Scalps and the county jail

Revolutionary War prisoner life at the Chesterfield jail may not have been as rough as you might imagine. This week in 1779, Governor Thomas Jefferson had prisoners captured by Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark in his campaign at Vincennes sent to the Chesterfield Courthouse jail.  

The British, since the end of the French and Indian War, according to SAR Magazine, Winter 2004, had made a great effort to keep the Indians friendly to them in the area of what is now Southern Illinois and Ohio. By the time of the Revolution, they had turned the Indians against the colonists who were encroaching on the Indian hunting grounds. The Lt. Governor of Canada had made arrangements with the Indians to reward them for all scalps they brought to him and was given the nickname of “the Hair Buyer.”

Clark conceived a bold plan to capture the French settlements, including Vincennes, opening the Mississippi for safe passage for Colonial army supplies. Jefferson heard of the prisoner’s “soft treatment” at Chesterfield and had them sent to Williamsburg where they were put in irons for their ruthless behavior. By August they were back in Chesterfield. One of the captives, Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton of Detroit, wrote that their confinement was very tolerable. “We are at liberty to walk around the neighborhood.”

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