Archive for the ‘Clark family’ Category

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to see a fascinating exhibit entitled The King James Bible: Its History and Influence at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Four hundred years after its first printing, the King James Bible remains one of the most widely read and printed books in the English language. Its language and phraseology still permeates contemporary music, literature, and everyday speech. The exhibition told the little-known story of the translation and making of the King James Bible.

John Rogers, portrait by Willem van de Passe

John Rogers, portrait by Willem van de Passe

I would not have thought that the King James Bible, first printed in 1611, would have a Lewis and Clark connection, until a panel on early translators of the English bible caught my eye. It mentioned Matthew’s Bible, a 1537 translation credited to the imaginary “Thomas Matthew.” In fact, the panel stated, the real editor of the work was John Rogers, a clergyman and chaplain of the English merchant’s company in Antwerp, Belgium, where another Bible translator named William Tyndale lived.

A friend of Rogers, William Tyndale was a young priest living in defiance of the law. His modern English translations of the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament, published in the 1520’s and 1530’s, were the first English translations made from the original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible. They were also considered heresy.  A 1409 English law, still on the books over 100 years later, decreed that it was heresy to own or even read a non-Latin Bible. Tyndale had asked permission from the bishop of London to perform his translation, but he was denied, so he had moved to Europe, where he published a complete English New Testament and then began to translate several books of the Old Testament.

King Henry VIII of England

King Henry VIII of England

Unfortunately for Tyndale, when the contraband books reached England, King Henry VIII was not amused. Under English law, heresy was punishable by burning alive. Tricked out of seclusion, Tyndale was arrested in Antwerp and thrown in prison. In 1536, he was convicted of heresy, defrocked, and burned at the stake. In a supposed act of mercy, Tyndale was said to have been strangled before his body was set ablaze.

However grisly his death, Tyndale had made an impression on his friend John Rogers. In 1537, a year after Tyndale’s death, Rogers edited and published an edition of the Bible based largely on Tyndale’s translations under the name of “Thomas Matthew.” Fortunately for Rogers, Henry VIII was in the process of breaking away from the Catholic Church and forming the independent Church of England. Henry liked the “Thomas Matthew” translation and licensed it to sell in England, making it the first English edition that was legally sold there. Under the reasoning that every English church should have at least one English bible, 1500 copies of Matthew’s Bible were printed and distributed to English parishes.

Unfortunately, Rogers was not destined to escape his friend Tyndale’s fate. After taking charge of a Protestant congregation in Wittenberg for some years, John Rogers returned to England in 1548 and was eventually appointed the divinity lecturer at St. Paul’s Church. He was outspoken and iconoclastic, declining to wear the prescribed vestments, instead wearing a simple round cap.

“Bloody” Mary

When Queen Mary took the throne in 1553, Rogers preached at Paul’s Cross, warning his hearers against the “pestilent Popery, idolatry and superstition” of the Roman Catholic Church. Ten days after this bold public display, on August 16, 1553, John Rogers was summoned before the council and placed under house arrest. In January 1554, the new bishop of London sent him to Newgate Prison, where he languished for over a year. In January 1555, Rogers was sentenced to death for heretically denying the Christian character of the Church of Rome and the physical presence of the body of Christ in the sacrament of communion.

Rogers remained cheerful and defiant to the end. When he was taken from Newgate Prison to Smithfield, the place of his execution, one of the sheriffs asked him if he would recant his earlier preachings. “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood,” Rogers replied. The sheriff said, “Thou art an heretic.” Rogers replied “That shall be known at the Day of Judgment.” The sheriff then added, “I will never pray for thee.” Rogers responded, “But I will pray for you.”

John Rogers burns at the stake, 1555

John Rogers burns at the stake, 1555

John Rogers was burned at the stake on the February 4, 1555, at Smithfield in London, one of many victims of Queen “Bloody” Mary. His great grandson, named Thomas Matthews Rogers, was the father of Giles Rogers, who emigrated to America in 1680. Giles Rogers is the great-grandfather of explorer William Clark.

For more on the fascinating history of the making of the King James Bible, please visit this fantastic site:

Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible

Read Full Post »

Inside the recreated pantry at Fort Mandan near Washburn, North Dakota

It’s been a while since I did a “writing” type post, but I was put in mind the other day of exactly why people still turn to historical fiction and what it can be at its best. My local newspaper was heralding the return of the TV series “Mad Men” and urging readers to throw a Mad Men party with foods from the early 1960s. The only trouble was that the writer, who seemed to be a very young person, had no idea what to suggest and the article spluttered out with the mention of deviled eggs.

