George Rogers Clark was a surveyor, soldier, and leader and played an important role in the development of the Northwest Territory. Clark learned to survey from his grandfather. Early in his life, Clark surveyed the land west of the Appalachian Mountains and especially in Kentucky.
In time, Clark became a soldier and the preeminent American military officer on the northwestern frontier during the American Revolutionary War. The leader of the Kentucky militia throughout much of the war, Clark is best-known for his celebrated capture of Kaskaskia (1778) and Vincennes (1779), which greatly weakened British influence in the Northwest Territory. Because the British ceded the entire Northwest Territory to the United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Clark has often been hailed as the "Conqueror of the Old Northwest."
Clark's ultimate goal during the Revolutionary War was to seize British-held Detroit, but he could never recruit enough men to make the attempt. The Kentucky militiamen generally preferred to defend their homes by staying closer to Kentucky rather than making a long and potentially perilous expedition to Detroit. In June 1780, a mixed force of British and Indians from Detroit invaded Kentucky, capturing two fortified settlements and carrying away scores of prisoners. In August 1780, Clark led a retaliatory force that won a victory near the Shawnee village of Pekowee (near present Springfield, Ohio). The next year Clark was promoted to brigadier general by Governor Thomas Jefferson and prepared once more to lead an expedition against Detroit, but a detachment of his troops was disastrously defeated in August 1781, ending the campaign.
An even worse defeat was to follow the next year: in August 1782, another British-Indian force defeated the Kentucky militia at the Battle of Blue Licks. Although he had not been present at the battle, Clark, as senior military officer, was severely criticized for the disaster. In response, Clark led another expedition into the Ohio country, destroying several Indian towns along the Great Miami River in the last major expedition of the war.
Clark was just 30 years old when fighting in the Revolutionary War ended, but his greatest military achievements were already behind him. Ever since Clark's victories in Illinois, settlers had been pouring into Kentucky, often illegally squatting on Indian land north of the Ohio River. Clark helped to negotiate the Treaty of Fort McIntosh in 1785 and the Treaty of Fort Finney in 1786 with tribes north of the river, but violence between American Indians and Kentucky settlers continued to escalate. According to a 1790 U.S. government report, 1,500 Kentucky settlers had been killed in Indian raids since the end of the Revolutionary War. In an attempt to end these raids, Clark led an expedition against Indians towns on the Wabash River in 1786, one of the first actions of the Northwest Indian War. The campaign ended ingloriously: lacking supplies, about 300 militiamen mutinied, and Clark had to withdraw. It was rumored that Clark had often been drunk on duty. Clark's reputation was tarnished and he never again led men in battle.
In 1809, Clark suffered a stroke that caused him to fall into a fireplace that caused a severe burn on one leg that led to it being amputated. It was impossible for Clark to continue operating a small grist mill. He became dependent on his brother-in-law, Major William Croghan, a planter at Locust Grove farm eight miles from Louisville. After a second stroke, Clark died at Locust Grove in 1818. Originally buried at Locust Grove, General Clark was reburied at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville in 1889.
George Rogers Clark's Younger Brother
William Clark was too young to fight in the Revolutionary War, but he did admire his brother's accomplishments and followed him into the west, exploring the Ohio land and taking part in numerous confrontations with Native peoples. William Clark would later gain national fame as part of the legendary exploration team of Lewis & Clark.