By Ryan Berry
GREENVILLE – Whether it was Irish statesman Edmund Burke, Spanish philosopher George Santayana or English statesmen Winston Churchill who said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” doesn’t matter. The fact remains there are still lessons we can learn from what took place long ago.
Although some might think the endeavors of the Friends of Fort Jefferson to learn about Darke County’s past are merely a way for amateur history buffs to kill time, nothing could be further from the truth.
According to Dr. David Cox, one of the area’s leading researchers on Fort Jefferson, pointed out that if it weren’t for a battle that took place at Fort Jefferson it may have taken longer for the United States to realize the need for a standing Army.
Because of the losses during that battle, approximately 1,400 men, Congress voted to create a standing Army in May of 1796. According to Dr. Cox, up until then the Army was a legion and would recruit people by grabbing them from prison or the bars and then train them. General Arthur St. Clair’s Army at Fort Jefferson was unprepared, had no respect and everybody was fighting each other. “Then they went up against the Indians and got whipped,” said Dr. Cox.
General Anthony Wayne was informed in August 1796 that he would be creating a regimental Army to replace the legion, which is basically what we have today. The regimental Army eventually went into effect on Nov. 1, 1796, in Greenville. Making Fort GreeneVille the first to have a standing Army.
While Fort GreeneVille did a lot to shape our American history, the lessons learned at Fort Jefferson had as much, if not more, of an impact on our history in the 200 plus years since it was active.
Roger Van Frank, executive director of Darke County Parks (DCP), does not want to forget those lessons and the importance of the fort that served Fort GreeneVille as a supply depot. They are currently working with the Ohio History Connection to maintain the property in Ft. Jefferson. That property comprises six acres, but the Friends of Fort Jefferson, a nonprofit 501C3 organization, has purchased 17 additional acres to the south. While it is believed the fort sat east to west on the six-acre property, they have found evidence that some of the troops stationed at the fort camped on the acreage owned by the Friends.
Eventually, DCP will purchase the 17 acres from the Friends and hope to work closely with the Ohio History Connection to be able to do more on the current six-acre site.
Van Frank pointed out they are not looking to make great changes to Fort Jefferson, but they do want to “rekindle the knowledge of the history of Fort Jefferson, along with bringing new interpretive events, plaques and knowledge,” he said. “We’d love to see every fourth-grade park a school bus out there,” he added.
Not only will DCP look at the history of Fort Jefferson from the St. Clair and his troops perspective, but they also want to pay homage to the Native Americans that were here, especially the Shawnee.
Until that can happen, the Friends of Fort Jefferson will continue to research the history of the fort. They have scoured through Congressional records and records at historical societies along the east coast and have discovered new information. Dr. Cox said they don’t really know how many skirmishes or fights that actually took place at the fort. They knew of two or three, but since they began their in-depth research, they have found several more.
The group is also planning an archaeological study on the 17-acre site later this fall. There are some artifacts from the fort in the Ohio History Connection’s collection, but Van Frank and Dr. Cox hope to one day have all the artifacts in a building at the fort.
To be able to continue the work they started and to continue to pay the mortgage on the 17 acres, the Friends of Fort Jefferson are accepting memberships to the organization. They are getting a little help from a friend to encourage visitors to the Nature Education Center at Shawnee Prairie during Prairie Days to become members of the organization.
Cait Clark will be giving away her new book about Lewis & Clark to anyone who becomes a member during Prairie Days. As her name implies, Clark is a descendant of William Clark. She developed an interest in the explorers when she was a child. Today, she is an English teacher at Mississinawa Valley, but in her spare time continues to research the duo.
The book will not officially be released until October, but visitors to Prairie Days on Sept. 24 and 25 will have the opportunity to pick up an advance copy when they become members of the Friends of Fort Jefferson. The cost of membership is $25. Clark will be available during the festival to sign a copy of her book.
Dr. Cox and Van Frank had high praise for Clark for the research and effort she put into authoring this book. Merriweather Lewis and William Clark were not strangers to this area. The military men served at Ft. GreeneVille prior to leading their expedition westward.
To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].