While I’m no big fan of Mad Men, I think the show’s popularity highlights the desire we still have to experience the world of our parents and grandparents. Food is a terrific aspect of the past to explore, and it’s a shame the writer didn’t get hold of a cookbook from the show’s era. Cookbooks, especially the practical, everyday variety, can be an amazing way to immerse yourself firsthand in the customs, technology, and values of days gone by.

Coconut pie, a Better Homes and Gardens favorite

My mom was of the Mad Men generation, and I was inspired to pull out my copy of the legendary Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that I inherited from her. Continuously in print and revised since 1930, the plaid notebook has faithfully recorded America’s culinary habits for generations. I remember many of these recipes from my childhood.

From the history point of view, the jewel in the crown of Better Homes and Gardens is the “Special Meals and Foreign Cookery” section, which offers dozens of set menus for different occasions. It is here that we get our most unwavering look at the Mad Men era, from bridge parties to cocktail parties, from “For Stags at Eve” (bean and ham chowder; men like it with apple pie, we’re told) to hobo hikes (tie up your fried chicken, a waxed-paper cup of beans, and banana in a kerchief).

Every conceivable holiday is celebrated, even Washington’s Birthday, complete with lattice cherry pie. The Better Homes and Gardens book reflects a determination to have fun, to make every day special dammit, tackled with all the determination of a generation creating explosive prosperity after coming of age during a ghastly Depression and the most blood-thirsty war in history. Treasure hunt, anyone? Serve hamburgers, popcorn corsages, and hot chocolate, and in the name of God, give good prizes.

If the recipes of 50 years past seem a bit quaint, they are still recognizable things that most of us have eaten, at least at grandma’s house. Go back a century and you’ll immediately realize the truth of the saying that “the past is another country,” complete with foreign food. We recently picked up The Economy Administration Cookbook at a used book sale. This 1913 cookbook was, according to its foreword, put out to encourage Americans to return to the “simple and natural life” while fighting the “high cost of living.” The recipes were contributed by the wives and daughters of public officials in Washington, D.C. and include gems such as Democrat Cookies and Temperance Pie. Many of the dishes that appear to have been quite common were unknown to me. Timbales were a type of savory muffin or tart; apparently dasheens (taro roots) were a common starch in the American South and could be baked, boiled, stuffed, or fried. Oysters were cheap and could be used to make pigs-in-a-blanket. A breaded squash could stand in as “mock duck” and a calf’s head for “mock terrapin.”

Beef a la mode. Courtesy The Historical Dish.

There are a great many prize recipes for dishes it is almost impossible to imagine anyone wanting to eat today, from roasted squirrel to “old hare,” from escalloped brains to “kraut wickle” (a cabbage and ground beef loaf). Some of the contributed recipes are written in Negro dialect. Food was often prepared in mass quantities (one sausage recipe calls for 18 pounds of lean meat), and total pulverization is a not-uncommon method of preparation. A recipe for “beef a la mode” suggests the following:

To twenty pounds of round beef (large cuts) take two and one half pounds of suet, chopped very fine and mixed with black pepper until almost black. Mix with this one handful of whole allspice and one of whole cloves; punch holes through the meat and stuff with suet; sew up in a bag very tight, and cover well with a brine made of four gallons of water, one and one half pounds of sugar, two ounces of pulverized saltpetre and six pounds of common salt. It will be ready for use in three weeks. Boil well and when cold remove the bag and slice. Delicious relish for cold supper or lunch.

Thanks, Mrs. Henry L. Edmonds of Princeton, New Jersey! By the way, she notes that this recipe “has been used in our family for generations and is much liked by gentlemen.” (Kind of makes you think twice about that time machine fantasy, doesn’t it?)

Cookbooks imported from England were commonplace in America by the time Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were born in the 1770s, though the first cookbook of American origin was not published until 1796, just a few years before the Expedition. This was Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, and it was revolutionary (pun intended) in showcasing American ingredients. Simmons’ cookbook was the first to include recipes with cornmeal as an ingredient, with instructions for Indian pudding and hoecakes, and the first to suggest that cranberry sauce was the perfect accompaniment for turkey.

Indian pudding. Courtesy Simply Recipes.

(Interestingly, Simmons’ book contains a recipe for beef a la mode that is very similar to the one included in the Economy Administration cookbook published more than a century later, suggesting that tastes have changed more in the last century than they did in the first hundred years of American cookbook history.)

Simmons’ book also reflected the divergence in culture and technology that was carrying American cooking away from its British roots. She offers recipes and tips on using “pearlash,” or potassium carbonate, which was at the time a major American export. It seems that the vast hardwood forests of the United States afforded the raw materials for ash for use as fertilizer and lye. The ash also enabled the clever cook to make a primitive baking powder for biscuits and cakes.

