Siege of Vincennes 

US #651 was issued for the 150th anniversary of this victory. Click image to order.

On February 24, 1779, George Rogers Clark led a siege of Vincennes, forcing the British to surrender.

After the French and Indian War, the British occupied the majority of the trans-Appalachian frontier.  They soon passed the Proclamation of 1763, making the settlement of land west of the Appalachian Mountains illegal for colonists.  The British responded harshly to settlers who ignored this decree, sending Native American war parties after trespassers.

US #1052 from the Liberty Series. Click image to order.

In Kentucky, George Rogers Clark led a militia to defend the people against these attacks.  However, Clark soon decided he would rather cut the attacks off at their British source.  Clark developed a plan of action and brought it to Virginia governor Patrick Henry, who quickly approved it.  By the summer of 1778, Clark and his army of militiamen were on their way down the Ohio River.

The men traveled over 120 miles before they reached and captured the British outposts at Kaskaskia and Cahokia.  During this time, these settlements were populated mostly by the French, who were not very fond of the British after the French and Indian War.  Most were happy to join forces with George Clark to take on their common enemy.  With the help of Father Pierre Gibault and Dr. Jean Baptiste Laffont, Clark soon gained support from the outpost at Vincennes as well.  The only French settlements Clark could not sway were Detroit and a few other northern posts.

Item #MA1806 – The First Cacheted FDC produced by Ioor. Click image to order.

By late summer, British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton had heard of Clark’s successes at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes.  His determination to reclaim these outposts caused him to leave Detroit with a mixed army of British soldiers, French volunteer militiamen, and Native American warriors.  Clark’s second-in-command, Captain Leonard Helm, held Vincennes, known as Fort Sackville, at the time of Hamilton’s attack.  Helm’s men were few in number and were quickly forced to turn over Fort Sackville to Hamilton’s army on December 17.  The French settlers, who had previously supported Clark, quickly abandoned him when they saw the strength of Hamilton’s army.

US #651 – Classic First Day Cover. Click image to order.

It was often custom in 18th-century warfare for armies to send their soldiers home during the winter.  British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton followed this custom, which sealed the fate of Fort Sackville.

US #651 – Uncacheted First Day Cover. Click image to order.

The British forces at Fort Sackville captured merchant and American sympathizer Francis Vigo when he didn’t realize the Americans no longer controlled Vincennes.  Luckily, he was soon released and was able to provide valuable intelligence to Clark about the state of Fort Sackville – including their small numbers.

Item #93069 – Commemorative cover honoring the George Rogers Clark Expedition. Click image to order.

Armed with this new information, Clark decided to make the 18-day journey from Kaskaskia to Vincennes.  He and his 170-man army trudged through the freezing weather of the Illinois countryside before arriving at Fort Sackville on February 23, 1779.  French occupants who had previously helped Clark were happy to join him once again.  They provided his army with food and dry gunpowder upon their arrival.

Item #20021 – George Rogers Clark Commemorative Cover. Click image to order.

Clark and his forces soon began their assault on the British troops at Fort Sackville.  The Americans surrounded the fort with many battle flags, giving Hamilton the impression they had far greater numbers than they did.  They employed several more tactics that were designed to confuse, frighten, and disorient the British and force them to surrender.

Item #CNINGR25D – George Rogers Clark National Park Quarter. Click image to order.

On the morning of February 24, Clark sent a message to Hamilton demanding his surrender.  Hamilton refused and Clark continued to fire on the fort for another two hours.  Clark then demanded he surrender within 30 minutes or they would storm the fort.  Hamilton again refused but proposed a three-day truce.  They agreed to meet at a nearby church, where they worked out terms of surrender.  The following morning, Hamilton surrendered the fort and his army laid down their weapons in front of the Americans.

After their victory, Clark’s army raised an American flag above Fort Sackville and fired 13 celebratory cannon shots.  Clark renamed the fort for Virginia governor Patrick Henry, who had been the one to approve his plan of attack.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Mystic Stamps has brought so many historical events previously unknown to me to the forefront.
    It gives me great hope in these times that America will always prevail and come out strong and honorable. The brave ancestors who came before us still live in our hearts and are in our DNA. Thank you Mystic for these oft forgotten or unknown slices of history.

    1. The beginning of this story is very interesting, but overlooks underlying facts. The Proclamation of 1763 was intended to keep colonists from illegally taking Native American lands by any means, especially the forceful means that encouraged hostile responses from those whose land was being stolen. It is also interesting to note the use of Clark’s militia to protect these invaders from the displaced Native Americans. Eventually, these militia were incorporated into the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution with the goals of protecting these invaders and enabling the violent posses that sought to return escaped slaves to their owners-not intending to legitimize the use of all manners of weapons by any American citizen two centuries and more later.
      I’m not so sure that these historical actions necessarily reflect honorable American behavior.

    1. Wow, that was an unnecessary comment. You might like to read about the role of the French in defending their country against the German Army in World War I. A few days ago, this Mystic Stamp page told of the stand of American and French soldiers against the Chinese army in the Korean War. A stand in which cause the Chinese to give up on their plan to conquer the entire Korean peninsula.

  2. Clark and his army landed in the Illinois Country at the ruins of Ft. Massac or Massiac as it was called by the French. It was abandoned by the French in 1763 and later burned. Clark decided to go over land to Kaskaskia instead of going down the Ohio and them up the Mississippi in order to lessen the chance of being discovered.

  3. George Rogers Clark was the older brother of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. Clark was later appointed to be governor of Missouri Territory. Quite a family

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