THE OLD NORTHWEST,
A CHRONICLE OF THE OHIO VALLEY AND BEYOND
By Frederic Austin Ogg
New Haven: Yale University Press
Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Co.
London: Humphrey Milford
Oxford University Press
I. PONTIAC'S CONSPIRACY II. "A LAIR OF WILD BEASTS" III. THE REVOLUTION BEGINS IV. THE CONQUEST COMPLETED V. WAYNE, THE SCOURGE OF THE INDIANS VI. THE GREAT MIGRATION VII. PIONEER DAYS AND WAYS VIII. TECUMSEH IX. THE WAR OF 1812 AND THE NEW WEST X. SECTIONAL CROSS CURRENTS XI. THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI VALLEY
THE OLD NORTHWEST
Chapter I. Pontiac's Conspiracy
The fall of Montreal, on September 8, 1760, while the plains about the city were still dotted with the white tents of the victorious English and colonial troops, was indeed an event of the deepest consequence to America and to the world. By the articles of capitulation which were signed by the Marquis de Vaudreuil, Governor of New France, Canada and all its dependencies westward to the Mississippi passed to the British Crown. Virtually ended was the long struggle for the dominion of the New World. Open now for English occupation and settlement was that vast country lying south of the Great Lakes between the Ohio and the Mississippi—which we know as the Old Northwest—today the seat of five great commonwealths of the United States.
With an ingenuity born of necessity, the French pathfinders and colonizers of the Old Northwest had chosen for their settlements sites which would serve at once the purposes of the priest, the trader, and the soldier; and with scarcely an exception these sites are as important today as when they were first selected. Four regions, chiefly, were still occupied by the French at the time of the capitulation of Montreal. The most important, as well as the most distant, of these regions was on the east bank of the Mississippi, opposite and below the present city of St. Louis, where a cluster of missions, forts, and trading-posts held the center of the tenuous line extending from Canada to Louisiana. A second was the Illinois country, centering about the citadel of St. Louis which La Salle had erected in 1682 on the summit of "Starved Rock," near the modern town of Ottawa in Illinois. A third was the valley of the Wabash, where in the early years of the eighteenth century Vincennes had become the seat of a colony commanding both the Wabash and the lower Ohio. And the fourth was the western end of Lake Erie, where Detroit, founded by the doughty Cadillac in 1701, had assumed such strength that for fifty years it had discouraged the ambitions of the English to make the Northwest theirs.
Sir Jeffrey Amherst, to whom Vaudreuil surrendered in 1760, forthwith dispatched to the western country a military force to take possession of the posts still remaining in the hands of the French. The mission was entrusted to a stalwart New Hampshire Scotch-Irishman, Major Robert Rogers, who as leader of a band of intrepid "rangers" had made himself the hero of the northern frontier. Two hundred men were chosen for the undertaking, and on the 13th of September the party, in fifteen whaleboats, started up the St. Lawrence for Detroit.
At the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, near the site of the present city of Cleveland, the travelers were halted by a band of Indian chiefs and warriors who, in the name of their great ruler Pontiac, demanded to know the object of their journeying. Parleys followed, in which Pontiac himself took part, and it was explained that the French had surrendered Canada to the English and that the English merely proposed to assume control of the western posts, with a view to friendly relations between the red men and the white men. The rivers, it was promised, would flow with rum, and presents from the great King would be forthcoming in endless profusion. The explanation seemed to satisfy the savages, and, after smoking the calumet with due ceremony, the chieftain and his followers withdrew.
Late in November, Rogers and his men in their whaleboats appeared before the little palisaded town of Detroit. They found the French commander, Beletre, in surly humor and seeking to stir up the neighboring Wyandots and Potawatomi against them. But the attempt failed, and there was nothing for Beletre to do but yield. The French soldiery marched out of the fort, laid down their arms, and were sent off as prisoners down the river. The fleur-de-lis, which for more than half a century had floated over the village, was hauled down, and, to the accompaniment of cheers, the British ensign was run up. The red men looked on with amazement at this display of English authority and marveled how the conquerors forbore to slay their vanquished enemies on the spot.
Detroit in 1760 was a picturesque, lively, and rapidly growing frontier town. The central portions of the settlement, lying within the bounds of the present city, contained ninety or a hundred small houses, chiefly of wood and roofed with bark or thatch. A well-built range of barracks afforded quarters for the soldiery, and there were two public buildings—a council house and a little church. The whole was surrounded by a square palisade twenty-five feet high, with a wooden bastion at each corner and a blockhouse over each gateway. A broad passageway, the chemin du ronde, lay next to the palisade, and on little narrow streets at the center the houses were grouped closely together.
Above and below the fort the banks of the river were lined on both sides, for a distance of eight or nine miles, with little rectangular farms, so laid out as to give each a water-landing. On each farm was a cottage, with a garden and orchard, surrounded by a fence of rounded pickets; and the countryside rang with the shouts and laughter of a prosperous and happy peasantry. Within the limits of the settlement were villages of Ottawas, Potawatomi, and Wyandots, with whose inhabitants the French lived on free and easy terms. "The joyous sparkling of the bright blue water," writes Parkman; "the green luxuriance of the woods; the white dwellings, looking out from the foliage; and in the distance the Indian wigwams curling their smoke against the sky—all were mingled in one broad scene of wild and rural beauty."
At the coming of the English the French residents were given an opportunity to withdraw. Few, however, did so, and from the gossipy correspondence of the pleasure-loving Colonel Campbell, who for some months was left in command of the fort, it appears that the life of the place lost none of its gayety by the change of masters. Sunday card parties at the quarters of the commandant were festive affairs; and at a ball held in celebration of the King's birthday the ladies presented an appearance so splendid as to call forth from the impressionable officer the most extravagant praises. A visit in the summer of 1761 from Sir William Johnson, general supervisor of Indian affairs on the frontier, became the greatest social event in the history of the settlement, if not of the entire West. Colonel Campbell gave a ball at which the guests danced nine hours. Sir William reciprocated with one at which they danced eleven hours. A round of dinners and calls gave opportunity for much display of frontier magnificence, as well as for the consumption of astonishing quantities of wines and cordials. Hundreds of Indians were interested spectators, and the gifts with which they were generously showered were received with evidences of deep satisfaction.
No amount of fiddling and dancing, however, could quite drown apprehension concerning the safety of the post and the security of the English hold upon the great region over which this fort and its distant neighbors stood sentinel. Thousands of square miles of territory were committed to the keeping of not more than six hundred soldiers. From the French there was little danger. But from the Indians anything might be expected. Apart from the Iroquois, the red men had been bound to the French by many ties of friendship and common interest, and in the late war they had scalped and slaughtered and burned unhesitatingly at the French command. Hardly, indeed, had the transfer of territorial sovereignty been made before murmurs of discontent began to be heard.
Notwithstanding outward expressions of assent to the new order of things, a deep-rooted dislike on the part of the Indians for the English grew after 1760 with great rapidity. They sorely missed the gifts and supplies lavishly provided by the French, and they warmly resented the rapacity and arrogance of the British traders. The open contempt of the soldiery at the posts galled the Indians, and the confiscation of their lands drove them to desperation. In their hearts hope never died that the French would regain their lost dominion; and again and again rumors were set afloat that this was about to happen. The belief in such a reconquest was adroitly encouraged, too, by the surviving French settlers and traders. In 1761 the tension among the Indians was increased by the appearance of a "prophet" among the Delawares, calling on all his race to purge itself of foreign influences and to unite to drive the white man from the land.
Protests against English encroachments were frequent and, though respectful, none the less emphatic. At a conference in Philadelphia in 1761, an Iroquois sachem declared, "We, your Brethren, of the several Nations, are penned up like Hoggs. There are Forts all around us, and therefore we are apprehensive that Death is coming upon us." "We are now left in Peace," ran a petition of some Christian Oneidas addressed to Sir William Johnson, "and have nothing to do but to plant our Corn, Hunt the wild Beasts, smoke our Pipes, and mind Religion. But as these Forts, which are built among us, disturb our Peace, and are a great hurt to Religion, because some of our Warriors are foolish, and some of our Brother Soldiers don't fear God, we therefore desire that these Forts may be pull'd down, and kick'd out of the way."
The leadership of the great revolt that was impending fell naturally upon Pontiac, who, since the coming of the English, had established himself with his squaws and children on a wooded island in Lake St. Clair, barely out of view of the fortifications of Detroit. In all Indian annals no name is more illustrious than Pontiac's; no figure more forcefully displays the good and bad qualities of his race. Principal chief of the Ottawa tribe, he was also by 1763 the head of a powerful confederation of Ottawas, Ojibwas, and Potawatomi, and a leader known and respected among Algonquin peoples from the sources of the Ohio to the Mississippi. While capable of acts of magnanimity, he had an ambition of Napoleonic proportions, and to attain his ends he was prepared to use any means. More clearly than most of his forest contemporaries, he perceived that in the life of the Indian people a crisis had come. He saw that, unless the tide of English invasion was rolled back at once, all would be lost. The colonial farmers would push in after the soldiers; the forests would be cut away; the hunting-grounds would be destroyed; the native population would be driven away or enslaved. In the silence of his wigwam he thought out a plan of action, and by the closing weeks of 1762 he was ready. Never was plot more shrewdly devised and more artfully carried out.