Every household needed lye, a caustic agent made by repeatedly passing water through a barrel of hardwood ashes. Once you had the lye, you could use it to make soap by boiling it with fat, or you could dry it to make potash (fertilizer). The potash could be further refined into pearlash. Initially used for glassmaking, someone discovered it lightened breads and made a good quick substitute for yeast. The American embrace of practical new technology and willingness to break with old-world traditions are fully on display in Simmons’ cookbook, which remained the standard for 30 years.

There is no evidence that Lewis and Clark took a cookbook with them on the Expedition. However, the Missouri Historical Society has a collection of the recipes of Julia Hancock Clark, the wife of William Clark, that appears to be in William Clark’s handwriting. Here Clark records pudding recipes, instructions for making “orrange” preserves, a recipe for making catsup with Missouri walnuts instead of tomatoes, and “light roles.”

Apparently these household notes were edited by Robert G. Stone & David M. Hinkley in the 1990s and published as Clark’s Other Journal: William & Julia H. Clark’s Household & Homemaking Recipes, Home Remedies, & A Partial Inventory of the Families Personal Belongings as Recorded by William Clark 1820. I have never been able to find a copy of this book; if you have it and would like to sell or trade, let me know!

For more reading:

The Historical Dish (great blog)
Feeding America (historic cookbooks)
American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (Google Books)
American Gingerbread Cakes (demonstrates how to use pearlash in a Simmons recipe)

Read Full Post »

As we recounted in Part 1 of this post last week, young George Croghan, the 21-year-old nephew of William Clark, had just hurled defiance in the face of 20-1 odds as the British commander Henry Proctor demanded that he surrender Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky River, August 1, 1813 …

The Battle of Fort Stephenson

In accordance with the etiquette of war, as soon Lieutenant Shipp was back within the walls of the fort, Proctor opened fire with three cannons and two howitzers. He concentrated his fire on the northwest corner of the fort, and Croghan guessed correctly that the assault would come there at dawn. He loaded up Old Betsy with grapeshot, slugs, and broken pottery, put his Kentucky sharpshooters in place, and waited.

Sure enough, Croghan was right. Proctor hurled his men against the little fort without waiting for scaling ladders to throw against the sixteen-foot pickets or even giving the men a chance to sharpen their axes. The dry moat was soon filled with struggling redcoats. The Indians, seeing the folly, retreated to the nearby woods and watched as disgusted spectators as Croghan rained terrible fire down upon the British troops. About 50 British soldiers were dead within minutes; on the American side, one man died, a drunkard who foolishly climbed to the top of the palisade. The attack failed and the British were forced to pull back.

After a fair amount of local skulduggery, Old Betsy was liberated from a government arsenal and returned to Fremont, Ohio, site of the battle of Fort Stephenson, in 1852.

General Harrison was stunned and amazed and the nation electrified by the news of Croghan’s audacious repulse of the huge British force. The War of 1812 was woefully short of good news on the American side, and the youth was hailed as a national hero and promoted to lieutenant colonel. At war’s end, he had been transferred to the southern front where he fought alongside Andrew Jackson at the astonishing Battle of New Orleans, and made a lifelong friend of the irascible master politician.

Back in Louisville, where Croghan had grown up, his family celebrated with joy and astonishment the advent of another national hero in their midst. Old General George Rogers Clark, by then severely disabled and living with Croghan’s mother Lucy at Locust Grove, is said to have muttered proudly, “The little game cock, he shall have my sword.” And for a time it appeared that Croghan’s fame and responsibility might equal that shouldered by his famous uncles. He married Serena Livingston of the famous New York family  and accepted a lucrative postmaster job in New Orleans.

Unfortunately, by the time he was 30, Croghan was well on his way to ending up more like wild Uncle George than steady Uncle William. He had terrible financial problems, Serena apparently grew to dislike him heartily and refused to live with him, and he feuded publicly and constantly with Harrison about their roles in the war (it seems that Harrison never forgave Croghan after the ladies of Chillicothe, Ohio, commemorated the Battle of Fort Stephenson by presenting Croghan with a sword and sending Harrison a petticoat).

When Jackson became president, he appointed Croghan to the post of inspector general of the army, a post he held from 1829 until his death 20 years later. Croghan spent most of his time traveling to various army forts in the West, and his work was often brilliant. He never lost the respect of his fellow military officers or the common soldiers he helped with his reports. But his personal life was increasingly tragic. He drank very, very heavily, and his wife obtained a legal separation from him, apparently to prevent him from selling or pawning her possessions. But Jackson, at least, never wavered in his allegiance to Croghan. When it was suggested that Croghan be court-martialed for drunkenness, Jackson said, “George Croghan shall get drunk every day of his life if he wants to, and by the Eternal, the United States shall pay for the whiskey.”

The 1885 Soldier's Monument in Fremont pays tribute to the men of Croghan's command

In 1846, at the age of 54, Croghan was called to Mexico to join the staff of General Zachary Taylor, who in spite of his “rough and ready” reputation had actually grown up in a fashionable home next door to Croghan’s boyhood home of Locust Grove. While in Mexico, Croghan, like many American soldiers, contracted dysentery; his weight dropped from about 168 pounds to 148. He fought in the Battle of Monterey, where a Tennessee regiment recalled him riding ahead, his gray hair tossing in the wind, and reminding them, “Men of Tennessee, your fathers conquered with Jackson at New Orleans – follow me!” He was never able to shake the illness, and he died in New Orleans in January 8, 1849, the 35th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.

There is a touching footnote to Croghan’s final resting place. Croghan was buried at Locust Grove in the family cemetery, but in 1906 he was reinterred at Fort Stephenson with “Old Betsy” standing guard over his grave. The story of Croghan’s feats would have been well-known to several generations of schoolboys, and some believe that Davy Crockett’s famous rifle was named for the Fort Stephenson gun.

More great reading: Forgotten Giant: William Henry Harrison, Part 3

Read Full Post »

George Croghan. Courtesy of Birchard Public Library of Sandusky County.

One nice thing about Lewis & Clark from the point of view of the historical fiction author is that together they provide two of the most popular types of heroes. For those who like lonesome cowboys, Meriwether Lewis is your man. And for those who prefer multi-generational family sagas, you’ve got William Clark, who cannot be understood separately from his sprawling, heroic, and often tragic family.

The year was 1813. Throughout the spring, the British had besieged commander William Henry Harrison at Fort Meigs (near modern-day Perrysburg), a critical outpost for the American hopes of recapturing Detroit and ending the war. The failure of the siege left the British commander Henry Proctor, known to history as an inept and “by the book” commander, looking for a way to save his spring campaign. He set his sights on Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky River, just 30 miles from Fort Meigs (near modern-day Fremont).

Fort Stephenson might have been small but its mission was critical: it guarded the transfer point between the Sandusky River and Lake Erie; the water route was the only real highway from Pittsburgh to Detroit. The garrison of just 160 U.S. regulars was under the command of Major George Croghan, a debonair 21-year-old with the brooding good looks of young Marlon Brando. Croghan (pronounced Crawn) was the son of Lucy Clark Croghan of Locust Grove and her husband William, himself a distinguished veteran of the American Revolution, and the nephew of William Clark and George Rogers Clark. Before the war, Croghan had studied law at William & Mary, but he enlisted at the beginning of the trouble in 1811, just in time to take part in the Battle of Tippecanoe. Since then the young man had become a seasoned veteran of several campaigns.

Fort Stephenson

When he learned that Proctor was on the march, Croghan swore to “defend this post to the last extremity.” Imagine his surprise then, when he received a message from General Harrison ordering him to blow up the fort and evacuate his command. Harrison had learned that Proctor had taken to the river with 500 British regulars and 700 Indians, while the legendary Shawnee commander Tecumseh was heading Croghan’s way overland with 2000 additional warriors. To Harrison’s shock, Croghan responded to his message not by showing at Fort Seneca as ordered, but by writing back:

Sir, I have just received yours of yesterday, 10 o’clock P.M., ordering me to destroy this place and make good my retreat, which was received too late to be carried into execution. We have determined to maintain this place and by heavens we can.

Harrison had Croghan arrested and brought to Seneca to account for himself, where Croghan proved himself the equal of his fighting uncles, somehow persuading the general that he could take on the British with his one piece of artillery (a Revolutionary-era cannon named “Old Betsy,”), along with modifications to the fort which included a moat, new blockhouses, and a log booby trap. Not quite believing the fort could be held, Harrison agreed to let Croghan try.

Henry Proctor. Tecumseh, never one to be shy with his opinions, called him "a fat animal which slinks away, its tail between its legs."

Meanwhile, Proctor had managed to back himself into a corner, not an easy feat while sporting a 20-1 advantage. His dithering at Fort Meigs had alienated the Indians, who preferred not to waste their time on campaigns that ended in failure. Proctor felt pressured to attack the fort without delay in order to prevent a mass desertion by his Indian allies. On August 1, 1813, as soon as he arrived at the fort, Proctor sent an aide to demand Croghan’s surrender. The war had been characterized by several terrible massacres of American soldiers by Indian troops, and some Indians roughed up Croghan’s representative in full view of the fort to make their point about what would happen if surrender was not immediately forthcoming. Croghan called to his man to return: “Shipp, come in and we will blow them all to hell.”

Coming Monday: The battle and its tragic aftermath

More great reading:

The Clark Brothers as Prisoners of War

Lewis & Clark road trip: Locust Grove

Forgotten Giant: William Henry Harrison, Part 2

Read Full Post »

Julia Hancock Clark, portrait by John Wesley Jarvis. Courtesy Missouri Historical Society.

Who doesn’t enjoy a “how we met” story? There is a charming story about how William Clark met his future bride, a year or so before the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Hancock family legend has it that young Julia “Judy” Hancock, who was about 11 or 12, and her cousin Harriet Kennerly, age 14, were out riding near their handsome family estate, Santillane, in western Virginia. One of their horses became balky, and the girls were having trouble getting home.

Along came a handsome red-headed gentleman — none other than William Clark — who helped the girls get the horse going and escorted them home. Little did the pretty young girls dream that they had both met their future husband.

We’ve written previously about Julia’s father, a tough and very wealthy Revolutionary War veteran (see Buried Sitting Up and a Fed to Boot for more details). Suffice to say that Colonel Hancock’s daughters and nieces were highly sought-after Virginia belles. Though we may recoil with a certain ick factor today, it wouldn’t have been at all unusual if William Clark — then just past 30 years old — had expressed an interest in Julia to her father, in spite of her young age. In those days, women of the gentry class on the frontier were often married off very young in those days after fierce competition from multiple suitors; Clark’s own mother, the redoubtable Ann Rogers Clark, had been a bride at 14.

It appears that Colonel Hancock did not give his permission to Clark to court young Julia right away, but he apparently looked favorably on Clark’s interest in his daughter. In effect, the colonel seems to have made it clear to Clark that if he could establish himself financially (something that he had yet to do due to a multiplicity of family troubles), he would give Clark a chance to court his daughter when she was a bit older. Thus, not the least of William Clark’s incentives for joining Meriwether Lewis on the Expedition would have been the opportunity to secure fame and fortune so that he could have a fighting chance of winning Julia for a wife.

There is evidence that he thought of Julia during the Expedition with the naming of the Judith River in her honor. What is undisputable is that Clark made a beeline for Fincastle County upon his return from the West and began courting Julia. They were married in early 1808, when Julia was 16 and Clark was 37.

By all accounts the marriage was a happy one. The couple lived in St. Louis, which as a frontier village was a far cry from life at Santillane. Nonetheless, Julia — noted for her love of music and Shakespeare — learned to cook and run a household. Clark writes frequently in his letters with tender concern and pride about her life, from her cooking and canning to her pregnancies to her battles with mosquitoes.

By the time she was 28, Julia was the mother of five children, the last of whom, John Julius, had a serious deformity believed to have been spina bifida. She was also gravely ill herself. From Clark’s letters, it is difficult to determine what had happened to shatter Julia’s health. Some of the symptoms Clark describes sound like breast cancer, while others sound more like tuberculosis or some other lung ailment. Julia went home to Virginia and the Hancock family estate (now moved to Fotheringay in Montgomery County) in hopes of recovering. Instead, she died there in the summer of 1820.

Harriet Kennerly Radford Clark

Needless to say, Clark was devastated. He was now the father of five orphaned children ranging in age from eleven to two. Again Clark took the traditional path of a man of his place, time, and social station. He looked around for a nice widow woman with whom he could join forces. And that was how he became reacquainted with that other little girl from the long-ago horseback ride.

Like Clark, Harriet had come to know sorrow. She had been married at age 18 to John Radford, an aspiring doctor. In something of a break from tradition, Radford was about Harriet’s age. The two had three childen and appeared poised for a long and happy marriage when Radford met with an unthinkable hazard of pioneer life: he was attacked and killed by a wild hog while traveling through the Kentucky wilderness. Harriet had moved to St. Louis to live with a brother, where she and Clark met again. They were married in late 1821.

Clark seems to have been both a good judge of women and an affable, easy-to-get-along-with man, for again all accounts indicate that he and Harriet had a happy marriage in spite of the trials and sorrows of life, which included some hard blows indeed: Mary Margaret, Clark’s daughter by Julia, died at the age of seven, and Julius died at the age of thirteen. William and Harriet had two sons together. Jefferson was healthy and strong, but Edmund died when only a year old.

Clark and Harriet also had family troubles that seem more humorous now but probably weren’t at the time. Clark’s oldest son, Meriwether Lewis Clark, called Lewis within the family, fell in love with Harriet’s daughter Mary. Unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t mutual, and Mary proceeded with plans to marry Stephen Watts Kearney, a young soldier who would go on to fame as a leading military officer in the Mexican War and on the California frontier. Lewis was a student at West Point when he learned of the planned wedding, and raced to St. Louis in time to burst into the church as the ceremony was underway and proclaim his love for Mary to the entire town. The wedding was rescheduled and doubtless the people of St. Louis had something to talk about for a good long while.  

Harriet herself seems to have died rather suddenly on Christmas Day, 1831, at the age of 43. Again surviving letters do not give much clue as to what happened. Clark biographer Landon Jones speculates that infectious disease may have simply carried her away. In any case, Clark, a widower again at age 61 with an eight-year-old son, did not remarry a third time.

A writing note: the age difference between William Clark and Julia, who is a major character in To the Ends of the Earth, posed quite a writing challenge. We finally decided to just explore these characters with as much compassion and insight as we could and let the chips fall where they may. We ended up loving the way this part of the story turned out; it brings a tenderness, humor, and drama to the story that would not otherwise exist.

As we saw it, Julia is still just a kid in many ways. She’s been sheltered all her life, first by her father, then by her husband. She is not accustomed to making decisions on her own. Her life has changed radically in the year and a half between her wedding and the opening of the story. She left her father’s house, got married to an older man with a prominent position in society, moved to the boonies of St. Louis, became mistress of her own household, and had a baby. It wouldn’t be surprising if she sometimes wishes she were back in Virginia, playing with her sisters.

It’s fair to say Julia loves, adores and worships Clark. Clark came along about the time she hit puberty, and she has never dreamed or fantasized about any other man. She’s proud that she was able to give him the son he always wanted. At the same time, Julia is beginning to understand Clark as no one ever has before. This marriage is still new, but Julia is starting to see the vulnerabilities in her husband, beyond the macho exterior to the big, loving heart of the man. In the course of the story, her maturity and her ability to help her husband is tested in ways she could have never imagined.

Read Full Post »

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Locust Grove. George Rogers Clark was sheltered here by his sister in the last years of his life.

Looking over recent blog posts, the last couple of weeks have found us in a Meriwether Lewis state of mind. So to make up for it, here’s a big helping of extra-rich Clark-y goodness!

Locust Grove, a finely restored 1790 Georgian manor, was built in 1790 by Lucy Clark and her husband William Croghan (pronounced Crawn). Though her brothers get most of the ink from historians, Lucy was a remarkable woman in her own right. Not only did she make her home the hub of family activity and a veritable hotel for celebrities traveling through Louisville (her guest ranged from Aaron Burr and John James Audubon to presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson), she even threw a week-long house party for Lewis & Clark when they returned from the Expedition — perhaps the least she could do for a little brother made good.

Lucy Clark Croghan

By no standards was Lucy a great beauty. A contemporary wrote that an idea of her appearance could be gained by studying the famous portraits of her brothers, war hero George Rogers Clark and explorer William Clark, who could best be described as rugged rather than pretty. From all accounts, she made up for it in spades with a bubbling intelligence and a huge heart — which from age sixteen belonged to William Croghan, a young Irish-born major who was serving in the Continental Army with Lucy’s beloved older brother Jonathan.

Though an immigrant, Croghan was already well-connected with the frontier elite. His uncle, a man named George Croghan, had emigrated to America decades before and made a fortune trading for furs with the Ohio Valley Indians. His “mansion” at Lake Otsego, New York, might have been made of logs, but it was sheer luxury for the time and place, complete with wall paper, damask tablecloths, glass windows, and six fireplaces.

Young William came in hopes of finding a fortune, but all he found was war. He chose to join the Revolutionary cause, fighting with Washington at Trenton and enduring the terrible winter at Valley Forge. When he came south, he was taken prisoner at the surrender of Charleston, and it may have been as a P.O.W. that he met Jonathan Clark, who ultimately introduced him to Lucy.

William Croghan of Locust Grove

William Croghan was both smart and lucky. He emerged from the war with over $7000 in cash (around $90,000 in today’s money), became a surveyor, and headed west to resume his quest for a fortune. It is unclear why he and Lucy waited until 1789 to marry. Some sources indicate that Lucy’s father objected to the match, but it’s difficult to fathom why he would have. In any case, shortly after the marriage, William and Lucy moved to a large property overlooking the Ohio River, where they began construction of the magnificent country estate they named Locust Grove.

The Croghans may have been rich, but they weren’t immune from the same troubles that afflicted everyone else in Kentucky in the early 1790s. One evening when William was away, Lucy and the servants were taking in wash when they saw an Indian near the stables. Lucy hid in the bushes and watched as the Indian strolled into the house and took a look around. Fortunately, she was able to get to the alarm horn and sound it, and as neighbors came running, the Indian made tracks for the woods. Another time Lucy had to hide for several days at a neighboring plantation (and home of future president Zachary Taylor) due to the threat of Indian attacks.

