George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
On July 23, 1966, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park was established in Vincennes, Indiana.
George Rogers Clark, along with four of his five brothers, fought in the American Revolution as officers. Clark actually became the highest ranking American military officer in the northwest at the time. He led his men to victory in several battles, but his most famous accomplishments were the capture of Kaskaskia and Vincennes.
Clark’s campaign began in 1778, and along the way he founded Louisville, Kentucky, and captured British forts. One of those was Fort Sackville in present-day Vincennes, Indiana. In early 1779, Clark heard the fort had fallen into British hands again, so he led his men to recapture it. In February, his small band of hardy men waded through freezing water and reclaimed Fort Sackville. Because of Clark’s campaign, at the end of the war, America was in control of land that would one day become the states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Clark is credited with dealing a hard blow to the British, especially in the Northwest Territory. In the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolution, Britain recognized the United States as its own country, established new boundary lines in North America, and gave the Northwest Territory to the United States. The treaty was “exceedingly generous” to the US. Many historians say that the reason the British gave the entire territory to the United States in the Treaty of Paris was thanks to Clark’s victories there – this earned him the nickname “Conqueror of the Old Northwest,” and the title of American hero. Clark accomplished all of this by the time he was 30 years old.
As the town of Vincennes grew, the site of Fort Sackville was overrun. In 1905, the Daughters of the American Revolution wanted to preserve the memory of Clark’s important victory. They placed a stone marker where they believed the fort once stood. In the early 1920s, Americans began to advocate for a memorial to George Rogers Clark’s great accomplishments. They felt that since the 150th anniversary of the American Revolutionary War was close, it would be the perfect time to plan a monument. Many proposals were submitted and President Calvin Coolidge finally established the George Rogers Clark Sesquicentennial Commission on May 23, 1928. This group was made of 15 members who were tasked with “designing and constructing at or near the site of Fort Sackville… a permanent memorial, commemorating the winning of the Old Northwest and the achievements of George Rogers Clark and his associates.”
This was a difficult task as no one was completely sure of Fort Sackville’s exact location. Through much research and consultation with archaeologists, the George Rogers Clark Sesquicentennial Commission determined the fort was located approximately where the monument stands today. The building of the structure started in September 1931 with the pouring of the foundation.
George Rogers Clark’s memorial came together in pieces and was finally completed on May 1, 1933, by W.R. Heath Company. When finished, the granite structure was over 80 feet high, 90 feet wide at the base, with walls two feet thick. The words above the monument’s 16 columns are “The Conquest of the West – George Rogers Clark and The Frontiersmen of the American Revolution.”
Inside, there is a statue of Clark as well as seven murals. Three of the commander’s quotes are inscribed in the memorial’s walls. One of them says, “If a country is not worth protecting it is not worth claiming.” Another statue inside the park’s grounds honors Francis Vigo, an Italian-American merchant who had been captured by the British. When he was released, he gave Clark important intelligence about the British forces in Vincennes. This helped Clark recapture the fort. There’s also a statue of Father Pierre Gibault, who also aided Clark. The memorial was officially dedicated June 14, 1936, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In 1940, and for several decades after, the George Rogers Clark memorial was controlled by the Indiana Department of Conservation. It wasn’t until 1966 that Congress placed the monument under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. President Lyndon B. Johnson officially opened the park in a ceremony on July 23, 1966. In addition to honoring Clark, the park also pays tribute to America’s expansion into the Northwest Territory, which Clark helped make possible. The park’s historical theme was stated as “Revolution, War in the Frontier.”
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