CLARKE, ELIJAH. (c. 1733–1742–1799). Patriot militia commander, adventurer. North Carolina and Georgia. Born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, probably of Scottish-Irish stock, Elijah Clarke moved with his family to Wilkes County (to the so-called "ceded lands"), Georgia, by 1773. Initially opposed to anti-British activities, he soon joined the militia and eventually became an important partisan leader during the war.
Modern authorities spell his name "Clark," the style in which he signed it, at least in later life, but he is "Clarke" in traditional accounts. A militia captain, Clarke fought Cherokee and Creek war parties along Georgia's frontier during 1776–1777. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in the state troops in early 1778 and wounded at Alligator Creek, Florida on 30 June 1778, Clarke had his finest hour at Kettle Creek, Georgia, on 14 February 1779. After leading his troops in three skirmishes in South Carolina in August 1780, (at Green Spring, Wofford's Iron Works, and Musgrove's Mill), and having been wounded in the last two, Elijah Clarke made his foolish attack on Augusta, Georgia, between 14 and 18 September 1780. Some authorities also credit him with action at Fishdam Ford. He was at Blackstocks, South Carolina, on 20 November 1780, and back at Augusta from 22 May to 5 June 1781. In early 1782 he led the Georgia militia as they assisted Continental General Anthony Wayne in pushing the British back to Savannah.
In recognition of his war services Clarke was granted an estate, and he fraudulently acquired several thousand additional acres from bounty certificates. Clarke led state militia during numerous Indian crises but when the U.S. government reduced military aid to the frontier and cancelled an invasion of the Creek nation, he resigned his post. In an effort to bring security to the frontier himself, Clarke formed and led several volunteer armies on various missions of his own design. Governor Mathews and President Washington stopped his 1794 attempt to invade East Florida. Clarke then led his volunteers and their families into the disputed Oconee territory where they established the short lived Trans-Oconee Republic before returning to Georgia. In 1795 Clarke attempted to organize a revolt along the Florida border but dispersed his men when faced with U.S. and Spanish forces. His proposal to organize a defense of East Florida from a possible British invasion was turned down by French and Spanish officials. He lost much of his property to debts incurred by these schemes. Despite all, he died a popular hero in 1799.
Ferguson, Clyde R. "Functions of the Partisan-Militia in the South During the American Revolution: An Interpreation." In The Revolutionary War in the South: Power, Conflict, and Leadership. Edited by W. Robert Higgins. Durham: Duke University Press, 1979: 239-58.
Klein, Rachel N. "Frontier Planters and the Revolution: The Southern Backcountry, 1775–1782. In An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry During the American Revolution. Edited by Ronald Hoffman, Thad W. Tate, and Peter J. Albert. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985.
revised by Leslie Hall