Colonel Joseph Maria Francesco Vigo of Italian descent was born in Mondovi, Sardinia in 1740. He began his career as a Spanish soldier, serving first in Havana and later in New Orleans. After his discharge, he remained in America and became a fur trader, operating primarily in the Vincennes and St. Louis areas. He prospered as both a trader and a merchant.
He rallied to the American cause and after the capture of Vincennes he volunteered his services to George Rogers Clark as a spy for the Americans. But, while on a journey to Vincennes, he was captured by British-allied Indians. While a captive, and on the way to the British garrison, he ate the paper which would have convicted him - thus destroying the evidence of guilt. Through the efforts of Father Gibault and the Vincennes townspeople, who refused to sell supplies to the British unless Vigo was freed, Vigo was released - with the provision he did nothing injurious to British subjects on the way to St. Louis. True to his word he immediately set out for the Kaskaskia and Clark, he informed Clark of the situation at Vincennes. Clark was low in funds so Vigo loaned him $11,000; in addition several French merchants followed Vigo's lead and contributed liberally - all had little hope of quick repayment. The rest is history, Clark recaptured Vincennes, largely because of both the information and funds that Vigo had supplied to him.
But Vigo never received payment in his lifetime; the government continually put him off with claims of no funds. In the meantime he became ill and his business declined reducing him to poverty.
He was a valuable public servant dealing with the Indians who both trusted and respected him - he often was asked to arbitrate in disputes between whites and Indians. He also served as a delegate to the Indiana Territory Convention in 1802. Vigo died in Vincennes on March 22, 1836 and was buried in a pauper's grave; he left in his will a provision requesting that if the government ever honored his claims, $500 from his estate was to be used to purchase a bell inscribed "presented by Francis Vigo" for hanging in the Vigo County Courthouse.
After 100 years and several lawyers, the claim was finally honored, with interest it amounted to $50,000. The bell which he had requested was duly purchased and still hangs in the Vigo County Courthouse.
Colonel Francis Vigo is not forgotten as he has achieved immortality in the hearts of his countrymen and the hundreds of thousands who live in what was once the Northwest Territory.
Information supplied by the Francis Vigo American Italian Club