During the winter of 1762-63 his messengers passed stealthily from nation to nation throughout the whole western country, bearing the pictured wampum belts and the reddened tomahawks which symbolized war; and in April, 1763, the Lake tribes were summoned to a great council on the banks of the Ecorces, below Detroit, where Pontiac in person proclaimed the will of the Master of Life as revealed to the Delaware prophet, and then announced the details of his plan. Everywhere the appeal met with approval; and not only the scores of Algonquin peoples, but also the Seneca branch of the Iroquois confederacy and a number of tribes on the lower Mississippi, pledged themselves with all solemnity to fulfill their prophet's injunction "to drive the dogs which wear red clothing into the sea." While keen-eyed warriors sought to keep up appearances by lounging about the forts and begging in their customary manner for tobacco, whiskey, and gunpowder, every wigwam and forest hamlet from Niagara to the Mississippi was astir. Dusky maidens chanted the tribal war-songs, and in the blaze of a hundred camp-fires chiefs and warriors performed the savage pantomime of battle.
A simultaneous attack, timed by a change of the moon, was to be made on the English forts and settlements throughout all the western country. Every tribe was to fall upon the settlement nearest at hand, and afterwards all were to combine—with French aid, it was confidently believed—in an assault on the seats of English power farther east. The honor of destroying the most important of the English strongholds, Detroit, was reserved for Pontiac himself.
The date fixed for the rising was the 7th of May. Six days in advance Pontiac with forty of his warriors appeared at the fort, protested undying friendship for the Great Father across the water, and insisted on performing the calumet dance before the new commandant, Major Gladwyn. This aroused no suspicion. But four days later a French settler reported that his wife, when visiting the Ottawa village to buy venison, had observed the men busily filing off the ends of their gunbarrels; and the blacksmith at the post recalled the fact that the Indians had lately sought to borrow files and saws without being able to give a plausible explanation of the use they intended to make of the implements.
The English traveler Jonathan Carver, who visited the post five years afterwards, relates that an Ottawa girl with whom Major Gladwyn had formed an attachment betrayed the plot. Though this story is of doubtful authenticity, there is no doubt that, in one way or another, the commandant was amply warned that treachery was in the air. The sounds of revelry from the Indian camps, the furtive glances of the redskins lounging about the settlement, the very tension of the atmosphere, would have been enough to put an experienced Indian fighter on his guard.
Accordingly when, on the fated morning, Pontiac and sixty redskins, carrying under long blankets their shortened muskets, appeared before the fort and asked admission, they were taken aback to find the whole garrison under arms. On their way from the gate to the council house they were obliged to march literally between rows of glittering steel. Well might even Pontiac falter. With uneasy glances, the party crowded into the council room, where Gladwyn and his officers sat waiting. "Why," asked the chieftain stolidly, "do I see so many of my father's young men standing in the street with their guns?" "To keep them in training," was the laconic reply.
The scene that was planned was then carried out, except in one vital particular. When, in the course of his speech professing strong attachment to the English, the chieftain came to the point where he was to give the signal for slaughter by holding forth the wampum belt of peace inverted, he presented the emblem—to the accompaniment of a significant clash of arms and roll of drums from the mustered garrison outside—in the normal manner; and after a solemn warning from the commandant that vengeance would follow any act of aggression, the council broke up. To the forest leader's equivocal announcement that he would bring all of his wives and children in a few days to shake hands with their English fathers, Gladwyn deigned no reply.
Balked in his plans, the chief retired, but only to meditate fresh treachery; and when, a few days later, with a multitude of followers, he sought admission to the fort to assure "his fathers" that "evil birds had sung lies in their ears," and was refused, he called all his forces to arms, threw off his disguises, and began hostilities. For six months the settlement was besieged with a persistence rarely displayed in Indian warfare. At first the French inhabitants encouraged the besiegers, but, after it became known that a final peace between England and France had been concluded, they withheld further aid. Throughout the whole period, the English obtained supplies with no great difficulty from the neighboring farms. There was little actual fighting, and the loss of life was insignificant.
By order of General Amherst, the French commander still in charge of Fort Chartres sent a messenger to inform the redskins definitely that no assistance from France would be forthcoming. "Forget then, my dear children,"—so ran the admonition—"all evil talks. Leave off from spilling the blood of your brethren, the English. Our hearts are now but one; you cannot, at present, strike the one without having the other for an enemy also." The effect was, as intended, to break the spirit of the besiegers; and in October Pontiac humbly sued for peace.
Meanwhile a reign of terror spread over the entire frontier. Settlements from Forts Le Boeuf and Venango, south of Lake Eric, to Green Bay, west of Lake Michigan, were attacked, and ruses similar to that attempted at Detroit were generally successful. A few Indians in friendly guise would approach a fort. After these were admitted, others would appear, as if quite by chance. Finally, when numbers were sufficient, the conspirators would draw their concealed weapons, strike down the garrison, and begin a general massacre of the helpless populace. Scores of pioneer families, scattered through the wilderness, were murdered and scalped; traders were waylaid in the forest solitudes; border towns were burned and plantations were devastated. In the Ohio Valley everything was lost except Fort Pitt, formerly Fort Duquesne; in the Northwest, everything was taken except Detroit.
Fort Pitt was repeatedly endangered, and the most important engagement of the war was fought in its defense. The relief of the post was entrusted in midsummer to a force of five hundred regulars lately transferred from the West Indies to Pennsylvania and placed under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet. The expedition advanced with all possible caution, but early in August, 1763, when it was yet twenty-five miles from its destination, it was set upon by a formidable Indian band at Bushy Run and threatened with a fate not un-like that suffered by Braddock's little army in the same region nine years earlier. Finding the woods full of redskins and all retreat cut off, the troops, drawn up in a circle around their horses and supplies, fired with such effect as they could upon the shadowy forms in the forest. No water was obtainable, and in a few hours thirst began to make the soldiery unmanageable. Realizing that the situation was desperate, Bouquet resorted to a ruse by ordering his men to fall back as if in retreat. The trick succeeded, and with yells of victory the Indians rushed from cover to seize the coveted provisions—only to be met by a deadly fire and put to utter rout. The news of the battle of Bushy Run spread rapidly through the frontier regions and proved very effective in discouraging further hostilities.
It was Bouquet's intention to press forward at once from Fort Pitt into the disturbed Ohio country. His losses, however, compelled the postponement of this part of the undertaking until the following year. Before he started off again he built at Fort Pitt a blockhouse which still stands, and which has been preserved for posterity by becoming, in 1894, the property of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. In October, 1764, he set out for the Muskingum valley with a force of fifteen hundred regulars, Pennsylvania and Virginia volunteers, and friendly Indians. By this time the great conspiracy was in collapse, and it was a matter of no great difficulty for Bouquet to enter into friendly relations with the successive tribes, to obtain treaties with them, and to procure the release of such English captives as were still in their hands. By the close of November, 1764, the work was complete, and Bouquet was back at Fort Pitt. Pennsylvania and Virginia honored him with votes of thanks; the King formally expressed his gratitude and tendered him the military governorship of the newly acquired territory of Florida.
The general pacification of the Northwest was accomplished by treaties with the natives in great councils held at Niagara, Presqu'isle (Erie), and Detroit. Pontiac had fled to the Maumee country to the west of Lake Erie, whence he still hurled his ineffectual threats at the "dogs in red." His power, however, was broken. The most he could do was to gather four hundred warriors on the Maumee and Illinois and present himself at Fort Chartres with a demand for weapons and ammunition with which to keep up the war. The French commander, who was now daily awaiting orders to turn the fortress over to the English, refused; and a deputation dispatched to New Orleans in quest of the desired equipment received no reply save that New Orleans itself, with all the country west of the river, had been ceded to Spain. The futility of further resistance on the part of Pontiac was apparent. In 1765 the disappointed chieftain gave pledges of friendship; and in the following year he and other leaders made a formal submission to Sir William Johnson at Oswego, and Pontiac renounced forever the bold design to make himself at a stroke lord of the West and deliverer of his country from English domination.
For three years the movements of this disappointed Indian leader are uncertain. Most of the time, apparently, he dwelt in the Maumee country, leading the existence of an ordinary warrior. Then, in the spring of 1769, he appeared at the settlements on the middle Mississippi. At the newly founded French town of St. Louis, on the Spanish side of the river, he visited an old friend, the commandant Saint Ange de Bellerive. Thence he crossed to Cahokia, where Indian and creole alike welcomed him and made him the central figure in a series of boisterous festivities.
An English trader in the village, observing jealously the honors that were paid the visitor, resolved that an old score should forthwith be evened up. A Kaskaskian redskin was bribed, with a barrel of liquor and with promises of further reward, to put the fallen leader out of the way; and the bargain was hardly sealed before the deed was done. Stealing upon his victim as he walked in the neighboring forest, the assassin buried a tomahawk in his brain, and "thus basely," in the words of Parkman, "perished the champion of a ruined race." Claimed by Saint-Ange, the body was borne across the river and buried with military honors near the new Fort St. Louis. The site of Pontiac's grave was soon forgotten, and today the people of a great city trample over and about it without heed.
