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Clarke, Elijah

Frontiersman and Revolutionary War hero Elijah Clarke was born in North Carolina in 1742 (exact date unknown). In many ways Clarke was the prototype American frontiersman, rough and rowdy, as ready to engage in a drunken brawl with a neighbor as to engage whatever enemy he faced - British, Spanish, or Indian. Clarke grew up on the frontiers of North and South Carolina, finally arriving in Georgia in 1773. He rose to prominence in the Revolutionary War, in which he was wounded four times. On February 14, 1779, Clarke led a group of Georgia and South Carolina militiamen to surprise victory over some 600 Loyalists at Kettle Creek in his home county of Wilkes. Even after Georgia and South Carolina had fallen to the British, Clarke led his men on a number of guerrilla raids that extracted heavy tolls on the British, even after his home was destroyed and his family exiled into the wilderness. In June 1781, Clarke led a Georgia force that helped force the British to evacuate Augusta.

After the Revolutionary War, Clarke was rewarded with a confiscated plantation and thousands of acres of land. He also served in the Georgia legislature and became a state militia general. However, he became obsessed with establishing order along Georgia’s frontier. In 1794, Clarke organized a group of volunteers to attack Spanish East Florida to put down Indian uprisings that had resulted from white raids into Indian territory. President Washington put a stop to this venture, but Clarke did not immediately return home; he and his volunteers settled in disputed land west of the Oconee River. There they tried to create an independent government called the Trans-Oconee Republic. Governor George Mathews called out the militia and the settlers grudgingly returned to Georgia. Clarke was so disgusted with the state of Georgia that he considered moving to Kentucky, but stayed and tried to hold on to his dwindling supply of land - the loss of which inspired his actions and his disgust. By the time of his death - in Richmond County, Georgia on December 15, 1799 - he had lost everything but his plantation home - confiscated from a Loyalist after the Revolutionary War. While Clarke’s frontier temperament was out of place in a growingly civilized Georgia, his contributions to the state in its infancy during the Revolutionary War could not be denied. The Georgia legislature recognized this by naming a county in his honor December 5, 1801. Clarke County became home to the University of Georgia. Clarke’s remains were eventually re-interred in Elijah Clark State Park near Lincolnton, Georgia along the Georgia-South Carolina border.