Sunday, January 9, 2022

George Rogers Clark Powder Run

This is a long post, but after the George Rogers Clark Powder Run at Old Fort Harrod State Park I thought an explanation of the original powder run was in order.

Photo from the Library of Congress

By June 1776, James Harrod became an outspoken opponent of the Transylvania Company. He gained followers at the other stations, all wanting to separate Kentucky from Fincastle County. Jack Gabriel Jones was a lawyer and son of a prominent Virginia family. George Rogers Clark had a deep interest in Kentucky and also offered help.

Harrod called a gathering to elect delegates to represent them in the Virginia General Assembly and to ask for separation from Fincastle County. Harrod also wanted to stop Richard Henderson and his Cherokee land. Clark and Jones were elected as the delegates to appeal to Virginia to overthrow Transylvania and incorporate the country under her own government.

Harrod helped the men formulate the document as a defense of their land claims, based on bounty warrants granted by Governor Dunmore and on regular prior-occupancy laws of the colony. They also wanted their delegates to be recognized, claiming they had already elected a committee of 21 men to maintain the district.

Photo from Old Fort Harrod State Park

When Clark and Jones arrived in Virginia, Clark visited the new Virginia governor, Patrick Henry, to secure his backing for the Harrodstown petition. Clark then appeared before the Council at Williamsburg with a letter from Governor Henry, making the executive council aware of Kentucky’s shaky position and officially informing them of Henry’s support.

Clark ran into opposition from several peers who did not approve of frontier expansion. After much debate and arguing that the western settlements could not survive without gunpowder, the proposal was accepted and Clark was granted five hundred pounds of gunpowder.

On August 23, 1776, the gunpowder was sent to Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh. Clark sent a letter to Harrod to tell him to send a party to Fort Pitt to bring the powder home. Little did Clark know, but Harrod never received the letter.

Photo from Old Fort Harrod State Park

Months later, Clark and Jones finished their business in Virginia and prepared to return to Kentucky, but when a messenger from Fort Pitt reported that Harrod had not sent men to get the five hundred pounds of powder, their plans changed. Clark knew those twenty-five kegs of gun powder were vital to Kentucky’s defense, so they set out toward Pittsburg.

Once at Fort Pitt, they recruited a small group of men to assist them in transporting the black powder down the Ohio and then up the Kentucky River to Fort Harrod.

Unfortunately, Clark’s every move was being shrewdly watched and evaluated by British and Indian enemies, but he was not to be manipulated. Clark and his men slipped out of Fort Pitt in the middle of the night and silently started their long trip down the half-frozen Ohio River with five hundred pounds of high quality, rifle-grade gunpowder. They quickly made their way down the big river, with the success or failure of Kentucky resting squarely on their shoulders.

Photo from Old Fort Harrod State Park

Clark and his companions were forced to move between numerous bands of angry Indian war parties. Unwilling to run the risk of losing his cargo, he buried the powder in several spots and continued downstream for a few miles before abandoning the boats and setting them adrift as a decoy.

Clark headed off to the nearest settlement, McClelland’s Station and sent a messenger to Harrodstown explaining what had happened and asking for a party to retrieve the gunpowder. Then Clark left to meet up with Harrod to recover the gunpowder.

James Harrod and about 20 others left Harrodsburg on the second of January 1777, to recover the powder. Within a short time and without incident, the men reclaimed the gunpowder and returned to Fort Harrod. The brave settlers of Fort Harrod come through to save the day, retrieving the gunpowder and bringing it safely back to the fort through miles and miles of unfriendly, Indian wilderness. Once at Fort Harrod, the powder was divided and quickly distributed to the many struggling Kentucky forts and stations. This important event saved the country because now the settlers could now defend the forts and hunt for food.

Photo from Old Fort Harrod State Park

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Harrodsburg High School

  Historic photo from The Harrodsburg Herald The old Harrodsburg High School.