Selected Papers From The 1989 And 1990 George Rogers Clark Trans-Appalachian Frontier History Conferences
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Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition: Munition Supplies at George Rogers Clark's Fort Jefferson, 1780-1781
Kenneth G. Carstens
Murray State University


The kind, amount and distribution of arms and munitions between 1780 and 1781 at George Rogers Clark's Fort Jefferson are examined in this paper. As the economic and redistribution center for Clark's Illinois Battalion, Fort Jefferson received and supplied other key military sites with large quantities of arms and munitions in order to support Virginia's efforts to secure the West.


Unlike the popular 1941 phrase uttered by Chaplain Howell M. Forgy ("Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition."), [1] few people have heard about George Rogers Clark's Fort Jefferson. Clark's name is associated more closely with his campaigns at Kaskaskia and Vincennes, [2] than it is with Fort Jefferson. Yet, Clark — in conjunction with Patrick Henry — planned the construction of Fort Jefferson in 1777 and set into motion a series of events that would lead to the acquisition of the Northwest Territory by the United States. [3]

Previous studies by J. G. Randall, [4] James Alton James [5] and Light T. Cummins [6] have presented overviews of Clark's line-of-supply logistics. This paper shall do so, too, but shall be more particularistic in scope, examining ONLY munition supplies and armament of Clark's Fort Jefferson for the years 1780 to 1781. The research in this paper represents the first attempt to reconstruct the actual numbers of munitions and armaments for one of Clark's Illinois Battalion forts. How many muskets and pieces of artillery did Clark's troops have at Fort Jefferson? How much powder and lead were they issued? How much did they expend? And, how much did they distribute to other Illinois Battalion forts? This study provides some specific insights into Clark's military supplies at Fort Jefferson that have not been addressed previously by other researchers. Furthermore, this paper gives the student of Clark, a glimpse into one aspect of Clark's logistical considerations: the actual amount of Fort Jefferson's munitions which were used by Clark's Illinois Regiment. From these data, one may better generalize the extent to which Clark's Illinois forces were outfitted during the war in the West and, therefore, provide for a better assessment of the military characteristics of the Illinois Battalion in general. [7]

Historical Background:

Fort Jefferson was a military garrison and civilian community constructed near the Mouth of the Ohio River in April 1780. [8] As a settlement, Fort Jefferson represented Virginia's attempt physically to claim her western boundary and to maintain her political and economic interests in the West. Although more easterly located settlements at Harrodsburg and Boonesborough previously had existed within Virginia's West, neither had been initiated at the request of the Virginia government, Fort Jefferson was, for all practical purposes, a fortification and a community planned and sanctioned by the executive branch of Virginia's government. [9]

When Clark left the Falls of the Ohio River (Louisville) in April 1780 to travel to the Mouth of the Ohio to build Fort Jefferson, [10] he reportedly took with him, "perhaps 120 men...well Cloathed (sic) except in the article of Linens." This quote has been interpreted previously by Kathryn M. Fraser [12] as representing the total number of persons present at Clark's Fort Jefferson. Recent studies have demonstrated that many more individuals were present at the fort. [13] It also has been demonstrated that the population density for Fort Jefferson varied greatly, from as few as 100, to a maximum of 565 persons. [14] Within that population range were members of the Illinois Battalion — representing several companies, the Clarksville Militia, numerous civilians (including many families) and several Indian ally groups, especially the Kaskaskia Indians.

Among the major activities at Fort Jefferson between 1780 and 1781 that generated documentation about armament and munitions supplies were six military engagements (including two battles at the fort), the outfitting of numerous hunting parties and the issuance and redistribution of various supplies directed to and received from other posts. [15] And, although it has been assumed that Clark's forces left the Falls of the Ohio fully-equipped militarily, no specific documentation to that effect ever has been reported. However, records from Fort Jefferson indicate that a full range of supplies must have been brought from the Falls of the Ohio to the Mouth of the Ohio in April 1780, in order for Fort Jefferson to exist. Supplementary shipments of other goods were received at Fort Jefferson from Spanish-held New Orleans in December 1780, and January 1781. [16] Additional supplies were received at Fort Jefferson from Vincennes, Kaskaskia and Louisville throughout 1780 and 1781. [17] And, although the supplements were primarily liquid (i.e., tafia), Fort Patrick Henry at Vincennes and Fort Clark at Kaskaskia frequently received substantial quantities of munitions in return. The origin of those supplies came not from Fort Pitt or elsewhere in the East, but from New Orleans by way of Fort Jefferson. [18]

Munition Supplies at Fort Jefferson:

The two most significant munition supply items at Fort Jefferson were gunpowder and lead. As illustrated in Table 1, more than 3,200 pounds of gunpowder and 3,600 pounds of lead were shipped to Fort Jefferson. These 6,800 pounds of munitions originated in New Orleans through the supervision of Oliver Pollock. [19] Although 6,800 pounds may seem like a large quantity of munitions, it is not; especially when taken into account the individual issues given to each soldier, the allotment made to the artillery and the amounts redistributed to other posts from Fort Jefferson.


Received at Fort Jefferson
17803,235 pounds3,095 pounds
1781---506 pounds
Totals3,235 pounds3,601 pounds

Issued at Fort Jefferson
1780681.75 pounds1,009.50 pounds
1781319.50 pounds321.50 pounds
Totals1,001.25 pounds1,331.00 pounds

Distributed to other posts from Fort Jefferson
17801,320 pounds1,683 pounds
1781785 pounds746 pounds
Totals2,105 pounds*2,429 pounds**

Notes: *128.75 pounds remaining
**-159 pounds (an apparent deficit)

Table 1: Pounds of Gunpowder and Lead Received, Issued, and Distributed at Fort Jefferson, 1780-1781

As an example, almost one-third of the total gunpowder issued (1,001 of 3,235 pounds) went to the militia and state troops at Fort Jefferson. The other approximate two-thirds (2,105 pounds) was redistributed from Fort Jefferson to Fort Clark at Kaskaskia and Fort Patrick Henry at Vincennes. Likewise, only 37% of the lead received at Fort Jefferson was issued to the soldiery at that post; the remaining amount of lead was sent to Kaskaskia and Vincennes. It should be noted that the totals from lead issued and distributed do not, when taken together, equal the amount of lead received (Table 1). Therefore, it could be suggested that the Fort Jefferson garrison must have arrived with full or partial munition stores. If they did not, then either an error in bookkeeping had occurred or the Fort Jefferson record is incomplete and receipts for "received amounts" are under-represented in the records that remain.

Similarly, even the difference between the total amount of gunpowder received and the total issued (Table 1: Issued at Fort Jefferson plus distributed to other posts from Fort Jefferson) is amazingly low (only an approximate 129 pounds). It's doubtful that a quartermaster intentionally would issue stores of munitions that could place a fortification in jeopardy. However, it is possible that a shortage of gunpowder existed at Fort Jefferson. Yet, the large quantities of gunpowder shipped to other posts from Fort Jefferson suggests otherwise. Therefore, it is presumed that full or partial stores must have been brought with the personnel when they established Fort Jefferson in April 1780, — even though no inventory of those stores has been located.

These observations become increasingly important when the number of individuals present at the fort is taken into account. A "standard issue" of powder and lead per individual is not defined clearly within the voucher records at Fort Jefferson. However, a ratio allotment of one-to-two is generally apparent; that is, one pound of powder usually was issued for every two pounds of lead. One pound of gunpowder permits the manufacture of 24 to 30 musket cartridges. [20] Although these small numbers hardly seem to impact the 1,001 pounds of gunpowder issued at Fort Jefferson, their numerical significance becomes substantially greater when the total number of issues is taken into account. The following description of the military population at Fort Jefferson will demonstrate this point.

