There were no Revolutionary War battles fought in Livonia. Indeed, there were no battles in the war for American independence fought anywhere in within present-day Michigan. Almost all of the military activity in the Revolutionary War occurred along the East Coast between Quebec City in the North and what is now the Georgia-Florida line.
After winning major battles in Québec City in 1759 and Montréal in 1760; the British took over many of the forts that the French had established in the Upper Great Lakes region, including those in Detroit and at the Straits of Mackinac. A few other British outposts were scattered across the region—all of the successfully taken by Chief Pontiac in the uprising he led in 1763 except for the forts at Detroit and Pittsburgh.
At the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775, the British maintained a fort at Kaskaskia located on the Mississippi in what is now southern Illinois. George Rogers Clark was an experienced Indian fighter from the western section of the Virginia colony. That is, he was an expansionist who believed that Indians should be removed so that colonists could settle west of the Alleghenies. His area of Virginia was so far west that it is now part of Kentucky. He sided with the Revolutionaries and got an authorization from Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia to amass troops and attack British forts west of the Alleghenies. In the summer of 1778, he led about two hundred troops down the Ohio River and then up the Mississippi to totally surprise the British at Kaskaskia. The Revolutionist took the fort without a battle on July 4, 1778. Rogers knew that there was a small French settlement at Vincennes, Indiana. He sent some troops there, anticipating that the French settlers would welcome the Americans who were fighting the British. They were welcomed. Government leaders in Virginia were so pleased with George Rogers Clark – and with his earlier battles against Indians – that they decided to claim much of the Great Lakes basin as part of the colony. They assumed that the Indians and British were expelled.
Here is where Detroit enters the story. The British commander in Detroit, Colonel Henry Hamilton, decided to attack George Rogers Clark and his revolutionists. Hamilton assembled a force of 200 whites and 60 Indians and set out from Detroit on October 7, 1778 with the hope of engaging Clark. His plan was to take Vincennes first and then move on to recapture Kaskaskia. By December 17 when Colonel Hamilton reached Vincennes he has a force of 500 men. He easily expelled the few American soldiers there. Hamilton decided to winter in Vincennes and then move against the forces at Kaskaskia in the spring.
Clark was an aggressive fighter. He feared that by spring, Hamilton would recruit a much larger force so he decided to attack in winter. Late in January, Clark assembled a force about 130 men – about one-half of them Frenchmen – and began a 17 day march from Kaskaskia to Vincennes. He attacked the English at Vincennes on February 24 and, after a two day battle, the British surrendered. Colonel Hamilton and 26 British soldiers were taken captive. This Revolutionary War battle in southern Indiana was the conflict that occurred nearest Detroit.
With Colonel Hamilton leading troops against the Revolutionists, Captain Richard Lernoult became commander at Detroit. The physical fort they were using was what they received from the French in the fall of 1760. It had not been modernized. Lernoult decided to build a massive fort that would withstand the attacks of the Americans and perhaps, the attacks of any Indians who allied themselves with the revolutionaries. This is the fort that once existed in what today is the city’s Financial District and is commemorated by an informative historical marker at the corner of West Fort and Shelby.
Lernoult’s new fort was designed to thwart any attempts at penetration. In the winter of 1778-89, the British had a force of 380 stationed at Detroit. At the outside perimeter of the fort, they dug a ditch five to six feet deep and 12 feet in width. Next there was a barrier surrounding the fort consisting of four feet of tree trunks, presumably laid parallel with the ground but topped with seven to 8 foot sharpened stakes. Finally, there was an eleven foot high earth embankment that was 26 feet in width at the base and 12 feet wide at the summit. Captain Henry Bird supervised construction of the fort that was completed in April, 1779 but it was named for Captain Richard Lernoult.
The British at Detroit had another reason to want a strong fort even though almost all fighting in the Revolutionary War occurred a thousand or more miles away. Daniel Brodhead was a farmer, surveyor and grist mill operator in East Strasburg, Pennsylvania. By the 1760s, he became a political activist and very strongly opposed the taxes that the British were imposing upon him and other colonists. When the Revolutionary War began, he quickly joined the forces of General George Washington and served as a Lieutenant Colonel of a Pennsylvania regiment.
He served with Washington during the trying winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge but, got a new assignment in the spring of 1779. He was to be based at Fort Pitt . The British had occupied the former French fort – Fort Duquesne – in Pittsburgh but abandoned it in 1772 and the Revolutionists took over the fort with the outbreak of Revolutionary War.
In June of 1778, General Washington dispatched Colonel Brodhead and forces to Fort Pitt where they were to undertake an attack upon the British forts at Niagara – at the mouth of the Niagara River – and Detroit. Brodhead arrived at Fort Pitt on September 10, 1779. He moved a little to the west and wintered at the point where the Beaver River joins the Ohio River. Recall that, at this time, almost all transport was by water.
Brodhead intended to attack Detroit in the summer of 1779. Apparently he gathered much intelligence from Indians and from the few white settlers in Ohio. He may have gotten as far as the community now known as Lower Sandusky but he did not have the personnel or supplies to get close to Detroit. A major problem he faced was that much of northern Ohio was a giant swamp. Building a road across it would have been a major project. Colonel Brodhead was also tied down by his need to maintain peace with Indians who, generally, supported the British. Leaders such as Brodhead often assumed that the British encouraged Indians to attack the Revolutionists. Brodhead’s efforts to take forts at Detroit and Niagara came to naught.
One more attempt was made by the Americans to expel the British from the fort at Detroit. Thomas Jefferson’s interest in Detroit did not begin with his appointment of Augustus Woodward as Michigan territorial governor in 1805. By the summer of 1780, it was clear that Daniel Brodhead was not going to capture Detroit. Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson asked George Rogers Clark to assemble a force in Virginia and move on to attack Detroit. The Virginia colony had staked a claim for the Great Lakes Region. There was a shortage of supplies so Jefferson asked Washington to have Brodhead share his supplies with George Rogers Clark. Washington refused to do so. Clark spent the summer and winter of 1780 planning a march on Detroit but had trouble assembling what he needed. Finally, in August, 1881, he and his associates got to Ohio River. Clark with about 400 soldiers sailed down the Ohio River to a point near Louisville where they hoped to meet a large force of Kentucky men who would join the attack on Detroit. Clark was to be followed down the Ohio but another force of men lead by one of his officers, Colonel Archibald Lochry. They were to meet in or near Louisville to assemble the large force that might attack Detroit. British intelligence and their Indian allies were very familiar with the planning of George Rogers Clark. A force of Indians with perhaps, some British soldiers, planned an attack upon Clark as he traveled along the Ohio River. He would, of course, have to get off the river and establish camps from time to time. The Indians missed a chance to wipe out Clark’s forces but Archibald Lochry took his forces ashore for a rest at a point on the north bank of the Ohio near the present day Ohio-Indiana line. Within a short time after going ashore, Lochry’s forces were routed by a largely Indian force led by Joseph Brant, a Mohawk military chief who supported the British. Thirty seven of the Revolutionists were killed including Lochry and 64 were captured. This loss of troops ended George Rogers Clark’s attempt to take Fort Lernoult. Presumably he lacked the requisite personnel and knew that if he marched toward Detroit, he would have to battle Indians who supported the British.
Detroit played no further role in the Revolutionary War.
The American victors assumed that the 1783 Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War gave them control of the Northwest Territories – the present day Great Lakes area. The British did not interpret the treaty that way and so they maintained some military presence in the region including the fort in Detroit. In November, 1794, the Senate ratified Jay’s Treaty and the British agreed to give up their claim on the Northwest Territory. On July 11, 1797, Colonel Jean François Hamtramck led American forces into Detroit and the British peacefully took down the Union Jack.
After the Revolutionary War ended, quite a few former solders moved to the west where they carved out farms, started their own businesses, practiced law or became political leaders. There are at least eight cemeteries in Michigan with historical markers commemorating the Revolutionary War military personnel buried there. So far as I know, Livonia is the only site in the state with a marker commemorating Revolutionary War veterans who once lived in the town. This historical marker mentions three such soldiers: Salmon Kingsley who migrated to Livonia in 1825 and David Dean and Jeremiah Klumph who arrived in 1836
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25,329 Listed January 16, 1976
State of Michigan Historic Marker: Put in place July 28, 1976
Photograph: Ren Farley; March 2009
Description prepared: June, 2012
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