Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Carmichael and William Short, 14 October 1792

To William Carmichael and William Short

Philadelphia, October 14. 1792.


Since my letters of March 18th. and April 24. (which have been retarded so unfortunately) another subject of Conference and Convention with Spain, has occurred. You know that the frontiers of her Provinces as well as of our States, are inhabited by Indians holding justly the right of occupation, and leaving to Spain and to us only the claim of excluding other nations from among them, and of becoming ourselves the purchasers of such portions of land from time to time as they chuse to sell. We have thought that the dictates of interest, as well as humanity enjoined mutual endeavors with those Indians to live in peace with both nations, and we have scrupulously observed that conduct. Our Agent with the Indians bordering on the territories of Spain, has a standing instruction to use his best endeavors to prevent them from committing acts of hostility against the spanish settlements. But whatever may have been the conduct or orders of the government of Spain, that of their officers in our neighborhood has been indisputably unfriendly and hostile to us. The papers enclosed will demonstrate this to you. That the Baron de Carondelet their chief Governor at New Orleans has excited the Indians to war on us; that he has furnished them with abundance of arms and ammunition, and promised them whatever more shall be necessary I have from the mouth of him who had it from his own mouth. In short, that he is the sole source of a great and serious war now burst out upon us, and from Indians who we know were in peaceable dispositions towards us, till prevailed on by him to commence the war, there remains scarcely room to doubt. It is become necessary that we understand the real policy of Spain in this point. You will, therefore, be pleased to extract from the enclosed papers such facts as you think proper to be communicated to that Court, and enter into friendly, but serious expostulations on the conduct of their officers; for we have equal evidence against the Commandants at other posts in West Florida, though they being subordinate to Carondelet, we name him as the source. If they disavow his conduct, we must naturally look to their treatment of him as the sole evidence of their sincerity. But we must look further. It is a general rule that no nation has a right to keep an Agent within the limits of another, without the consent of that other: and we are satisfied it would be best for both Spain and us to abstain from having agents or other persons in our employ or pay among the savages inhabiting our respective territories, whether as subjects or independent. You are, therefore, desired to propose and press a stipulation to that effect. Should they absolutely decline it, it may be proper to let them perceive, that as the right of keeping Agents exists on both sides, or on neither, it will rest with us to reciprocate their own measures. We confidently hope that these proceedings are unauthorized by the government of Spain, and in this hope, we continue in the dispositions formerly expressed to you, of living on terms of the best friendship and harmony with that country, of making their interests, in our neighborhood, our own, and of giving them every proof of this except the abandonment of those essential rights which you are instructed to insist on. I have the honor to be, with great and sincere esteem, Gentlemen, Your most obedt. & most humble servt.1

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Short Papers); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., signed by TJ; at foot of first page: “Messrs. Carmichael & Short”; endorsed by Short as received at The Hague 28 Nov. 1792. PrC (DLC); unsigned. Dupl (DLC: Short Papers); in Taylor’s hand with signature and postscript by TJ (see note 1 below); endorsed by Short as received at Bordeaux 14 Jan. 1793; enclosed in TJ to Carmichael and Short, 3 Nov. 1792. PrC of Tripl (DLC); in Taylor’s hand, unsigned; at head of text: “triplicate.” PrC of Tr (DLC); at head of text: “(Copy).” FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DCI). Enclosures: (1) Deposition of Daniel Thornberry, Nashville, 10 Apr. 1792, describing attacks by “Doublehead,” a Cherokee chief, on American settlers along the Cumberland and Red Rivers and relating a plan by a party of Creeks to enlist the support of the Chickasaws and Choctaws in a war against Americans; with attached note by Governor William Blount, 4 July 1792, stating that “Double head” was a signer of the Treaty of Holston. (2) Deposition of John Ormsby, Rock Landing, Georgia, 11 May 1792, stating that although Alexander McGillivray remained friendly, efforts were being made to turn the Creeks against the United States by Indian supporters of William A. Bowles, William Panton of Panton, Leslie & Company, and Governor Carondelet and his agent, Olivier. (3) Deposition of James Ore, Knox County, Southwest Territory, 16 June 1792, reporting that Olivier had offered Spanish arms and ammunition to the Creeks to defend their lands against the United States and had invited the Creeks to a meeting with Carondelet at Pensacola to which the Cherokees would also be invited; and that there were rumors among the Creeks that Olivier would meet with the Chickasaws and Choctaws at Natchez after the Pensacola meeting. (4) Deposition of James Leonard, Rock Landing, Georgia, 24 July 1792 (sworn on 26 July 1792), reporting that various activities among the Southern tribes by Governor Arturo O’Neill of Pensacola, Olivier, Panton, and Carondelet indicated that “the Spaniards are doing every thing in their power to engage the Indians in a War with the United States”—not only the Creeks, but the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees as well; that McGillivray has gone over to the Spanish; and that five Spanish regiments had arrived at the Mississippi and more were expected from Havana. (5) Passport issued by Governor Carondelet, New Orleans, 28 July 1792, authorizing a Cherokee named Richard to escort Joseph Deraque to the Cherokee nation. (6) Deposition of Joseph Deraque, Nashville, 15 Sep. 1792, stating that Carondelet informed him that “he had sent by McGillivray to inform the Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws they must come to him to get arms and ammunition”; that Carondelet had instructed him “to invite the Creeks Cherokees and Choctaws but more particularly the two first to come to him and get guns and ammunition and go to war against the People of Cumberland and Holston—that the lands were theirs, and the property of no other people, and he would furnish them with means to defend it, and to be active and unanimous in going to war quickly”; that in the course of carrying out this mission for Carondelet he discovered that the Creeks and Cherokees were preparing for war with the United States and was told by Governor O’Neill that he “had orders to excite the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws, to War against the United States, though he doubted whether the last would join”; with attached attestations of Deraque’s veracity by Richard Findlestone, his part-Cherokee traveling companion, and by Blount, dated 15 and 25 Sep. 1792, respectively (Trs of Enclosures Nos. 1–4 and 6, and MS of Enclosure No. 5, in DLC: Short Papers; all but Enclosure No. 5 certified by John Stagg, Jr., as having been copied from War Department files on 16 Oct. 1792; see note 1 below).

The standing instruction to Indian agent James Seagrove was embodied in a 29 Apr. 1792 letter from the Secretary of War (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Indian Affairs, i, 254–5). The great and serious war was a reference to the outbreak in September 1792 of hostilities against the United States by the five lower Cherokees towns, aided and abetted by “one hundred banditti Creeks” (same, 261; see also Arthur P. Whitaker, “Spain and the Cherokee Indians, 1783–98,” North Carolina Historical Review, iv [1927], 252–60). For a discussion of the militant Indian policy of Baron de Carondelet, see note to Notes of Cabinet Meeting on the Southern Indians and Spain, 31 Oct. 1792.

1TJ added the following postscript to the Dupl: “The papers were so voluminous that they could not be copied in time to come with this duplicate. As they go with the original, should that miscarry, this will serve to inform you of the business, and of the necessity of a proper stipulation.”

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