8th Virginia Captain Jonathan Clark was the oldest of ten siblings in a family that left a powerful impact on American history. No other family can claim a larger role in the history of the War for Independence, the conquest of the old frontier (the “Northwest Territory”), and the exploration of the post-Louisiana purchase frontier than the Clarks can.
Today, the most famous of them is William, who was twenty years younger than Jonathan. Each of them, however, contributed to the founding and expansion of the nation in his or her own way.
Jonathan (1750 – 1811) was the oldest. A Captain in the 8th Virginia, he was later promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel and held a post-war rank of major general in the Virginia militia. He was at the Brandywine, Germantown, Valley Forge, Monmouth, Paulus Hook, and the siege of Charleston--where he was taken prisoner. He lived his later years near Louisville, Kentucky.
George Rogers (1752 – 1818) was, during his life, the most famous sibling, known as the “Conqueror of the Northwest.” He led successful western campaigns against the Shawnee, who were allied with the British. Control of that Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and a bit of Minnesota) was no small matter. Following the French and Indian War, the British Crown considered this territory to be part of Quebec. This territory would likely be part of Canada today were it not for George.
Ann Rogers (1755 – 1822) married Owen Gwathmey, an early settler of Louisville.
John (1757 – ca 1784) was, at the age of 19, awarded a commission in the 8th Virginia as a 2nd Lieutenant in Robert Higgins’ 1777 replacement company. He served only a short while. He was captured three weeks after his twentieth birthday at the Battle of Germantown. Held in terrible conditions aboard a prison ship, he eventually returned home half-dead with consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis). He continued to waste away until his death in 1783 or 1784.
Richard Henry (1760 – 1784) died alone while traveling on horseback from the falls of the Ohio (Louisville) to Vincennes or Kaskaskia (Illinois). He is presumed to have drowned.
Edmund (1762 – 1815) served in the 4th Virginia Regiment as a young sergeant. This was the regiment the 8th Virginia merged with (and took the number of) in 1778. He is believed to have been captured in the siege of Charleston, along with Jonathan.
Lucy (1765 – 1838) married 8th Virginia Captain William Croghan. The Croghans lived and prospered on their estate “Locust Grove” east of Louisville, Kentucky. Jonathan lived close by and George came to live with Lucy in his later years, struggling toward his eventual death with an amputated leg and the effects of a stroke.
Elizabeth (1768 – 1795) married Richard Clough Anderson, a well-regarded officer in the Virginia Line and surveyor of Kentucky military bounty lands.
William (1770 – 1838) explored the new frontier with Meriwether Lewis at the head of the Corps of Discovery from 1804 to 1806, co-leading the first overland journey all the way to the Pacific Ocean. He is now, by far, the most famous of the Clark siblings.
Frances Eleanor (1773 – 1825) married three times, the second time to Charles Mynn Thruston, Jr. Thruston’s father had been the rector of Berkeley Parish (Berkeley County), Virginia, and a Colonel in the Continental Army. Berkeley County played an important role in the life of the 8th Virginia. The life of the elder Thruston holds strong parallels to the life of 8th Virginia Colonel Peter Muhlenberg—they were both “fighting parsons” from the frontier.
Jonathan and his wife Sarah Hite Clark lie in the center of six Clark family graves fronting a family monument at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery. Flags adorn the graves of Jonathan, George, and Edmund, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Their famous younger brother, William, is buried in St. Louis, Missouri.
The adventures of 8th Virginia Captain James Knox have been unfairly overshadowed by those of Daniel Boone. This may be true generally, but it is definitely—and literally—true at the site of a memorial marker in Greene County, Kentucky.
The 8th Virginia’s recruitment area was vast—covering almost the entire Virginia frontier, which at that time stretched from Pittsburgh to the Cumberland Gap—a distance of 450 miles. Those two places were, at that time, the only practical access points to the “Kentucky Country”—all of which was, at the start of the war, part of Fincastle County, Virginia. To get there, you could float down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, or you could travel overland through the Cumberland Gap. Few had taken the latter route, however, when James Knox led a hunting party that way in 1770.
