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time they [the Virginians] are at Vincennes, as, when the Express came away, one Gibault a French priest, had his horse ready to go thither from Cahokia [Kaskaskia] to receive the submission of the inhabitants in the name of the Rebels". On the other hand the first report of Clark to Governor Patrick Henry, which has unfortunately not been preserved, evidently gave credit for the outcome to Father Gibault and Dr. Laffont, for Henry in a letter to Clark, dated December 15, 1778, wrote: "I beg you will present my compliments to Mr Gibault and Doctor Lafong [sic] and thank them for me for their good services to the State ".5

But this is hearsay testimony. We turn to the statements of those who participated in the act, George Rogers Clark, Father Pierre Gibault and Jean Baptiste Laffont.

The first is a trustworthy witness concerning the conception of the plan and the preparations for putting it into execution; but his knowledge of the occurrences in Vincennes was derived from others and more particularly from the two agents." One weakness in this witness should be noted: he understood no French and was obliged to trust to his interpreter, Jean Girault." The two accounts left us by Clark differ somewhat in details. According to the earlier, the letter to Mason, the conception of the plan was his own. Realizing the weakness of his position, as long as Vincennes was in the possession of the enemy, and the impossibility of securing the place by force, he had recourse to stratagem and pretended to make preparations for an attack, in the hope that the French of Kaskaskia, anxious for their friends and relatives, would offer to win the village by persuasion. In this he was successful, and several Kaskaskians came forward as advocates for Vincennes. Among these was Father Gibault, who told Clark that soldiers were unnecessary for the enterprise and that he would himself go on the mission; but that as his duties were spiritual, someone must be appointed to take charge of the affair. The parish priest assured Clark, however, that he would give them (the people of Vincennes) such hints in the spiritual way that would be conducive to the business".

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'Canadian Archives, B, vol. 122, p. 115. For further testimony of the British officers see J. P. Dunn, in Transactions of the Ill. Hist. Soc., 1905, p. 27; Am. Cath. Hist. Researches, V. 52, VIII. 186.

Draper MSS., 48 J 49.

In his Memoir, Clark wrote that he sent a spy with the emissaries, so that the report of the agents may have been confirmed by a fourth witness, whose testimony has not been preserved. English, Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio, I. 487.

T On Girault, consult Ill. Hist. Collections, II. 20, n. 2.

Laffont was appointed the leader of this expedition and received the instructions.8

In the other narrative, the Memoir, more prominence is given to the parish priest. In the first place Clark does not assume the credit for the conception of the plan. The priest was called into conference relative to taking Vincennes and said that he did not think it worth while to send a military expedition, since he was certain that, when the inhabitants were acquainted with what had occurred in Illinois and with the American cause, they would submit. Gibault then offered to go himself for this purpose. As in the other account, the priest demanded an associate, but according to this narrative he named him, and promised that he would privately Idirect the whole. Written instructions were given by Clark to Laffont, and verbal instructions to the priest."


The letter to Mason is more authoritative than the Memoir; the credit of originating the plan may safely be assigned to Clark. his two narratives should be added the testimony of the instructions, a copy of which Clark did not have when he wrote his Memoir.10 These were addressed to Laffont, and he was instructed to "act in concert" with Father Gibault, "who, I hope, will prepare the inhabitants to agree to your demands."


The testimony of Father Gibault dates from the year 1786, but it can be shown that the evidence harks back to an earlier date. In a letter of that year, addressed to the bishop of Quebec,11 he denied having been responsible for the submission of the people of VinIn fact he declared that he had not gone for the purpose of influencing the people, but only to attend to his parochial duties. In a letter of 178312 he mentioned his intention of writing in a short time an account of the occurrences of the past few years, and in another of 178813 he mentioned the fact of having written such a letter. Unfortunately this letter has not been preserved, except possibly an unimportant paragraph; but it is evident from the context that he wrote of his own acts and made statements similar to those in the letter of 1786, so that it may be taken for granted 8 English, Conquest, I. 419. It is to be noted that the instructions were addressed to Laffont, post, p. 549.

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that in 1783 he was denying his participation in the submission of Vincennes.


Clark's statement is that the priest offered to go to Vincennes, and went as an emissary of Virginia.15 That he acted as secretary of the embassy is evident from the fact that he kept some kind of a journal which was handed to Clark on his return.16 In spite of the success of the expedition Father Gibault was still unwilling to be counted an actor in it, for having learned of the village gossip about his influence in Vincennes, he persuaded Dr. Laffont to write, a few days after their return, a letter to Clark, in which Laffont assumed all responsibility. In less than a month after he started for Vincennes, therefore, he was saying that he had done nothing more than counsel "peace and union and to hinder bloodshed ". One act of Father Gibault's contradicts this testimony. When he was expecting that Kaskaskia would be retaken by the British in the early winter of 1778, Clark reports that the priest was in great fear of falling into the hands of Hamilton. If this is a fact, he must have been conscious of having committed an act which the British officers would regard as treasonable.18

Our information concerning Laffont is very meagre. He was a native of the West Indies, whence he moved to Florida and later to Kaskaskia. He was living in the latter place in August, 1770, at which date his signature was written on a power of attorney. He was still in the village in 1782, but had moved by 1787 to Vincennes, for his name and those of his sons are found in the census of the village for that year.19 His whole testimony is contained in his letter to Clark on August 7, 1778.20 From this we learn that Father Gibault accompanied him, acted as secretary, and made a report to Clark. He did not, however, interfere in the temporal

15 Ante, pp. 545, 546, and Clark's letter of instructions, post, p. 549.

16 Laffont's letter, post, p. 550.

"Ibid., a comparison of the handwriting of this letter with other specimens of Laffont's handwriting leaves no doubt about its authenticity.

