Fort Jefferson and the community of Clarksville, Kentucky

Fort Jefferson and the community of Clarksville [Kentucky]

By order of Governor Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, George Rogers Clark (brother of the famous Clark of Lewis and Clark) was ordered to build Fort Jefferson at the mouth of the Ohio River. The fort and community of Clarksville were the first settlement sanctioned by the Virginia government to be located in the part of Virginia that is today western Kentucky.

Until recently the population of Fort Jefferson and the civilian community of Clarksville was thought to be only thirty-five. With the new findings by Kenneth Charles Carstens1 it is now believed to have been over five hundred and eighty men, women and children.

Listed in the personnel of Captain George Owen's Company of Militia is Peter Hellebrand, he was also known as Hellebrandt.2 This Peter Hellebrand is probably Peter Hildebrand, the ancestor of many of the Missouri Hildebrands.

In January of 1778 George Rogers Clark receives permission from the government to go ahead with his plans to fortify the mouth of the Ohio River. In July of 1778, Clark takes Kaskaskia and other French town along the Mississippi and Vincennes along the Wabash. Again Henry Hamilton, British groveror, takes Vincecesses. In February of 1779, Clark retakes Vincennes from Hamilton and in November of 1779 he holds a meeting with his junior officers at Louisville. At this "Council of War" it is determined what the number and strength of the new garrison at the mouth of the Ohio should be.

By January of 1780 Jefferson has written Joseph Martin asking him to seek permission from the Indians claiming  land around the mouth of the Ohio to build the new fort.

In March of 1780 the offer of free land is given to populate the mouth of the Ohio. This offer was given to both the military and civilians in the Illinois country as an inducement to populate the new garrison. It was also away to reduce the number of post and garrisons and center the population at the mouth of the Ohio. From these findings I can only guess that Peter came to Fort Jefferson for the offer of free land.

By April of 1780 enough provisions had been procured by Clark for one thousand men to survive for six months. On April 11, 1780, Clark arrives with about 150 soldiers at the mouth of the Ohio. Fort Jefferson and the civilian community of Clarksville are established. I have not found the exact date of Captain George Owen's arrival, so I do not know when Peter Hildebrand arrived with his family, but Peter is listed in the pay abstract from 05/01/80-12/21/80.3,4

The fort and civilian community was beginning to thrive and on June 4, 1780 Captain Robert George, commander of Fort Jefferson, writes Clark. He informs Clark that the stockade around the fort as been finished. The civilians have begun clearing the land and planting their crops, with the help of the native inhabitants.

The native inhabitants included Batisst, Chief of the Kaskaskia Indians. Among the other Indians were "Joseph" and 65 unnamed Kaskaskia Indians.

The atmosphere of the fort began to chance. On June 7, 1780, the Chickasaw Indians, allied to the British, begin "marauding" around the fort killing three brothers, Conrad, Henry and Mark Ker.

On June 10, 1780, Clark is at Fort Jefferson, he is preparing for an Shawnee expedition. When he leaves, he takes with him Richard Harrison's Company, one-haft of Captain George Company of artillery, Captain Bailey's Company, and Captain Shannon's Company.

Virginia is petitioned on June 13, 1780 by civilians Piggott, Johnson, Smith, Hunter, Iles for the government to recognize the civilian community of "Clarksville" as a new county of Virginia.

The Chickasaw Indians again attack the Clarksville community at day break on July 17, 1780. They killed two men of the militia and wounded several others. Word is sent to Fort Clark about the attack and assistance from Col. Montgomery of Fort Clark is asked for. On July 31, 1780, help arrives from the Kaskaskia Indians. The Kaskaskia Indians are allied with the Americans. Also arriving from Fort Clark is William Clark and Captain Bailey, with 28 men of his company. They bring 1400 lbs. of flour and 50 bushes of corn. The Kaskaskia Indians stayed at Fort Jefferson and hunted for the garrison.

The fort returns to some sort of "normalcy" after August 12, 1780 when Thomas Bentley, a double agent, writes Haldimand in Detroit. Bentley tells Haldimand that all of the troops are again at Fort Jefferson and that the Illinois country is free for the taking. But this "normalcy" was short lived. On August 17, 1780, a larger force of the Chickasaw Indians attacked the civilian community. The attack escalates and encapsulates both Fort Jefferson and the civilian community of Clarksville. The attack was led by Lt. James Whitehead from the Southern British Indian department. On August 21, 1780, the Chickasaw Indians finally withdraw but not until they burned the corn crop and killing most of the livestock. Again assistance from Fort Clark was asked for and received. Lt. Helm and William Clark assessed the damage done the fort and community. Forty-five acres of the corn crop had been destroyed.  Col. Montgomery arrived from Fort Clark with eight soldiers and sixty-five Kaskaskia Indians some time before September 6, 1780. A "revenge" party of Kaskaskia Indians leaves the fort on September 7, 1780, to find the Chickasaw Indians.

Just getting over the recent attack by the Chickasaw Indians, the population of the fort and civilian community are hit hard by sickness, mostly malaria and the flu. This appears to be a little too much for some of the families. On September 12, 1780, twenty civilian families, of the 40 known families, leave Fort Jefferson. All of these families were members of Captain George Owens' Clarksville militia. From the records the move occurred because of "few provisions" and "poor prospect of getting more" now that the corn crop had been destroyed. Our Peter Hildebrand was not among the families to leave at this time. Sickness increases around the fort and civilian community during the month of September.

