Family Stories

George Rogers Clark – Revolutionary War Hero

I was so impressed by this article on George Rogers Clark that I had to share this with you – it is lengthy, but worth the read.  Of the three homes of General Clark, Ritchey and I visited Locust Grove many times.  Their 18th Century Market Fair, held the last weekend in October, was our favorite time to visit.  The costumed performers, 18th century food and a battle were all fun.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Sunday, November 3, 1963

Clark Had Three Homes Here

George Rogers Clark had three homes in the Louisville area – Mulberry Hill in what is now George Rogers Clark Park; Clarksville at the Falls of the Ohio on the Indiana side; and Locust Grove, now being restored by Historic Homes Foundation, Inc.

Clark, in 1775, gazed for the first time on the lush lands of “Kentucke” and on that day lost his heart to the wilderness and determined, at any cost, to make his home there.  He was 23.

He could not foresee then the years of struggle and bloodshed, triumph and defeat, glory and bitterness which lay ahead of him, but the thrilling story of his conquest of the Northwest is history now, and his name is honored by every American.

In spite of wars, Indians and financial struggles, Clark made good his dream to live in Kentucky.  Except for a brief period before the Revolutionary War when he settled for a short time 40 miles below Wheeling, he lived close to Louisville, the city he founded.  Although he spent much time, of course, at Corn Island, Fort-on-Shore, Fort Nelson and other Louisville military posts, he had only three real homes in the area.

The first of the three of Clark’s Louisville area homes was Mulberry Hill.  This tract of about 290 acres of land near Louisville on Beargrass Creek, was selected by Clark for his father, John Clark, of Caroline County, Virginia.  There is a tradition in the family that although George Rogers Clark selected the site, he was too busy with military affairs to attend to building a house, and that his elder brother, Col. Jonathan Clark, came to Louisville and built the two-story log home for his parents and their younger children.

Mulberry Hill was a two-story log house with a steep roof and great stone chimneys at each end.  Six rooms in all, two of them garret rooms with dormers, were separated by a wide central hall on each floor.  A large pantry and store rooms were in the rear of the house, but the kitchen was separate and about 50 feet northeast of the eastern corner of the main house.  There was a small front porch and a larger back one.  Glass window panes, then almost unknown in the West, were in the small windows in the house, and attracted curious people from great distances.

The house and kitchen were in a yard enclosed by a plank fence and surrounded by fine forest trees.  Outhouses and slave quarters were built of stone and brick and were about fifty feet northeast of the kitchen.  The spring house was stone.  Historians say that at one side of the house clearing was a superb forest of great tulip poplars, walnut and cherry, ash, oak and other valuable trees which were destroyed by a large army of Federal soldiers which encamped there during the Civil War.  From the front gate and stile ran a broad avenue to a lane that is still called Clark’s Lane, and westward to the public road which led to Louisville.  A carriage way was in the center of this avenue bordered on each side by two rows of locust trees between which were footpaths.

To this comfortable home in the wilderness came John Clark in 1785, with his wife, Ann Rogers Clark, his youngest son, William (later one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific in 1804-06), and his three single daughters, Elizabeth, who later married Col. Richard Clough Anderson; Lucy, who married Col. William Croghan; and Fanny, who married three times, first Dr. James O’Fallon, second, Capt. Charles Minn Thruston, Jr., and third, Judge Dennis Fitzhugh.  All three girls were married at Mulberry Hill.

From 1784 to 1799 George Rogers Clark made his home with his parents at Mulberry Hill.  Their sympathy, love and understanding were of great help to him during this time for he was a dejected disillusioned hero, beset by creditors and lawsuits for the recovery of sums that had been advanced to him for the support of his army during the long war years.

Clark’s mother died at Mulberry Hill on Christmas Eve, 1798, and his father only lived until August of the next year.  Both of them were buried in the family graveyard on the place.  Because any property which George Rogers Clark might acquire would have been immediately seized by his creditors

John Clark left Mulberry Hill to his youngest son, William.

In 1802 two other sons of John Clark and Ann Rogers migrated from Virginia to Kentucky.  Jonathan bought a plantation adjoining Mulberry Hill where he built a house for his family which he called Trough Spring.  It is still standing, off Dundee Road in Louisville.  Later he acquired the Mulberry Hill tract.  Jonathan Clark and his wife, Sarah Hite, his two sons, John H. and Isaac, and other of their descendants, and Edmund Clark, were buried beside John and Ann Rogers Clark at Mulberry Hill.

George Rogers Clark lived at Mulberry Hill with his brother, William until 1803.  Members of the Clark family lived in the house until 1863 when Jonathan’s son, Isaac, too old to mange his house without the slaves he had owned until that time, moved to Louisville.  He was buried in 1868 at Mulberry Hill in the family graveyard.

Who lived at Mulberry Hill at various times after Isaac Clark moved away in 1863 is unknown, but in 1889 or 1890 R. C. Ballard Thruston photographed the house, at which time it had been abandoned for years, and was used as a storage place for grain.  The house and outbuildings were demolished by the army in 1917 soon after Camp Zachary Taylor was established.  Title to the home site, however, remained in the family, and in 1921 R. C. Ballard Thruston and his brothers, S. Thruston Ballard and Charles T. Ballard, who were descendants of John and Ann Clark, presented the 43.9 acres of the original Clark place, including the house site and family burying ground, to the City of Louisville, for a park which was named George Rogers Clark Park.

The name of the park, an old cypress protected by a fence and said to have grown from a riding crop which George Rogers Clark thrust into the ground, and a small burial plot with stone slab memorials to John and Ann Rogers and others of the family, are all that remain to remind posterity of George Rogers Clark and his family and their tenure at Mulberry Hill.

Back in 1783 when George Rogers Clark went to Richmond to ask for financial aid the Virginia Assembly made a grant of 150,000 acres across the Ohio from Louisville to the veterans of Clark’s Virginia regiment used in the Illinois campaign.  A Board of Commissioners, headed by Clark, were directed to locate and survey the land, lay off 1,000 acres for a town opposite the Falls, and allot the rest among the soldiers.  The town was laid off and called Clarksville.

Clark, untiring in his efforts to see that justice was done his men, devoted 15 years to the work of surveying and allotting the land in the “Illinois Grant.”

In 1803 he built for himself, on a part of the Illinois Grant, a rugged log cabin on a high point of land jutting into the Ohio River, known as “The Point of Rocks.”

From the crude front porch of his house, General Clark was in sight and sound of the falls of the Ohio, of Corn Island where early in 1778 he first established a stockade to train his men for his famed Kaskaskia expedition, and of Louisville, which he found by moving the families from Corn Island to the mainland.

The house which Clark built at Clarksville was the only one of his three houses which he owned, and he spent six years there.  With him were three faithful Negro servants, Kitt (or Ritt), Cupid and Venus.  A visitor to Clarksville in 1804 wrote, “I had the pleasure of seeing this celebrated warrior at his lonely cottage . . . (he) has become frail and rather helpless, but there are remains of great dignity and manliness in his countenance, person and deportment, and I was struck, on seeing him, with perhaps a fancied likeness to the great and immortal Washington.”

Among the distinguished guests Clark entertained at his home in Clarksville were old Indian chiefs who came each year to pay their respects.  With them he smoked the pipe of peace and friendship, for to them he was “the great and invincible Long Knife.”

At Clarksville, in 1803, Clark gave his blessing to his brother, William, and to Capt. Meriwether Lewis, as they set out on their hazardous but successful journey to the Pacific.

While George Rogers Clark lived at Clarksville, he built a stone grist mill on Silver Creek near his home, which mill he operated as long as he lived there.

Debts still continued to plague him, and he became so bitter that he drank to excess.  Meanwhile he and his friends and relatives continued to plead before the Virginia Legislature and the Congress at Washington for the payment of his just claims, but without success.

Gradually his health failed and he was racked with rheumatism from long years of exposure.  One day in 1809 he suffered a paralytic stroke and fell in the fireplace in such a way that one of his legs was burned.  The leg never healed and was amputated.  The story of the amputation is well known.  The operation was performed by Dr. Richard Ferguson of Louisville at the Indian Queen Hotel, at 6th and Main Streets, owned and operated by Clark’s kinsman, John Gwathmey.  Fortified by a quart of whisky and lively music played by a company of soldiers, Clark stood the operation and cauterization without evidence of pain, except for the drumming of his fingers on the table keeping time to the music.

He did not live again in Clarksville.  Near where his home stood the Ann Rogers Clark Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Indiana Society Sons of the Revolution, and the Indian Historical Commission, in 1922, placed a bronze marker with the following inscription:

“George Rogers Clark, 1752-1818.  Near this site stood the home of General George Rogers Clark – Pioneer, Soldier, Patriot, Conqueror of the Northwest Territory – who with dauntless heroism during the Revolutionary War invaded the enemy territory, captured the posts of Kaskaskia, Cahokia and Vincennes, and won for the United States the empire northwest of the Ohio River.”

Locust Grove’s beautiful front porch where George Rogers Clark sat much of the time during his last years.

Within a short time after the amputation of his leg, George Rogers Clark was taken to Locust Grove by his sister, Lucy, the wife of Colonel Croghan.  There she cared for him, a helpless invalid, the nine remaining years of his life.

He went into Louisville only two or three times after he moved to Locust Grove, but spent most of his time on the porch, in a wheel chair mounted on rollers, attended by his servant.  He suffered greatly from paralytic strokes which affected his speech and occasionally clouded his thinking.

In 1812 Virginia presented Clark with a sword as a symbol of the state’s appreciation of his services.  At that time, he was “old and decrepit, one leg gone, the other paralyzed, and all the energy and ambition of his younger days had departed.  Earthly honors could be of little moment to him then, as he sat there in his invalid chair and listened to the polished Virginian’s eloquent words.  He took the beautiful sword and holding it before him on his two open hands, looked at it long and earnestly.  Doubtless at the moment his memory dwelt upon the glories of Kaskaskia and Vincennes . . .”

At the same time, he was provided a pension of $400 to be paid him each year for life.  A very eloquent letter was written him by James Barbour, Governor of Virginia; and General Charles F. Mercer, member of the Virginia Assembly, who had introduced the bill, journeyed to Kentucky to present the sword in a history-making scene at Locust Grove.

The journals and papers of William Croghan contain many items entered between the years 1809 and 1818 concerning General Clark.  These entries include such items as cash paid for tavern accounts; board, lodging and wash at $200 per year; doctor bills to Dr. Ferguson; payments for razors, taxes, postage, silk handkerchiefs, hats, summer clothing and blankets, also leather overalls, shoes and other clothing for Clark’s servant.  Mention was made of the $400 annual pension.

George Rogers Clark died on February 13, 1818.  William Croghan’s journal note: “Gen’l. Clark died at my house and was buried the 15th – to cash paid for his coffin, $50.00”

Five days after his death Clark’s funeral oration was delivered by Judge John Rowan, whose opening sentence has been quoted many times: “The mighty oak of the forest has fallen, and now the scrubby oaks may sprout all around.”

Clark was buried in the center of the cemetery at Locust Grove, where the body remained until October 29, 1869, when it was moved to Cave Hill Cemetery.  In the same Cave Hill plot were moved the remains of General Jonathan Clark, William Clark, Edmund Clark, John Hite Clark, Isaac Clark and various other members of the family.  The graves of John Clark and Ann Rogers Clark, the parents of George Rogers Clark, still remain at Mulberry Hill, in George Rogers Clark Park.

In a March 10, 1812, Kentucky Gazette was a letter from C. F. Mercer, Esq., a member of the Virginia Legislature, to Joseph H. Hawkins, Esq., of this place, dated Richmond, February 21st, 1812.  In it was said that the “bill concerning Gen. George Rogers Clark, my object was to secure to him, the half pay of a Colonel for the residue of his life; and to replace the sword which had been given to him by this state, many years ago, and which (under an impression that Virginia had treated him with injustice) he had proudly broken and thrown away.”

Photos of the Clark plot in Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky:

Clark Family

Gen. George Rogers Clark, born O.S. November 9, 1752, died February 13, 1818.

Capt. Edmund Clark, born September 25, 1762, died March 11, 1815.

Gen. Jonathan Clark, born O.S. August 1, 1750, died November 25, 1811.

Sarah Hite, wife of Jonathan Clark, born May 11, 1758, died October 1818.

John Hite Clark, born September 29, 1785, died Spring of 1820.

Isaac Clark, born October 6, 1787, died January 27, 1868.

William Clark, born November 13, 1795, died February 3, 1879.  Frances T. Clark, born July 4, 1807, died September 10, 1852.

1 reply »

  1. Lived in that area in Louisville for 49 years myself. Had a good friend with the last name of Clark that lived 2 blocks from Clark’s lane. Crazy how things are and I never put together with him being related to the name the park was named after. St. Xavier high school is in that area as well as Germantown Baseball and Audubon Hospital.

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