Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Heckewelder, 11 April 1798

To John Heckewelder

Philadelphia. Apr. 11. 98.


About the year 1787. I published a book entitled ‘Notes on Virginia’ in which was an account of the murder of the family of Logan an Indian chief in the year 1774. by some whites, at the head of whom was said to be one of the Cressaps. this was the general report & belief of that day. lately a mr Martin of Maryland, who married a Cressap, has undertaken to contradict the fact, to deny that either of the Cresaps was concerned in the murder, to deny the genuineness of the speech sent by Logan to Ld Dunmore & to represent Logan as a worthless, drunken, & unprincipled Indian, of no account in his tribe & of no abilities. I am told that your situation about that time was such as to enable you to give some information as to these facts, either from your own knowlege, or what you may have heard from others. my object is to learn the truth, and when I shall have got at an exact knolege of the transaction, to publish a correct statement of it, doing justice to Cressap if he has been injured or to Logan if mr Martin’s imputations on him be found to be mere calumnies. I have no attachment which would induce me to conceal or discolour the truth. your character in the world gives me confidence that if you can contribute any thing towards fixing this transaction on it’s true bottom, you will have no hesitation to bear testimony to the truth, may I take the liberty of asking you to give me any information you can on this subject, which if addressed to me in a letter to this place will readily find me. your compliance with this request will much oblige Sir

your most obedt. humble servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “The revd. John Heckewelder.” RC (Thomas A. Lingenfelter, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1994); consists of address cover only, addressed in TJ’s hand to Heckewelder at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; franked and with postmark of 12 Apr.

Born in England to parents from Moravia, John Gottlieb Ernestus Heckewelder (1743–1823) immigrated to America with his family when he was eleven. A member of the Moravian community at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he was an occasional courier to Indian towns, then became a missionary in 1771. Until 1786 he worked among settlements of Native American converts in Pennsylvania and what is now Ohio, subsequently assisting government commissions sent to negotiate with western tribes. From 1801 to 1810 he administered lands on the Muskingum River that were held in trust for christianized Indians. Encouraged by Caspar Wistar, to whom TJ had expressed a concern that Heckewelder’s accumulated knowledge of indigenous peoples might be lost, Heckewelder wrote accounts of Indian customs and languages and a history of the Moravian missions. He also made observations in natural history and became a member of the American Philosophical Society in April 1797 (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 238, 256, 365, 473; Heckewelder to Peter S. Du Ponceau, 21 Mch. 1819, in PPAmP).

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