Every year on July fourth, we celebrate our independence from Great Britain all across the country. From New York to San Francisco, fireworks boom and burgers cook on grills as we remember the courage of our forefathers in creating an independent nation over three hundred years ago. We all know the big heroes of the war - George Washington, Paul Revere, and even Kentucky’s own George Rogers Clark. But what about the war in our great state of Kentucky? While the history of the war tends to be all about the 13 colonies on the eastern seaboard, we did see fighting in Kentucky as well, including the last major battle of the war.
In 1776, George Rogers Clark represented Kentucky, then called Fincastle County, before the Virginia Assembly. His request was for supplies to arm a militia in order to defend against Indian raids, which were largely being funded by the British. It was later that year that Fincastle county was divided into three parts, with one of those thirds becoming Kentucky (with mostly the same borders that we have now).
As the war raged on, very few British troops made their way into Kentucky, rather they continued to fund Indian mercenaries to raid towns and settlements. Paid by the British for every Kentuckian scalp they collected, Indian forces hit Harrodsburg, Logansport, and Boonesboro, among other places until their forces were largely routed by George Rogers Clark and the Kentucky Militia.
Clark and 175 of his men crossed the Ohio River in July of 1778, and on the night of July 4th wrested Kaskaskia from British and mercenary control. The continued through Illinois and took several other forts and settlements without firing a shot - the mercenary armies of Indians and French speakers had no interest in taking up arms against such a superior (and Kentuckian) force.
Only two years later, and still in the midst of the war, Kentucky was divided into three counties - Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln. These three counties also split the militia into three separate forces, which aided in strengthening them by shrinking their zones of control. In command of Lincoln county was none other than folk hero Daniel Boone, who would lead the Lincoln county militia through the rest of the war.
Boone was in command for Kentucky’s most famous battle, which oddly enough took place after the surrender of British forces at Yorktown. It was an attempt by British forces to capture Bryan Station, located in modern day Lexington, and resulted in a resounding defeat for the Kentucky militia. Initially successful in pushing forces away from the fort, Boone and his commanders were ambushed at Blue Lick, losing over a third of their forces. While it didn’t turn the tide of the largely ended war, it did humiliate Clark, who was called to answer for the failure despite not being present for the battle.
In response to the humiliation of Blue Lick, Clark led the last expedition of the Revolutionary War into Ohio County, wiping out numerous Indian and British settlements. Since Kentucky had experienced a large and bloody amount of raids from what is now Indiana and Ohio, Clark’s expedition cleared the way for stability and peace in Kentucky after the war.
George Rogers Clark's efforts in the Louisville area were responsible for the growth of the city we know and love today. He spent many of his later years living in Indiana, and later moved to his sister Lucy Croghan's home of Locust Grove due to an accident which left him infirm. His importance to the war and the foundation of Kentucky were at the core of our role in the Revolutionary War - yet another reason to celebrate this July fourth. The battles fought on the east coast might have been the most famous of our fight for independence, but without holding down the western front, the war could have been lost. Kentucky was that front, and it’s a testament to us that we were so integral in the war. We may not have driven out the great British generals or captured large swaths of territory, but we did secure the colonies so that we would have something to celebrate 300 years later.
Photos courtesy of http://kynghistory.ky.gov/ and RootsWeb.
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