Knox was one of the original “Long Hunters,” who entered Kentucky on months-long or even years-long hunting trips, intending to return with large quantities of pelts. Daniel Boone is by far the most famous of the long hunters, but that is partly because there is only room for one of these little-remembered adventurers in public memory.
In 1770, James Knox and his team established a hunting camp and pelt repository (a “skin house”) by the north bank of a creek now known as Skinhouse Branch. Years later, a church was built on the same site. Today, the 187-year old nondenominational church sits at the intersection of Skinhouse Branch and Long Hunters Camp roads—neither of which carries enough traffic to warrant painted markings. It is surrounded by farms growing corn, tobacco, and soybeans. Two stone markers were put there long ago by local citizens to memorialize James Knox and the hunting expedition of 1770. In front of them, and closer to the road, is an official Kentucky state historic marker noting that Daniel Boone was also there—a year later.
Early in 1776, Knox recruited one of the 8th Virginia’s ten companies. His men were decimated by malaria during the South Carolina expedition of that summer and fall. By the spring of 1777, only a handful were left. Knox became a captain in Morgan’s Rifles and commanded a company at the victory at Saratoga. He took a few of his 8th Virginia men with him, and his 8th Virginia Regiment company ceased to exist. He was a prominent citizen of Kentucky in his later years, but has always been overshadowed by Daniel Boone.
8th Virginia Colonel Abraham Bowman’s frontier cabin looks better than has in 200 years.
Frontier log cabins, usually built of American Chestnut on stone foundations, were very durable structures. A surprising number of them survive today, including the cabin 8th Virginia Colonel Abraham Bowman built about 1779 or 1780 when he moved to Kentucky. Nevertheless, after two centuries, the Bowman cabin showed signs of deterioration (and alteration) when images of it were submitted to the National Park Service in 1979.
Bowman and his brothers are remembered as accomplished equestrians, reportedly known back in the Shenandoah Valley as the “Four Centaurs of Cedar Creek.” Appropriately, most of his land in Kentucky is now part of one of the most important equestrian facilities in the world. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emir of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is a horse enthusiast and owner of a global thoroughbred stallion operation which stands stallions in six countries. Soon after acquiring the property in 2000, Sheikh Mohammed had the Bowman cabin repaired and restored, along with other properties built long ago for Bowman’s children.
The unique cabin, which features a basement and an exterior staircase to a second floor, has never looked better. The most notable change from the restoration is the reorientation of the exterior stairs, presumably to their original position and providing more headroom over the basement stairs.
Of all the Tories engaged in the brutal southern theater of the Revolution, none has a worse reputation than Colonel David Fanning. His savagery was matched only by his loyalty to the Crown. After the war, he referred to the Treaty of Paris as “the act of oblivion.” Fanning’s career and writings offer an unfamiliar perspective on the war and its aftermath.
Fanning used fear and violence to keep his part of North Carolina loyal, or at least neutral. “On one occasion, Fanning and his troop called at a smithshop to get their horse shoes repaired, where he met with a young man of the name of Bland, who had for a time served under him, but had withdrawn himself with a hope that he would be permitted to live at home in peace; Fanning charged him with being a deserter, stabbed him several times with his sword, and then shot him, and after turning him over with his foot to see that he was dead, said the d—-d rascal would never deceive him again.”
In a better-remembered incident, “He and his raiders first rode to Col. [Andrew] Balfour's plantation. When they arrived, the Loyalists immediately opened fire. Absalom Autry fired at Col. Balfour and the shot broke his arm. Col. Balfour made his way back into the house to protect his daughter and his sister. The Loyalists rushed the house and pulled Col. Balfour away from the women, then riddled his body with bullets. Even Col. Fanning fired his pistol into Balfour's head. The women were kicked and beaten until they fled to the home of a neighbor.”
