George Rogers Clark Flag
The great state of Virginia gave us General George Washington, our famous first President of the United States and the leader of the revolutionary forces that obtained the United States’ independence from the British monarchy. But Virginia also gave us another driven and accomplished military leader named Colonel George Rogers Clark who was instrumental in paving the way for our country’s expansion as we gained independence.
While Washington is revered and well known for his miraculous military campaigns along the eastern seaboard, Colonel Clark achieved victories in the (Old) Northwest Province of the North American Continent which lay west of the Appalachian Mountains and included the land as far west as the Mississippi River, as far south as the Ohio River, and as far north as the Great Lakes. Although the population centers in this land was sparse, it was nevertheless important for the British to maintain the vital shipping lanes such as the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash Rivers as they became increasingly important trade routes to the empire.
Colonel Clark led a very small contingent of militia men, under 200, from the Kentucky area which at that time was part of Virginia. Their self-appointed mission was to put quell to the Indian raids which the British supported in order to keep settlers out of the western frontier. Not content with just defending the western settlements, Clark sought to push through the Northwest Territory and disrupt and conquer British forts that facilitated the Indian attacks. His actions were sanctioned by Patrick Henry, governor of Virginia.
Clark first gained the trust and support of the French locals near modern day Vincennes, Indiana who had no love of the British. These efforts led to the successful takeover of three British forts with essentially no shots fired. Hearing that one of the forts, Fort Sackville, in Vincennes had fallen, the British deployed troops from Detroit and retook the fort from Captain Leonard Helm who held it while Clark went on to Kaskaskia, Illinois.
At this point, we see a similar trait of Washington’s in Clark – the willingness to think outside the box, establish a daring plan, and execute it with a bit of ingenuity and grit. (It is noteworthy to mention that Colonel Clark’s younger brother is none other than William Clark, partner of Merriweather Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The adventurous and conquering spirit ran strong in the Clark line.)
The British leader of the reconquered Fort Sackville, Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton, customarily sent most of his soldiers home for the winter and Clark devised a plan to take advantage of the situation in late February, 1779. Like Washington, he led his small force through the fierce winter environment and at one point, instead of using boats (because there were none), Clark led his men from the front through shoulder high water.
After being warmed and re-outfitted by the French locals again, Clark marched his men toward the fort. However, he cleverly used multiple flags dispersed among his now only 180 men. The men would quickly run circles with varying flags as they marched to and by the fort giving the occupiers the impression the Americans numbered closer to 500 or 1,000. As many as 50 flags were thought to have been quickly flown among the troops and the ruse worked. The next morning Hamilton petitioned for surrender and eventually Hamilton and his forces fell to the Americans. Ultimately the surrender of Fort Sackville at Vincennes facilitated the fledgling United States receiving this vast territory from the British at the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
Historians seem to agree that the flag that bears Colonel Clark’s name was likely on site at Fort Sackville either during Hamilton’s re-capture of the fort or during the attack by Clark later, and quite possibly both. The flag is thought to have been designed by Captain Helm after a receipt from a local Frenchman was discovered outlining the cost to make the flag by a woman named Madame Goderre. The origin of the red and green stripes has divided theories. One considers the green color a likely a result of a lack of more colorful blue, buff or white materials in the frontier region far from colonial merchants. Another points to the green being a Wasbash Indian representation of the Wabash River adjacent to Vincennes which Helm may have incorporated into the design. Either way, the flag is consistent with several other contemporaries and the pattern adheres to the common imagery of the 13 original colonies in alternating stripes.
Our George Rogers Clark Flag patch is a tribute to the man who conquered the vast western front of the Revolutionary War and to the spirit of those who persevered under his command in harsh conditions to achieve victory for the fledgling colonies.
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- Release: 9/24/2021