Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

The Life of George Rogers Clark, 1752-1818: Triumphs and Tragedies

Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

The Life of George Rogers Clark, 1752-1818: Triumphs and Tragedies

Article excerpt

The Life of George Rogers Clark, 1752-1818: Triumphs and Tragedies. Edited by Kenneth C. Carstens and Nancy Son Carstens. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004. Pp. 368. Cloth, $104.95.)

Edited collections of essays and anthologies represent the ideas and work of many scholars, and as such they tend to be more difficult to assess than single-author books. This book of eighteen chapters, each focusing on some aspect of the life of George Rogers Clark, offers readers as many theses as it has chapters. The result of a two-day conference held at the Locust Grove Historic Home in Louisville, it brings together recent research findings and scholarly ideas about Clark's accomplishments during the War for Independence and the decades of early settlement of the Ohio Valley frontier.

A would-be aristocrat, the Virginian reached pioneer Kentucky just in time to take part in local political wrangling, frontier fighting with the Indians, and campaigning against the British in the American Revolution. Since his death nearly two centuries ago, the federal government and three states have raised monuments in his honor. That being the case, one might reasonably ask, "What did he accomplish that would justify the memorials?" Or, more pertinent to this volume, "Does his career really deserve another book?"

Clearly the authors and editors think so. The essays in this collection comment on many aspects of Clark's life. Not all of the authors present their subject in a positive light. He appears as a young opportunist somewhat akin to William Ashley and Andrew Henry's "enterprising young men," or to William Goetzmann's Jacksonian man of the 182Os. The authors reexamine his conquests of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes during the 177Os. They give him credit for bold leadership and achievements beyond what could have been expected given his small force and lack of support. At the same time, the authors fault Clark for his obsession with the British at Detroit and his inability to retain control of the West. Nevertheless, the authors suggest that his isolated victories had a symbolic importance beyond their strategic results in that they induced some of the Indian tribes to refrain from attacks on American pioneers and gave the United States a bargaining chip in the negotiations to end the conflict.

One of the longer essays focuses on Clark's dealings with the Indians in Kentucky arid north of the Ohio River. …

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