Chapter XX
General Clark's Draft


During the spring and summer months of 1781 the Pennsylvania frontier was sorely disturbed by the efforts of General George Rogers Clark to raise troops for an expedition, in the interest of Virginia, against the British post at Detroit. In the summer of 1778 Clark had conquered the Illinois country and the valley of the Wabash for Virginia, and, as it afterward turned out, for the United States. Virginia claimed all that northwestern country by king's charter, but, since king's charters had fallen into disfavor in America, she felt more reliance in a claim based on actual conquest. Clark was ambitious for the enterprise against Detroit and was supported by many of the leading men of the Kentucky and Virginia borders. They saw Detroit as the source of all their afflictions, and were eager for the conquest of that breeding place of savage warfare.

Clark was in Richmond in January, 1781, where the prestige. of his exploits easily gained for him the approval and support of the state government. He received a commission as brigadier general and ample funds to buy provisions in the country west of the Alleghany mountains. A small body of Virginia regulars, about 140, was placed at his service and he was empowered to raise and equip volunteers in the border counties.

Agents were sent ahead of Clark into the country between Laurel Hill and the Ohio river and began to buy flour and live cattle.(1) Colonel Brodhead complained to the president of Pennsylvania that the food supply on which he was dependent was to be taken out of the country in the interest of Virginia, and he revealed a jealousy of Clark's enterprise. "I have hitherto been encouraged to flatter myself," he wrote, "that I should, sooner or later, be enabled to reduce that place (Detroit), but it seems the United States cannot furnish either troops or resources for the purpose, but the state of Virginia can."

Brodhead threatened to prevent the sending of any supplies out of the country, but in February he received a letter from General Washington, directing him to give aid to General Clark's undertaking and to detach front his own little force Captain Isaac Craig's field artillery and at least a captain's command of infantry, to assist the Virginia expedition.(2)

General Clark arrived on the Pennsylvania frontier about the beginning of March and made his headquarters at the house of Colonel Crawford, on the Youghiogheny. A part of his time he spent with Colonel Dorsey Pentecost, ono Chartiers creek. He instituted vigorous efforts to raise men in the same region where he had found the hardy volunteers for his first raid into the western territory. Then arose a bitter contention throughout all Southwestern Pennsylvania. The frontiersmen seemed to be about equally divided between support and opposition to Clark's plans. It was generally known by this time that all of the Virginia county of Yohogania and much of the counties of Monongalia and Ohio belonged to Pennsylvania, but the boundary line had not been surveyed west of the Monongahela river and the magistrates from Pittsburg southward were all Virginians.

Among the settlers there were many factions. Some would obey no law but that of Pennsylvania, and declared that Clark, as a Virginia officer, had no business in that neighborhood. Others adhered to Virginia until the line should be officially surveyed and ardently supported Clark's plans. A few refused to obey any law or acknowledge any jurisdiction, saying they did not know which state was over them. They could not decide such a great dispute, and had enough to do to plant their corn and potatoes and to keep their rifles in good condition for the savages. Some were for a new state of their own, stoutly protesting that the wiseacres at Philadelphia and Richmond never could understand the needs of the over-mountain people. Many of the bolder spirits on the border said they did not care a bad penny whether Clark were a Virginian or a Pennsylvanian; if he could clean out Detroit he would strike a heart blow to the enemy and rescue the border from savage depredations. So they were for him.

Clark's intention was to raise 2,000 men in Southwestern Pennsylvania, float them d6wn the Ohio to the Wabash, ascend that stream as far as possible and march overland to Detroit. When he arrived at Colonel Crawford's he found that the frontiers were being raided by bands of Shawnees from the Scioto, Delawares from the Muskingum and Wyandots from the Sandusky. An expedition against those tribes was more popular among the Pennsylvanians than a campaign against distant Detroit, and therefore Clark made an ostensible change in his plans. He gave it out that he was going against the Ohio savages, for the immediate benefit of the Westmoreland frontier: but his real aim was not altered to conquer Detroit and an additional empire for the Old Dominion.(3)

