George Rogers Clark

painted image of an old man wearing a revolutionary war blue jacket.
Painting of George Rogers Clark


Quick Facts
Revolutionary War
Place of Birth:
Albemarle County, Virginia
Date of Birth:
November 19, 1752
Place of Death:
Date of Death:
February 13, 1818
Place of Burial:
Louisville, Kentucky
Cemetery Name:
Cave Hill Cemetery

Great things have been effected by a few men well conducted.Perhaps we may be fortunate. We have this consolation that our case is just, and that our country will be grateful and not condemn our conduct, in case we fall through; if so, this country as well as Kentucky, I believe, is lost. 
-Letter to Virginia Governor Patrick Henry from George Rogers Clark 

George Rogers Clark was born in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1752. Clark was not a good student preferring to spend his time outdoors exploring instead of in the classroom. Recognizing his son’s potential as an outdoorsman, his father secured him an apprenticeship with a surveyor. From there he spent his time exploring the outdoors and learning how to read the land. By the age of 19 he had begun to travel into western Virginia and in 1772 he ventured into eastern Kentucky, quickly developing a love for the area.  

This love for Kentucky and his fellow frontiersmen, pushed him to act when the American Revolution broke out, knowing that the frontier would be vulnerable to both attacks by the British at Fort Detroit and the Native Americans.  On May 13, 1778, having been given permission from Patrick Henry to take a small force of men to assure that the British were dispelled from the frontier, Clark and his men began their journey from Redstone, PA westward. We have learned more about the Illinois Campaign through the journals Captain Joseph Bowman and Clark himself.  

Clark’s initial campaign was swift, efficient and above all else successful. The men drilled and trained at Corn Island, near present day Louisville, KY. On June 24, 1778, the time had come to move further west to thwart British in the Northwest and gain control of the frontier, namely the Mississippi River for the colonies. Using flat boats the men made their way down the Ohio River, before disembarking and marching the rest of the way to Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River, arriving in the evening on July 4, 1778, without firing a single shot.  Fort Sackville had already capitulated to Clark and his men in August of 1778, however, by December the British had retaken the Fort. Clark knowing that the British would make an advance toward Kaskaskia in the spring, he made the decision to complete a winter march and retake the fort.

Clark and his men left Kaskaskia on February 6, 1779 and began their march to Vincennes. Despite unseasonably warm weather the journey was harsh, encountering snow melt, ice and rain all which led to flooding. Never-the-less, the small militia reached Vincennes on February 23. After a brief siege, during which Clark ordered the execution of 5 Native Americans, to intimidate the British, Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton surrendered the fort. Nine months after capturing Fort Sackville, Clark wrote a Letter to his Friend George Mason chronicling his adventures against the British and the daring mid-winter march. In the years following Clark continue to the war efforts in the West, but ultimately would never surpass his accomplishments at Vincennes.

During September 1783, the Revolutionary War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris and Clark returned to private life. Following the war, Clark served as chairman to the board of commissioners that allotted lands across the Ohio River from Louisville to those individuals who had taken part in his 1778 and 1779 campaigns. He also was appointed a commissioner to make treaties with tribes north of the Ohio River who were continuing their raids into Kentucky. During 1786, after it became apparent that the treaties were ineffective, Clark was requested by Kentucky and Virginia authorities to lead an expedition against the tribes along the Wabash River. From the beginning, however, Clark was plagued by questions of his authority and the unruly behavior of his troops. After proceeding along the Wabash River north of Vincennes, a large portion of the men mutinied. Clark returned to Vincennes and established a garrison to protect this outpost before returning to Kentucky.

In the later years of Clark’s life, he was left with declining health and immense debt. Having never been reimbursed for the money he personally spent to fund the campaigns. This crippling debt forced Clark to look elsewhere to recoup his fortune. Unfortunately, it seemed he was defeated at each turn.

In 1809, at the age of 57, Clark suffered a stroke and subsequently fell into a fire, resulting in the amputation of his leg. After which he moved to live with his sister, Lucy Crogan, at Locust Grove just outside of Louisville, KY.

n 1812, in belated recognition of Revolutionary War services, the General Assembly of Virginia granted Clark a sword and half pay of $400 a year, though many believed this to be ‘too little too late.’

His health continued to deteriorate, and he died on February 13, 1818, at the age of 65. On February 15, a cold and stormy day, Clark's body was laid to rest in a ceremony attended by a large crowd. In his funeral oration, Judge John Rowan succinctly summed up the stature and importance of George Rogers Clark during the critical years on the Trans-Appalachian frontier: "The mighty oak of the forest has fallen, and now the scrub oaks sprout all around."

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

Last updated: June 13, 2023