Fanning left an account of his service, which includes interesting reflections of a loyalist in Canadian post-war exile. Like combatants everywhere, he had far more sympathy for his comrades than for his enemy. Reflecting on the fate of the loyalists he had commanded, he wrote, “Those people have been induced to brave every danger and difficulty during the late war, rather than render any service to the Rebels. .... As to place them in their former possessions, is impossible—stripped of all their property, driven from their Houses—deprived of their wives and children—robbed of a free and mild government—betrayed and deserted by their friends, what can repay them, for the misery? Dragging out a wretched life of obscurity and want, Heaven, only, which smooths the rugged paths, can reconcile them to misfortune. Numbers of them left their wives and children in North Carolina, not being able to send for them; and now in the West Indies and other parts of the world for refuge, and not returned to their families yet. Some of them, that returned, under the act of oblivion passed in 1783, was taken to Hillsboro, and hanged for their past services that they rendered the Government whilst under my command.”
Fanning’s memoir, written just a few years after “act of oblivion,” begins with a scriptural citation. Quoting 1 Samuel 15:23, he writes, “Rebellion according to the Scripture is, as the Sin of Witchcraft; and the propagators thereof, has been more than once punished; which is dreadfully exemplified this day in the now United States of America but formerly Provinces; for since their Independence from Great Britain, they have been awfully and visibly punished by the fruits of the earth being cut off; and civil dissention every day prevailing among them; their fair trade, and commerce almost totally ruined; and nothing prospering so much as nefarious and rebellious Smuggling.”
Indeed, the first years of Independence were messy. Even as Fanning was completing his memoir, the First Congress was meeting in New York under the new Constitution and working with the nation's first president to craft a more perfect union.
A close read of 1 Samuel 15 puts Fanning’s scripture quote in context, providing food for thought. The full verse reveals that it is a king (Saul, the predecessor of King David) who has rebelled against the will of God. (I quote here from the King James version, the version Fanning would have read.) “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” This, at least to modern minds, turns the meaning of the verse on its head. However, Saul’s confession turns the meaning around one more time. “And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. (1 Samuel 15:24)
Kings owe their allegiance to God, not to the people. To Fanning, evidently, that was an important distinction.
Near Lexington, Kentucky, there is a Greek revival house, built in the early 1800s called “Helm Place.” Originally called “Cedar Hall,” the house was built either by 8th Virginia Colonel Abraham Bowman or his son. In documentation submitted to add it to the National Register of Historic Places, the building is described as “impressive." It “sits on a hill overlooking the South Elkhorn and gives one the impression of a Greek Temple.”
The Bowman family prospered in Kentucky. They began as pioneers, however, and lived originally in pioneer fashion. Colonel Bowman’s first Kentucky home, a log cabin, survives just a quarter mile from Helm Place. “The cabin,” says the National Register paperwork from 1979, “a single-pen log structure with half-dovetail notching…faces southeast. There is a step-shouldered stone chimney on the south side and the exterior stair to the loft on the opposite end. The significant details of half-dovetail joinings of the logs and the outside staircase date this building to the late 1780s. The half-dovetail joining was characteristic of other log houses in this part of the state. The log house is also unique in that it contained a stone basement, which, in effect, created a three-story building.”
A log cabin is not the sort of structure one might expect to survive for more than two centuries. Nonetheless, stone foundations and clapboard coverings have protected many of these pioneer dwellings into the 21st century. Here is an earlier post about 8th Virginia Captain Robert Higgin's cabin in Moorefield, West Virginia.
The Battle of Monmouth Courthouse (June 28, 1778), was the last engagement for the 8th Virginia Regiment in the war. Shortly after, the seriously depleted regiment was folded into the 4th Virginia Regiment. (In fact, at Monmouth, the regiment had already been provisionally merged with two others as the "4th, 8th, and 12th Regiment.") Monmouth was fought exactly two years after the 8th Virginia's first real battle at Sullivan's Island, South Carolina.
Very few of the original enlistees were still in the regiment at Monmouth. Aside from deaths from disease and battle, all of the original enlistments from 1776 expired during the Valley Forge Encampment. Some of the original officers still remained, however. Some of the original recruits had also reenlisted. Monmouth, however, was the end of the road for the storied 8th Virginia, a unit that first began as a Virginia provincial regiment led by a pastor and loyal (technically, at least) to the King. The Virginia legislature had intended it to be a German unit and commissioned German field officers for it (Col. Muhlenberg, Lt. Col. Bowman, and Maj. Helphinstine). It recruited men of other ethnicities, however, and was never as German as originally envisioned.
Some of the men, commissioned and enlisted, continued to fight on to the end of the war. In September, the regiment was merged with the 4th Virginia under the latter's number. Other regiments were consolidated as well, and the regiment previously known as the 12th became the "new" 8th Virginia. In 1779, the consolidated 4th was provisionally merged with the 3rd Virginia and known for a time as the "3rd and 4th Virginia Regiment." Lastly, the handful who remained were included in the 2nd Virginia Brigade sent to reinforce General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1780. Some of them were under the command of Captain Abraham Kirkpatrick, who had begun the war as a lieutenant in William Croghan's Pittsburgh company of the 8th Virginia. Croghan, now a major, was also at Charleston. All of them were taken prisoner when Lincoln surrendered on May 12, 1780.
Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg, the regiment's original colonel, and Lt. Colonel William Darke, one of the regiment's original captains, were both at Yorktown. They may be the only men of the original 8th Virginia who served at Yorktown as members of the Continental Army. Darke, who had been captured at Germantown, paroled and then exchanged, held a Continental commission but led militia at Yorktown. Malaria, to which men from the frontier had no resistance, prompted his militiamen to return home before the surrender of Cornwallis, but he remained (presumably having developed a resistance after the regiment's ordeal in Georgia in 1776). Private Bean Smallwood, an original 8th Virginia recruit in Captain Berry's company, was at Yorktown as a militiaman.
Here is an excellent overview of the Battle of Monmouth.
George Washington knew how to bite his tongue. His response to insubordination and criticism was usually a dignified silence. Like most people, he was most open when communicating with family. And so, we see his unvarnished opinion about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a letter to John Augustine Washington, written October 18, 1777. “[W]ith truth,” he wrote, “…it may be said, that this State acts most infamously, the People of it I mean, as we derive little or no assistance from them. In short they are, in a manner, totally, disaffected, or in a kind of Lethargy.”
He wrote this two weeks after the Battle of Germantown. It is a revealing quote in many respects. It shows a normally very careful Washington speaking his mind to a trusted confidant. At the same time, it is an informed assessment. At Germantown and Brandywine before it, he had suffered from poor local intelligence, bad guides, and incompetent local militia support. In addition to the usual proportion of Tories and loyalists (generally a third, according to John Adams), a large number of Pennsylvanians were pacifists—Quakers, Amish, and Mennonites—and unwilling to resist established authority. Many more simply had little faith in the cause. Washington had, after all, just lost three battles in a row.
Even though Philadelphia was the seat of the Congress for most of the war, eastern Pennsylvania was never a hotbed of revolutionary fervor. Some of the city’s most prominent citizens remained openly loyal to the crown. The war’s most fervent revolutionary patriots came from New England and the mostly Scotch-Irish settlements of the western frontier. Many observers, then and now, have ascribed this to the one thing New England and the Appalachian settlements had in common: Reformed (Congregational and Presbyterian) Christianity. Washington himself belonged to the Church of England, proving that things were not that simple.
On September 22, 1776, William Croghan’s detachment of men from the 8th Virginia arrived at Fort Constitution, high on a cliff looking over the Hudson River and the island of Manhattan. Very soon, they would be part of the most famous campaign of the war.
Months earlier, when the 8th Virginia first formed, its ten companies were ordered to rendezvous at Suffolk, Virginia—south and across the James River from the provincial capital at Williamsburg. Those from the far frontier were the last to arrive. Captain James Knox’s company from Fincastle County (now the state of Kentucky and parts of far southwest Virginia) arrived just in time to join the Regiment as it headed south to with General Charles Lee to defend Charleston.
Captain William Croghan’s company from Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh, now in Pennsylvania) came too late. His company and several dozen stragglers from other companies were attached for the season to the 1st Virginia and sent north to reinforce Washington at New York. After a march that took more than a month, the 1st Virginia arrived at the fort overlooking the Hudson. It was commanded by Nathanael Greene and was charged with maintaining patriot control of the strategically critical waterway. It was called Fort Constitution, but was soon renamed Fort Lee after General Lee got (partially deserved) credit for the glorious June 28 victory at Charleston.
Sergeant William McCarty recorded their arrival. After ferrying across the Passaic River they “marched to the fort, which we came by several camping places and camps on top of a high hill by the North [Hudson] River.” They “halted in sight of the fort and river till Colonel [James] Read [of the 1st Virginia] went to speak to General Greene.” He “returned shortly” and “ordered us to march back up the hill a piece, where it was late when we pitched camp.”
For the next few days, the roughly 140 8th Virginia men detached under Captain Croghan rested and celebrated after their long march. They were issued flour, beef and rum. They got paid for the first time. On the third day there, McCarty wrote “We lay there and our men drunk very hard as they had plenty of money.”
Things soon turned serious, however. The day after their arrival, soldiers across the river were assembled to witness the execution of a man—bound, blind-folded, and kneeling—for cowardice (Washington gave him a last-minute reprieve). Croghan’s men must also have soon learned that the Hessians and Scottish Highlanders had given no quarter at the Battle of Long Island the month before, and had shot as many as seventeen Americans in the head after they had surrendered at Kip’s Bay. If they did not already know it, they learned here that there is no romance in war.
Four days after their arrival, still at Fort Constitution atop the Jersey Palisades, they watched British maneuvers in the river below. McCarty wrote, “The force heard the cannon fire very brisk from the shipping of the English, and we could see them land. We could easy see their camps and every turn they would make.”
Their stay at the fort was brief. They crossed the river to Fort Washington and Harlem Heights where they joined the 3rd Virginia to form a small, temporary brigade. Private Jonathan Grant later attested that they traveled through the Jerseys “to fort Lee on the North River & thence crossed the River to Fort Washington. The enemy at that time was in New York.” Similarly, Private Henry Gaddis recalled that they traveled “to Fort Lee, then we crossed over the North river to Fort Washington.” Days later, they were with the main army and thrust into battle—first at White Plains and later at Trenton. After the latter ordeal, just a handful of them were well enough to participate in the critical victory at Princeton.
The site of Fort Lee and its surrounding camps and artillery emplacements has been partially preserved. Judging purely from McCarty’s account it appears that much of the camping area has been blasted away to make room for the George Washington Bridge. Some of what remains has been preserved as Fort Lee Historic Park. The visitor center and its displays date from the 1976 Bicentennial and, though deteriorated, still tell the story well. Reconstructed buildings and artillery batteries show the site’s purpose, though the existence of trees and surrounding skyscrapers make the site look very different from they way it was in the fall of 1776. The position of the actual fort is in the middle of the town of Fort Lee and called Monument Park. An artistic monument records the presence of the fort and the events that occurred there.
Fort Lee was abandoned during the retreat through New Jersey, a retreat the fort’s namesake pointedly did nothing to assist with. Lee was in fact captured by the enemy and began to advise them on how to defeat the Continentals—a story told in this earlier post. One has to wonder how many people who live in Fort Lee today have any idea that their town is named for a traitor.
What did Peter Muhlenberg look like? The most frequently-seen image of the General is the oil-on-canvas portrait in the collection of the Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The gallery, however, identifies this portrait as the work of an unknown artist, created on an unknown date: “circa 1800-1900.” Judging purely from that date range, there is a good chance that this familiar portrait was not made from life. Muhlenberg died in 1807.