Brodhead was not deceived, but many Pennsylvania officers were. On March 23 Clark wrote to President Reed, of Pennsylvania, asking his endorsement of the project, for the effect it would have on the frontiersmen who called themselves Pennsylvanians. Clark wrote: "If our resources should not be such as to enable us to remain in the Indian country during the fair season, I am in hopes they will be sufficient to visit the Shawnees, Delawares and San dusky towns. Defeating the enemy and laying those countries waste would give great ease to the frontiers of both states.(4)

President Reed approved of the campaign, but the letters of both Clark and Reed were unreasonably delayed. President Reed wrote, on May 15: "It will give us great satisfaction if the inhabitants of this state cheerfully concur in it, and we authorize you to declare that, so far from giving offense to their government, we shall consider their service with you as highly meritorious."(5) This letter was carried to the frontier by Colonel Christopher Hays, the Westmoreland county member of the Supreme Executive Council. Hays was directed by the council to aid Clark's expedition, but it soon developed that he was opposed to it. Although he arrived in Westmoreland about the beginning of June, the letter which he carried was not delivered to Clark until July 3, when it was too late to do much good.(6)

Hays called a meeting of all the commissioned officers of the Westmoreland militia to arrange a plan for the frontier defense. Doubtless he was confident that he and his friends could control this meeting, but he was disappointed. The officers met on June 18, at the home of Captain John McClelland, on Big Sewickley creek, and, to the chagrin of Colonel Hays, decided by a majority vote to give aid to General Clark. It was resolved to furnish 300 men out of the county militia to join Clark's army, and Colonel Lochry was directed to see that this quota was raised "by volunteers or draft."(7)

This was the first effort made on the Pennsylvania frontier to raise soldiers by draft and it caused a great outcry. The meeting of officers directed Colonel Lochry to consult General Clark respecting the manner of drafting men in Virginia and to agree on a day for a general rendezvous. Lochry met Clark one week later at Crawford's settlement and the rendezvous was ordered for Monday, July

This day was chosen to enable the farmers to finish their wheat and oats harvesting before taking down their rifles and powder horns.

By act of March 28, 1781, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania created the county of Washington, to comprise all the territory of the state west of the Monongahela river. James Marshel was appointed county lieutenant and he set to work to establish the Pennsylvania jurisdiction in a region where most of the inhabitants were Virginians. The Virginia officers clung to their commissions and were supported by the stronger faction. Such men as Colonel Pentecost, John Canon, Gabriel Cox and Daniel Leet worked hard to muster men for General Clark, while Marshel and his adherents were just as active to defeat the Virginia project. This rivalry, which grew exceedingly bitter, was fatal to Clark's enterprise and unfortunate for the real interests of the frontier. It is probable that Clark, if unitedly supported, would have taken Detroit, overawed the savages and saved the border many years of desolating warfare.(8)

On the day of the rendezvous the attendance at the several designated places was discouragingly small. Clark and his lieutenants immediately proceeded to raise men by draft. Such action was without warrant of law. It gave opportunity for the rougher element among the Virginians to exploit their hatred of their Pennsylvania neighbors. The work of drafting was carried on with many examples of pillage, cruelty and personal violence. Virginia raiding parties scoured the country on both sides of the Monongahela, seizing and beating men, frightening and abusing women, breaking houses and barns, plundering cellars, Impressing grain and live stock and causing a general reign of terror. The long restrained animosities growing out of the boundary dispute now had play. Examples of the acts of violence have been preserved in letters written by the pioneers.

One of the men most vigorous in denouncing the Virginia proceedings and advising their neighbors to resist the draft was Captain John Hardin, who kept a grist mill near Redstone. His eldest son was Lieutenant John Hardin, of the Eighth Pennsylvania, afterward famous as Ge>3eraI Hardin, of Kentucky. At the head of 40 or 5o horsemen, General Clark visited Hardin's settlement, announcing his purpose to hang the stubborn old pioneer. Hardin could not be found, but the Virginians caught one of his sons and kept him bound for several days. They broke open the mill, fed the grain to their horses, took possession of the dwelling, killed sheep and hogs for their food and feasted for three days at Hardin's expense. Then General Clark declared the old man's estate forfeited for treason, but was kind enough to give the property to the wife.(9)

A settler who visited one of Clark's camps made so bold as to say that the draft was illegal. He was arrested and confined in a log jail and Clark gave judgment that the man should be hanged in due course of time. The threat of execution was not carried out. It was merely one of the general's "bluffs," for which he was somewhat notorious. Some of the events of this time suggest that Clark had begun to drink pretty hard. He was in the home of Monongahela rye and the wealthier Virginia settlers were generous in their hospitality.

Colonel Gabriel Cox, who lived on. Peter's creek, near Finleyville, went about with a band of armed men, drafting the reluctant settlers. He sought John Douglass, one of the newly elected magistrates for Washington county, but did not find him at home. Thinking to catch John in bed, Cox and his men returned to the house at night, burst in the door and frightened wife and children nearly to death. Douglass was not there and Cox threatened the trembling wife with his sword., The poor woman could not or would not tell where her husband was.

Colonel Marshel wrote to Philadelphia: "Cox and his party have taken and confined a considerable number of the inhabitants of this county; in a word, the instances of high treason against the state are too many to be enumerated.' Thomas Scott, an honored leader among the pioneers, wrote that Clark's conduct had been "highly oppressive and abusive," adding, "The particulars are numerous and horrid."(11) Christopher Hays and Scott wrote jointly, "The general's expedition has been wished well, and volunteers to that service have been encouraged, . . . but we have heartily reprobated the general's standing over these two counties with an armed force, in order to dragoon the inhabitants into obedience to a draft under the laws of Virginia."(12)

The factional contentions among the borderers caused the failure of Clark's expedition. The Virginia general mustered his forces at the mouth of Chartiers creek, a short distance below Pittsburg, and thence marched to Wheeling, where his boats were built. Above Wheeling the Ohio was too shallow in midsummer to permit of navigation. Clark waited at Wheeling at least two weeks, vainly expecting other additions to his band. Realizing, at length, that the army which he had hoped to lead could not be assembled, and that he must move, if at all, before his stock of provisions was seriously reduced or many of his volunteers had changed their minds, he embarked his men, on the morning of August 8, and began the descent of the Ohio river. His force numbered about 400, with Captain Craig's battery of three field pieces. Although his proud spirit would not permit him to give over his enterprise, he felt little confidence in its success. Just before his embarkation he wrote to Governor Jefferson, of Virginia, that he had "relinquished all expectation," adding, "I have been at so much pains that the disappointment is doubly mortifying."

Had General Clark waited but a few hours longer, his expedition might not have been entirely fruitless. In the evening of the day in whose morning he departed from Wheeling, there arrived at that place, by overland march, about too volunteers from Westmoreland county, under the command of Colonel Archibald Lochry. These fine riflemen would have been a material addition to Clark's strength and a junction of forces would have avoided that grievous disaster which befell Lochry at the mouth of the little stream which has since borne his name.

At every opportunity on the voyage down the Ohio some of Clark's men ran away, and by the time he reached Fort Nelson, opposite Louisville, his force was wholly inadequate for a march into the Indian country. He remained in Fort Nelson several weeks, but before the cold weather came on most of his men dispersed and returned in small parties to their homes in Pennsylvania and Virginia.(13)

1 Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. viii., p. 767; vol. ii., p. 190.

2 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., pp. 748, 788, 769.

3 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., pp. 189, 209.

4 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 23.

5 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 137.

6 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., pp. 141, 381.

7 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., pp. 239, 247, 389, 559.

8 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., pp. 198, 288, 804, 815, 882, 868, 887.

9 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., pp. 348-345.

10 Pennsylvania Archives. vol. ix, p. 344; vol. x., p. 81.

11 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 825.

12 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 355.

13 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 338; Winsor's Westward Movement, p. 198; Frontier Forts, vol. ii., p. 194.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 131-138: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (

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