Isaac Clark, Robert Searcy and James Colbert: In Their Own Words

I.  Col. Isaac Clark, also known as “Old Rifle,” of Castleton, Vermont, in 1813 was sixty-four years old.  He had served in the American Revolution, was in the Battle of Bennington in 1777 and was at the re-capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1778.  He was Colonel of the 11th Infantry, Champlain District, and was apparently quite a character, and hero of numerous poems by Vermonters.

Come take a stand with glass in hand,
Old Rifle claims a toast,
‘Long may he live, as long receive,
The love of freedom’s host,
May grateful hearts, in divers parts,
His merit duly prize,
And heroes kind, when life’s resign’d,
Convoy him to the skies.–Green Mountain Farmer, 8/ 21/1815

During the War of 1812, he moved against those smuggling goods and services to the British Army.  He wrote the following letter on November 4, 1813, first published by the Burlington Northern Centinel, addressed to its editor, Mr. Mills, and here reprinted from the Green Mountain Farmer, November 9, 1813.

“Mr. Mills,

As story telling has became fashionable, I will give you one for publication, the truth of which I will vouch for and will tell it as short as possible.

Last week I received information that a number of gentlemen smugglers were moving a large drove of beef cattle into Canada, for the support of the British army, I ordered a company of Rifleman to cross the lake in boats, and take their station near the mouth of rock river, to keep the guard at Mossisquebay [Missisquoi Bay] in check, while I penetrated further into the Province in pursuit of the cattle, and also to cover my retreat in case it became necessary for me to return that way.  I crossed the lake from Cumberland head, to the Grand Isle with a company of volunteer horsemen consisting of 44, at eleven in the forenoon of Monday the 25th ult.  I proceeded for the city of St. Armons, about nine or ten miles east of the bay, & arrived there soon after ay light on Saturday morning, a distance of about fifty miles, took the cattle before they were all sold, as I was informed.  I returned with them to Swanton in the state of Vt. and put them into a pasture under a guard.  Soon after it was known that the cattle were there, a gentleman by the name of Jonathan, commonly called Col Danforth of St. Albans, came to me and proposed to have the cattle moved to his neighborhood, observing that they would be more safe there, and further observed that the feed was short where they were, and that Capt. Potter, a neighbor of his had a large lot of good feed, and that he was a man to be depended upon.  I listened to the proposition, he then brought capt. Potter to me, he agreed to take the cattle & be responsible for them, I gave him a written order to take the cattle, and they both went away together, capt. Potter received the cattle, and on their way to St. Albans capt  Potter says, that col. Danforth proposed to him to steal two beef cattle out of the drove, keep one himself and he would take the other, to which Potter made no answer, but drove the cattle home and put them into a meadow until night; bearing in mind the Col’s. proposition, he removed the cattle into his yard  and hired a guard in part and made up the rest of his own family, it proved to be a very rainy night and exceeding dark, about nine o’clock the Col. came to the yard, three miles from his house, with a bottle of rum to treat the guard, and did actually treat them, and as they supposed went away, but the darkness gave him an opportunity to open one of the gates to the yard, which was not discovered until about eleven o’clock, when a number of cattle were missing, which could not be ascertained until morning, it was then found that 21 head were gone.

Capt. Potter made diligent enquiry, and rode into almost every  settled part of the town, but could not find them; he was frequently told by many who appear to be the principal leaders of the Benevolent Washington society, in a sneering way that he had stole the cattle himself, or words to that effect. I arrived in town with the company of horse, about three o’clock, enquired for Captain Potter, who soon called on me & informed, that the cattle past into the main street, we then set off with a number of the horsemen and tracked them into a road leading towards the lake, and onward several miles, then in a cross road and from that thro’ lots into a large swamp, where we found fifteen of them confined within a high new hemlock fence; in examining the swamp for the rest, we found one butchered, quartered and hung up some distance from the yard; we then concluded that the rest were butchered in some other part of the town, so we returned with what we had found:  the next morning the soldiers found two fat cows very near the village, which they knew, one in one man’s lot, and the other in another, so that it appeared evident that there was a number concerned in the transaction—We were informed that a Mr. Foot sold one of the cows the next morning after he stole her, whether it is true or not I did not stop to enquire.  I conclude Col. Danforth will thank me for this last information, for before that nearly the whole rested on him, & this does not take away any part of the guilt, only a portion of the cattle.  I have tho’t proper to give this brief and plain statement to the public, to prevent the crime’s being charged to the innocent through misrepresentation.

Burlington, Nov. 4, 1813″

Colonel Clark continued his adventures:  later in the month, after Vermont governor Martin Chittenden had issued a proclamation demanding that the Vermont militia return from guarding the frontiers of New York, it was reported “that Major Davis, who went to the state of New-York, to recall the Vermont Militia . . . had been arrested by the noted Col. Clark; but was afterwards suffered to give bonds, and was released.”–Connecticut Gazette, November 24, 1813

II.  Major Robert Searcy was a volunteer  in the battle at Camp Ten Islands, led by General Coffee, whose account of the battle was often published.  This letter, here as published in the Pendleton, South Carolina, Messenger, was written to his brother in Huntsville, then in the Mississippi Territory, now Alabama.  This letter, as is true of the others, shows the value of preserving these old newspapers, for in this letter we have the battle from the perspective of an individual, fighting along side his home-town friends who probably enlisted together.

