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It is night on the vast, open land newly acquired by the United States. Around the coals of a dying campfire, three men share a bottle of whiskey. It is an electric moment. After two years, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are nearly home from leading the Corps of Discovery through the alien terrain of the Louisiana Purchase. The third man, an ex-army captain, is leading his party west. The moment is electric because all three men, during the course of their conversation, have come to one conclusion: the ...
It is night on the vast, open land newly acquired by the United States. Around the coals of a dying campfire, three men share a bottle of whiskey. It is an electric moment. After two years, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are nearly home from leading the Corps of Discovery through the alien terrain of the Louisiana Purchase. The third man, an ex-army captain, is leading his party west. The moment is electric because all three men, during the course of their conversation, have come to one conclusion: the contest for making definitive claims to the western half of the continent had begun. It glowed in the minds of these men, who were just beginning to wrap themselves in a vision greater than most citizens of the republic had yet to imagine.
The next morning, Lewis and Clark went down the river to become national heroes, and former captain John McClallen drove his boat and crew against the current, already caught in a destiny he would not escape. By Honor and Right is the first full study of an enigmatic national hero who undertook to represent the interests of the United States when there was no one else to do it, and he paid a tragic price for his initiative.
Foreword William E. Foley 7
1 A Gunner of the Republic 13
2 Capt. John McClallen 23
3 Gen. James Wilkinson 33
4 Floating into the West 51
5 The Officers and Gentlemen of St. Louis 63
6 Western Horizons 75
7 Victims of Circumstance 87
8 "Behold the Mexican Traveler" 97
9 Lewis and Clark and Pinch Me 111
10 At the Rubicon 121
11 "Away You Rolling River" 133
12 "Reather a Speculative Expedition" 147
13 Peace in Mountain Time 161
14 Top of the World 175
15 Following Western Waters 187
16 "I Could Not Altogether Indianify My Heart" 199
17 Cokalarishkit, the Protein Road 215
18 A Step into the Abyss 225
19 Postscript to Lost Letters 239
John McClallen Timeline 257
Indian Tribes and Their Variant Names 261
On September 17, 1806, the United States Corps of Discovery was descending the Missouri River on the last leg of their twenty-eight-month trip to the mouth of the Columbia River. They were pleased to meet the boat party of a brother officer whom Meriwether Lewis had known since 1801 when he recommended his retention in the United States Army. Their relationship was unusual because Lewis was a Virginia planter with Republican ideals and John McClallen was the product of northern mercantilism with Federalist views. What they shared was an overriding sense of duty.
After telling the explorers that they had been given up for dead, the recently resigned captain of artillery explained that he was taking an outfit of fine merchandize to open an overland trade to Santa Fe. Instead of drinking at the mythic fountain of continental waters, the place in the mountains from which all western rivers flowed, which William Clark believed they had discovered, McClallen's thirst appeared to be for the silver of New Mexico. That night, as Lewis and Clark drank the fledgling trader's liquor, they expanded on what they had seen and done. And perhaps they questioned McClallen about what brought him to undertake a risky mercantile adventure. When the two parties separated the next morning, that question was not resolved and was already destined to become an enigma of America's western development.
The activities of revolutionary France and the high-handed maritime policy of England raised concerns about the new nation's undefended coastline, and in May 1794 these concerns led to the creation of a Corps of Artillerists and Engineers to man new forts defending important seaports. Lt. John McClallen was among the first officers commissioned, but after nine years of undemanding garrison duty, his military career, like Lewis's, began to change. About the time that Captain Lewis began organizing his expedition in 1803, Captain McClallen learned that he would soon be transferred to the western frontier of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. McClallen would have preferred to stay at a comfortable Baltimore posting, but when a Baltimore friend suggested the intriguing possibility that a transfer to St. Louis might open business opportunities in the new territory, the idea appealed to someone raised in the mercantile tradition of upstate New York.
During the French and Indian War, McClallen's great uncle Robert Henry had done well supplying the British army as it moved toward the conquest of the large area of North America to the north and west of the original British colonies in the area known as New France. The Henry and McClallen families came from Maghera, Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, to frontier Massachusetts in 1742 and 1749. At the end of the French and Indian War, Henry's widowed sister sent her twelve-year-old son, Robert McClallen, to his namesake uncle Robert Henry in Albany, New York.
In the summer of 1760 Robert Henry outfitted a young New Jersey army supplier, coincidently named Alexander Henry but not related, to follow the British forces descending the St. Lawrence River. After the end of hostilities between the British and the French, Alexander Henry went on to pioneer the British Indian trade. The brief, bloody interior Indian rebellion that followed failed to deter the Albany firm of Henry, Farrell & Abbott from sending a consignment of illegal liquor to the inland trade depot at Michilimackinac on the narrow strait between lakes Huron and Michigan, where the resulting scandal helped sink the career of the war hero Major Robert Rogers. Attempts to recover the losses of the embarrassed capitalists Henry, Farrell & Abbott found no recourse in British courts. That cautionary family memory was in the background as Capt. John McClallen considered the offer of his Baltimore friend.
