ALTHOUGH Fort Jefferson was established before MY OWN TIMES, yet so many incidents arising out of the establishment of this fort, extending into MY OWN TIMES, and so many of the pioneers of Illinois being connected with it, that I deem it proper, in the scope of my work, to give some sketches of the history of the fort.
In 1781, the government of Virginia, the great statesman, Thomas Jefferson, being governor, knew that the Spanish Crown pretended to have some claim on the country east of the Mississippi, below the mouth of the Ohio; and to counteract this, claim, ordered General George Rogers Clark to erect a fort on the east side of the Mississippi, on the first eligible point below the mouth of the Ohio.
General Clark, with his accustomed foresight and extraordinary energy, levied a considerable number of citizen-soldiers, and proceeded from Kaskaskia to the high land, known at this day as Mayfield's Creek, five miles below the mouth of the ohio. Here, on the east side of the Mississippi, he erected a fort, and called it Jefferson, in honor of the then governor of Virginia. It was neglected to obtain the consent of the Indians, for the erection of the fort, as the governor of Virginia bad requested. This neglect proved to be a great calamity. Clark encouraged immigration to the fort, and promised the settlers lands. Captain Piggot and many others followed his standard.
The fort being established, General Clark was called away to the frontiers of Kentucky, and left the fort for its protection in the hands of Captain James Piggot, and the soldiers and citizens under him.
Captain Piggot was a native of Connecticut, and was engaged in the privateering service in the Revolutionary War. He was .in danger of assassination by the enemy in his native State, and emigrated to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. He was appointed captain of a company in the Revolution by the Legislature of his adopted State, and served under Generals St. Clair and Washington. He was in the battles of Brandywine, Saratoga, and marched to Canada. By severe marches, and hard service, his health was impaired so that he was forced to resign his captaincy, and, with his family, he left his residence in Westmoreland County, and came West with General Clark.
Several families settled in the vicinity of Fort Jefferson, and some in it; but all attempted to cultivate the soil to some extent for a living.
The Chickasaw and Chocktaw Indians became angry for the encroachments of the whites, and in August, 1781, commenced an attack on the settlements around the fort. The whole number of warriors must have been ten or twelve hundred, headed by the celebrated Scotchman, Calbert, whose posterity. figured as half-breeds. These tribes commenced hostilities on the settlements around Fort Jefferson. The Indians came. first in small parties, which saved many of the inhabitants. If they had reached the settlement in a body, the whole white population outside of the fort would have been destroyed.
As soon as the preparation for the attack of the Indians on the fort was certainly known, a trusty messenger was dispatched to the falls of the Ohio, as it was called at that day, and for years afterwards, for more provisions and ammunition. If support did not arrive in time, the small settlements and garrison would be destroyed, and it was extremely uncertain if succor would reach the fort in time.
The settlement and fort were in the greatest distress; almost starving, no ammunition, and such great distance from the settlements at Kaskaskia and the Falls.
The first parties of Indians killed many of the inhabitants before they could be moved to the fort, and there was great danger and distress in marching them into the fort. Also, the sickness prevailed to such extent, that more than half were down sick at the time. The famine was so distressing that it was said they had to eat the pumpkins as soon as the blossoms fel1 off the vines. This Indian marauding and murdering private persons and families lasted almost two weeks before the main army of Indian warriors reached the fort. The soldiers aided and received in the fort all the white population that could be moved. The whole family of Mr. Music, except himself, was killed, and inhumanly butchered by the enemy. Many other persons were also killed. In the skirmishes, a white man was taken prisoner, who was compelled, to save his life, to report the true state of the garrison. This information added fury to the already heated passions of the savages.
After the arrival of the warriors, with Calbert at their head, they besieged the fort for six days and nights. During this time, no one can describe the misery and distress the garrison was doomed to suffer. The water had almost given out, The river was falling fast, and the water in the wells sunk with the river. Scarcely any provisions remained, and the sickness raged so in the fort that many could not be stirred from the beds.. The wife of Captain Piggot, and some others, died in the fort, and were buried inside of the walls while the Indians beseiged the outside. If no relief came, the garrison would inevitably fall into the hands of the Indians and be murdered.
It was argued by the Indians with the white prisoner, that if he told the truth they would spare his life. He told them truly, that more than half in the fort were sick-that each man had not more than three rounds of ammunition, and that scarcely any provisions were in the garrison. On receiving this information, the whole- Indian army retired about two miles to hold a council. They sent back Calbert and three Chiefs with a flag of truce to the fort.
When the whites discovered the white flag, they sent out. Captain Piggot, Mr. Owens, and one other man, to meet theIndian delegation. This was done for fear the enemy would know the desperate condition of the fort. The parley was conducted under the range of the guns of the garrison. Calbert informed them that they were sent to demand a surrender of' the. fort at discretion; that they knew the defenseless condition of the fort, and to surrender it might save much bloodshed. He further said: that they had sent a great force of warriors up the river to intercept the succor for which the whites had sent a messenger. This the prisoner had told them. Calbert promised he would do his best to save the lives of the prisoners, all if they would surrender, except a few whom the Indians had determined to kill. He said, the Indians are pressing for the spoils, and would not wait long- He gave the garrison one hour for a decision.
On receiving this information, the garrison had an awful and gloomy scene presented to them. One person exclaimed, "Great God direct us what to do in this awful crisis!"
After mature deliberation, Piggot and the other delegates were instructed to say, that nothing would be said as to the information received from the prisoner. If we deny his statements you may kill him-we cannot confide in your promises to protect us; but we will promise, if the Indians will leave the country, the garrison will abandon the fort and country as soon as possible. Calbert agreed to submit this proposition in council to the warriors. But on retiring, Mr. Music, whose family was murdered, and another man shot at Calbert, and a ball wounded him. This outrage was greatly condemned by the garrison, and the two transgressors were taken into custody. The wound of Calbert was dressed, and he guarded safely to the Indians.
The warriors remained long in council, and by a kind Providential act, the long-wished for succor did arrive in safety from the "Falls." The Indians had struck the river too high up, and thereby the boat with the supplies escaped. The provisions and men were hurried into the fort, and preparations were made to resist a night-attack by the warriors. Every preparation that could be made for the defence of the fort was accomplished. The sick and small children were placed out of the way of the combatants, and all the women and children of any size were instructed in the art of defence. The warriors, shortly after dark, thought they could steal on the fort and capture it; but when they were frustrated, they, with hideous yells and loud savage demonstrations, assaulted the garrison and attempted to storm it. The cannon had been placed in proper position to rake the walls, and When the warriors mounted the ramparts, the cannon swept them off in heaps. The enemy kept up a stream of fire from their rifles on the garrison, which did not much execution. In this manner the battle raged for hours; but at last the enemy were forced to recoil, and withdraw from the deadly cannon of the fort. Calbert and other Chiefs again urged the warriors to the charge, but the same result to retire was forced on them again. Men and women at that day were soldiers by instinct. It seemed they could not be otherwise.
The greatest danger was for fear the fort would be set on fire. A large dauntless Indian, painted for the occasion, by some means got on top of one of the block-houses, and was applying fire to the roof. A white soldier, of equal courage, went out of the block-house and shot the Indian as he was blowing the fire to the building. The Indian fell dead on the outside of the fort, and was packed off by his comrades.
After a long and arduous battle, the Indians withdrew from the fort. They were satisfied; the Indians had arrived at the garrison and they could not storm it. They packed off all the dead and wounded. Many were killed and wounded of the Indians, as much blood was discovered in the morning around the fort. Several of the whites were also wounded, but none mortally. This was one of the most desperate assaults made by the Indians in the West, on a garrison so weak and distressed and defenseless.
The whites were rejoiced at their success, and made preparations to abandon the premises with all convenient speed. The citizen -soldiers at Fort Jefferson all abandoned the fort; and some wended their way to Kaskaskia, and others to the Falls. Captain Piggot, with many of his brave companions, arrived at Kaskaskia and remained there some years.
This flood of brave and energetic immigrants, so early as the year 1781, was the first considerable acquisition of American population Illinois received. Many of the most worthy and respectable families of Illinois can trace back their lineage to this illustrious and noble ancestry, and can say, with pride and honor, that my forefathers fought in the Revolution to conquer the valley of the Mississippi.
About the year 1783, Captain Piggot established a fort not far from the bluff in the American Bottom, west of the present town of Columbia, in Monroe County, which was called Piggot's Fort, or the fort of the grand Risseau. This was the largest fortification erected by the Americans in Illinois, and at that day, was well defended with cannon and small arms. In 1790 sometime, Captain Piggot and forty-five other inhabitants at this fort, called the Big Run in English, signed a petition to Governor St. Clair, praying for grants of land to the settlers. It is stated in that petition, that there were seventeen families in the fort. I presume it was on this petition that the act of Congress was passed, granting to every settler on the public land in Illinois, four hundred acres, and a militia donation of a hundred acres to each man enrolled in the militia service of that year.
Governor St. Clair knew the character of Captain Piggot in the army of the Revolution, and appointed him the presiding judge of the court of St. Clair County.
Captain Piggot, in the year 1795, established the first ferry across the Mississippi, opposite St. Louis, Missouri, known now as Wiggin's Ferry; and Governor Trudeau, of Louisiana, gave him license for a ferry, and to land on the west bank of the river in St. Louis, with the privilege to collect the ferriage. He died at the ferry, opposite St. Louis, in the year 1799, after having spent an active and eventful life in the Revolution, and in the conquest and the early settlement of the West.
from My Own Times by Gov. John Reynolds (pp. 32-35)