"Marauding" Indians kill four more people on October 4 & 5 of 1780. Sickness is still serious and desertion among the soldiers is frequent. Moral is low at this point in time. Col. Montgomery and Captain John Williams arrive at Fort Jefferson, and Col. Montgomery wants Williams to take command of the fort from Captain George. Captain George refuses to give up his command unless he is ordered to my George Rogers Clark. Col. Montgomery leaves Fort Jefferson for New Orleans. He notes that Fort Jefferson is being reduced by famine, desertion and dying.

Life goes on during November with more supplies arriving from New Orleans. Major Harland and members of the garrison go hunting and bring back 8000 lbs. of meat, but it still isn't enough for the remaining civilians and soldiers. The sickness continues to be a problem.

It is now December, only seven months since the formation of Fort Jefferson and the community of Clarksville. The picture that John Donne writes in a letter to George Rogers Clark is one of despair. More supplies arrive from New Orleans and Falls on the Ohio during the month but  it still isn't enough for the remaining soldiers and civilians. Supplies are issued to 125 people in the outposts and garrison. It is now December 25, 1780 and there is a "canon" salute in the garrison and in the town of Clarksville.

The new year starts out much the same way that 1780 ended. Fort Jefferson continued to receive supplies from New Orleans,  Illinois Country and Falls of the Ohio. The soldiers receive their annual allotment of clothing. The Kickapoo and Perorian Indians arrive at the fort in February of 1781. Fort Jefferson is asked to send supplies, mostly ammunition, to O'Post in Vincennes. Captain Bailey's Company is sent to O'Post.

In April of 1781, George Washington writes to the Board of War that George Rogers Clark is planning an expedition against the Detroits. Flooding becomes a problem and the supplies had to be moved out of the garrison. The population of the fort and civilian community has steadily been dropping. By May 23, 1871 there are only sixty-nine men, eight women and 10 children left. There is a break in at the public store and the situation at the fort is getting desperate.

Finally on June 8, 1781, Fort Jefferson is evacuated and the troops arrive at Falls on the Ohio on July 12, 1781.

Only one year and two months after Fort Jefferson was formed, it was now no more. It must have seemed like a life time to Peter and Maria. Although Jacob Hildebrand, son of Peter and Maria, is not listed among the ones to die at Fort Jefferson, oral family history gives us this fact. In the fall of 1780, Jacob, about six years old, and his brother James, two years older,  was a little way from the fort looking for grapes. The boys were attacked by a band of Indians, probably the Chickasaw Indians. Jacob was killed by an Indian using a tomahawk. James only managed to escape capture by his fleetness.3

Below you will find the entries for Peter and Maria Hildebrand that appeared in the records of Fort Jefferson.

Hellebrant, Peter (also Hellebrand)
[25] Listed as Private in Capt. George Owens' Co. of Militia of the District of Clarksville in the State of Virginia [Jefferson Co.]
Pay Abstract4,5
09/16/80 Account of sugar delivered by Martin Carney by order of Capt. George at Fort Jefferson, to Peter Hellebrant, a militia man, two lbs.6
09/16/80 George Owens "marks" request [George sings] for M. Carney to issue Peter Hellebrant two lbs of sugar for being sick.7
05/14/81 Probably married to Mary Hillebrant [d]8

Hellebrant, Mrs. Mary (Hillebrand)
05/14/81 Probably married to Peter Hellebrant of Capt. George Owens Co. of Militia: sought four lbs of sugar for Harry the Smith"
05/14/81 Mrs. Hellebrand per orders, four lbs sugar10
06/05/81 Mrs. Hellebrand per orders, three lbs sugar11

Falls of the Ohio and the town of Clarksville This Clarksville was founded in 1784, three years after Clark evacuated and the troops arrive at the Falls of the Ohio.

George Rogers Clark  National Historical Park  Vincennes, Indiana

Ancestry's Red Book (There were two Clarksville, one at Fort Jefferson, in what is now KY and one at Falls of the Ohio, in what is now IN. This one here is at the Falls of the Ohio.)
A grant of land was provided for George Rogers Clark and his men for their service in the Revolutionary War. The property was situated in what is now Scott, Floyd, and Clark counties. Clarksville, established in 1784 on the northern bank of the Ohio River and within the grant, was the first American town to be laid out in the northwest. Most land owned by individuals prior to 1800 was either in Clark's Grant or at Vincennes. At Vincennes, between 1779 and 1783, the court would grant land, usually 400 acres, to every American immigrant who wanted property.

1. The Personnel of George Rogers Clark's Fort Jefferson and the Civilian Community of Clarksville [Kentucky] 1780-1781; Based on the Lost Vouchers of George Rogers Clark, by Kenneth Charles Carstens
3. Among by Pioneer Ancestors by Anna B. Sartori (as taken from the Draper Manuscript)
4.Harding 1981: 48-49
5.GRC, 1: 465
8. VSA-19
9. VSA-19
10. VSA-49
11. VSA-49

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