ISSUES AT FORT JEFFERSON, 1780-1781: THE QUARTERMASTER BOOKS OF JOHN DODGE AND MARTIN CARNEY
Kenneth C. Carstens
Murray State University
Fort Jefferson and its associated community of Clarksville were built near the mouth of the Ohio River in 1780, so that Virginia could physically claim her western "paper" boundary. The fort and community were short-lived, both being evacuated during June of 1781, only 14 months after being established. Foremost among the reasons cited by historians for the evacuation of Fort Jefferson and Clarksville have been the notions that (1) the fort and community were poorly supplied, and (2) the fort and community were under constant threat of Indian attack. This paper includes an examination of the three surviving Fort Jefferson quartermaster books and what those books reveal about the brief history of Fort Jefferson.
When the name George Rogers Clark is remembered, it generally is recalled within the context of only several specific events. Chief among them are his capture of Kaskaskia in 1778, and his successful taking of Vincennes from the British in February of 1779 a feat made even more significant as a result of his crossing the semi-frozen and flooded Illinois country in order to surprise the British at Fort Sackville.
Sometimes, however, less positive remembrances of Clark are recounted also, such as his frustration at never having realized his ultimate military conquest: Detroit. As frustrating to Clark, possibly even maddening, was the lack of support given to him by his Virginian countrymen, as well as their subsequent failure to acknowledge Clark's personal indebtedness in support of the war effort.
Sadly to say, these generally are considered to be the major ups and downs of Clark's early military career. And, as over generalized and glorified as the above cited examples sometimes are, they represent those aspects of history that most people frequently associate with George Rogers Clark.
For individuals, such as myself, who spend their days studying the "lesser" known aspects of Clark and his military activities, it is rewarding to know that the least emphasized aspects of his career are the same areas of study that now are providing new and excitingly more complete accounts of the American Revolution in the West.
One such example of a "lesser" known aspect of George Rogers Clark's military career, which now is contributing significantly to a better understanding of the Revolution in the West, is Fort Jefferson. That outpost, which also is referenced as Clark's "Fort at the Mouth of the Ohio" and "Fort at the Iron Banks" (James 1972, I; II), initially was proposed for construction by Governor Patrick Henry in 1777 (Henry 1969:582-588; James 1972, I:cxxii). Authorization to begin construction, however, was not issued until January of 1780.
By then, Thomas Jefferson, the new governor of Virginia, instructed Clark to build the fort as near as possible to the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Jefferson added in his instructions that a civilian community should be built adjacent to the fortification, so that the gardens of the inhabitants might be used to produce the food that Virginia would not be able to supply on a regular basis (James 1972, I:386-391).
The purposes for Fort Jefferson's placement were military and political. Militarily, the fort was established as a control against major inland river traffic. Likewise, the fort was to serve as a check against the quantities of arms and munitions being distributed to the British Indian allies (i.e., the Chickasaws), and it was believed that the presence of the fort near the confluence area would help guard against either Spanish or British encroachment from the west or north, respectively (by early 1780, Spain had not yet sided formally with the American cause [English 1896:666-667]). Lastly, the fort's location at the mouth of the Ohio would help Virginia justify her "political" claims to her chartered western boundary (Hening 1823, I:57-58).
By the middle of April 1780, Clark and an unspecified number of Virginia state troops, militia and civilian families left the Falls of the Ohio (Louisville) for the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers (James 1972, I:386-391). According to one primary account (ibid.:422-423), Clark's total force upon leaving Louisville numbered about 120 persons. (No complete inventory of the population that accompanied Clark to the mouth of the Ohio ever has been located.) Clark and followers arrived at the confluence on April 19, 1780 (ibid.: 417-419). By June 1780, the fort (named Fort Jefferson), and the civilian community (named Clarksville), had been constructed (R. George to G. R. Clark, June 4, 1780: Letter in Clark Papers, Virginia State Library, Archives Division). Before completion, however, an unspecified number of individuals accompanied Clark northward to assist the Spanish and French in their defense of Pancore (St. Louis) and Cahokia, respectively, against British-led Indians (op.cit.: 411-412). After thwarting the British advance, Clark and most of his followers returned to Fort Jefferson. Clark, however, remained only briefly at the fort (John Dodge's Quartermaster Book, 1780-1781: George R. Clark Papers, Virginia State Library, Archives Division).