Chapter II. "A Lair Of Wild Beasts"
Benjamin Franklin, who was in London in 1760 as agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly, gave the British ministers some wholesome advice on the terms of the peace that should be made with France. The St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes regions, he said, must be retained by England at all costs. Moreover, the Mississippi Valley must be taken, in order to provide for the growing populations of the seaboard colonies suitable lands in the interior, and so keep them engaged in agriculture. Otherwise these populations would turn to manufacturing, and the industries of the mother country would suffer.
The treaty of peace, three years later, brought the settlement which Franklin suggested. The vast American back country, with its inviting rivers and lakes, its shaded hills, and its sunny prairies, became English territory. The English people had, however, only the vaguest notion of the extent, appearance, and resources of their new possession. Even the officials who drew the treaty were as ignorant of the country as of middle Africa. Prior to the outbreak of the war no widely known English writer had tried to describe it; and the absorbing French books of Lahontan, Hennepin, and Charlevoix had reached but a small circle. The prolonged conflict in America naturally stimulated interest in the new country. The place-names of the upper Ohio became household words, and enterprising publishers put out not only translations of the French writers but compilations by Englishmen designed, in true journalistic fashion, to meet the demands of the hour for information.
These publications displayed amazing misconceptions of the lands described. They neither estimated aright the number and strength of the French settlements nor dispelled the idea that the western country was of little value. Even the most brilliant Englishman of the day, Dr. Samuel Johnson, an ardent defender of the treaty of 1763, wrote that the large tracts of America added by the war to the British dominions were "only the barren parts of the continent, the refuse of the earlier adventurers, which the French, who came last, had taken only as better than nothing." As late indeed as 1789, William Knox, long Under-Secretary for the Colonies, declared that Americans could not settle the western territory "for ages," and that the region must be given up to barbarism like the plains of Asia, with a population as unstable as the Scythians and Tartars. But the shortsightedness of these distant critics can be forgiven when one recalls that Franklin himself, while conjuring up a splendid vision of the western valleys teeming with a thriving population, supposed that the dream would not be realized for "some centuries." None of these observers dreamt that the territories transferred in 1763 would have within seventy-five years a population almost equal to that of Great Britain.
The ink with which the Treaty of Paris was signed was hardly dry before the King and his ministers were confronted with the task of providing government for the new possessions and of solving problems of land tenure and trade. Still more imperative were measures to conciliate the Indians; for already Pontiac's rebellion had been in progress four months, and the entire back country was aflame. It must be confessed that a continental wilderness swarming with murderous savages was an inheritance whose aspect was by no means altogether pleasing to the English mind.
The easiest solution of the difficulty was to let things take their course. Let seaboard populations spread at will over the new lands; let them carry on trade in their own way, and make whatever arrangements with the native tribes they desire. Colonies such as Virginia and New York, which had extensive western claims, would have been glad to see this plan adopted. Strong objections, however, were raised. Colonies which had no western claims feared the effects of the advantages which their more fortunate neighbors would enjoy. Men who had invested heavily in lands lying west of the mountains felt that their returns would be diminished and delayed if the back country were thrown open to settlers. Some people thought that the Indians had a moral right to protection against wholesale white invasion of their hunting-grounds, and many considered it expedient, at all events, to offer such protection.
After all, however, it was the King and his ministers who had it in their power to settle the question; and from their point of view it was desirable to keep the western territories as much as possible apart from the older colonies, and to regulate, with farsighted policy, their settlement and trade. Eventually, it was believed, the territories would be cut into new colonies; and experience with the seaboard dependencies was already such as to suggest the desirability of having the future settlements more completely under government control from the beginning.
After due consideration, King George and his ministers made known their policy on October 7, 1763, in a comprehensive proclamation. The first subject dealt with was government. Four new provinces—"Quebec, East Florida, West Florida, and Grenada" *—were set up in the ceded territories, and their populations were guaranteed all the rights and privileges enjoyed by the inhabitants of the older colonies. The Mississippi Valley, however, was included in no one of these provinces; and, curiously, there was no provision whatever for the government of the French settlements lying within it. The number and size of these settlements were underestimated, and apparently it was supposed that all the habitants and soldiers would avail themselves of their privilege of withdrawing from the ceded territories.
* The Proclamation of 1763 drew the boundaries of "four distinct and separate governments." Grenada was to include the island of that name, together with the Grenadines. Dominico, St. Vincent, and Tobago. The Floridas lay south of the bounds of Georgia and east of the Mississippi River. The Apalachicola River was to be the dividing line between East and West Florida. Quebec included the modern province of that name and that part of Ontario lying north of a line drawn from Lake Nipissing to the point where the forty-fifth parallel intersects the St. Lawrence River.
The disposition made of the great rectangular area bounded by the Alleghanies, the Mississippi, the Lakes, and the Gulf, was fairly startling. With fine disregard of the chartered claims of the seaboard colonies and of the rights of pioneers already settled on frontier farms, the whole was erected into an Indian reserve. No "loving subject" might purchase land or settle in the territory without special license; present residents should "forthwith remove themselves"; trade should be carried on only by permit and under close surveillance; officers were to be stationed among the tribes to preserve friendly relations and to apprehend fugitives from colonial justice.
The objects of this drastic scheme were never clearly stated. Franklin believed that the main purpose was to conciliate the Indians. Washington agreed with him. Later historians have generally thought that what the English Government had chiefly in mind was to limit the bounds of the seaboard colonies, with a view to preserving imperial control over colonial affairs. Very likely both of these motives weighed heavily in the decision. At all events, Lord Hillsborough, who presided over the meetings of the Lords of Trade when the proclamation was discussed, subsequently wrote that the "capital object" of the Government's policy was to confine the colonies so that they should be kept in easy reach of British trade and of the authority necessary to keep them in due subordination to the mother country, and he added that the extension of the fur trade depended "entirely upon the Indians being undisturbed in the possession of their hunting-grounds." *
* But as Lord Hillsborough had just taken office and adopted bodily a policy formulated by his predecessor, he is none too good an authority. See Alvord's "Mississippi Valley in British Politics," vol. I, pp. 203-4.
It does not follow that the King and his advisers intended that the territory should be kept forever intact as a forest preserve. They seem to have contemplated that, from time to time, cessions would be secured from the Indians and tracts would be opened for settlement. But every move was to be made in accordance with plans formulated or authorized in England. The restrictive policy won by no means universal assent in the mother country. The Whigs generally opposed it, and Burke thundered against it as "an attempt to keep as a lair of wild beasts that earth which God, by an express charter, has given to the children of men."
In America there was a disposition to take the proclamation lightly as being a mere sop to the Indians. But wherever it was regarded seriously, it was hotly resented. After passing through an arduous war, the colonists were ready to enter upon a new expansive era. The western territories were theirs by charter, by settlement, and by conquest. The Indian population, they believed, belonged to the unprogressive and unproductive peoples of the earth. Every acre of fertile soil in America called to the thrifty agriculturist; every westward flowing river invited to trade and settlement as well, therefore, seek to keep back the ocean with a broom as to stop by mere decree the tide of homeseekers. Some of the colonies made honest attempts to compel the removal of settlers from the reserved lands beyond their borders, and Pennsylvania went so far as to decree the death penalty for all who should refuse to remove. But the law was never enforced.
The news of the cession of the eastern bank of the Mississippi to the English brought consternation to the two or three thousand French people living in the settlements of the Kaskaskia, Illinois, and Wabash regions. The transfer of the western bank to Spain did not become known promptly, and for months the habitants supposed that by taking up their abode on the opposite side of the stream they would continue under their own flag. Many of them crossed the Mississippi to find new abodes even after it was announced that the land had passed to Spain.
From first to last these settlements on the Mississippi, the Wabash, and the Illinois had remained, in French hands, mere sprawling villages. The largest of them, Kaskaskia, may have contained in its most flourishing days two thousand people, many of them voyageurs, coureurs-de-bois, converted Indians, and transients of one sort or another. In 1765 there were not above seventy permanent families. Few of the towns, indeed, attained a population of more than two or three hundred. All French colonial enterprise had been based on the assumption that settlers would be few. The trader preferred it so, because settlements meant restrictions upon his traffic. The Jesuit was of the same mind, because such settlements broke up his mission field. The Government at Paris forbade the emigration of the one class of people that cared to emigrate, the Huguenots.
Though some of the settlements had picturesque sites and others drew distinction from their fortifications, in general they presented a drab appearance. There were usually two or three long, narrow streets, with no paving, and often knee-deep with mud. The houses were built on either side, at intervals sufficient to give space for yards and garden plots, each homestead being enclosed with a crude picket fence. Wood and thatch were the commonest building materials, although stone was sometimes used; and the houses were regularly one story high, with large vine-covered verandas. Land was abundant and cheap. Every enterprising settler had a plot for himself, and as a rule one large field, or more, was held for use in common. In these, the operations of ploughing, sowing, and reaping were carefully regulated by public ordinance. Occasionally a village drew some distinction from the proximity of a large, well-managed estate, such as that of the opulent M. Beauvais of Kaskaskia, in whose mill and brewery more than eighty slaves were employed.
Agriculture was carried on somewhat extensively, and it is recorded that, in the year 1746 alone, when there was a shortage of foodstuffs at New Orleans, the Illinois settlers were able to send thither "upward of eight hundred thousand weight of flour." Hunting and trading, however, continued to be the principal occupations; and the sugar, indigo, cotton, and other luxuries which the people were able to import directly from Europe were paid for mainly with consignments of furs, hides, tallow, and beeswax. Money was practically unknown in the settlements, so that domestic trade likewise took the form of simple barter. Periods of industry and prosperity alternated with periods of depression, and the easy-going habitants—"farmers, hunters, traders by turn, with a strong admixture of unprogressive Indian blood"—tended always to relapse into utter indolence.
Some of these French towns, however, were seats of culture; and none was wholly barren of diversions. Kaskaskia had a Jesuit college and likewise a monastery. Cahokia had a school for Indian youth. Fort Chartres, we are gravely told, was "the center of life and fashion in the West." If everyday existence was humdrum, the villagers had always the opportunity for voluble conversation "each from his own balcony"; and there were scores of Church festivals, not to mention birthdays, visits of travelers or neighbors, and homecomings of hunters and traders, which invited to festivity. Balls and dances and other merrymakings at which the whole village assembled supplied the wants of a people proverbially fond of amusement. Indeed, French civilization in the Mississippi and Illinois country was by no means without charm.
Kaskaskia, in the wonderfully fertile "American Bottom," maintained its existence, in spite of the cession to the English, as did also Vincennes farther east on the Wabash. Fort Chartres, a stout fortification whose walls were more than two feet thick, remained the seat of the principal garrison, and some traces of French occupancy survived on the Illinois. Cahokia was deserted, save for the splendid mission-farm of St. Sulpice, with its thirty slaves, its herd of cattle, and its mill, which the fathers before returning to France sold to a thrifty Frenchman not averse to becoming an English subject. A few posts were abandoned altogether. Some of the departing inhabitants went back to France; some followed the French commandant, Neyon de Villiers, down the river to New Orleans; many gathered up their possessions, even to the frames and clapboards of their houses, and took refuge in the new towns which sprang up on the western bank. One of these new settlements was Ste. Genevieve, strategically located near the lead mines from which the entire region had long drawn its supplies of shot. Another, which was destined to greater importance, was St. Louis, established as a trading post on the richly wooded bluffs opposite Cahokia by Pierre Laclede in 1764.
Associated with Laclede in his fur-trading operations at the new post was a lithe young man named Pierre Chouteau. In 1846—eighty-two years afterwards—Francis Parkman sat on the spacious veranda of Pierre Chouteau's country house near the city of St. Louis and heard from the lips of the venerable merchant stories of Pontiac, Saint-Ange, Croghan, and all the western worthies, red and white, of two full generations. "Not all the magic of a dream," the historian remarks, "nor the enchantments of an Arabian tale, could outmatch the waking realities which were to rise upon the vision of Pierre Chouteau. Where, in his youth, he had climbed the woody bluff, and looked abroad on prairies dotted with bison, he saw, with the dim eye of his old age, the land darkened for many a furlong with the clustered roofs of the western metropolis. For the silence of the wilderness, he heard the clang and turmoil of human labor, the din of congregated thousands; and where the great river rolls down through the forest, in lonely grandeur, he saw the waters lashed into foam beneath the prows of panting steamboats, flocking to the broad levee."
Pontiac's war long kept the English from taking actual possession of the western country. Meanwhile Saint-Ange, commanding the remnant of the French garrison at Fort Chartres, resisted as best he could the demands of the redskins for assistance against their common enemy and hoped daily for the appearance of an English force to relieve him his difficult position. In the spring of 1764 an English officer, Major Loftus, with a body of troops lately employed in planting English authority in "East Florida" and "West Florida," set out from New Orleans to take possession of the up-river settlements. A few miles above the mouth of the Red, however, the boats were fired on, without warning, from both banks of the stream, and many of the men were killed or wounded. The expedition retreated down the river with all possible speed. This display of faintheartedness won the keen ridicule of the French, and the Governor, D'Abadie, with mock magnanimity, offered an escort of French soldiery to protect the party on its way back to Pensacola! Within a few months a second attempt was projected, but news of the bad temper of the Indians caused the leader, Captain Pittman, to turn back after reaching New Orleans.
Baffled in this direction, the new commander-in-chief, General Gage, resolved to accomplish the desired end by an expedition from Fort Pitt. Pontiac, however, was known to be still plotting vengeance at that time, and it seemed advisable to break the way for the proposed expedition by a special mission to placate the Indians. For this delicate task Sir William Johnson selected a trader of long experience and of good standing among the western tribes, George Croghan. Notwithstanding many mishaps, the plan was carried out. With two boats and a considerable party of soldiers and friendly Delawares, Croghan left Fort Pitt in May, 1765. As he descended the Ohio he carefully plotted the river's windings and wrote out an interesting description of the fauna and flora observed. All went well until he reached the mouth of the Wabash. There the party was set upon by a band of Kickapoos, who killed half a dozen of his men. Fluent apologies were at once offered. They had made the attack, they explained, only because the French had reported that the Indians with Croghan's band were Cherokees, the Kickapoos' most deadly enemies. Now that their mistake was apparent, the artful emissaries declared, their regret was indeed deep.
All of this was sheer pretense, and Croghan and his surviving followers were kept under close guard and were carried along with the Kickapoo band up the Wabash to Vincennes, where the trader encountered old Indian friends who soundly rebuked the captors for their inhospitality. Croghan knew the Indian nature too well to attempt to thwart the plans of his "hosts." Accordingly he went out with the band to the upper Wabash post Ouiatanon, where he received deputation after deputation from the neighboring tribes, smoked pipes of peace, made speeches, and shook hands with greasy warriors by the score. Here came a messenger from Saint-Ange asking him to proceed to Fort Chartres. Here, also, Pontiac met him, and, after being assured that the English had no intention of enslaving the natives, declared that he would no longer stand in the conquerors' path. Though in unexpected manner, Croghan's mission was accomplished, and, with many evidences of favor from the natives, he went on to Detroit and thence to Niagara, where he reported to Johnson that the situation in the West was ripe for the establishment of English sovereignty.
There was no reason for further delay, and Captain Thomas Sterling was dispatched with a hundred Highland veterans to take ever the settlements. Descending the Ohio from Fort Pitt, the expedition reached Fort Chartres just as the frosty air began to presage the coming of winter. On October 10, 1765,—more than two and a half years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris,—Saint-Ange made the long-desired transfer of authority. General Gage's high-sounding proclamation was read, the British flag was run up, and Sterling's red-coated soldiery established itself in the citadel. In due time small detachments were sent to Vincennes and other posts; and the triumph of the British power over Frenchman and Indian was complete. Saint-Ange retired with his little garrison to St. Louis, where, until the arrival of a Spanish lieutenant-governor in 1770, he acted by common consent as chief magistrate.
The creoles who passed under the English flag suffered little from the change. Their property and trading interests were not molested, and the English commandants made no effort to displace the old laws and usages. Documents were written and records were kept in French as well as English. The village priest and the notary retained their accustomed places of paternal authority. The old idyllic life went on. Population increased but little; barter, hunting, and trapping still furnished the means of a simple subsistence; and with music, dancing, and holiday festivities the light-hearted populace managed to crowd more pleasure into a year than the average English frontiersman got in a lifetime.
For a year or two after the European pacification of 1763 Indian disturbances held back the flood of settlers preparing to enter, through the Alleghany passes, the upper valleys of the westward flowing rivers. Neither Indian depredations nor proclamations of kings, however, could long interpose an effectual restraint. The supreme object of the settlers was to obtain land. Formerly there was land enough for all along the coasts or in the nearer uplands. But population, as Franklin computed, was doubling in twenty-five years; vacant areas had already been occupied; and desirable lands had been gathered into great speculative holdings. Newcomers were consequently forced to cross the mountains—and not only newcomers, but all residents who were still land-hungry and ambitious to better their condition.
To such the appeal of the great West was irresistible. The English Government might indeed regard the region as a "barren waste" or a "profitless wilderness," but not so the Scotch-Irish, Huguenot, and Palatine homeseekers who poured by the thousands through the Chesapeake and Delaware ports. Pushing past the settled seaboard country, these rugged men of adventure plunged joyously into the forest depths and became no less the founders of the coming nation than were the Pilgrims and the Cavaliers.
Ahead of the home-builder, however, went the speculator. It has been remarked that "from the time when Joliet and La Salle first found their way into the heart of the great West up to the present day when far-off Alaska is in the throes of development, 'big business' has been engaged in western speculation." * In pre-revolutionary days this speculation took the form of procuring, by grant or purchase, large tracts of western land which were to be sold and colonized at a profit. Franklin was interested in a number of such projects. Washington, the Lees, and a number of other prominent Virginians were connected with an enterprise which absorbed the old Ohio Company; and in 1770 Washington, piloted by Croghan, visited the Ohio country with a view to the discovery of desirable areas. Eventually he acquired western holdings amounting to thirty-three thousand acres, with a water-front of sixteen miles on the Ohio and of forty miles on the Great Kanawha.
* Alvord, Mississippi Valley in "British Politics," vol. I, p.86.
In 1773 a company promoted by Samuel Wharton, Benjamin Franklin, William Johnson, and a London banker, Thomas Walpole, secured the grant of two and a half million acres between the Alleghanies and the Ohio, which was to be the seat of a colony called Vandalia. This departure from the policy laid down in the Proclamation of 1763 was made reluctantly, but with a view to giving a definite western limit to the seaboard provinces. The Government's purpose was fully understood in America, and the project was warmly opposed, especially by Virginia, the chartered claimant of the territory. The early outbreak of the Revolutionary War wrecked the project, and nothing ever came of it—or indeed of any colonization proposal contemporary with it. By and large, the building of the West was to be the work, not of colonizing companies or other corporate interests, but of individual homeseekers, moving into the new country on their own responsibility and settling where and when their own interests and inclinations led.
Chapter III. The Revolution Begins
One of the grievances given prominence in the Declaration of Independence was that the English Crown had "abolished the free system of English laws in a neighbouring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same arbitrary rule into these colonies." The measure which was in the minds of the signers was the Quebec Act of 1774; and the feature to which they especially objected was the extension of this peculiarly governed Canadian province to include the whole of the territory north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi.
The Quebec Act was passed primarily to remedy a curious mistake made by King George's ministers eleven years earlier. The Proclamation of 1763 had been intended to apply to the new French speaking possessions in only a general way, leaving matters of government and law to be regulated at a later date. But through oversight it ordained the establishment of English law, and even of a representative assembly, precisely as in the other new provinces. The English governors were thus put in an awkward position. They were required to introduce English political forms and legal practices. Yet the inexperience and suspicion of the people made it unwise, if not impossible, to do so. When, for example, jury trial was broached, the peasants professed to be quite unable to understand why the English should prefer to have matters of law decided by tailors and shoemakers rather than by a judge; and as for a legislature, they frankly confessed that assemblies "had drawn upon other colonies so much distress, and had occasioned so much riot and bloodshed, that they had hoped never to have one."
The Act of 1774 relieved the situation by restoring French law in civil affairs, abolishing jury trial except in criminal cases, rescinding the grant of representative government, and confirming the Catholic clergy in the rights and privileges which they hard enjoyed under the old regime. This would have aroused no great amount of feeling among New Englanders and Virginians if the new arrangements had been confined to the bounds of the original province. But they were not so restricted. On the contrary, the new province was made to include the great region between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi, southward to the Ohio; and it was freely charged that a principal object of the English Government was to sever the West from the shore colonies and permanently link it with the St. Lawrence Valley rather than with the Atlantic slope.
At all events, the Quebec Act marked the beginning of civil government in the great Northwest. On November 9, 1775, Henry Hamilton appeared as Lieutenant-Governor at the new capital, Detroit. Already the "shot heard round the world" had been fired by the farmers at Lexington; and Hamilton had been obliged to thread his way through General Montgomery's lines about Montreal in the guise of a Canadian. Arrived at his new seat of authority, he found a pleasant, freshly fortified town whose white population had grown to fifteen hundred, including a considerable number of English-speaking settlers. The country round was overrun with traders, who cheated and cajoled the Indians without conscience; the natives, in turn, were a nondescript lot, showing in pitiful manner the bad effects of their contact with the whites.
As related by a contemporary chronicler—a Pennsylvanian who lived for years among the western tribes—an Indian hunting party on arriving at Detroit would trade perhaps a third of the peltries which they brought in for fine clothes, ammunition, paint, tobacco, and like articles. Then a keg of brandy would be purchased, and a council would be held to decide who was to get drunk and who to keep sober. All arms and clubs were taken away and hidden, and the orgy would begin. It was the task of those who kept sober to prevent the drunken ones from killing one another, a task always hazardous and frequently unsuccessful, sometimes as many as five being killed in a night. When the keg was empty, brandy was brought by the kettleful and ladled out with large wooden spoons; and this was kept up until the last skin had been disposed of. Then, dejected, wounded, lamed, with their fine new shirts torn, their blankets burned, and with nothing but their ammunition and tobacco saved, they would start off down the river to hunt in the Ohio country and begin again the same round of alternating toil and debauchery. In the history of the country there is hardly a more depressing chapter than that which records the easy descent of the red man, once his taste for "fire water" was developed, to bestiality and impotence.
The coming on of the Revolution produced no immediate effects in the West. The meaning of the occurrences round Boston was but slowly grasped by the frontier folk. There was little indeed that the Westerners could do to help the cause of the eastern patriots, and most of them, if left alone, would have been only distant spectators of the conflict. But orders given to the British agents and commanders called for the ravaging of the trans-Alleghany country; and as a consequence the West became an important theater of hostilities.
The British agents had no troops with which to undertake military operations on a considerable scale, but they had one great resource—the Indians—and this they used with a reckless disregard of all considerations of humanity. In the summer of 1776 the Cherokees were furnished with fifty horse-loads of ammunition and were turned loose upon the back country of Georgia and the Carolinas. Other tribes were prompted to depredations farther north. White, half-breed, and Indian agents went through the forests inciting the natives to deeds of horror; prices were fixed on scalps—and it is significant of the temper of these agents that a woman's scalp was paid for as readily as a man's.
In every corner of the wilderness the bloody scenes of Pontiac's war were now reenacted. Bands of savages lurked about the settlements, ready to attack at any unguarded moment; and wherever the thin blue smoke of a settler's cabin rose, prowlers lay in wait. A woman might not safely go a hundred yards to milk a cow, or a man lead a horse to water. The farmer carried a gun strapped to his side as he ploughed, and he scarcely dared venture into the woods for the winter's supply of fuel and game. Hardly a day passed on which a riderless horse did not come galloping into some lonely clearing, telling of afresh tragedy on the trail.
The rousing of the Indians against the frontiersmen was an odious act. The people of the back country were in not the slightest degree responsible for the revolt against British authority in the East. They were non-combatants, and no amount of success in sweeping them from their homes could affect the larger outcome. The crowning villainy of this shameful policy was the turning of the redskins loose to prey upon helpless women and children.
The responsibility for this inhumanity must be borne in some degree by the government of George III. "God and nature," wrote the Earl of Suffolk piously, "hath put into our hands the scalping-knife and tomahawk, to torture them into unconditional submission." But the fault lay chiefly with the British officers at the western posts—most of all, with Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton at Detroit. Probably no British representative in America was on better terms with the natives. He drank with them, sang war-songs with them, and received them with open arms when they came in from the forests with the scalps of white men dangling at their belts. A great council on the banks of the Detroit in June, 1778, was duly opened with prayer, after which Hamilton harangued the assembled Chippewas, Hurons, Mohawks, and Potawatomi on their "duties" in the war and congratulated them on the increasing numbers of their prisoners and scalps, and then urged them to redoubled activity by holding out the prospect of the complete expulsion of white men from the great interior hunting-grounds.
Scarcely were the deputations attending this council well on their way homewards when a courier arrived from the Illinois country bringing startling news. The story was that a band of three hundred rebels led by one George Rogers Clark had fallen upon the Kaskaskia settlements, had thrown the commandant into irons, and had exacted from the populace an oath of allegiance to the Continental Congress. It was reported, too, that Cahokia had been taken, and that, even as the messenger was leaving Kaskaskia, "Gibault, a French priest, had his horse ready saddled to go to Vincennes to receive the submission of the inhabitants in the name of the rebels."
George Rogers Clark was a Virginian, born in the foothills of Albemarle County three years before Braddock's defeat. His family was not of the landed gentry, but he received some education, and then, like Washington and many other adventuresome young men of the day, became a surveyor. At the age of twenty-two he was a member of Governor Dunmore's staff. During a surveying expedition he visited Kentucky, which so pleased him that in 1774 he decided to make that part of the back country his home. He was even then a man of powerful frame, with broad brow, keen blue eyes, and a dash of red in his hair from a Scottish ancestress—a man, too, of ardent patriotism, strong common sense, and exceptional powers of initiative and leadership. Small wonder that in the rapidly developing commonwealth beyond the mountains he quickly became a dominating spirit.
With a view to organizing a civil government and impressing upon the Virginia authorities the need of defending the western settlements, the men of Kentucky held a convention at Harrodsburg in the spring of 1775 and elected two delegates to present their petition to the Virginia Assembly. Clark was one of them. The journey to Williamsburg was long and arduous, and the delegates arrived only to find that the Legislature had adjourned. The visit, none the less, gave Clark an opportunity to explain to the new Governor—"a certain Patrick Henry, of Hanover County," as the royalist Dunmore contemptuously styled his successor—the situation in the back country and to obtain five hundred pounds of powder. He also induced the authorities to take steps which led to the definite organization of Kentucky as a county of Virginia.
In the bloody days that followed, most of the pioneers saw nothing to be done except to keep close guard and beat off the Indians when they came. A year or two of that sort of desperate uncertainty gave Clark an idea. Why not meet the trouble at its source by capturing the British posts and suppressing the commandants whose orders were mainly responsible for the atrocities? There was just one obstacle: Kentucky could spare neither men nor money for the undertaking.
