Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Rogers Clark, 12 December 1802

From George Rogers Clark

Falls of Ohio 12th. December 1802


I latterly had the pleasure of the perruseal of a letter from the Secretary of War to my brother on the Subject of the post of Fort Jefferson on the Mississippi. his Answer to that letter completely discribed the place—A Military post & Tradeing Town there, must be Obvious to every man of Observation that is acquainted with the Geography of the Countrey—I was the more pleased as I had Contemplated the importance of that spot from my earliest acquaintance with the Western Countrey.

When I was ordered fix the garrison at or near the mouth of the Ohio in the year 1780 I lay three weeks in the point, and explored the banks of the river and Countrey before I fixed on the spot to build a Fort—and if my Instructions had not have been to place the Garrison South of the Ohio I certainly should have raised a Fortress in the point. I marked the ground the annual inundations flooded, it is about five feet, and from that to seven feet is the depth of the water that Covers this butifull Tract of bottom, which may be raised for a City of any Size, by the earth thrown out of the Canals, cut through the City and those Canals may be kept pure by turning the Cash River throgh them—I thus drew the plan and have been improveing on it frequently to the present time—what caused me to view this ground with more attention was that the Spanish shore opposit so high that a small expence, would free two or three hundred Acres of Land.

This circumstance induced me to think that it would be necessary for us, at least to have a fortress in this point as a Key to the enterance of the Ohio—Those were my Ideas while on the ground I segest to you, Sir, if worthey your attention, any further information, and the best perhaps that can be Obtained of that Country, may be got from my brother William, who is now settled at Clarksville in the Indiana Territory—I have long since laid asside all Idea of Public affairs, by bad fortune, and ill health I have become incapable of persueing those enterpriseing & active persuits which I have been fond of from my youth—but I will with the greatest pleasure give my bro: William every information in my power, on this, or any other point which may be of Service to your Administration. he is well quallified almost for any business—If it should be in your power to Confur on him any post of Honor and profit, in this Countrey in which we live, it will exceedingly gratify me—I seem to have a right to expect such a gratification when asked for—but what will greatly highten it is, that I am sure it gives you pleasure to have it in your power to do me a service.

With the greatest assureance of your prosperity I have the honor to be your ever sincere

G R Clark

NB Mr. Hurst the gentleman whome will hand you this letter is a young Lawyer from Vincennes, a Man of integrity and a good republican whom I beg leave to recommend to you.


RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Jan. 1803 and so recorded in SJL.

Albemarle County native George Rogers Clark (1752–1818) gained lasting fame from his military achievements during the American Revolution, which secured Kentucky and the northwestern territories for the fledgling United States. TJ corresponded with him frequently during his governorship and held his “enterprizing and energetic genius” in high esteem. In 1783, TJ asked if Clark would be interested in leading an expedition to explore the lands between the Mississippi River and California but Clark declined, citing his financial situation. Following the war, Clark settled at Clarksville on the Ohio River opposite Louisville, where financial reverses and alcoholism left him destitute. It was his younger brother, William Clark, who joined Meriwether Lewis in 1803 for TJ’s long-sought western expedition (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Vol. 3:292; Vol. 6:371; Vol. 15:609–10; Vol. 19:521).

letter from the secretary of war: in a 6 July 1802 letter to William Clark, Henry Dearborn wrote that it was the “desire of the President” that Clark provide a description of “the shore of the Mississippi at or near where your Brother General Clark erected a Fort in the course of our Revolutionary War.” Clark had inspected the site in 1795 and took notes of the visit. Dearborn asked Clark “to be as particular as you can from recollection” as to the fort’s distance below the mouth of the Ohio River and above the “Yellow or Iron Bank,” the composition and elevation of the land three or four miles inland from the Mississippi, the location of nearby streams or springs, and the composition of the shore and flats. Clark was also to offer opinions on the healthiness of the site and its potential for settlement and commerce, and to compare the general healthiness of the eastern bank of the Mississippi from the mouth of the Ohio and the yellow or iron bank “with the several posts, which have lately been occupied by our troops near the mouth of the Ohio” (DNA: RG 107, MLS; Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783-1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 8n; Missouri Historical Society, Bulletin, 25 [1969], 283).

Named in TJ’s honor, fort jefferson was located on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River about five miles south from the mouth of the Ohio at a site chosen by George Rogers Clark. Built in 1780, the fort was abandoned the following year due to Indian attacks, desertions, and supply difficulties. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark visited the site in November 1803 (Gary E. Moulton, ed., Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, 13 vols. [Lincoln, Neb., 1983–2001], 2:93–4; Vol. 3:278–9, 354–5; Vol. 4:188, 319–21).

Vincennes attorney and Virginia native Henry hurst was clerk of the Indiana Territory’s general court and a protégé of William Henry Harrison. He traveled to Washington in an unsuccessful attempt to secure appointment to the territorial judgeship vacated by the death of William Clarke, securing additional recommendations from Harry Innes and Benjamin Sebastian (Jackson, Lewis and Clark description begins Donald Jackson, ed., The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, 1783-1854, 2d ed., Urbana, Ill., 1978 description ends , 8n; Andrew R. L. Cayton, Frontier Indiana [Bloomington, 1996], 232–3, 244; Innes to TJ, 13 Dec. 1802).

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