18 English, Conquest, I. 432.

19 Kaskaskia MSS., court house of county of Randolph, Illinois; Papers of the Continental Congress, " Illinois, Kaskaskia and Kentucky ", vol. 48, p. 167; Draper MSS., 18 J 79. This last is a letter to Dr. Draper, dated 1848, from the executor of the estate of Dr. Laffont's son. The letter states that Laffont moved to Ste. Genevieve, where he died about August, 1779, at the age of forty. From the records of Kaskaskia, this date is proved to be wrong. The identity of the Jean Bte. Laffont of the Vincennes census is strengthened by the following facts. He is forty-eight years old and has two sons with the same names as those given in the letter to Dr. Draper. I suspect that the date of his death at Ste. Genevieve should be 1799.

20 Post, pp. 550, 551.

affairs of the embassy, except to counsel peace. Laffont claimed for himself the sole responsibility of the undertaking. The Oath administered to the people of Vincennes offers some further evidence.2 This illiterate French could never have been written by the priest, whereas it may have been the work of Laffont, although his letter is written in better French.

By an analysis of the above sources the following explanation of the event can be made. Two pieces of testimony are of questionable value, the Memoir of Clark, and the letter of Father Gibault to the Bishop of Quebec. The first was written several years after the submission of Vincennes, at a time when Clark's mind had already become clouded by his intemperate habits. He confessed also that he could not find the instructions to Laffont, and from his statements it is probable that he did not have Laffont's letter to him.22 Father Gibault's emphatic denial of participation in the submission of Vincennes may be dismissed, because it was made to the Canadian bishop whose prejudices he wished to remove. If he was to re-enter the service of the Church in Canada, he was obliged to deny the grave charge of treachery which had been made against him by British officers.

There remain Clark's letter to Mason, written a year and a half after the event, his letter of instructions, and Laffont's letter, the last two being contemporary documents. These are not contradictory. The plan originated in Clark's mind; Father Gibault offered to go but refused to take the responsibility; Jean Baptiste Laffont was appointed as the leader, managed affairs openly in Vincennes, and claimed the honor of the success; Father Gibault evidently preached peace and union to the citizens, probably used his personal influence to promote the enterprise, and on his return made a written report to Clark, but denied that he was responsible for the submission of Vincennes.

The action of Father Gibault, taken in connection with other information concerning him, throws some light on his character. The impression made on the mind of Clark by the personality of

21 Post, p. 550.

22 There must remain some doubt as to whether the letter was ever delivered to Clark. Father Gibault may have been satisfied to have it in his possession for future use. I have considered the possibility of the letter being written in 1786, when both the priest and Laffont were in Vincennes, but have dismissed this supposition, for it would not have suited Father Gibault's purpose to have the journal, which he kept, mentioned. He assured the Bishop that he went simply to fulfill his priestly duties at Vincennes. The first sentence of the letter disproves this.

the priest was that of timidity. Although Clark's description of the fear into which the people of Kaskaskia were thrown by the appearance of his band on the night of July 4 and 5, 1778, may be discounted,23 still it is interesting that in that picture of terror the central figure was Father Gibault.24 Clark assures us that when he was expecting an attack on Kaskaskia during the winter of 17781779, "The priest of all men (was) the most afraid of Mr. Hamilton. He was in the greatest consternation, but determined to act agreeable to my instruction "25 On account of this timidity, Clark found an excuse to send him to the Spanish bank for security. His action in the mission to Vincennes seems to bear out these impressions. He was ready to use his influence with the people, but preferred to throw the responsibility on another, so that, if the issue should be different from what was anticipated, he would still be able to use the argument to the British authorities, which we find he actually put forward in 1786.




FORT CLARK ce 14 Juillet 1778

Ayant asse de bonheur pour Trouver deux hommes Comme M' Gibault et Vous pour Porter et Presenter a Messieurs les Habitants du Poste Vinçennes mon Addresse, Je ne Doubte point qu'ils deviendrons bon Citoyens et Amis des Etats. Il vous plaira de les desabuser autant que faire çe Poura, et en cas qu'ils accepte les Propositions á eux faite, vous les assureres que l'on aura propre attention a rendre leurs Commerce Beneficieux et avantageux, mais en cas que ses gens la, ne veulent Acceder a des Offres sy raisonable que celles que Je leurs fais, Ils peuvent s'attendre à sentir les Miseres d'une Genre [Guerre] sous la Direction de L'humanite qui a Jusqu'a Present distinguée les Ameriquains, s'ils deviennent Citoyens, vous leurs ferés Elire un Commandant d'entre eux, lever une Compagnie, Prendre Possession du Fort et des Munitions du Roy, et defendre les Habitants, Jusqu'a çe que l'on puise y envoyer une plus grande force (mon Addresse Servira de Commision). les Habitants fournirons les Vivres pour la Garnison qui seront Payé, les Habitants et Negocians Traiterons avec les Sauvages comme de Coutume, mais il faut que leurs 23 See introduction to Ill. Hist. Collections, vol. II.

2 English, Conquest, I. 479.

Ibid., 432.

1 Wis. Hist. Soc., Draper MSS., 18 J 80. L. S. This letter was sent in 1848, by the executor of the estate of Antoine, son of J. Bte. Laffont, to Dr. Lyman C. Draper. This copy was supplied through the kindness of Dr. Reuben G. Thwaites, of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

2 Clark's address or proclamation to the inhabitants of Vincennes is printed in the Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society, 1907, pp. 271-274.

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