Western Lands and the American Revolution

By Thomas Perkins Abernethy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
THE CONQUEST OF THE ILLINOIS

IN order to penetrate the springs of George Rogers Clark's movement against Kaskaskia in 1778 it is necessary to turn back two years and consider the commercial situation which existed in that French village in 1776. William Murray had for several years been the agent there for the Franks brothers. Early in this year he went down to New Orleans to attend to business which came to that frontier metropolis from the Illinois country. His brother Daniel was left in charge of the business at Kaskaskia. Richard Winston and Daniel Kennedy were there receiving orders from George Morgan and Robert Morris and sending peltry and flour down to New Orleans, where Oliver Pollock, in collaboration with the Spanish governor, had a monopoly of the flour trade. Daniel Clark, a nephew of George Croghan, had originally gone to New Orleans to attend to the commercial interests of his uncle, and he was long to remain an important merchant there. Another American merchant doing business in Kaskaskia was Thomas Bentley, a close friend to Colonel John Rogers of the Pittsburgh area. Thus was maintained an avenue of trade from Philadelphia through Pittsburgh and Kaskaskia to New Orleans, and it was kept open during the War despite the fact that the Illinois villages were in British hands and their merchants found it necessary to accept British sovereignty.

With direct trade to England cut off at the beginning of the conflict, the insurgent colonials experienced much difficulty in securing an adequate supply of the munitions of war, especially powder. Large supplies of this precious article were stored in the royal magazines at New Orleans, and the British fleet could not block the way to that city. The merchants named above and their associates were practically the only people in the colonies who understood the trade to New Orleans. Certainly no one in Williamsburg knew anything about it.

How Williamsburg came to be involved is an interesting question. Of course Virginia claimed jurisdiction over the Illinois country, and certain land companies had made purchases from the Indians in that region. The principal of these were the Illinois and Wabash Companies organized by William Murray. His brother Daniel as well as John Campbell,

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