- Historic Sites
A Sword For George Rogers Clark
Far from the war’s main currents, a resourceful Virginian set off down the swift Ohio to win its strategic valley for the cause ofindependence
October 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 6
For thirty years Clark had no home of his own, though he conquered territory that gave homes to multitudes. At last, in the autumn of his life, he built a log house on the north side of the Falls of the Ohio. So he became a citizen of the Northwest Territory which he had won for his country.
The house stood on a hill looking down at Corn Island, where the commander had drilled his little army for the great campaign. In his first season there a white pirogue steered in to Clark’s landing, and two young men climbed the hill. They were William Clark, his youngest brother, and Meriwcther Lewis, on their way to St. Louis to recruit men for an exploration to the Pacific. Three years and one month later, in November, 1806, they climbed the hill again, browned and hardened, back from their discovery. They talked of the great plains and the shining mountains, while Clark stared into the fire. He had crossed one wilderness; his tall young brother had completed the journey that led from Virginia to Oregon.
On a winter day six years later a messenger from Virginia brought word of an annual pension of $400 in appreciation of Clark’s services. Then across the arms of Clark’s roll chair he laid a sword of honor. Its blade was engraved: “Presented by the State of Virginia to her beloved son, General George Rogers Clark, who by the conquest of Illinois and St. Vincennes extended her empire and aided in the defense of her liberties.” This was in 1812, and Clark was half paralyzed. His sword hand was dead.
He died in 1818, the year Illinois became a state, still paralyzed and sunk in poverty. But one of his land claims remained—a large tract at the junction of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers; it still belonged to the Indians and could not be seized by Clark’s creditors. When the westernmost part of Kentucky came into U.S. possession, the Clark claim proved valid. The old commander was dead, but on that land William Clark founded the town of Paducah.
From this hill above the river George Rogers Clark had watched the great migration. He saw the future taking possession of the valley. But he could not have pictured a construction of the 1950’s. On a vanished cancbrake in his Paducah land rose a plant more massive than a fortress and more intricate than a battleship. Today its gaseous diffusion process, monitored by thousands of instruments, produces enriched uranium for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.