The second-most commonly-seen image is the statue that stands in the United States Capitol, one of two statues representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This statue, which was created in 1889 by Blanche Nevin, hardly resembles the Martin Gallery portrait, though it is possible to imagine similarities. It depicts Muhlenberg as the new colonel of the 8th Virginia Regiment, removing his pastor’s robe to reveal a military uniform. (Muhlenberg was made a general after serving as the regiment's colonel for about a year.)
Directly upstairs from that statue, in the Capitol Rotunda, there is another image of Muhlenberg which may be the most reliable. It is a partially-obscured side image of General Muhlenberg in John Trumbull’s grand depiction of The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. According to the Architect of the Capitol, Trumbull created this giant painting “between 1819 and 1820, basing it upon a small painting … that he had first envisioned in 1785…. In 1787 he made preliminary drawings for the small painting. Although he struggled for a time with the arrangement of the figures, he had settled upon a composition by 1788.”
Trumbull worked hard to make his depiction of the people in his history paintings as accurate as possible. He wrote that “to transmit to their descendants, the personal resemblance of those who have been the great actors in those illustrious scenes” was one of the goals of his patriotic painting. A war veteran from a prominent Connecticut family, Trumbull knew many of his subjects personally.
“To create portraits from life of the people depicted in this and other paintings," the Capitol architect's website says, "Trumbull traveled extensively. He obtained sittings with numerous individuals in Paris (including French officers at Thomas Jefferson’s house) and in New York. In 1791 he was at Yorktown and sketched the site of the British surrender. He continued to work on the small painting during the following years but did not [immediately] complete it; nevertheless, in January 1817 he showed it and other works in Washington, D.C., and was given a commission to create four monumental history paintings for the Capitol. Surrender of Lord Cornwallis was the second of these large paintings that he completed. He exhibited it in New York City, Boston, and Baltimore before delivering it to the United States Capitol in late 1820. He completed the small painting around 1828; it is now part of the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.”
If he even needed a sitting, Muhlenberg would not have been a hard man for Trumbull to find. The retired general served in Congress and as vice president and de-facto governor of Pennsylvania during the earlier years of Trumbull’s project. Though Trumbull’s portrait should be considered the most reliable, it is worth taking a moment to compare the Trumbull side-image to the anonymous portrait at Muhlenberg College. They are quite similar. In both depictions he has a long nose, slightly angled eyes, and slightly jowly cheeks. If the college has not made an effort to research the origin of the portrait in its collection, it should.
At the start of September, 1777, Washington was doing all he could to block the British advance on Philadelphia. He had four natural barriers to work with: the Christina River/White Clay Creek, the Red Clay Creek, the Brandywine River, and the Schuylkill River. Washington tried to use each of these barriers to block General Howe’s Army.
The first effort was at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, where William Maxwell’s light infantry (an elite, but temporary unit) engaged a much larger Hessian and and British advance guard. The 8th Virginia’s Captain William Darke led a contingent of men from General Charles Scott’s Brigade (including 28 men from the 8th Virginia). One of his men, William Walker, later complained that “no historian” had noticed the “very bloody conflict,” and declared, “For myself I can say that this detachment on that day deserved well of their country.”
Cooch’s Bridge is still not well remembered. But for those who are interested, the site is well-marked and reasonably intact. The Cooch family has preserved much of the surrounding land for more than two centuries. The folks at the Pencader Heritage Are Association are doing a great job making sure the story is remembered and told. Their ten-year old museum, the Pencader Heritage Museum, has excellent displays and is staffed by volunteers who are eager to tell the story of the September 3, 1777 battle and other events in local history.
Admission is free, but the museum is only open on the first and third Saturdays of each month. It is a very easy stop off of I-95 if you ever happen to be traveling that way on the right Saturday. Outdoor markers by the museum and battle site are worth the visit even if the museum is closed. The museum gets absolutely no government support—so think about lending it some of yours!
is researching the history of the Revolutionary War's 8th Virginia Regiment. Its ten companies formed on the frontier, from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh.
© 2015-2018 Gabriel Neville