Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on Drafting of Militia
by Governor Thomas Mifflin
[Philadelphia] May 24, 1794
Upon consideration of the letter of Governor Mifflin to the President of the US of this date respecting his drafting one thousand men of the Western militia of this state, for the purpose of supporting a detachment directed to take possession of Presque Isle1 it was advised
That an answer of the following purport be given.2
“That on mature reflection the President is of opinion that it is adviseable to suspend for the present the establishment at Presque Isle—That independent of certain other considerations of delicacy and moment which at no distant day will be better appreciated,3 the high probability of an immediate rupture with the six nations of Indians countenanced by late information4 and encreased by the recent murder of one of their people5 appears to him a solid reason for a temporary suspension.6
LS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. The first paragraph is in the handwriting of Henry Knox and the second paragraph is in an unidentified handwriting.
1. On April 8, 1793, the Pennsylvania legislature passed “An Act for Laying Out a Town at Presqu’Isle” (Pennsylvania Laws, December, 1792, Sess., Ch. CLVII), which empowered Mifflin to have “laid out and surveyed sixteen hundred acres of land in town lots” in the area. Indian disturbances on the frontier prevented the departure of the commissioners appointed to make the survey, and on February 28, 1794, the governor was authorized to send out detachments of militia to ensure the establishment of the town. On May 9, 1794, Mifflin received word from General John Wilkins and Captain Ebenezer Denny of the Pennsylvania militia “relatively to the arrangement which are made for laying out a Town at Presqu’-isle … and the possible opposition which the Indians may give to the accomplishment of that object” (Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I (n.p., 1931). description ends , 771). Subsequently Wilkins warned that the British might also resist the establishment of the town. On April 25, 1794, Wilkins wrote to Clement Biddle, quartermaster general of Pennsylvania, that the situation was “not favourable towards our establishment at Presq’Isle—all the persons most conversant with the Indians at this place, as well as the commanding officer of this Fort agree that the indians, instated by the British, are meditating an opposition to the designs of government respecting that place. Cornplanter & the other indians on the alligheny river have been invited to a Counsil at Buffaloe Creek, to which place he & they immediately went, & on the result of that Counsel seems to hang peace or war between us and the Six nations. There has been a great deal of pains used lately by the English to sour their minds, & the[y] seem in some measure to have effected it. The claims of the Six nations seems to rise as the western indians are successful against the army of the United States, & as the British promises to afford them assistance” (Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., VI, 653).
At this time Major General Anthony Wayne was preparing his campaign against the western tribes in the Ohio country, and in addition there were widespread difficulties with the Indians on the southern frontier. The United States Government, therefore, was particularly anxious to maintain good relations with the Six Nations. Although Secretary of War Henry Knox advised Mifflin on May 11 that the President objected to the project for settling Presque Isle as “likely to produce disgust to our friends, the Six Nations, and to extend Indian hostilities” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 518), Mifflin proceeded with his plan. On May 23, 1794, “in consequence of the information received relatively to the hostile disposition of the Indians as well as of the British upon our Northern frontier,” Mifflin issued orders “to the Brigade Inspectors of the Counties of Westmoreland, Washington Fayette and Allegheny for drafting One thousand Militia …” (Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I (n.p., 1931). description ends , 779). On May 24 Mifflin sent a copy of these orders to Washington (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 507). Washington then turned to his cabinet for advice.
2. The paragraph which follows was incorporated with only minor changes in the letter which Knox, at Washington’s request, wrote to Mifflin on May 24, 1794 (LS, Division of Public Records, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg).
3. This is a reference to the negotiations which John Jay had been instructed to carry on with the British government.
4. In a letter transmitting this cabinet opinion to Mifflin (see note 2), Knox explained this “late information” as follows: “… Information has been received from Israel Chapin … that affairs are critically circumstanced between the United States and the said Six Nations” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 519). The letter from Chapin, United States agent to the Six Nations, reads in part as follows: “I had the honor of informing you in my last, that I had received a runner from Buffalo Creek, requesting my attendance at a council summoned to meet there.… I have every reason to suppose, that the Six Nations had fully made up their minds, previous to the meeting of the council, to hold a treaty, agreeable to the wishes of the United States, in order to bring about a general peace. But the inflammatory speech of Lord Dorchester, which was interpreted to them by Colonel [John] Butler, together with the presents heaped on them by the British, on this occasion, induced them to give up that friendly intention. Colonel Butler and Captain [Joseph] Bunbury attended the council, in behalf of the British Government. They took pains, on all occasions, to represent a war between their government and ours, as inevitable …” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 480).
5. On May 23, 1794, Mifflin had transmitted to Knox a letter from John Wilkins concerning the “murder of a friendly Indian” (Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I (n.p., 1931). description ends , 780). Wilkins, writing to Mifflin from Fort Franklin on May 11, explained the incident as follows: “On the first of this month a very disagreeable affair happened at this place. A white man of the name of Robertson, killed a friendly indian. The man was taken into custody immediately by the commanding officer, & still remains in confinement. Robertson is a young man, & perhaps was a little intoxicated, but his character is not good. It is thought best not to remove him from this place, until the Indians are satisfied.… The father of the young man … has sent Joseph Nicholson to endeavour to satisfy the friends of the deceased. Nicholson, yesterday had a council with the Indians that were here, at which we all assisted & offered about one hundred Dollars to replace, in the Indian way, the man that is dead. The Indians were all well satisfied with the offer …” (Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., VI, 658–59).
6. Upon receipt of Knox’s letter of May 24 Mifflin issued a circular rescinding the military orders and temporarily suspending the Presque Isle project (Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., I (n.p., 1931). description ends , 780–81). On May 25 he informed the President of his attempt to halt work at Presque Isle, although he feared that it was “too late to prevent the execution of the measures” (copy, Division of Public Records, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission).