Over a week ago, we headed out with the camper for Southwestern Indiana to meet our daughter and son-in-law for some R & R and visiting some national parks and historic sites in this part of the country. This post and the next four will tell the story of our stops on this journey.
The first site we visited was the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, Indiana. Clark was a Revolutionary War hero who served as the leader Kentucky militia (then a part of Virginia). He is best known for his captures of Kaskaskia (originally a French trading post captured by the British in present day Illinois) and Vincennes (located on the Indiana side of the Wabash River) during the Illinois campaign that greatly weakened the British in the Northwest Territories. After the British ceded the Northwest Territories at the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Clark was hailed as the conqueror of the old Northwest. This land mass nearly doubled the size of the original 13 colonies and eventually became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and the east 1/3 of Minnesota.
George Roger Clark proposed a strategy to take the revolution to British held territory north of the Ohio River. His official orders were to protect the Kentucky frontier but secretly was told to align with the French and eventually capture Fort Detroit. Clark led a fighting force of 150 volunteers first to Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River where he captured the village without firing a shot. Clark then sent smaller groups to Cahokia and Fort Sackville (located in present day Vincennes) and took them both. But when the British learned that Fort Sackville had fallen into the hands of the Americans, a force of regulars and Natives were sent to recapture the Fort. The small American force was overwhelmed and soon surrendered when the French and Natives who had aligned with the American switched sides. Apparently, this was a common occurrence! As winter approached, the British commander dismissed the French and Native supporters thinking the American wouldn’t dare attack during the cold winter months. How wrong he was! Francis Vigo, a merchant and trader who sympathized with the Americans informed the Americans that Fort Sackville was lightly protected. Learning this, Clark marched his men through icy water and snow for 160 miles. When they arrived they fired on the Fort surprising the British, who quickly surrendered. These heroic acts weakened the British resolve and they ceded the Northwest Territories to the new American colonies.
The Memorial was proposed in the 1920’s during the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution. The state of Indiana wanted to honor the achievements of George Rogers Clark. Congress agreed and a commission was created to design and construct a suitable memorial not only for Clark but for those volunteers who sacrificed to open the west for settlement. The Memorial is built on the what is believed to be the site of Fort Sackville. The Greek style structure is build of granite with 16 columns supporting a massive round roof. Inside stands a statue of George Rogers Clark surrounded by 11 painted murals depicting the feats of Clark and his men.
On the mall outside the Memorial is a statue of Francis Vigo, the respected merchant and supporter of the Revolution.
Fortunately, the day of our visit, a reenactment group was camped at the Memorial to educate visitors on what it was like on the frontier during Clark’s time. It was interesting to learn that at various times, the Spanish, the French, and the British laid claim to this part of the world. Vincennes, named after a French fur trader, was founded in 1732 and is the oldest city in Indiana and is one of the oldest settlements west of Appalachian Mountains. For a time, it was the territorial capitol of Indiana. I point that out because the reenactors represented all three of these nationalities as well as the Americans. When we first arrived at the Memorial, we saw a cannon and immediately the guys thought they would be blowing some stuff up! Not so much but they did promise to shoot the cannon off during the retirement of the colors at around 4 PM.
We took in many of the displays and talked with the reenactors, all willing to share their knowledge. This fellow talked about making dyes from natural materials that were then used to dye wool, the most common cloth available during the Revolutionary times.
Another woman demonstrated bread baking and had some young volunteers help her with the work.
There was a gunsmith on hand talking about how firearms worked, mostly flintlock rifles and pistols.
The doctor explained what passed for medicine at that time. Did you know that one could become a doctor by attending two four month lectures (both the same) and without any clinical or hospital experience? Scary thought, huh!!
A Native American woman showed artifacts and the trading items that were used as currency during the Revolutionary War.
The following photos were taken of some of the people participating in the program.
I was particularly enamored by a group of soldiers and youth playing fifes and drums that paraded through the Memorial grounds at around 4 PM to retire the colors. Here are some photos of that group. I believe the flag is the flag of the French who supported the American Revolution.
Nearby the Memorial is the Old Cathedral Complex, the oldest parish church in Indiana. The complex contains a library with books and documents dating from the 1700’s.
It was a very enjoyable afternoon visit especially with the reenactment on the grounds. The visitors center includes a display and a short movie about the history of George Rogers Clark. By the way, he was the older brother of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. Lots of American history in that family!
Hope you enjoyed your brief tour of this National Historical Park. Stop by one or more of the over 400 national parks, monuments, historical sites, preserves, battlefields, memorials, recreation areas, seashores, parkways and trails. Lots to see, do and learn about our country.
Take care and travel safe,