At its maximum, Fort Jefferson contained nine companies of infantry totaling 182 men, along with one company of dragoons totaling 34 men, 46 men of the Clarksville Militia and 24 miscellaneous military personnel. In addition to these 286 men, this post also contained a company of artillery. As illustrated by Table 2, the artillery complement at Fort Jefferson was considerable, consisting of five swivels (possibly one-pounders); a two-pounder swivel; a four-pounder (possibly a light four-pounder brass fieldpiece); and a six-pounder iron cannon. [21]


Received Issued

17801781 17801781
Small Armament
Muskets1570 1620
Bayonets with belts4220 07
Spanish musket with bayonet10 00
Fusil00 04
Carbines00 90
Rifles80 200
Flints00 294*622**
Swords1000 199***
Cartridge boxes with belts2610 00

Large Armament
Swivels50 50
Two-pounder (swivel)10 10
Four-pounder (cannon)00 10
Six-pounder (cannon)00 10
Yards of flannel120 667

Notes: *only 2% (6) issued to the Indians
**77% (480) issued to the Indians
***approximately 11% (11) issued to Indians

Table 2: Armament and Munitions Received and Issued at Fort Jefferson, 1780-1781

If calculations are made for the amount of gunpowder consumed per shot for each of the above artillery pieces (figured at the charging rate of one-fourth of the shot's weight for each item), [22] a single simultaneous shot fired from the six swivels and two cannon would consume 4.25 pounds of gunpowder. In addition, a single shot fired from each of the 286 muskets, calculated at 0.04 pounds per cartridge, would require 11.44 pounds of gunpowder. Collectively, a single volley of artillery and musketry would use 15.69 pounds of powder. That being the case, only an estimated 64 volleys could be fired at Fort Jefferson before 1,001 pounds of gunpowder would be exhausted.

A figure as low as 64 volleys probably indicates a biased underrepresentation of the actual amount of gunpowder at Clark's fort. If that is true, such would further strengthen the argument that Clark's forces arrived at Fort Jefferson with partial to full munition stores.

Other Armament:

The kind of arms carried by Clark's Illinois Battalion has been a matter of contention among historians and historical reenactors for quite some time. Did they use the Committee of Safety musket? The French Charleville? The Spanish fusil? What about the British Brown Bess? And, what about the rifle? Were they used? If so, to what degree? Lastly, did Clark's troops carry swords?

Several of these questions can be addressed by information contained within the voucher records from Fort Jefferson for the period of 1780 to 1781. (It is important to emphasize that the Fort Jefferson documents pertain to this period ONLY, because Clark's line of supply varied greatly. Generalizations that retrofit Fort Jefferson data to previous Clark campaigns are greatly discouraged.)

It is hoped that sufficient data has been presented to demonstrate that Clark's troops were at least partially equipped with munitions and arms when they settled Fort Jefferson. By December 1780, they received an additional supplementary shipment of 120 muskets from New Orleans. These muskets came complete with 120 bayonets, 422 bayonet belts, 261 cartridge boxes with belts and one "Spanish musket and bayonet" (Table 2). In addition, they received four fusils, nine carbines and eight rifles. Both the fusils and the carbines are, generally speaking, lightweight shorter muskets designed primarily for use by the artillery, light infantry or cavalry. [23] All three unit types were present at Fort Jefferson and references made to these various "specialized" musket forms indicate that Clark's forces for 1780-1781 were not only equipped, but were equipped properly. (It should be noted that although the dragoons or cavalry had the right kind of gun, there were no horses to be issued. As a result, the "Light Horse" units served instead as Light Infantry.)

Rifles, although present at Fort Jefferson, were not distributed widely. They were, however, extensively used for procuring meat for the garrison. Even a broken rifle from Vincennes carried a $500-hard-money price tag at Fort Jefferson. After such a rifle was fixed by the post armorer, the Clarksville sheriff confiscated the rifle for use by the civilian community. [24]

Last but not least, a grand total of 100 swords — of unknown type — was received from Spanish New Orleans. Captain Robert George, the fort commandant at Fort Jefferson, was the first to receive a sword from the allotment. The remaining 99 swords were not issued until January 1781. [25]

In conclusion, it is clear that the soldiery at Clark's Fort Jefferson were armed quite well with cannon, swivels and musketry. It is not clear if Clark's soldiers had enough gunpowder to use the armament effectively. Research with the archives from the Falls of the Ohio, Kaskaskia and Vincennes sites should determine whether or not Clark's forces brought munition supplies with them. If they did bring munition supplies, then Fort Jefferson must have been more than adequately supplied, having received additional supplies from New Orleans. If they did not bring munition supplies in April 1780, then the munition supplies received from New Orleans at Fort Jefferson were precariously low.


l. John Bartlett, editor, Familiar Quotations, p. 994b, 13th and Centennial Edition, Little Brown and Company, Boston, Mass.

2. Wilshire Butterfield, History of George Rogers Clark's Conquest of the Illinois and Wabash Towns 1778-1779. Printed originally in 1904. Republished by Gregg Press, 1972.

3. William Hayden English, Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio 1778-1783 and Life of Gen. George Rogers Clark, Vols. land II, Bowen-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Ind. Letter, Governor Patrick Henry to Governor Bernardo de Galvez, 1777. Archivo General de Indias Seville, Estante 87, Cajon 1, legajo 6.

4. J. G. Randall, George Rogers Clark's Service of Supply. Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 8:250-262.

5. James Alton James, Oliver Pollock, Financier of the Revolution in the West. Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 16:67-80.

6. Light T. Cummins, Oliver Pollock and George Rogers Clark's Service of Supply: A Case Study in Financial Disaster. Selected Papers from the 1985 and 1986 George Rogers Clark Trans-Appalachian Frontier History Conferences. Robert J. Holden, editor. Eastern National Park and Monument Association, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park and Vincennes University, Vincennes University Printing Center, Vincennes, Ind.

7. Kenneth C. Carstens, At the Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers: Virginia's Claim to the West. Paper presented at the Second Annual Ohio Valley History Conference, 1986, Murray State University, Murray, Ky. Kenneth C. Carstens, Fact vs. Fiction: Military Engagements at Fort Jefferson, 1780-1781: Paper presented at the Seventh Annual George Rogers Clark Trans-Appalachian Frontier History Conference, 1989. Meetings co-sponsored by the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park and Vincennes University, Vincennes, Ind., Kenneth C. Carstens, Issues at Fort Jefferson, 1780-1781: The Quartermaster Books of John Dodge and Martin Carney. Selected Papers from the 1987 and 1988 George Rogers Clark Trans-Appalachian Frontier History Conferences, 1989. Robert J. Holden, editor. Eastern National Park and Monument Association, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park and Vincennes University, Vincennes University Printing Center, Vincennes, Ind.

8. Carstens, 1986, op cit.

9. James Alton James, editor, George Rogers Clark Papers 1771-1783, Vol. I: 386-391. Originally published in 1912 and 1926, Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield. Reprinted, 1972, AMS Press, New York, N.Y.

10. Ibid.: 417-418.

11. Ibid.: 422.

12. Kathryn M. Fraser, Fort Jefferson: George Rogers Clark's Fort at the Mouth of the Ohio River, 1780-1781. The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 1983, 81: 1-24, Frankfort, Ky.

13. Carstens, 1986, op cit.

14. Carstens, 1986, op cit.

15. Carstens, 1986, op cit.; 1990, op cit.

16. Unpublished George Rogers Clark Papers, Boxes 1-50, Virginia State Library, Archives Division, Richmond, Va. (hereafter, VSA, Box No.).

17. Carstens, 1990, op cit.

18. VSA, Boxes 48-50.

19. Ibid.

20. Captain George Smith, An Universal Military Dictionary: A Copious Explanation of the Technical Terms, &tc. Used in the Equipment, Machinery, Movements, and Military Operations of an Army, p. 58. Printed for J. Millan, near Whitehall, London: 1779. Reprinted, Museum Restoration Service, 1969, Ottawa.

21. VSA, Boxes 12, 13, 17, 20, 50.

22. John Muller, A Treatise of Artillery: 1780. Republished, 1972, Museum Restoration Service.

23. M. L. Brown, Firearms in Colonial America, 1980. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. Harold L. Peterson, The Book of the Continental Soldier, 1968. Stackpole Book Company, Harrisburg.

24. VSA, Box 12.

25. VSA, Box 15.

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Last Updated: 23-Mar-2011