By mid-July, Clark and a portion of the garrison left Fort Jefferson for the mouth of the Licking River (across from present-day Cincinnati), to initiate his first Shawnee campaign at Piqua (near Springfield, Ohio) (ibid.: 451-453). Clark never returned to his fort at the mouth of the Ohio despite receiving letters from his followers who pleaded for his return (James 1972), I:425-426; 435-438).
Throughout Clark's ensuing absence, and until the subsequent abandonment of Fort Jefferson on June 8, 1781, Captain Robert George commanded the garrison and oversaw the daily activities of the civilian community (ibid.:461-462).
Most major histories of the American Revolution, including those written with a focus on the Midwest, give but few clues as to what happened at Fort Jefferson during its 416-day occupation. Instead, when the fort and community are mentioned, they usually are discussed in terms of failure: failure to counteract the constant threat of attacks by the Chickasaw Indians; failure to maintain garrison strength and civilian support due to desertion; and failure to survive as a result of supply shortages (Fraser 1983; James 1972, I:clix, 472, 496-497, 539; and Robertson 1973:136-137). Although several of these opinions are justified in light of the content of previously published documents, new information based on unpublished primary papers is now available (i.e., Carstens 1984, 1986a, 1986b, 1987; Potter and Carstens 1986; Stein, Carstens and Wesler 1983). As a result, more accurate interpretations can be made that will both supplement and complement the history of Clark's fort at the mouth of the Ohio, and its role in the Western Department during the American Revolution.
The Missing Papers of George Rogers Clark:
The most authoritative source usually consulted when writing about George Rogers Clark is the two-volume work gathered, edited, and indexed by James Alton James (1972, I; II). (Butterfield  and English  are two other works about Clark that frequently are used, but do not contain as many primary documents as does James [op.cit.].) James' volumes consist of primary documents assembled by the Western Commissioners near the end of the American Revolution in order to assess the economic liabilities of Virginia. But, as Mary Jane Meeker (1976:87-93) has pointed out, not all of Clark's papers, vouchers or receipts were present. Indeed, a considerable quantity of Clark's records had been misplaced. How or why those documents became lost is a matter of conjecture.
Fortunately, the vouchers were found by E. G. Swem in 1913 (1927). Swem, then working at the Virginia State Library, located the Clark documents intermixed among the state auditor records (Meeker 1976:87). The many missing vouchers and letters belonging to Clark and his associates were exactly where they should have been. But, alas, because they could not be located by the auditors following the Revolution, only those bills that Clark could substantiate were paid; unsubstantiated claims had to be paid by Clark. With the exception of a paper written by James G. Randall (1921: 250-262), no other historian has pursued the unpublished Clark collection prior to the "study" by Meeker (1976). Neither the study by Randall nor Meeker goes into the detail that is present within the Clark collection, although Randall does offer a more complete discussion of one particular aspect of Clark's papers: his economic line of supply.
In 1984, five years into our Fort Jefferson research project, I visited the Archives Division of the Virginia State Library to determine if original, unpublished records from Fort Jefferson were part of the collection described by Meeker. To my surprise, more than 5,000 Fort Jefferson documents were found. I then secured permission to duplicate and publish the previously unpublished Clark collection that pertains to Fort Jefferson. Four years later, portions of that collection are close to publication (Carstens In prep. - a.b.). The amount of information present within the new Clark data base which probably amounts to 20,000 or 30,000 documents is staggering! Collectively, just the items from Fort Jefferson include vouchers, military unit inventories, issues of clothing, food, drink and munitions; also letters, statements regarding rates of inflation and devaluation of currency, issues to various military companies (including state-line Virginia troops and the Clarksville militia), a fragment of a musical score, several philosophical pennings, numerous references to subsistence practices and daily activities pursued by men, women and children of the military, civilian and slave socioeconomic classes, and several quartermaster books and oversize inventory summary sheets (George Rogers Clark Papers, Boxes 1-50, Virginia State Library, Archives Division).
Even without counting the dated entries present in the quartermaster books, an almost complete calendar of documents is present in the Clark collection. In that sample alone, documentation exists for 383 of the known 416-day history of Fort Jefferson. With the addition of the quartermaster book entries, a virtually unbroken daily record of military and civilian activities exists. The importance of the completeness of the Fort Jefferson documentation cannot be overestimated. The records from this "lesser known" locality of history (Ft. Jefferson), probably could make Clark's Fort at the mouth of the Ohio one of the most important features in the rewriting of the American Revolution in the West due to the completeness of documentation in the Clark collection.
The Quartermaster Books of John Dodge and Martin Carney:
The following paragraphs will address only one very small aspect of the Fort Jefferson document collection: the quartermaster books of John Dodge and Martin Carney.
John Dodge and Martin Carney were private citizens. Dodge had been held captive by the British in Canada prior to making his escape in 1778 (Alford 1907:xcv, n.1; 1909:104; Dodge 1909; James 1972, I:338, n.1), while Martin Carney had worked as quartermaster in Dunmore County, Virginia, for the 8th Virginia Regiment (National Archives, Revolutionary Record Group, Item No. 16876, Voucher Receipt Signed by Martin Carney and Dated 4 November 1777). Dodge's appointment as "Agent" was recommended by Virginia's Lt. Governor John Page to Col. John Todd, Jr. (copies of Page's letter to Todd in Dodge's Quartermaster Book, Box 48, George Rogers Clark Papers, Virginia State Library, Archives Division). References to Dodge as "Captain" Dodge seem unfounded and without substance (see especially the discussion given by Alford 1907:cxii-cxiii). It is possible that because agents and quartermasters were paid at the same rate as an adjutant six shillings per day, which is the same rate of pay as a captain, that Dodge may have simply extended the rationale of "rate of pay" to one of "rank;" although but a theory, it is in keeping with Dodge's personality as described by Alford (ibid.), Butterfield (1972), and James (1972, I); (cf. Alford 1909:104-105).
According to the laws of Virginia (see Hening's Statutes, 1823, Vols. IX; X), quartermasters, commissaries, agents and conductors filled appointed positions (also similar to the appointment of officers). For a quartermaster, positions were given to those who, in addition to being capable of posting a bond, could read, write, do simple arithmetic and swear to an oath that they would be honest with all accounting practices (Hening 1823, IX: 14; X:256). It is difficult to determine if Dodge and Carney took their oaths of appointment to heart. There are numerous accusations questioning Dodge's character, loyalty and honesty, as made by the people of Kaskaskia (see especially Alford 1909, var.; and James 1972, I:472), Americans at Fort Jefferson, and even the British! (No questions concerning Carney's integrity have been found.) In spite of the accusations against Dodge, his bookkeeping efforts while at Fort Jefferson will have to be taken at face value, until proven otherwise.
How did the quartermaster procurement and issuance operation work in the Western Department? As exhibited in Figure One, the major American-controlled areas requiring support included Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Fort Jefferson, Vincennes, Louisville and the central Kentucky stations. Although some French and Spanish assistance was present at Cahokia, Kaskaskia and Vincennes, American credit and the devaluation of Virginian currency made it mandatory for the Virginian government to assist with the support of its western outposts. Unfortunately, by 1780, Virginia was not in a position to give assistance.
As illustrated in Figure Two, goods that could be procured were to originate from three principal sources: Fort Pitt, at the origin of the Ohio River; New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi River through the efforts of Oliver Pollock (Cummins 1988; James 1970); and from various civilian communities which were located in the Illinois country and western Virginia (what is now Kentucky). The French communities of Kaskaskia, Cahokia and Vincennes, and the Anglo settlements of Harrodsburg, Boonesboro and Louisville were among those civilian towns Clark was to depend on for support (the latter three represented portions of western Virginia, then forming what was called Kentucky County in early 1780).
Although a seemingly sound scheme, in reality it was not. The directional flow of supplies did not always follow the prescribed pattern. Rather, goods directed to Fort Jefferson from Fort Pitt, sometimes were redirected while en route to the central Kentucky stations, or were appropriated by officers in Louisville. On several occasions, the goods intended for Fort Jefferson from Fort Pitt were taken by others who felt their situation to be more precarious (James 1972, I:461-462, 506-507). When foods were sent from Louisville to Fort Jefferson, they usually had become rancid due to poor packing procedures as stated by Captain Robert George in his February 15, 1781, letter to Colonel George Slaughter, commandant at the Falls of the Ohio:
Fort Jefferson's other major source of supply was New Orleans. Unfortunately, most of the supplies reaching Fort Jefferson from New Orleans were dry goods, and did little to compensate for the loss of foodstuffs being sent from Fort Pitt or Louisville. Even when the quartermasters at Fort Jefferson sent loads of dry goods and rum to trade for food with the Illinois settlements, only meager food supplies were found (James 1972, I:461-463, 473-475, 506-507).
The quartermaster and commissary corps in the Western Department consisted of an echelon that mirrored the idealized flow of goods and supplies (see Figure Three). At Fort Jefferson, at least four individuals served appointed supply positions: John Dodge, Israel Dodge (John's brother), Martin Carney and John Donne. Except for Carney, the Dodge brothers and Donne appear to have been associates while at Fort Pitt between 1777 and 1779 (National Archives, Revolutionary Record Group, Item No. 0113; and Butterfield 1972:746), and probably came to know Clark when the latter stopped at Fort Pitt during several of his trips going back and forth to Virginia from the Illinois country. Such might explain their presence within the commissary corps of the Western Department. Donne may have met Clark in Virginia and then followed him westward, although such is speculation on my part.
Despite the presence of numerous vouchers, letters and other records belonging to Israel Dodge and John Donne within the Fort Jefferson papers, only John Dodge and Martin Carney have quartermaster books among the unpublished Clark collection (George Rogers Clark Papers, Virginia State Library, Archives Division). In all probability, the missing commissary and conductor books of Israel Dodge and John Donne, as well as several other "lost" quartermaster books from Forts Jefferson, Clark, Bowman and Patrick Henry, someday will be located. For now, however, the quartermaster books that are available provide a refreshing insight to eighteenth century life.
Dodge's Quartermaster Book:
The John Dodge quartermaster book (Box 48 of the George Rogers Clark Papers, Virginia State Library, Archives Division) consists of 144 pages, each page measuring six inches wide by nine inches long. Originally consisting of blank pieces of paper, the pages of the book have been hand-ruled where necessary in order to isolate blocks of discrete information. The exterior of the Dodge book consists of a plain weave (over one, under one) coarse linen fabric that covers pressed pages of coarse paper. Individual pages (six by 18 inches) are folded length-wise at the nine-inch mark and are sewn together using a coarse linen thread. Eleven stitches varying in size from one-quarter of an inch to one inch in length were used in the sewing and binding process.
The majority of the pages in the Dodge book contain itemized charges, sequentially entered by individual, and specifying whether or not the entry was due that person per statute law (i.e., clothing allowance by rank and time served), or if the individual had charged the purchase against his personal account. Quantity and cost per item are given for those supplies for which cost recovery was necessary.
Dodge's quartermaster book contains 1,718 separate line entries. The number of entries varies per page. The book is organized into sections that list issues to officers (generally in order of rank), military companies, different specialized departments (such as the "Indian department," "interpreters," "individual quartermasters, commissaries and conductors"), as well as issues to the surgeon and miscellaneous issues. Dodge concludes his book with copies of letters, testimonies and statements important to his career, i.e., his letter of appointment as agent, and various inventories of goods that were lost during shipments to or from Fort Jefferson. In other-words, it seems that John Dodge very carefully had recorded all pertinent data relevant to his record keeping that might conceivably clear him of any wrong-doing should his accounting practices ever come into question. (It should be stressed equally, however, that quartermasters had to justify every item they issued on behalf of the state. If their issues were not valid, or did not show just cause such as the loss of a cargo due to inclement weather they alone would be liable for the expense of the items. Hence, it only would be good business to keep detailed records of everything, which is exactly what John Dodge accomplished.)
Within the 1,718 line item entries of the Dodge book, 204 individuals are named, including men, women and children. The genealogical significance of that listing alone makes the Dodge book extremely important. From an anthropological and an historical perspective, the ultimate significance rests in the completeness of the data and the insight it provides for studying late eighteenth century life in the western frontier.
Carney's Quartermaster Books:
The extant Martin Carney quartermaster books consist of only two books labeled "1E" and "1F" (Boxes 49 and 50, respectively, of the GRC Papers, Virginia State Library, Ar chives Division). The implications of those designations are, what happened to books "1A" through "1D," and, what in formation was contained on their pages.
Carney's book "1E" measures six and one-half inches long by five and one-half inches wide. The cover and the first three numbered pages of the book are missing. Fifty-two pages are present. The paper, like that of the Dodge book, is folded in half and appears to have been sewn in a similar fashion. Blank pages were hand-ruled as necessary.
There is no apparent organization to Martin Carney's book "1E" other than the identification given each page heading. The emphasis of book "1E" includes issues of am munition (powder, lead and flints), arms and accouterments (muskets, swivels, rifles, bayonets with belts, swords, axes, kettles and tents), and commodities (sugar, tobacco and soap). In addition, Carney inventories those items he purchased explicitly for the establishment of Fort Jefferson, and provides information in some cases as to how those items were to be used (such as the flat-bottomed boats purchased in Louisville "for sake of the plank to build a garrison and barracks"). Last ly, within the 823 line entries of Carney's book "lE," 74 additional individuals and families are identified who are not named by Dodge in his quartermaster book.
Carney's book "1F" consists of 80 pages, each measuring five and one-half inches wide by seven and one-half inches long. Like the other quartermaster books, the pages of book "1F" originally were blank, but have been hand-ruled to create forms necessary for accounting. The front and back covers are missing from this book.
The subject of Carney's book "1F" consists almost entirely of accounts of rum, sugar, tobacco and soap issued to the officers (listed in descending echelon order), hospital department, militia, members of the Illinois Regiment and the State of Virginia. Within the 190 line item entries of Carney's book "1F," 54 individuals are named; five of those individuals were not identified previously in Carney's book "1E" or Dodge's quartermaster book. Carney's book "1F" ends with a three-page, alphabetized index.
In total, the quartermaster books from Fort Jefferson contain 2,731 line item entries; they identify more than 283 individual men, women and children; make reference to the various comings and goings of companies of the Virginia state line forces; identify the Clarksville militia; name and specify quantities of arms, accouterments, munitions, commodities and dry goods issued to officers, members of their companies, members of the militia and the friendly Indian allies; and, offer an approximation of family size and activities pursued by men, women and children while serving in a support capacity at the fort. The quartermaster books also reflect major activities occurring within and without the fort area, be they subsistence-related or otherwise. Examples of non-subsistence activities include the receipt, inventorying and issuing of supplies, as well as the issuance of firearms and ammunition during times of attack (indeed, the dates of attack, duration of battle, burial of deceased, etc., are all specified in order to satisfy the accountants' records). Lastly, the quartermaster books provide us with very specific information about the presence and absence of certain structures inside and outside the fort, ownership of those buildings, function(s) those buildings served, who occupied the structures, and in several cases, architectural methods of construction including the type of wood used.
