William Darke

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William Darke
General William Darke (1736-1801).jpg
Portrait of William Darke
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
DiedNovember 26, 1801 (aged 64–65)
Jefferson County, Virginia
Ronemous Eagle Cemetery, Jefferson County, West Virginia
Allegiance Great Britain
 United States
Service/branch British Army
 United States Army
Years of service1755–1801
RankUS-O8 insignia.svg Major General

William Darke (1736 – November 26, 1801) was an American soldier. In 1740, he moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Virginia. He was in Edward Braddock's army in the defeat in 1755 and was made a captain at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. He was made prisoner at the Battle of Germantown and was commanding colonel of the Hampshire and Berkeley regiments at the capture of Cornwallis. Darke was often a member of the Virginia legislature and, during the convention of 1788, voted for the Federal Constitution.

A lieutenant-colonel of the regiment of "Levies" in 1791, he commanded the left wing of the St. Clair's army at its defeat by the Miami Indians on November 4, 1791. He made two unsuccessful charges with the bayonet in that fight, the second of which killed his younger son, Captain Joseph Darke, and he himself was wounded and narrowly escaped death. He wrote a letter to President George Washington that described the battle. Afterwards, Darke was a major-general of the Virginia militia.

Early life[edit]

Darke was descended from early Quaker settlers at the Falls in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He was a cousin of Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence. William Darke was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1736, the son of Joseph Darke, according to the "Hopewell Friends History."[1] In 1740, he and his family moved to the Elk Branch near Shepherdstown, Virginia.[2] Darke had two brothers and one sister.[3] As a child he fished, ploughed, and planted.[3] He was described as "a strong man of his hands", and "herculean".[3]

Military career[edit]

Darke enlisted in the British Army in 1755.[4] He served briefly in the Braddock Expedition during the French and Indian War under the command of General Edward Braddock.[4] Braddock's plan was to capture the Fort Duquesne from the French. Even though there were many casualties, Darke was not injured.[4]

In the American Revolutionary War, Darke served as a Continental Army captain in the 8th Virginia Regiment and was wounded and taken prisoner at the Battle of Germantown in 1777. He was held in a British prison ship in New York Harbor until his exchange in 1780. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was probably present at the siege of Yorktown in 1781.

He was sent out against the insurgents in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1784.

After the war he served in the Virginia Convention in 1788 and subsequently served in the Virginia legislature. As a lieutenant colonel in the Kentucky militia, Darke commanded the left wing at the disastrous Battle of the Wabash in 1791 during the Northwest Indian War. His son Captain Joseph Darke died as a result of wounds received in the battle.

In 1790, General Josiah Harmar, with a poorly trained and ill-equipped army and volunteer militia, was sent to attack the Indian villages on the upper Maumee River. Harmar was soundly defeated. President George Washington reinforced the army and assigned General Arthur St. Clair to command. St. Clair went north from Fort Washington, Ohio and built Fort Hamilton and Fort Jefferson. On October 1791, St. Clair left Fort Jefferson and camped at a spot later called Fort Recovery on November 3, 1791. On November 4, his army of 1,400 men was surprised at sunrise by a large party of Indians. Within a few hours, St. Clair was forced to retreat under cover provided by Darke. Nine hundred men, women and children were reportedly killed.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Darke married Sarah, the widow of William Delayea, an Indian fighter. The two had four children: John, Joseph, Samuel, and Mary.[3] His three sons all died while young men. Darke took in Thomas Worthington, the 14-year-old orphaned son of a family friend, and gave him an education. Worthington became the sixth governor of Ohio. William Darke has descendants through son John's daughter Elizabeth and through daughter Mary's two marriages.[3]


Darke County, Ohio is named for him, as is Darkesville, West Virginia.[6]


  1. ^ Drake, p. 248
  2. ^ Dandridge, p. 254
  3. ^ a b c d e Dandridge, p. 255
  4. ^ a b c "Historical Figures of Jefferson County: William Darke". The Jefferson County Historical Society. Archived from the original on July 15, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
  5. ^ http://www.garstmuseum.org/docsEvents/eventtreaty.htm
  6. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 100.


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