“Camp Ten Islands,
Nov. 4, 1813.


Yesterday morning we reached this place with all our waggons and baggage, the day before we got here, Gen. Coffee with one thousand men, were detached to an Indian town on the opposite side of the river and about fifteen miles from the camp where we then lay, and in order to conceal his movements and divert the attention of the Indians at the town, a party of men were sent on to this place, to show themselves and manoeuvre, while the army were marching the direct road.  The General and his party were the last that left the camp and took a different rout, crossed the river at a different point, and proceeded on to the town; he got within two or three miles of the town before moon down, and next morning entered the town without being discovered, killed and took every Indian there, one hundred and eighty six were found dead, and eighty prisoners taken, forty of them were liberated.  We lost five men killed and thirty two or three wounded, three of them badly, hopes are entertained of the recovery of all of them.    The Indians met the advance party with the drums beating, and fought like devils; the mischief was principally done to our party after the Indians had been beaten back into their houses–among the wounded are Capts. Smith, Bradley, and Harpoole, all slightly–among the killed are Thomas Hudson of Haysborough, and James Moore,   brother of David Moore, Nashville, the others I do not know.  Never did men act more bravely, not a solitary instance of fear or cowardice, but all rushed on, and into the houses, while the Indians were yet firing.  James Moore rushed up to the door of a house where there were eight fellows armed, fired his pistol into the house, and was shot down at the door.  Hudson was also killed at the door of a house by an arrow, and it is said by some by the hands of a squaw.  The Cherokees and friendly Creeks who accompanied Gen. Coffee, behaved with great bravery, Richard Brown the Cherokee, killed four; and old Chicabee’s son, two.

This affair has raised the spirits of the whole army, never did I see men more elated, and I am confident if we ever get engaged we shall be victorious.  It is expected by the Creeks with us, that the whole war party will collect and give us battle between this place and the Hickory Ground, say about 4000.

Gen. White with 1000 men will join us tomorrow, we shall then be 4500 strong, it is uncertain when we shall march from here, we have to build and fortify a fort, which will take six or eight days.”

III.  James Logan Colbert, from Scotland, was a trader who moved to Chickasaw territory, and, by marriage to three high-ranking women, produced six sons who lived to adulthood and became Chickasaw leaders.  Following is an extract of a letter addressed to his excellency Governor Blount, dated Chickasaws, Nov. 19, 1813, and published in the Nashville Whig on November 21, 1813

“Please your excellency.

Brother.–  When I was starting from Nashville for home, I called at your office, to bid you farewell; but had not the pleasure of seeing you.  On my return home I met a good many travellers; who, very much to my astonishment, represented to me that it was the Chickasaws who had killed Mackey and his company near the good spring.

Brother. –This report grieves me much:  I can assure you it is false.  The Friendship of this nation to their white brethren, is well known to you and every gentleman of understanding.–But in all countries there are malicious people to circulate bad reports.  The late unhappy murder which was committed on our road by the Creeks, we certainly could not help.–We are a small nation–and I may say, nearly without arms or ammunition.  We offered our services to the President last spring; but got no answer.  We are now moving in all the outside families to the centre of the nation; and when done we intend to go against the Creeks.  I, myself, with a small party, intend to start in a few days–as I am determined this nation shall not be blamed wrongfully.

I have, together with a great many more, settled on this road, which we granted to our father, the President.  On this road we make our living.  We are clearing farms, and raising grain fro the accommodation of our white brethren; and we know that the free, uninterrupted intercourse of our white brethren on this road is our interest; and we are determined to support it.

Brother.– These words I have wrote to you is the voice of the nation; and had we been provided with ammunition sometime ago, our white brethren would have heard, long ere this, of Creek scalps being brought in by our people.  For the information of our white brethren, I would wish you to have this published; and through you to assure our white brethren that they have the sincere friendship of this nation.

I remain, brother, your Sincere friend, James Colbert.
U. S. interpreter to the Chickasaws.”

The Chickasaws as well as the Choctaws did serve the army under Jackson during the War of 1812.  Col. John Coffee, of the Tennessee Volunteers, writing from the Chickasaw Agency on February 4 (printed in the Nashville Clarion on February 16, 1813) declared “I have not, as yet, experienced any want of either rations or forage for the regiment. –We are now an hundred miles South of the Tennessee rive, and almost through the Chickasaw nation.  The Indians are remarkably kind and accommodating.”   In another letter, dated Chickasaw Agency, he wrote, “The Indians were remarkably accommodating, frequently carrying their grain and fodder on their backs to the road to supply us.”  They did this despite one volunteer threatening “to assassinate Geo. Colbert as we should pass through the nation.  This gave considerable uneasiness, perhaps to Colbert himself.”  (Nashville Whig, February 17, 1813)  In May, 1815, Jackson was near the Chickasaw lower line, where he “invited a council of the Choctaw Indians to meet him at the line, to ascertain the amount due that tribe, for provisions, and services rendered during the last war.”–Boston Patriot, June 24, 1815


About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden