Militia of Pittsburg and its Dependencies."

Lord Dunsmore raised about 3,000 militia troops and divided his force into two parts. Colonel Andrew Lewis commanded one group operating out of Point Pleasant at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. Lord Dunsmore commanded the other group operating out of Wheeling. Clark was a member of the Dunsmore force. In August 1774, Clark participated in his first Indian expedition, a raid on Shawnee towns along the Muskingum River in what is today Ohio. He distinguished himself in that action and Dunsmore recommended that he accept a commission in the British Army. In October, Indian emissaries asked to meet with Lord Dunsmore and a council was held at Camp Charlotte. Logan did not attend, but hostilities were ended. Dunsmore disbanded the troops and returned to his duties as the royal governor of Virginia. The Boston Tea Party had taken place on December 16, 1773, and the relationship between Virginia and the crown was strained. Following what became known as Lord Dunsmore's War, Clark and his fellow officers proclaimed that although they remained loyal to the king, henceforth they would serve primarily in the interest of America and Virginia. During 1775 Clark explored Kentucky and became involved in the conflict between the Transylvania and Ohio Companies' rivalry for control of land. In the spring of 1776 he was selected as one of two delegates to seek Virginia's annexation of Kentucky. After a difficult journey, he arrived in Williamsburg only to find that the Virginia Assembly had already adjourned. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and Virginia was concerned about the safety of its border from British instigated Indian attack. Clark sought out Governor Patrick Henry and arranged for Virginia to annex Kentucky as a county and loan Kentucky 500 pounds of badly needed gun powder. On March 5, 1777, the militia force for Virginia's new county was organized. John Bowman was commissioned a colonel and given command of the Kentucky County Regiment. Anthony Bledsoe was commissioned lieutenant colonel and Clark was made major. One of the men commissioned as captain was Daniel Boone.

The Indians were increasingly agitated because of increased Anglo-European settlement in their traditional hunting grounds along the Ohio River and in Kentucky. In March 1777 Shawnee Chief Blackfish (Mkahdaywahmayquah) attacked Harrodsburg. Bowman remained in Virginia, Bledsoe refused to take over, and so command of the Kentucky Regiment passed to Major Clark. Clark managed to stave off Blackfish's attack on Harrodsburg. Also in March the British government ordered General Sir Frederick Haldimand, the British Army commander in Canada, to arm the Indians and assist them in attacking American settlements throughout the colonies. Haldimand passed the order along to Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton in Detroit. Hamilton not only provided arms to the Indians he also made British Army officers and civilians available as advisors. Frequently British regular army and Tory militia units participated with the Indians in their raids on the settlements. In October, General Horatio Gates northern army defeated the British at Bemis Heights near Saratoga, New York and, in December, Clark met with George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and Governor Patrick Henry in Williamsburg. Clark presented, and they approved, a plan to attack the British in the Illinois and Indiana territories. Although it was not officially part of the plan, Clark hoped that he would then be in a position to attack Detroit and thus take the pressure off of the settlements in the Ohio Valley and in Kentucky. Clark was promoted to lieutenant colonel and began recruiting troops for his campaign. On May 12, 1778, he departed with a force of about 150 men from Redstone on the Monongahela River. Traveling down the Monongahela and then the Ohio he reached the Falls of the Ohio on May 27. He was able to enlist a few more men and by the end of June had 178 experienced frontiersmen in his force.