In summary, it should be obvious that the quartermaster books contain a wealth of information that was not known to exist previously. Now, with the added insight that has been provided by the continuous, daily record of the Fort Jefferson documents, it is possible to re-examine, re-evaluate and re-write, not just the history of Fort Jefferson, but a more detailed history of the American Revolution in the West.
The Fort Jefferson research project has benefited from the assistance of many individuals and institutions. Initial funding contributed in support of the Fort Jefferson project originated in 1983, with Bill Young and George Crounse of Paducah, Kentucky. Subsequent funding was secured through Murray State University's Committee on Institutional Studies and Research (CISR) in 1984-85, 1985-86, and 1986-87 via support of three different grant proposals. Throughout the 10 years of Fort Jefferson research, federal and university work-study students, graduate students and associated staff at MSU have compiled more than 12,000 work hours on the Fort Jefferson project. The assistance of these individuals and many others not specifically mentioned, is both dutifully acknowledged and gratefully appreciated, as is the constant support of the Westvaco Corporation of Wickliffe, Kentucky, the College of Humanistic Studies and the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at MSU.
Last, but not least, I wish to acknowledge the very recent assistance given by Dr. James Booth and Dr. Ken Harrell, vice president of Academic Programs and dean, College of Humanistic Studies, respectively. These individuals made it possible for me to obtain a computer to begin the analysis of the "tons" of raw data now present with the Fort Jefferson project. Similarly, I would like to thank Drs. William Allbritten and Rose Bogal-Allbritten for the patience and instruction given while they taught me how to use that computer to write this paper. Finally, a rough draft of this paper was read by Ms. Pam Schenian, staff archaeologist at Murray State University. As always, her constructive and substantive comments are greatly appreciated and rarely are set aside. All errors within, however, are explicitly mine.
Alvord, Clarence W.
1909 Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, Volume V. The Kaskaskia Records, 1778-1790. Published by the Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield.
Carstens, Kenneth C.
1986a At the Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers: Virginia's Claim to the West. A Paper Presented to the Second Annual Ohio Valley History Conference, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky.
1986b In Pursuit of Fort Jefferson: A Summary of Investigations, 1980-1986. A Paper Presented to the Forty-third Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.
1987 The William Clark Map of Fort Jefferson: An Exercise in 18th Century Scaling. A Paper Presented to the Fifth Annual George Rogers Clark Trans-Appalachian Frontier History Conference, Vincennes, Indiana.
In Prep. a The Quartermaster Books of Fort Jefferson, 1780-1781. An edited compilation of original 18th century Fort Jefferson documents with an added introduction, indexes and glossary. Manuscript in preparation, and based on the John Dodge and Martin Carney quartermaster materials from Boxes 48-50 of the George Rogers Clark Papers, Virginia State Library, Archives Division, Richmond.
In Prep. b The Personnel at George Rogers Clark's Fort Jefferson, 1780-1781. An edited compilation of original 18th century Fort Jefferson documents with an added introduction, indexes and glossary. Manuscript in preparation, and based on materials from Boxes 1-50 of the George Rogers Clark Papers, Virginia State Library, Archives Division, Richmond.
Clark, George Rogers
Cummins, Light T.
English, William H.
Fraser, Kathryn M.
Hening, William W.
Henry, William W.
James, James Alton
James, James Alton (editor)
Meeker, Mary Jane
Potter, William L., and Kenneth C. Carstens
Randall, J. G.
Robertson, John E. L.
Stein, Julie K., Kenneth C. Carstens and Kit W. Wesler
Swem, E. G.
Last Updated: 23-Mar-2011