James Madison Papers

Patrick Henry in Council to Virginia Delegates in Congress, 14 November 1778

Patrick Henry in Council to Virginia
Delegates in Congress

RC (NA: PCC, No. 71, I, 189–91). According to the docket sheet, this letter was read in Congress on 27 November.

Wmsburg Novr. 14th. 1778.


The Executive power of this State having been impressed with a strong apprehension of incursions on their Frontier Settlements from the Savages situated about the Illinois & supposing the Danger would be greatly obviated by an enterprize against the English Forts & possessions in that Country which were well known to inspire the Savages with their bloody purposes against us, sent a Detachment of Militia consisting of one hundred & seventy or eighty men commanded by Col. George Rogers Clarke on that Service sometime last Spring.1 By Despatches which I have just received from Col. Clarke2 it appears that his Success has equalled the most sanguine expectations. He has not only reduced Fort Chartres & its dependencies but has struck such a Terror into the Indian Tribes between that Settlement & the Lakes that no less than five of them viz. the Puans, Sacks, Renards, Powtowantanies & Miamies3 who had received the Hatchet from the English Emissaries have submitted to our Arms[, surrendered?]4 all their English presents & bound themselves by Treaties and promises to be peaceable in future.

The Great Blackbird a Choppowaw chief5 has also sent a Belt of peace to Col. Clarke influenced he supposes by the Dread of Detroits being reduced by the American Arms. This latter place according to Col. Clarkes representation is at present defended by so inconsiderable a Garrison & so scantily furnished with provisions for which they must be still more distressed by the loss of Supplies from the Illinois, that it might be reduced by any number of Men above five hundred. The Governor of that place Mr. Hamilton6 was exerting himself to engage the Savages to assist him in retaking the Places that had fallen into our Hands, but the favourable impressions made on the Indians in general in that Quarter the influence of the French on them & the reinforcement of their Militia Col Clarke expected flattered him that there was little danger to be apprehended. Included in the Despatches is a Letter from Captn. Helm who commands a party posted by Col Clarke at St. Vincents.7 according to this information The Wabash & upper Indians consisting of the Piankeshaws Tawaws Peorias Delawares Pikakishaws Masketans & some of the Shawanese Chiefs8 had also given up all their tokens of attachment to our Enemies & pledged their fidelity to the united States. Captn. Helm adds that he was on the point of setting out with the assistance of part of the Inhabitants of St Vincent & some of the principal Wabash Chiefs with a View to retake a quantity of Merchandize seized by the English from Detroit, belonging to the people at St Vincents & on its way to them. The Captain speaks with Confidence of Success in this enterprize & extends his hopes even to the destruction of Detroit if joined on his way by the expected number of Indians & Volunteers.9 My reason for troubling Congress with these particulars is, that they may avail themselves of the Light they throw on the State of things in the Western Country. If the party under Col. Clarke can cooperate in any respect with the Measures Congress are pursuing or have in view I shall with pleasure give him the necessary orders.10 In order to improve & secure the advantages gained by Col. Clarke I propose to support him with a reinforcement of Militia. But this will depend on the pleasure of the Assembly to whose consideration the measure is submitted.11

The french Inhabitants have manifested great Zeal & Attachment to our Cause, & insist on Garrisons remaining with them under Colo. Clarke. This I am induced to agree to, because the Safety of our own Frontiers, as well as that of these people demands a Compliance with the Request. Were it possible to secure the St. Lawrence & prevent the English Attempts, up that River by seizing some post on it, peace with the Indians would seem to me to be secured.

With great Regard I have the Honor to be Gentn. your most obedient Servant

P. Henry

P. S. Great Inconveniences are felt here for want of Letters of Marque.12

honble Virga. Delegates

1In January 1778 Governor Patrick Henry, acting with the advice of the Council of State and the authorization of the General Assembly, directed Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark to raise a force of 350 men to capture Kaskaskia and other British posts in the Illinois country, north of the Ohio River (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 433; James A. James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, pp. 33–34). By midsummer, leading about one half the number of troops authorized, Clark was in possession of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Prairie du Rocher, St. Philippe, Fort Chartres, and Vincennes. The first four of these posts were on or near the Mississippi River in what is now southwestern Illinois; Cahokia was on the Illinois bank of that river, directly south of St. Louis; and Vincennes was on the Wabash River in what is now Knox County, Ind.

2Not found. Having read these dispatches, the House of Delegates on 23 November 1778 adopted a resolution thanking Clark and his command (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The Journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1778, p. 79).

3The Puan (Winnebago), Sac, and Renard (Fox) Indians lived along the Mississippi and Rock rivers in the northwestern part of what is now the state of Illinois; the Potawatomis in the north and northeastern area of that state; and the Miamis in what is now west-central and southwestern Ohio.

4Blank in the manuscript.

5The Chippewas occupied the southern portion of the present state of Michigan. For Black Bird, see James A. James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, pp. 252–55.

6The British Lieutenant Governor Henry (“Hair Buyer”) Hamilton (d. 1796), whom Clark would capture when he retook Vincennes on 25 February 1779. Held prisoner until 1781, Hamilton then returned to England but was again in North America in 1782 as lieutenant governor of Quebec.

7Letter not found. Leonard Helm (ca. 1720–1782) of Prince William County was a friend of Clark who had fought beside him in Lord Dunmore’s War. In December 1777 Clark commissioned Helm to raise a company for service in the West, and appointed him to command at Vincennes in August 1778. On 17 December of that year, he became a prisoner of the British when Lieutenant Governor Hamilton recaptured Vincennes. Helm regained his freedom when Vincennes again fell to Clark in February 1779. Still under Clark’s command, Helm was stationed late in the Revolution at Fort Jefferson near Louisville, where he acted as superintendent of Indian affairs (ibid., pp. lxv, lxxii, 27, 280, 297, 601; Louis A. Burgess, ed., Virginia Soldiers of 1776, II, 889).

8The Piankashaws and Pekakishaws lived along the Wabash River and appear to have been one group of Indians rather than two. The Tawaws (Ottawas) dwelt along Lake Michigan; the Peorias along the Illinois River; the Masketons along the upper reaches of the Wabash River; and the Delawares along the Muskingum River and, with the Shawnees, along the Ohio River, east of the mouth of the Wabash River.

9Helm, of course, did not capture Detroit. However, his expedition in February and March 1779 was successful in gaining the friendship, or at least the neutrality, of many Indians north of Vincennes and in taking forty British prisoners, along with seven boats loaded with provisions and trading goods (James A. James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, pp. lxxxv–lxxxvi, 259–60).

10Congress did nothing during 1779 to extend Clark an opportunity to “cooperate,” and it even delayed until 8 July of that year before congratulating him upon capturing Vincennes and Lieutenant Governor Hamilton (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIV, 809–10).

11On 12 December 1778 Governor Henry wrote to Clark that the General Assembly had authorized the recruitment of five more companies of militia to be added to his command (H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of Virginia Governors, I, 338).

12Apparently no letters of marque were supplied by Congress to the governor of Virginia until the summer of 1779 (ibid., II, 14).

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