As it turned out, Locust Grove was a spectacularly successful plantation, raising tobacco and fruit as well as hams and dairy products. In addition to helping run the farm and its enterprises, Lucy raised six sons and two daughters. In November 1806, she also hosted one of the biggest parties Louisville had ever seen, welcoming home her baby brother William and his partner Meriwether Lewis from their exploration of the western territory.

George Rogers Clark and Locust Grove, by Gwynne Tuell Potts and Samuel W. Thomas (2006)

The old warhorse George Rogers Clark met the returning heroes first at his place across the river in Clarksville, Indiana, then escorted Lewis and Clark into Louisville, where they were decked out in new clothes at the general store operated by Clark’s brother-in-law Dennis Fitzhugh. The people of the town burned bonfires and shot off cannons as the pair made their way north of town to Lucy’s home.

Locust Grove contained a ballroom on the second floor. But for the four days of the party, it was not used for dancing. Instead, William and Meriwether turned it into a museum, unpacking and displaying “Mandan robes, fleeces of the mountain goat, Clatsop hats, buffalo horns, and Indian baskets, Captain Clark’s ‘tiger-cut coat,’ Indian curios, and skins of grizzly bears — each article suggestive of adventure.” Considering how many of Lewis & Clark’s artifacts have been lost over the years, this description is both exciting and heart-breaking. What I wouldn’t give to see that coat!

Lucy was famous for her hospitality and her family loyalty, and both were put to the test in 1809. George Rogers Clark, who had battled alcoholism most of his life, took a terrible fall in his cabin and burned his leg, which had to be amputated. Clark also suffered a stroke. Unable to stay alone, he came to live at Locust Grove. Today, Locust Grove is restored to the period that General Clark lived there, and it is touching to see his downstairs bedroom, handmade wheelchair, and the porch where he passed his last years. Clark was anything but a good patient; apparently he was bitter, ill-tempered, and unpredictable. At least he was always cherished and protected by the fiercely loving Lucy. 

George lived until 1818, long enough to see Lucy’s son George Croghan continue the family tradition by becoming one of the greatest heroes of the War of 1812. The old general’s death after so many miserable years may have come as something of a relief, but four years later, Lucy received the double blow of losing her youngest son and her beloved husband William in a malaria epidemic. Her sister Ann also died, along with her sister Fanny’s husband Dennis. Within the next few years, Fanny herself died. Lucy lost her son Nicholas at the age of 24, and began to face the sorrow that alcoholism was beginning to blight her son George’s life as thoroughly as it had his uncle’s.

They Came to Locust Grove, by Melzie Wilson (2004)

To console themselves, Lucy, now 60, and Nicholas’s twin, Charles, decided to travel to Washington, D.C. visit friends and relatives. It was Lucy’s first trip out of Kentucky since arriving 41 years earlier. Lucy was invited to the White House by President Monroe, socialized with Dolley Madison, and was squired around town by Henry Clay. She enjoyed it so much that in 1833, she returned to Washington to attend the inauguration of Andrew Jackson, this time in the company of baby brother William (now 63 years old).

By 1835, at age 70, Lucy’s health had declined, and she could no longer climb stairs. She lived in a small room next to the kitchen in her last years, passing away in April 1838, just four months before her brother William. A “greatest generation” had passed from the scene.

The subject of a spectacular restoration in the 1960s, Locust Grove is probably the best of all the Clark family sites as a visitor experience. We had a nice picnic outside before starting our tour with a short film about George Rogers Clark and the house. The tour itself was one of the best house tours we’ve ever experienced. It was easy to get a sense of the family eating, talking, sleeping, and living in this genteel but informal place.  After the tour, we looked at the family cemetery and the small museum, highlighted by a great quilled hunting shirt once owned by George Rogers Clark. Don’t miss the gift shop and book store here — excellent!

Read Full Post »

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Graves of the Clark brothers: George, Edmund, and Jonathan, at Cave Hill Cemetery

In recent road trip posts we’ve taken a visit to Meriwether Lewis’s lonely grave along the Natchez Trace, and William Clark’s warm circle of family at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. But in the spirit of “collect ’em all,” especially for Clark fans, you can pay tribute to an entire generation of Clark men with a visit to the beautiful and historic Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

Cave Hill is a wonderful example of the concept of “rural cemetery” as it emerged in the middle of the 19th century. In early America, the dead were generally buried in churchyards. These can be creepy places to our modern sensibilities. I remember years ago visiting the Granary Burying Ground in Boston, where the graves are tumbled together and the headstones bear the images of skulls and have dark, dire inscriptions warning you to prepare to meet your Maker.

In the South, the churchyard tradition fell by the wayside, and many people were buried in family graveyards on their farms or plantations. This was the case for the Clark brothers of Louisville as for so many Southerners. When I visited our family’s farm in Delaware when I was a child, I remember coming across a grave and wondering about it. That was many years ago, and the farm has long since passed out of the family. I still wonder about that grave. I don’t know who it was, or what has happened to it in the years since. And even for men as famous as the Clark brothers, family graveyards can raise similar concerns after the passage of time and generations.

George Rogers Clark by Joseph Henry Bush

George Rogers Clark shortly before his death, painted by Joseph Henry Bush

As readers of this website or our novel The Fairest Portion of the Globe are aware, the life of George Rogers Clark was both heroic and tragic. His early conquests in the American Revolution, which earned him the nickname “Hannibal of the West,” gave way to betrayal, bankruptcy, despair, and alcoholism. Once described as an incredibly charismatic and intelligent figure with a build like a Viking God, Clark in old age was a withered man reduced to shouting epithets at unruly neighborhood children. When his brother Jonathan, a hale man of 61, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1811, George is said to have remarked bitterly, “Everyone can die but me.” In 1818, at the age of 66, George finally got his wish. He was laid to rest at Locust Grove, the plantation of his sister Lucy and her husband William Croghan.

During the Victorian era, a wildly romantic concept of death swept both England and the United States, leading to the rise of a third type of burial: that of a garden cemetery filled with beautiful and ostentatious monuments. The new cemeteries were scenic and landscaped, a far cry both from the densely packed churchyards and the homespun family graveyards. Families would build the biggest, best, and most impressive monuments they could afford. The park-like setting was ideal for spending the day visiting departed loved ones,, leaving flowers and even picnicking on the grounds.

Moreover, the new cemeteries offered perpetual care for the graves, something new that reflected the increased worth of the individual in society. It was a way to honor the dead, reconnect with their spirits, and celebrate the promise of hope and joy in the next world. Cave Hill Cemetery became Louisville’s entry in to the cemetery movement. Designed in 1846 on land originally purchased by the city as a quarry, the new cemetery made use of naturally hilly ground to showcase especially prominent monuments. Paths through the graves followed the gently rounded curves of the land, and low-lying areas became ponds or were planted with trees.

The entrance to Cave Hill Cemetery, 1906

By 1869, the Civil War and its aftermath had destroyed the old plantation life at Locust Grove, and the Clark family decided that the remains of George Rogers Clark should be moved from the farm to Cave Hill Cemetery. (Similarly, William Clark’s remains had been moved from his nephew’s St. Louis farm to Bellefontaine Cemetery in the 1850s.) There is a good story about the reburial of Clark’s body. If headstones had ever existed at Locust Grove, they had been lost, and a number of bodies had to be exhumed in the search for Clark.

The workers had to be getting pretty discouraged by the time they dug up the ninth body, but this time they hit pay dirt. Fortunately for them, though not for Clark, the old general had fallen in 1809 and burned his leg in a household fire. The leg had to be amputated. So the appearance of a skeleton dressed in a military uniform, missing a left leg and sporting the remnants of gray and red hair, must have filled everyone with unseemly relief. Clark was reinterred in a gently sloping section of Cave Hill.

Dear Brother, edited by James Holmberg (2002) is a wonderful collection of William Clark's letters to his brother Jonathan

Although less well-known today than George Rogers or William, two other Clark brothers were laid to rest next to George. Jonathan Clark, the steely pater familias and confidant of William, was a well-known Revolutionary War hero in his own right, a veteran of the South Carolina campaign, a former prisoner of war, and a wealthy and successful attorney. His wife Sarah Hite, documented as a kind and motherly woman who was a great cook, rests by his side. Fewer details survive about Captain Edmund Clark, also a veteran of the Revolution. A merchant by trade who was shyer than the other brothers, he nonetheless comes down in letters as a sensible, strong-minded man who was smart about money. Like George Rogers, Edmund never married.

Unlike many of the graves at Cave Hill, the Clarks have only modest headstones, not grand monuments. If you visit, you will want to take the time to explore some of the impressive statues and family plots. (Among others is the impressive memorial for Harlan Sanders, the Colonel of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.) But none are more moving than the well-tended graves of these three heroes and their families, still lying together shoulder-to-shoulder in Clark family solidarity. We placed our Texas flags next to some fading tributes from the DAR and felt grateful for the service (often thankless) rendered by these brothers to America.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »