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Giuseppe Maria Francesco Vigo, known as Francis Vigo, was an Italian-American patriot who aided the American forces during the Revolutionary War, and helped found a public university in Vincennes, Indiana. He was born on December 3, 1747 in Mondovì, in the province of Cuneo (Piedmont), the son of Matteo and Maria Maddelena Vigo.

As a young man, he served with the Spanish Army and he was first sent to Cuba then to New Orleans where he arrived in 1769. After his discharge, Vigo entered the fur trade, and he proved to be a great merchant: in 1772, at 25, he was already an established trader in St. Louis (Spanish Upper Louisiana then, Missouri today).

During the summer of 1778, George Rogers Clark (the highest ranking American military officer on the northwestern frontier and older brother of explorer William Clark) defeated the British and captured Kaskaskia (now Illinois) but he needed money to continue fighting. Vigo was very wealthy, Clark was his friend, they shared the same political ideals; in a few months Francis Vigo became the foremost financier of the American Revolution in the Northwest.

On December 23, 1778, when Vigo went on a business trip to St. Vincent, now Vincennes, 150 miles from St. Louis, he was arrested by the British troops of Lt-Gov Henry Hamilton who had just recaptured the town for the British Crown. Having served in the Spanish Army, Francis Vigo was a Spanish citizen not an ‘American’, but Hamilton was suspicious. He held him on confinement for three weeks, giving him time to study the British army’s weaknesses, the soldiers’ schedules, to befriend the French-Canadians inhabitants, and to plan a possible attack. Father Pierre Gibault, a Jesuit missionary and priest, conducted Sunday mass then led his entire Vincennes’ congregation to Fort Sackville, where he informed Hamilton that all supplies would be denied to the garrison until Vigo was released.

Hamilton released Vigo on the condition that he would return to St. Louis. Vigo instead went to Kaskaskia to inform Col. Clark of the British hold on Vincennes, and to help him plan an immediate attack. On February 25, 1779, Clark recaptured the town defeating Hamilton’s garrison of seventy-nine men, a party of re-enforcements, gaining a large store of goods and arms that was arriving from Detroit.

In 1783, Vigo moved to Vincennes, and operated a fur trading business there. He bought his products from the Eastern Native American’s tribes who trusted and respected him. In 1790 he travelled to Philadelphia to speak to George Washington on behalf of the tribes, for a better federal policy.

In 1801, Vigo petitioned the U.S. Congress for a donation of land to establish the Jefferson Academy in Vincennes, today Vincennes University. He married Elizabeth Shannon but had no children.

Starting from 1804, a series of difficulties involving his businesses depleted his fortune, and he kept asking the government to reimburse him for the fortune he spent during the war. When Clark needed funds, he would give Vigo Continental promissary notes of paper that had no value. Vigo exchanged them with European currency and he was never repaid. Recalling the incident, Vigo would use the term douleur, French for grief or pain. The government repeatedly put him off while he became ill and penniless.

Elizabeth died in 1818, at the age of 48; during the same year, Vigo County was established and named after him in Indiana, but still no sight of a reimbursement.

Francis Vigo died on March 22, 1836, at 89, in Vincennes. He is buried in a small grave in Greenlawn Cemetery.

40 years later, his estate was allowed a small payment of $8,016 used to fund only one of the many war campaigns led by Clark and paid by him. Since Vigo had no blood-related descendants, the government kept the money and paid for the few expenses indicated in Vigo's will, like a Liberty Bell for the Courthouse.

Same destiny for Father Pierre Gibault: he wasn’t liked by his fellow clergymen who were loyal to the British. In a letter from Cahokia dated 1 May 1790, Father Gibault detailed his services and the debts owed him; he asked, as a "concession," that the United States would grant some land in Kaskaskia - which had traditionally been used by priests - to him and his successors. The request was granted by President Washington but the newly appointed American Bishop objected. Without land or compensation, Father Gibault moved to New Madrid in 1793 and became a Spanish citizen, pastoring the parish of Saint-Isidore until his death on August 16, 1802.




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