In the spring of 1777 two young hunters, disguised as traders, were dispatched to the Illinois country and to the neighborhood of Vincennes, to spy out the land. They brought back word that the posts were not heavily manned, and that the French-speaking population took little interest in the war and was far from reconciled to British rule. The prospect seemed favorable. Without making his purpose known to anyone, Clark forthwith joined a band of disheartened settlers and made his way with them over the Wilderness Trail to Virginia. By this time a plan on the part of the rebels for the defense of the Kentucky settlements had grown into a scheme for the conquest of the whole Northwest.
Clark's proposal came opportunely. Burgoyne's surrender had given the colonial cause a rosy hue, and already the question of the occupation of the Northwest had come up for discussion in Congress. Governor Henry thought well of the plan. He called Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and George Wythe into conference, and on January 2, 1778, Clark was given two sets of orders—one, for publication, commissioning him to raise seven companies of fifty men each "in any county of the Commonwealth" for militia duty in Kentucky, the other, secret, authorizing him to use this force in an expedition for the capture of the "British post at Kaskasky." To meet the costs, only twelve hundred pounds in depreciated continental currency could be raised. But the Governor and his friends promised to try to secure three hundred acres of land for each soldier, in case the project should succeed. The strictest secrecy was preserved, and, even if the Legislature had been in session, the project would probably not have been divulged to it.
Men and supplies were gathered at Fort Pitt and Wheeling and were carried down the Ohio to "the Falls," opposite the site of Louisville. The real object of the expedition was concealed until this point was reached. On learning of the project, the men were surprised, and some refused to go farther. But in a few weeks one hundred and seventy-five men, organized in four companies, were in readiness. The start was made on the 24th of June. Just as the little flotilla of clumsy flatboats was caught by the rapid current, the landscape was darkened by an eclipse of the sun. The superstitious said that this was surely an evil omen. But Clark was no believer in omens, and he ordered the bateaux to proceed. He had lately received news of the French alliance, and was surer than ever that the habitants would make common cause with his forces and give him complete success.
To appear on the Mississippi was to run the risk of betraying the object of the expedition to the defenders of the posts. Hence the wily commander decided to make the last stages of his advance by an overland route. At the deserted site of Fort Massac, nine miles below the mouth of the Tennessee, the little army left the Ohio and struck off northwest on a march of one hundred and twenty miles, as the crow flies, across the tangled forests and rich prairies of southern Illinois.
Six days brought the invaders to the Kaskaskia River, three miles above the principal settlement. Stealing silently along the bank of the stream on the night of the 4th of July, they crossed in boats which they seized at a farmhouse and arrived at the palisades wholly unobserved. Half of the force was stationed in the form of a cordon, so that no one might escape. The remainder followed Clark through an unguarded gateway into the village.
According to a story long current, the officials of the post were that night giving a ball, and all of the elite, not of Kaskaskia alone but of the neighboring settlements as well, were joyously dancing in one of the larger rooms of the fort. Leaving his men some paces distant, Clark stepped to the entrance of the hall, and for some time leaned unobserved against the door-post, grimly watching the gayety. Suddenly the air was rent by a warwhoop which brought the dancers to a stop. An Indian brave, lounging in the firelight, had caught a glimpse of the tall, gaunt, buff and blue figure in the doorway and had recognized it. Women shrieked; men cursed; the musicians left their posts; all was disorder. Advancing, Clark struck a theatrical pose and in a voice of command told the merrymakers to go on with their dancing, but to take note that they now danced, not as subjects of King George but as Virginians. Finding that they were in no mood for further diversion, he sent them to their homes; and all night they shivered with fear, daring not so much as to light a candle lest they should be set upon and murdered in their beds.
This account is wholly unsupported by contemporary testimony, and it probably sprang from the imagination of some good frontier story-teller. It contains at least this much truth, that the settlement, after being thrown into panic, was quickly and easily taken. Curiously enough, the commandant was a Frenchman, Rocheblave, who had thriftily entered the British service. True to the trust reposed in him, he protested and threatened, but to no avail. The garrison, now much diminished, was helpless, and the populace—British, French, and Indian alike—was not disposed to court disaster by offering armed resistance. Hence, on the morning after the capture the oath of fidelity was administered, and the American flag was hoisted for the first time within view of the Father of Waters. After dispatching word to General Carleton that he had been compelled to surrender the post to "the self-styled Colonel, Mr. Clark," Rocheblave was sent as a captive to Williamsburg, where he soon broke parole and escaped. His slaves were sold for five hundred pounds, and the money was distributed among the troops. Cahokia was occupied without resistance, and the French priest, Father Pierre Gibault, whose parish extended from Lake Superior to the Ohio, volunteered to go to Vincennes and win its inhabitants to the American cause.
Like Kaskaskia and Cahokia, the Wabash settlement had been put in charge of a commandant of French descent. The village, however, was at the moment without a garrison, and its chief stronghold, Fort Sackville, was untenanted. Gibault argued forcefully for acceptance of American sovereignty, and within two days the entire population filed into the little church and took the oath of allegiance. The astonished Indians were given to understand that their former "Great Father," the King of France, had returned to life, and that they must comply promptly with his wishes or incur his everlasting wrath for having given aid to the despised British.
Thus without the firing of a shot or the shedding of a drop of blood, the vast Illinois and Wabash country was won for the future United States. Clark's plan was such that its success was assured by its very audacity. It never occurred to the British authorities that their far western forts were in danger, and they were wholly unprepared to fly to the defense of such distant posts. British sovereignty on the Mississippi was never recovered; and in the autumn of 1778 Virginia took steps to organize her new conquest by setting up the county of Illinois, which included all her territories lying "on the western side of the Ohio."
Chapter IV. The Conquest Completed
Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton had many faults, but sloth was not one of them; and when he heard what had happened he promptly decided to regain the posts and take the upstart Kentucky conqueror captive. Emissaries were sent to the Wabash country to stir up the Indians, and for weeks the Detroit settlement resounded with preparations for the expedition. Boats were built or repaired, guns were cleaned, ammunition was collected in boxes, provisions were put up in kegs or bags, baubles for the Indians were made or purchased. Cattle and wheels, together with a six-pounder, were sent ahead to be in readiness for use at various stages of the journey.
Further weeks were consumed in awaiting reenforcements which never came; and in early October, when the wild geese were scudding southward before the first snow flurries of the coming winter, the commandant started for the reconquest with a motley force of thirty-six British regulars, forty-five local volunteers, seventy-nine local militia, and sixty Indians. Reenforcements were gathered on the road, so that when Vincennes was reached the little army numbered about five hundred. From Detroit the party dropped easily down the river to Lake Erie, where it narrowly escaped destruction in a blinding snowstorm. By good management, however, it was brought safely to the Maumee, up whose sluggish waters the bateaux were laboriously poled. A portage of nine miles gave access to the Wabash. Here the water was very shallow, and only by building occasional dikes to produce a current did the party find it possible to complete the journey. As conferences with the Indians further delayed them, it was not until a few days before Christmas that the invaders reached their goal.
The capture of Vincennes proved easy enough. The surrender, none the less, was made in good military style. There were two iron three-pounders in the wretched little fort, and one of these was loaded to the muzzle and placed in the open gate. As Hamilton and his men advanced, so runs a not very well authenticated story, Lieutenant Helm stood by the gun with a lighted taper and called sternly upon the invaders to halt. The British leader demanded the surrender of the garrison. Helm parleyed and asked for terms. Hamilton finally conceded the honors of war, and Helm magnanimously accepted. Hamilton thereupon drew up his forces in a double line, the British on one side and the Indians on the other; and the garrison—one officer and one soldier—solemnly marched out between them! After the "conquerors" had regained their equanimity, the cross of St. George was once more run up on the fort. A body of French militia returned to British allegiance with quite as much facility as it had shown in accepting American sovereignty under the eloquence of Father Gibault; and the French inhabitants, gathered again in the church, with perfectly straight faces acknowledged that they had "sinned against God and man" by taking sides with the rebels, and promised to be loyal thereafter to George III.
Had the British forces immediately pushed on, this same scene might have been repeated at Kaskaskia and Cahokia. Clark's position there was far from strong. Upon the expiration of their term of enlistment most of his men had gone back to Kentucky or Virginia, and their places had been taken mainly by creoles, whose steadfastness was doubtful. Furthermore, the Indians were restless, and it was only by much vigilance and bravado that they were kept in a respectful mood. All this was well known to Hamilton, who now proposed to follow up the recapture of the Mississippi posts by the obliteration of all traces of American authority west of the Alleghanies.
The difficulties and dangers of a midwinter campaign in the flooded Illinois country were not to be lightly regarded, and weeks of contending with icy blasts and drenching rains lent a seat by an open fire unusual attractiveness. Hence the completion of the campaign was postponed until spring—a decision which proved the salvation of the American cause in the West. As means of subsistence were slender, most of the Detroit militia were sent home, and the Indians were allowed to scatter to their distant wigwams. The force kept at the post numbered only about eighty or ninety whites, with a few Indians.
Clark now had at Kaskaskia a band of slightly over a hundred men. He understood Hamilton's army to number five or six hundred. The outlook was dubious, until Francois Vigo, a friendly Spanish trader of St. Louis, escaping captivity at Vincennes, came to Kaskaskia with the information that Hamilton had sent away most of his troops; and this welcome news gave the doughty Kentuckian a brilliant idea. He would defend his post by attacking the invaders while they were yet at Vincennes, and before they were ready to resume operations. "The case is desperate," he wrote to Governor Henry, "but, sir, we must either quit the country or attack Mr. Hamilton." He had probably never heard of Scipio Africanus but, like that indomitable Roman, he proposed to carry the war straight into the enemy's country. "There were undoubtedly appalling difficulties," says Mr. Roosevelt, "in the way of a midwinter march and attack; and the fact that Clark attempted and performed the feat which Hamilton dared not try, marks just the difference between a man of genius and a good, brave, ordinary commander."
Preparations were pushed with all speed. A large, flat-bottomed boat, the Willing, was fitted out with four guns and was sent down the Mississippi with forty men to ascend the Ohio and the Wabash to a place of rendezvous not far from the coveted post. By early February the depleted companies were recruited to their full strength; and after the enterprise had been solemnly blessed by Father Gibault, Clark and his forces, numbering one hundred and thirty men, pushed out upon the desolate, windswept prairie.
The distance to be covered was about two hundred and thirty miles. Under favorable circumstances, the trip could have been made in five or six days and with little hardship. The rainy season, however, was now at its height, and the country was one vast quagmire, overrun by swollen streams which could be crossed only at great risk. Ten days of wearisome marching brought the expedition to the forks of the Little Wabash. The entire region between the two channels was under water, and for a little time it looked as if the whole enterprise would have to be given up. There were no boats; provisions were running low; game was scarce; and fires could not be built for cooking.
But Clark could not be turned back by such difficulties. He plunged ahead of his men, struck tip songs and cheers to keep them in spirit, played the buffoon, went wherever danger was greatest, and by an almost unmatched display of bravery, tact, and firmness, won the redoubled admiration of his suffering followers and held them together. Murmurs arose among the creoles, but the Americans showed no signs of faltering. For more than a week the party floundered through the freezing water, picked its way from one outcropping bit of earth to another, and seldom found opportunity to eat or sleep. Rifles and powder-horns had to be borne by the hour above the soldiers' heads to keep them dry.
Finally, on the 23d of February, a supreme effort carried the troops across the Horseshoe Plain, breast-deep in water, and out upon high ground two miles from Vincennes. By this time many of the men were so weakened that they could drag themselves along only with assistance. But buffalo meat and corn were confiscated from the canoes of some passing squaws, and soon the troops were refreshed and in good spirits. The battle with the enemy ahead seemed as nothing when compared with the struggle with the elements which they had successfully waged. No exploit of the kind in American history surpasses this, unless it be Benedict Arnold's winter march through the wilderness of Maine in 1775 to attack Quebec.
Two or three creole hunters were now taken captive, and from them Clark learned that no one in Vincennes knew of his approach. They reported, however, that, although the habitants were tired of the "Hair-Buyer's" presence and would gladly return to American allegiance, some two hundred Indians had just arrived at the fort. The Willing had not been heard from. But an immediate attack seemed the proper course; and the young colonel planned and carried it out with the curious mixture of bravery and braggadocio of which he was a past master.
First he drew up a lordly letter, addressed to the inhabitants of the town, and dispatched it by one of his creole prisoners. "Gentlemen," it ran, "being now within two miles of your village with my army...and not being willing to surprise you, I take this step to request such of you as are true citizens, and willing to enjoy the liberty I bring you, to remain still in your houses. And those, if any there be, that are friends to the King, will instantly repair to the fort and join the Hair-Buyer General and fight like men." Having thus given due warning, he led his "army" forward, marching and counter-marching his meager forces among the trees and hills to give an appearance of great numbers, while he and his captains helped keep up the illusion by galloping wildly here and there on horses they had confiscated, as if ordering a vast array. At nightfall the men advanced upon the stockade and opened fire from two directions.
Not until a sergeant reeled from his chair with a bullet in his breast did the garrison realize that it was really under attack. The habitants had kept their secret well. There was a beating of drums and a hurrying to arms, and throughout the night a hot fusillade was kept up. By firing from behind houses and trees, and from rifle pits that were dug before the attack began, the Americans virtually escaped loss; while Hamilton's gunners were picked off as fast as they appeared at the portholes of the fort. Clark's ammunition ran low, but the habitants furnished a fresh supply and at the same time a hot breakfast for the men. In a few hours the cannon were silenced, and parleys were opened. Hamilton insisted that he and his garrison were "not disposed to be awed into an action unworthy of British subjects," but they were plainly frightened, and Clark finally sent the commandant back to the fort from a conference in the old French church with the concession of one hour's time in which to decide what he would do. To help him make up his mind, the American leader caused half a dozen Indians who had just returned from the forests with white men's scalps dangling at their belts to be tomahawked and thrown into the river within plain view of the garrison.
Surrender promptly followed. Hamilton and twenty-five of his men were sent off as captives to Virginia, where the commandant languished in prison until, in 1780, he was paroled at the suggestion of Washington. On taking, an oath of neutrality, the remaining British sympathizers were set at liberty. For a second time the American flag floated over Indiana soil, not again to be lowered.
Immediately after the capitulation of Hamilton, a scouting-party captured a relief expedition which was on its way from Detroit and placed in Clark's hands ten thousand pounds' worth of supplies for distribution as prize-money among his deserving men. The commander's cup of satisfaction was filled to the brim when the Willing appeared with a long-awaited messenger from Governor Henry who brought to the soldiers the thanks of the Legislature of Virginia for the capture of Kaskaskia and also the promise of more substantial reward.
The whole of the Illinois and Indiana country was now in American hands. Tenure, however, was precarious so long as Detroit remained a British stronghold, and Clark now broadened his plans to embrace the capture of that strategic place. Leaving Vincennes in charge of a garrison of forty men, he returned to Kaskaskia with the Willing and set about organizing a new expedition. Kentucky pledged three hundred men, and Virginia promised to help. But when, in midsummer, the commander returned to Vincennes to consolidate and organize his force, he found the numbers to be quite insufficient. From Kentucky there came only thirty men.
Disappointment followed disappointment; he was ordered to build a fort at the mouth of the Ohio—a project of which he had himself approved; and when at last he had under his command a force that might have been adequate for the Detroit expedition, he was obliged to use it in meeting a fresh incursion of savages which had been stirred up by the new British commandant on the Lakes. But Thomas Jefferson, who in 1779 succeeded Henry as Governor of Virginia, was deeply interested in the Detroit project, and at his suggestion Washington gave Clark an order on the commandant of Fort Pitt for guns, supplies, and such troops as could be spared. On January 22, 1781, Jefferson appointed Clark "brigadier-general of the forces to be embodied on an expedition westward of the Ohio." Again Clark was doomed to disappointment. One obstacle after another interposed. Yet as late as May, 1781, the expectant conqueror wrote to Washington that he had "not yet lost sight of Detroit." Suitable opportunity for the expedition never came, and when peace was declared the northern stronghold was still in British hands.
Clark's later days were clouded. Although Virginia gave him six thousand acres of land in southern Indiana and presented him with a sword, peace left him without employment, and he was never able to adjust himself to the changed situation. For many years he lived alone in a little cabin on the banks of the Ohio, spending his time hunting, fishing, and brooding over the failure of Congress to reward him in more substantial manner for his services. He was land-poor, lonely, and embittered. In 1818 he died a paralyzed and helpless cripple. His resting place is in Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville; the finest statue of him stands in Monument Circle, Indianapolis—"an athletic figure, scarcely past youth, tall and sinewy, with a drawn sword, in an attitude of energetic encouragement, as if getting his army through the drowned lands of the Wabash." *
* Hosmer, "Short History of the Mississippi Valley." p. 94.
The capture of Vincennes determined the fate of the Northwest. Frontier warfare nevertheless went steadily on. In 1779 Spain entered the contest as an ally of France, and it became the object of the British commanders on the Lakes not only to recover the posts lost to the Americans but to seize St. Louis and other Spanish strongholds on the west bank of the Mississippi. In 1780 Lieutenant-Governor Patrick Sinclair, a bustling, garrulous old soldier stationed at Michilimackinac, sent a force of some nine hundred traders, servants, and Indians down the Mississippi to capture both the American and Spanish settlements. An attack on St. Louis failed, as did likewise a series of efforts against Cahokia and Kaskaskia, and the survivors were glad to reach their northern headquarters again, with nothing to show for their pains except a dozen prisoners.
Not to be outdone, the Spanish commandant at St. Louis sent an expedition to capture British posts in the Lake country. An arduous winter march brought the avengers and their Indian allies to Fort St. Joseph, a mile or two west of the present city of Niles, Michigan. It would be ungracious to say that this post was selected for attack because it was without a garrison. At all events, the place was duly seized, the Spanish standard was set up, and possession of "the fort and its dependencies" was taken in the name of his Majesty Don Carlos III. No effort was made to hold the settlement permanently, and the British from Detroit promptly retook it. Probably the sole intention had been to add somewhat to the strength of the Spanish position at the forthcoming negotiations for peace.
