Locust Grove and the Clarks

Locust Grove

Dear Papa – I hope you are well. I want to see you and my brothers. Kiss them for me. I am a good girl, and will learn my book. Your affectionate daughter, Mary M. Clark

Written in a seven year-old’s cursive writing, the letter above was written by William Clark’s (as in Lewis and Clark) only daughter. She was staying with her aunt and uncle in Louisville, Kentucky and writing to her father who lived in St. Louis. She died shortly after she wrote the letter in 1821 and it was found with his belongings at his death in 1838. I first saw it when I worked on an exhibition about the famous expedition. When I visited Louisville recently, I ended up at Locust Grove and thought of the poignant letter.

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Clark family history runs deep in Louisville. William’s older brother, Colonel George Rogers Clark, the Revolutionary War hero, is credited as the founder of Louisville and lived for a time in Clarksville just across the Ohio River in Indiana. It was here, at the falls of the Ohio River, that friends Lewis and Clark met up to travel west to begin the expedition.  Locust Grove is the restored home of Clark’s sister and her husband, Lucy and William Croghan. The 1790s Georgian house was home to their family for generations and became a gathering place on the edge of the frontier, six miles upriver from Louisville.

Louisville was still a young city at the beginning of the 19th century but the power of the Clark name drew luminaries in American history to Locust Grove – Presidents Monroe and Jackson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and artist John James Audubon to name a few. President Zachary Taylor grew up on a neighboring farm. On November 8, 1806 the Croghans hosted a party at Locust Grove to celebrate the successful return of Lucy’s brother William. Imagine the talk around the dinner table that night! I’m sure Lewis and Clark regaled the guests with many stories. York, Clark’s slave, went west with the expedition and would have also been there. He had family in the Louisville area, perhaps even at Locust Grove.

The master of the house, William Croghan, is not a familiar name to most Americans, yet his story is fascinating as he was present at some of the big events in the Revolution. Born in Ireland, he first served in the British army before joining the 8th VA regiment during the Revolutionary War and particpating in the battles of Brandywine, Monmouth and Germantown, spending the winter at Valley Forge and ending up a prisoner at Charleston and a spectator at the surrender at Yorktown. After the war he became a surveying partner with George Rogers Clark and headed for the western lands.

Today the restored house offers insight into life for the Clarks at the edge of the frontier. Visitors see the room where George Rogers Clark spent the last nine years of his life, under the Croghan family’s care. When I visited, the guest room was interpreted with artist palette, paints, and bird specimen, as if John James Audubon had just left the room. And the dining room was set for guests, as if explorers Lewis and Clark had just returned from their expedition.

And, the children’s room on the top floor was most likely where Mary Margaret stayed and maybe where she wrote the letter to her father.

Overview of Locust Grove video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zg-caSmVAEk&feature=related

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This entry was posted in 18th century, 19th century, American Revolution, exploration, house and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Locust Grove and the Clarks

  1. Pingback: A ride on the Belle | historyplaces

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