Young Robert McClallen matured as a store clerk during those years and married an Albany girl named Jane Williams. Their first son, John, was born January 29, 1772, when political unrest was maturing toward the rebellion of the American colonies. Uncle Robert Henry became an early Son of Liberty and his nephew Robert McClallen was an active member of the Albany committee of correspondence. Soon after British forces were penned in Boston, ragtag rebel forces marched through Albany with the intention of claiming Quebec as the fourteenth state.
At the age of three, John McClallen was too young to remember the winter of 1775/76 when his father and Robert Henry followed the invasion to Montreal. For £15,000 in real money and credit, they bought blankets and other goods initially imported for the western Indian trade but critically useful to the rebel forces in the field. That stock of goods, essential to the war effort, was hauled on sleds over frozen Lake Champlain to Albany and resold. Despite their patriotic intention, the devaluation of continental currency represented a considerable loss to the merchants who engaged the downstate lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, to draw up a petition asking compensation for the loss due to their acceptance of devalued congress paper. That led to further disillusionment when the politically astute Mr. Hamilton advised the New York Assembly against setting a dangerously expensive precedent. Robert McClallen never forgave that betrayal.
After the peace at the end of the American Revolution, the house of Henry, McClallen & Henry stood solidly at Number 10 State Street and the corner of Green in Albany, selling a "formitable array of goods," some still imported from England. During the war years and after, John McClallen grew up with cousins about his age, a tight little Scotch-Irish gang in an Old Dutch community, clattering over the cobblestones and finding minor mischief around the docks or the surrounding countryside. When he was old enough to be useful, he was taken to his father's store and set to sweeping, stocking, and selling superfine, second and course clothes, cloth like satinettes, half-thicks and coatings and 2, 2½ and 3 point size blankets. The young clerk sold men's small clothes, women's shawls, handkerchiefs, castor (beaver) hats, shoe and knee buckles as well as powder, bar lead, duck and pigeon shot, London pewter and Dutch tea pots. His father advertised a constant supply of liquors and groceries. Few young men of that age had as broad an education in what their Presbyterian minister might have termed "worldly possessions."
On August 8, 1788, sixteen-year-old John closed up his father's store when Albany turned out to celebrate New York's ratification of America's new constitution. It was grand seeing the horse troop leading and old General Schuyler riding behind to display the document. Among the tradesmen and mechanics who marched, the brewers' dray was most impressive with Mr. Van Rensselaer astride a cask of beer as Bacchus. A team of grays pulled a Mohawk riverboat on a carriage with the proper number of rowers waving their oars, paddles, and setting poles. But the great event did not override the growing sense of unreconciled political differences because anti-Federalists pelted the marchers with debris, even pointed a cannon at them.
Despite lawyer Hamilton's betrayal, Robert McClallen continued to support the Federalist view of how the new nation should be organized. While Mr. Hamilton was inventing the principles of the Bank of the United States, in February 1792, Robert McClallen walked over to Robert Lewis's tavern at the corner of State and South Pearl to help incorporate the Bank of Albany.
After Uncle Robert Henry and his son died, the family business was continued by Robert McClallen. As the oldest of the family of five girls and three boys, the merchant's twenty-two-year-old son should have continued helping run the store. But an attractive opportunity arose in September 1793 when the family of Alexander Hamilton appeared in Albany, fleeing the terrible yellow fever epidemic that was torturing Philadelphia. During his stay in Albany, Mr. Hamilton could hardly have avoided encountering his former client and doing something for the son of a loyal Federalist.
The Congressional Act of May 9, 1794, authorized the creation of a Corps of Artillerists and Engineers of four battalions of four companies each, and a promising young man might go far in a favored regiment intended for coastal defense. On June 2, 1794, John McClallen was commissioned a lieutenant in that elite and scientific arm, and at the end of 1794 Lt. John McClallen topped the list of sixteen new subalterns in the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers.
When Lieutenant McClallen joined his company at West Point, there was no school for a new officer totally green about the soldierly formalities of commanding men. McClallen's company commander was Capt. Frederick Frye, a Massachusetts soldier who had fought at Bunker Hill and later returned to service in 1794.14 A cantankerous old campaigner with firm convictions about military formalities, Frye's was the first of the ten new companies designated for training at West Point.
When recruits began arriving in August, it was apparent that the unit was incomplete. Frye sent Lieutenant McClallen home on recruiting duty. Before he had much experience as an officer, the former store clerk faced the challenge of convincing other young men to enlist in a still-forming service. He must have been convincing because on November 2, he shipped the first twenty recruits down the Hudson River and continued shipping men downriver through April 1795. Three-fourths of the recruits from Albany were just callow boys. With only a year of military experience under his red sash, Lieutenant McClallen stood rigidly on a parade ground crowded with shouting subalterns and red-faced captains. After a day of drill and exasperation, he joined the other newly minted lieutenants who drank at the notorious North's tavern, grousing that their hopeless gunners would probably blow everyone to eternity before they grasped that the wiping stick came before the ramming rod. If the dripping swab failed to quench a lingering spark, the next load could go off prematurely. One-armed gunners were a grim joke. Those old wheeled canons jumped with a whomp that a cannoneer felt in his gut, and McClallen came to love the acrid smoke and the sense of being capable of dealing death at long distance.
Much of what was won in the defeat of the western Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers was signed away when United States negotiators agreed to such disgraceful terms that the Senate had to consider them in closed session. For the United States to finally gain possession of the British forts on the Great Lakes frontier, treaty commissioner John Jay of New York agreed that British traders could continue to have access to the tribes in United States territory. The "old northwest," which included territory as far west as the Mississippi River, was left to the competitive mercies of foreign Indian traders spreading poison among the tribes.
After training at West Point, most of the companies returned to their regular posts, but because he wrote a fine storekeeper's hand, Lieutenant McClallen was retained at West Point as deputy quarter-master, helping to assemble supplies necessary for the takeover of the line of Great Lakes forts. In late May 1796, when he received clothing, hand tools, and hardware forwarded from the public stores at Philadelphia, McClallen became acquainted with quartermaster general Colonel James O'Hara. An experienced western trader and military supplier, the Paris-educated Irishman decided in July 1796 to end his service as quartermaster general and go into private business, contracting to supply the troops and provide goods to the Indians.
In midsummer, units of the Regiment of Artillerists were ordered to proceed up the Hudson River and take over the posts that the British were finally surrendering. The company of Capt. James Bruff traveled four hundred miles by large rowboats known as bateaux on the Mohawk River to Lake Oneida in western New York, where they left a detachment at Fort Oswego on August 3. Fifty men of Captain Frye's company continued along the south shore of Lake Ontario for another one hundred and fifty miles to the strategically located Fort Niagara, where Captain Bruff assumed command. The Niagara River was the connecting link between lakes Ontario and Erie, and the fort commanded it. West along the lakes' border, Capt. Moses Porter's company occupied Detroit on July 11, but it was early October before Maj. Henry Burbeck took over the important fur trade depot of Michilimackinac. United States forces now commanded the nation's border as far west as Lake Michigan, although the provisions of Jay's Treaty, as it came to be known, allowed British traders to penetrate it at will.
The national flag fluttered bravely over the extensive outworks that encompassed about five acres of land with British guns just six hundred yards away, across the Niagara River, commanding those works. Old Fort Niagara was large enough to accommodate five hundred men. Captain Frye's ragtag detachment of fifty gunners rattled around in it like dried peas in a barrel. The soldiers were housed in the big stone barracks, reeking of history, where French soldiers slept before the British conquest of New France and the redcoats thereafter. Fortifications designed to defend against attack from the south now faced the wrong way, and Lieutenant McClallen helped re-site four small field pieces to defend the most critical portage linking the Great Lakes.
Because Lieutenant McClallen had performed the duty at West Point, Captain Bruff appointed him post quartermaster at Fort Niagara. On August 21, 1796, the forward-minded young officer dated a letter to an Albany friend named Colin McGregor concerning a conversation they had the previous winter at Albany.
I arrived here a few days since with the advanced Guard of American Troops to take possession of this post, which we had the pleasure of doing the 10th instant. The British Officers are very polite, and we live on a friendly footing with them. I have now a Station which I consider in some measure permanent. When I had the pleasure of seeing you last winter in Albany, you hinted that should I be stationed in this part of the country something might be done for our mutual advantage. I shall be happy to receive from you any information or proposal, by which my situation in this Country can be beneficial to both. Col. O'Hara, late Q'Master Genl, now Contractor for Genl. Wayne's Army is desirous of forming a connection with some Gentleman either in Albany or N. York with this plan. The Company not to exceed, six in number. He, or his agent at Detroit, myself at this place, to procure proper persons to explore the lands contiguous, belonging to this Country or in his Brittanic Majesty's territory. He is willing to advance 10,000 doll. On the above plan or any other similar to it. I informed him that I should write you on the subject, and forward your reply as soon as it came to hand. Should the above meet with your approbation, (or any other you may conceive now advantageous) I will thank you to communicate it to me. With great respect I have the honor to be Sir, Your obedient Servant, John McClallen
O'Hara had in mind stringing six forward-looking associates along the line of the Great Lakes military posts where they could forward goods and trade. Midway between Detroit and Albany, Niagara was the keystone and an agent there would be in a uniquely advantageous position to forward a potentially profitable business. During the winter of 1796/97, Lieutenant McClallen assessed what that could mean. As a consequence of the US takeover, British merchants like James McGregor transferred their business across the Detroit River to British territory but could still operate in United States territory under the terms of Jay's Treaty. According to the Canadian fur trade historian Harold Innis,
... after 1796 trade with the American posts continued and actually increased. In 1796 goods passing the Niagara Portage from Montreal included 43,668 gallons of liquor, 1,344 minots of salt and merchandise valued at £55,220 and furs (5,826 packs, 2,616 from Detroit, 3,210 from Michilimackinac) valued at £87,390 were sent in return. Packs from Detroit increased from 1,910 in 1796 to 2,616 in 1797 and to 2,704 in 1798.
Excerpted from BY HONOR AND RIGHT by JOHN C. JACKSON Copyright © 2010 by John C. Jackson. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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