|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
In a bold stroke, Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark had struck out from Virginia in June 1778. His small force of 175 men captured the British forts at Kaskaskia and Cahokia during July 4 - 6 on the Mississippi River in current Illinois. A few days later Clark's men took Vincennes. The French inhabitants of Vincennes had learned of the recent French alliance with the Americans and her declaration of war against the British. After the French swore allegiance to the Americans on July 20, 1778, Clark had left the fort at Vincennes with a garrison of only four men, commanded by Captain Leonard Helm, and a contingent of French militia.
Leonard Helm (c. 1720 - c. June 4, 1782)
The son of Thomas Helm and Margaret Lynaugh Helm, Leonard was native to Prince William, Virginia. Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark requested that Helm raise a company of men to participate in his newly approved Northwest Campaign. Helm and Clark had served together during the 1774 Lord Dunmore's War. Helm had been in command of the company that took Vincennes in early July, 1778. Clark had appointed Helm to command Fort Patrick Henry, renamed from the British Fort Sackville with several local French militiamen and three of his Americans.
British Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hamilton had learned of Clark's exploits on August 6, 1778 and immediately began plotting a strategy to retake the fort. His force of 600 British, French and Amerindian allies had reached Fort Patrick Henry on December 17, 1778. Helm's French allies had deserted him, leaving him with only himself and three soldiers. Hamilton's men surrounded the fort and demanded the garrison surrender. Helm loaded a cannon and pointed it at the fort's entrance, grabbed a bottle of whiskey and opened the door to face his British opponents. Holding a match and the bottle, he invited the British commander to share the whiskey while they discussed terms of surrender. After obtaining favorable terms for himself and his men, Helm surrendered. Hamilton, enraged that Helm had fooled him into believing his force was much larger, still abided by the terms he had agreed to. Hamilton took Helm and his men prisoners and renamed the fort, Fort Sackville. Hamilton did not believe that the Americans would attack him in the dead of winter and allowed most of his men to leave. He took up winter quarters in Fort Sackville with a defending force only thirty-five men.
Indiana possesses a rich history that is fun to read and learn. This Hoosier Dusty Files is in an easy to read “this day in history format” and includes articles from the author's A Year in Indiana History series. Visitors may read the articles as they appear or purchase the book:
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning 2016