The war in the West ended, as it began, in a carnival of butchery. Treacherous attacks, massacres, burnings, and pillagings were everyday occurrences, and white men were hardly less at fault than red. Indeed the most discreditable of all the recorded episodes of the time was a heartless massacre by Americans of a large band of Indians that had been Christianized by Moravian missionaries and brought together in a peaceful community on the Muskingum. This slaughter of the innocents at Gnadenhutten ("the Tents of Grace") reveals the frontiersman at his worst. But it was dearly paid for. From the Lakes to the Gulf redskins rose for vengeance. Villages were wiped out, and murderous bands swept far into Virginia and Pennsylvania, evading fortified posts in order to fall with irresistible fury on unsuspecting traders and settlers.
In midsummer, 1782, news of the cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and her former seaboard colonies reached the back country, and the commandant at Detroit made an honest effort to stop all offensive operations. A messenger failed, however, to reach a certain Captain Caldwell, operating in the Ohio country, in time to prevent him from attacking a Kentucky settlement and bringing on the deadly Battle of Blue Licks, in which the Americans were defeated with a loss of seventy-one men. George Rogers Clark forthwith led a retaliatory expedition against the Miami towns, taking prisoners, recapturing whites, and destroying British trading establishments; and with this final flare-up the Revolution came to an end in the Northwest.
The soldier had won the back country for the new nation. Could the diplomat hold it? As early as March 19, 1779,—just three weeks after Clark's capture of Vincennes,—the Continental Congress formally laid claim to the whole of the Northwest; and a few months later John Adams was instructed to negotiate for peace on the understanding that the country's northern and western boundaries were to be the line of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. When, in 1781, Franklin, Jefferson, Jay, and Laurens were appointed to assist Adams in the negotiation, the new Congress of the Confederation stated that the earlier instructions on boundaries represented its "desires and expectations."
It might have been supposed that if Great Britain could be brought to accept these terms there would be no further difficulty. But obstacles arose from other directions. France had entered the war for her own reasons, and looked with decidedly more satisfaction on the defeat of Great Britain than on the prospect of a new and powerful nation in the Western Hemisphere. Furthermore, she was in close alliance with Spain; and Spain had no sympathy whatever with the American cause as such. At all events, she did not want the United States for a neighbor on the Mississippi.
The American commissioners were under instructions to make no peace without consulting France. But when, in the spring of 1782, Jay came upon the scene of the negotiations at Paris, he demurred. He had been for some time in Spain, and he carried to Paris not only a keen contempt for the Spanish people and Spanish politics, but a strong suspicion that Spain was using her influence to keep the United States from getting the territory between the Lakes and the Ohio. France soon fell under similar suspicion, for she was under obligations, as everyone knew, to satisfy Spain; and little time elapsed before the penetrating American diplomat was semiofficially assured that his suspicions in both directions were well founded.
The mainspring of Spanish policy was the desire to make the Gulf of Mexico a closed sea, under exclusive Spanish control. This plan would be frustrated if the Americans acquired an outlet on the Gulf; furthermore, it would be jeopardized if they retained control on the upper Mississippi. Hence, the States must be kept back from the great river; safety dictated that they be confined to the region east of the Appalachians.
An ingenious plan was thereupon developed. Spain was to resume possession of the Floridas, insuring thereby the coveted unbroken coast line on the Gulf. The vast area between the Mississippi and the Appalachians and south of the Ohio was to be an Indian territory, half under Spanish and half under American "protection." The entire region north of the Ohio was to be kept by Great Britain, or, at the most, divided—on lines to be determined—between Great Britain and the United States. From Rayneval, confidential secretary of the French foreign minister Vergennes, Jay learned that the French Government proposed to give this scheme its support.
Had such terms as these been forced on the new nation, the hundreds of Virginian and Pennsylvanian pioneers who had given up their lives in the planting of American civilization in the back country would have turned in their graves. But Jay had no notion of allowing the scheme to succeed. He sent an emissary to England to counteract the Spanish and French influence. He converted Adams to his way of thinking, and even raised doubts in Franklin's mind. Finally he induced his colleagues to cast their instructions to the winds and negotiate a treaty with the mother country independently.
This simplified matters immensely. Great Britain was a beaten nation, and from the beginning her commissioners played a losing game. There was much haggling over the loyalists, the fisheries, debts; but the boundaries were quickly drawn. Great Britain preferred to see the disputed western country in American hands rather than to leave a chance for it to fall under the control of one of her European rivals.
Accordingly, the Treaty of Paris drew the interior boundary of the new nation through the Great Lakes and connecting waters to the Lake of the Woods; from the most northwestern point of the Lake of the Woods due west to the Mississippi (an impossible line); down the Mississippi to latitude 31 degrees; thence east, by that parallel and by the line which is now the northern boundary of Florida, to the ocean. Three nations, instead of two, again shared the North American Continent: Great Britain kept the territory north of the Lakes; Spain ruled the Floridas and everything west of the Mississippi; the United States held the remainder—an area of more than 825,000 square miles, with a population of three and one half millions.
Chapter V. Wayne, The Scourge Of The Indians
"This federal republic," wrote the Spanish Count d'Aranda to his royal master in 1782, "is born a pigmy. A day will come when it will be a giant, even a colossus. Liberty of conscience, the facility for establishing a new population on immense lands, as well as the advantages of the new government, will draw thither farmers and artisans from all the nations."
Aranda correctly weighed the value of the country's vast stretches of free and fertile land. The history of the United States has been largely a story of the clearing of forests, the laying out of farms, the erection of homes, the construction of highways, the introduction of machinery, the building of railroads, the rise of towns and of great cities. The Germans of Wisconsin and Missouri, the Scandinavians of Minnesota and the Dakotas, the Poles and Hungarians of Chicago, the Irish and Italians of a thousand communities, attest the fact that the "farmers and artisans from all the nations" have had an honorable part in the achievement.
In laying plans for the development of the western lands the statesmanship of the evolutionary leaders was at its best. In the first place, the seven States which had some sort of title to tracts extending westward to the Mississippi wisely yielded these claims to the nation; and thus was created a single, national domain which could be dealt with in accordance with a consistent policy. In the second place, Congress, as early as 1780, pledged the national Government to dispose of the western lands for the common benefit, and promised that they should be "settled and formed into distinct republican states, which shall become members of the federal union, and have the same rights of sovereignty, freedom; and independence as the other states."
Finally, in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 there was mapped out a scheme of government admirably adapted to the liberty-loving, yet law-abiding, populations of the frontier. It was based on the broad principles of democracy, and it was sufficiently flexible to permit necessary changes as the scattered settlements developed into organized Territories and then into States. Geographical conditions, as well as racial inheritances, foreordained that the United States should be an expanding, colonizing nation; and it was of vital importance that wholesome precedents of territorial control should be established in the beginning. Louisiana, Florida, the Mexican accessions, Alaska, and even the newer tropical dependencies, owe much to the decisions that were reached in the organizing of the Northwest a century and a quarter ago.
The Northwest Ordinance was remarkable in that it was framed for a territory that had practically no white population and which, in a sense, did not belong to the United States at all. Back in 1768 Sir William Johnson's Treaty of Fort Stanwix had made the Ohio River the boundary between the white and red races of the West. Nobody at the close of the Revolution supposed that this division would be adhered to; the Northwest had not been won for purposes of an Indian reserve. None the less, the arrangements of 1768 were inherited, and the nation considered them binding except in so far as they were modified from time to time by new agreements. The first such agreement affecting the Northwest was concluded in 1785, through George Rogers Clark and two other commissioners, with the Wyandots, Delawares, Chippewas, and Ottawas. By it the United States acquired title to the southeastern half of the present State of Ohio, with a view to surveying the lands and raising revenue by selling them. Successive treaties during the next thirty years gradually transferred the whole of the Northwest from Indian hands to the new nation.
Officially, the United States recognized the validity of the Indian claims; but the pioneer homeseeker was not so certain to do so. From about 1775 the country south of the Ohio filled rapidly with settlers from Virginia and the Carolinas, so that by 1788 the white population beyond the Blue Ridge was believed to be considerably over one hundred thousand. For a decade the "Indian side," as the north shore was habitually called, was trodden only by occasional hunters, traders, and explorers. But after Clark's victories on the Mississippi and the Wabash, the frontiersmen grew bolder. By 1780 they began to plant camps and cabins on the rich bottom-lands of the Miamis, the Scioto, and the Muskingum; and when they heard that the British claims in the West had been formally yielded, they assumed that whatever they could take was theirs. With the technicalities of Indian claims they had not much patience. In 1785 Colonel Harmar, commanding at Fort Pitt, sent a deputation down the river to drive the intruders back. But his agents returned with the report that the Virginians and Kentuckians were moving into the forbidden country "by the forties and fifties," and that they gave every evidence of proposing to remain there. Surveyors were forthwith set to work in the "Seven Ranges," as the tract just to the west of the Pennsylvania boundary was called; and Fort Harmar was built at the mouth of the Muskingum to keep the over-ardent settlers back.