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Major General Joseph Bartholomew

Compiled and written by Rhett Felix

There are barely more than a handful of Revolutionary War veterans buried in McLean County.One of the more prominent figures is Major General Joseph Bartholomew.Joseph lived mostly in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Indiana. However, he spent his last days in McLean County, farming and platting a new town with his son. He was tall for his day at 5’9” and had grey eyes and a very dark complexion.

Early Life

Born in 1766 in New Jersey his family moved to Laurel Hill Pennsylvania when father died when Bartholomew was around the age of two.Laurel Hill is located in the Alleghany Mountains and Joseph grew up hunting and trapping and was by all accounts and experience woodsman at a young age.He was only 10 at the outbreak of the American Revolution, yet he joined the local militia and helped defended against Native American tribes who were raiding the western frontier.

He remained in Laurel Hill until 1788 when he married his first wife Christian Peckinpaugh, with whom he would have 10 children.Bartholomew then moved his new wife and mother down the Ohio River to settle in a part of Northern Kentucky near the Falls of the Ohio in present day Louisville.He made his living as a farmer, hunter, trapper, and self-taught surveyor.

While in Kentucky Joseph enlisted in the local militia and his unit skirmished with many of the Native American tribes in the region, especially as Little Turtle’s War increased in intensity.He even served as a scout for General “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s army.In 1795 he was present at the signing of the Treaty of Greenville (OH).Joseph got a job surveying the newly created territorial boundaries.

Move To Indiana

In 1800 he moved his family into the newly created Indian Territory in an area known as “Clark’s Grant” near the town of Charlestown in Southern Indiana.He built a large brick farm house and began to acquire more and more land.He continued to serve in the Indiana militia and on September 21, 1803 received a commission as Major in the Clark Co. Militia from territorial governor William Henry Harrison.Three years later he was promoted to Lt. Colonel of the militia.

In 1809 his first wife died giving birth to their daughter Christina.By June of 1811 Joseph married his second wife Elizabeth McNaught.He was 45 she was 27, together they have five children.But the newlywed’s lives would soon be interrupted by war and conflict.

Battle Of Tippecanoe

In 1811 the Shawnee leader Tecumseh was hurriedly trying to unite the various Native American tribes in hostilities against American expansion into their territory.In October of that year the Indiana Militia under the command of Territorial Governor Harrison assembled and began to march from Vincennes north to the village of Shawnee Prophet (Tenskwatawa) who was also Tecumseh’s brother.The village was at the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers, and known as Prophetstown.The then Col. Bartholomew led 120 militia members to meet up with Gov. Harrison’s forces.

On the night of November 6, Gov. Harrison’s forces were camped out on a high bluff overlooking the Wabash and Tippecanoe River valleys and adjacent to Burnett Creek.The Native American forces were being led by Tenskwatawa since Tecumseh was away in the southern United States trying to advocate for his cause. The Native American forces unleashed a pre-dawn surprise attack on the Indiana forces around 4:30am on November 7.A fierce battle ensued in which Joseph was shot and wounded in his right arm, fracturing both bones. In a report Gov. Harrison wrote “Col Joseph Bartholomew, a very valuable officer, commanded under Col. Boyd, the Militia Infantry.He was wounded early in action and his services lost to me.”

The battle lasted for over an hour.As dawn broke the Native American forces were running low on ammunition, and the light began to show how small their force really was; so the Native American army retreated to Prophetstown.The army and militia lost 62 soldiers who were killed and another 126 wounded.It is estimated that the Native Americans lost 50 warriors and had another 70 to 80 wounded.

Joseph’s broken arm was set by his neighbor and friend Dr. Andrew P. Hay.He would never regain full use of his arm.The following day, on November 8, the outnumbered Native Americans fled and Gov. Harrison had Prophetstown burned to the ground.Most of the militia were released on November 9 and headed back to Vincennes where they mustered out on November 24.

For his bravery and leadership during of what became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe, Joseph Bartholomew would later be promoted to Brigadier General.The Indiana territorial legislature passed a resolution on December 4, 1811 which said “Resolved… that the thanks of this house be presented to Col. Luke Decker and Col. Joseph Bartholomew, the officers, non-commission officers and men composing the militia corps under their command…for the distinguished valor, heroism and bravery displayed by them in the brilliant battle fought with eh Shawnee Prophet and his confederates on the morning of the 7th of Nov, 1811 by the Army under the command of His Excellency William Henry Harrison”.

War of 1812

Gen. Bartholomew headed home to recuperate, but he would not stay out of action long.In 1812 war broke out with England.The British were supplying Native American forces and urging them to attack American settlements all throughout the Northwest Territory. In July of 1813 one of Joseph’s sons, John, had been drafted into the Indian militia, but due to illness was unable to muster.Joseph Bartholomew enlisted in his place as a private under the command of Col. Russell of the 7th Regiment.In a letter dated July 24, 1813 Col. Russell wrote territorial Gov. Posey “Col. Bartholomew acted as aide-de-camp.This veteran has been so well trained in this kind of warfare that any encomiums from me would be useless”.

Col. Russell’s regiment marched from present day Vincennes up the White River valley to just north of Present day Indianapolis to a confront a group of Delaware at their village.The Indiana soldiers found most of the villages were abandoned and there was little if any resistance. The march became known as the White River Campaign and it quickly came to an end.

Public Service

Joseph returned home and continued to farm and raises his family.Indiana would become a state in 1816 and that same year Joseph Bartholomew was commissioned Major General of the Indiana Militia by President James Madison.Major General was the highest military rank at the time. He would serve as Indiana’s Major General until 1822.In 1816, Gen. Bartholomew would also be selected a member of the Electoral College to elect James Monroe as the next President.

In 1818 Gen. Bartholomew is elected to the Indian General Assembly from Clark County.Then in 1820 he was chosen to be a member of the Indiana Senate.Also that year, Gen. Bartholomew was selected to be a member of a commission that would choose the location of the new capital of Indiana.The commission chose the site of present day Indianapolis.Joseph piled some dirt to mark the center of the location.He would later like to claim to “have dug the first dirt for the State capital”.

In the legislative session of 1821 the General Assembly of Indiana deiced to honor Gen. Bartholomew by naming a new county in what is now South Central Indiana in the area surrounding Columbus Bartholomew County.After 1822 the General retired from the Indiana legislature and returned to his home to continue to farm.He was active in the local Freemasons serving as both the Grand Treasure and Grand Senior Warden at various different times.Tragically, in 1824, his second wife died from injuries sustained while being thrown from a horse.

At Home And Going Broke

Despite retiring form statewide politics, Gen. Bartholomew continued to serve the people at the local level until 1825 when he served on the board of commissioners for land deeds in Clark County.He served on the board with is friend and neighbor Dr. Andrew P. Hay, who had treated him after the Battle of Tippecanoe.Joseph eventual became the bondsman for Dr. Hay who was appointed by President Jackson to handle public monies in the land office.After 1825, Joseph settled down on his 230 acre farm and began to devote his energies to family and agriculture.

But in 1830 his friend Dr. Hay was caught embezzling money from the Government Land Office.As the bondsman, Gen. Bartholomew was finically liable for the debt Dr. Hay had incurred.As a result, Joseph had to sell his farm to help pay off the near $10,000 dollars Dr. Hay had embezzled.

A New Life And War

After selling his family farm, Gen. Bartholomew picked up and moved on to McLean County Illinois in 1831.He bought 600 acres in Money Creek Township.He and his son started a farm, and platted a new town in 1836 which Joseph name Clarksville.The town was named after the nephew of famed explore George Rogers Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame).Clarksville no longer exists as a town in McLean County.

The following year the Black Hawk War began.Many local citizens turned to the leadership of the old general.The story goes that Joseph went to speak with a local Native American chief.The chief assured the General that his warriors were peaceful, but Joseph’s long history of fighting Native Americans had hardened his mind and he did not trust the Chief.So the General had a Blockhouse hastily built.Blockhouses were little more than a fortified cabin with narrow windows to act as gun ports.Blockhouses were built all over Illinois during the brief time of the Black Hawk War.Joseph’s blockhouse wound up being built simply out of an abundance of caution as battle took place during the Black Hawk War in McLean County.

The Campaign Of 1840

Joseph stayed active in politics.In 1837 the General was elected as a McLean County commissioner.In 1840 his former commander William Henry Harrison was running for president.In the summer of that year Joseph travel back to the battle site of Tippecanoe for a reunion/campaign event.Then he traveled to a convention of Revolutionary and War of 1812 veterans in Springfield in June.

Contrary to popular myth Joseph did not die immediately after campaigning for Harrison.In the fall of 1840 the old general’s health began to decline.He passed away on November 3, 1840 and was buried near Clarksville, IL in what is now Clarksville Cemetery in McLean County.


His grave marker was placed by the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) in 1894 with the inscription “To the memory of Maj. Gen. Joseph Bartholomew Here of Tippecanoe. He fought in the Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, & the Black Hawk War.”In 1973 a stone monument marking the approximate location of Gen. Bartholomew’s Blockhouse was placed in Dawson Cemetery.

After Joseph’s death his daughter and grandson converted to Mormonism.They were some of the earliest converts and baptized here in McLean County, and both the daughter and grandson traveled west on the Mormon trail.The General’s descendants are now living throughout the United States.