James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Flournoy, 6 October 1813

From Thomas Flournoy

Mount Vernon 6th. Oct. 1813


The situation in which I am placed in consequence of my having received no letters from the war department in answer to some of those which I have fowarded, on subjects vitally connected with the public welfare—at war with the Creek Indians who are laying waste the frontier of this territory, at a loss how to conduct myself towards the Spaniards, who secretly abet those Indians; I have taken the resolution of sending to you, Captain Mc.Queen (of the 8th. Infantry who attended me to this Country in the capacity of Brigade Major) with this communication.

My correspondence with the Governor of Pensacola, has already been transmitted to the war department, by post, but fearing some failure, & knowing that the Secretary is with the Northern army, I send it to you enclosed No. 1.1

That a large supply of ammunition, has been furnished from Pensacola, to the hostile Creeks, is well known in this quarter and there is at this time in that place, a quantity of military stores, intended for the same purpose, is well established by the enclosed affidavit No. 2.2 which is corroborated by other testimony in my possession. I deem it proper to observe, that Mr. Smith, who makes this affidavit is the same person who was formerly a Senator in Congress, from the State of Ohio, & expelled that body upon charges, connecting him with the Burr Conspiricy. But he has for some Months past been in the confidence, & employ of General Wilkinson, who entertains the highest opinion of his integrity & truth. I hold a paper which was forwarded to me by the General when lately at the City of Washington, which authorises Mr. Smith to draw upon the Secretary of War, for five hundred dollars, as a reward for his services. I mention this to shew the estimation in which the General holds his services. I will add, that I am satisfied, he speaks what he knows & thinks.

Colo. Hawkins declares that it has not been the usage or custom of the governor of Pensacola, to furnish an annual supply of ammunition to the Creek Indians. Judge Toulmin asserts the same thing. The custom is denied by the Big Warrior (Chief of the Creek nation) who heads the friendly Indians in the present contest.

The Royal Spanish Army in New Mexico, has completely destroyed the republican army (as it is called) & it is feared will take possession of that part of the State of Louisiana claimed by Spain, which lies to the West. This appears by Captain Overtons letters sent me by express, which with my answer is marked No. 3.3 Captain Overton Commands at Natchitoches.

Two days ago I was met at the town of Mobile, by two Chacktaw Indian chiefs one of whom, is the celebrated Medal chief, known by the name of Poushmataha. My conference with them, & the conversation held, is contained in No. 4.4

These Chiefs sat out this morning to their districts, bearing with them, letters from me, to two other Principal Chiefs, the substance of which, is contained in No. 5.5

I am well assured, & do believe, that if the young men of the Chacktaws, are not employed to act on our side, they will take up arms against us.

I have written to Governor Holmes, to turn out his Militia (not by requisition, for I have no power to make a requision & regret much that I have not) & have requested a personal interview with him at this place, that we may Consult together on the affairs of the Territory. I expect him here in a few days. I understand he has already orderred to this place, about two hundred men.

I am in daily expectation of Viewing a number of Volunteers from the State of Tennessee, said to be on their march to St. Stephens. I shall as soon as possible organize a force, to consist of regulars, Mississippi Territory Volunteers, in the Service of the United States, Mississippi Territory Militia, Tennessee Militia, & Chacktaw Indians, & proceed into the Creek nation against the hostile party.

Thus have I given you a short view, of what I have done, & what I intend to do. If I have not been sufficiently explanitory, I refer you to Captain Mc.Queen, whom you will find intelligent.

I am apprised, that I have no law, regulation, or order, that will justify me, in the course I am pursuing, but urged by necessity, & a desire to save the district I am ordered to defend, I presume to act on my own responsibility trusting to the justice of the nation, to acquit me of censure. If I err, I shall cheerfully meet an enquiry, & abide the Consequences. The Correctness of my Motives, cannot be questioned.

As to other Subjects, Connected with my duty, I beg leave to make enquiry, by way of Interrogatories.

How am I to understand the act of the last extra Session of Congress, which prohibits direct, or indirect, commerce with the enemy?6 I have not the act before me, & therefore cannot state its provisions.

Will this act, or the orders which issued from the adjutant & Inspector Generals Office, on the fifth day of August last, authorise me in stopping, & turning back “all vessls or river craft which may be suspected of proceeding to” the town of Pensacola, with provisions?7

It is a fact, that Vessels daily pass before our eyes, from Orleans, to Pensacola, loaded with flour, meal, &c. & it is equally a fact that these articles, are sent off to feed the British Army.

Am I justified in accepting the services of Volunteers, tho’ the act on that subject has been repealed, or making requisitions for Militia under the act establishing the United States quota?8

Shall I be justified in carrying our arms to the gates of Pensacola, as well to prevent the Spaniards from supplying the Indians with arms, & ammunition, as to punish them for the supplies they have already furnished?

Shall I be justified in pursuing the flying Creeks into the town of Pensacola, & punishing them & the Spaniards together, for the injuries they have done the United States?

In such an event, shall I destroy the town, spike their guns, & return within the boundary of the United States, or shall I endeavour to hold possession for the United States?

How far is the naval force bound to Co-operate with the land troops or obey my orders?

How far is the Marine Corps liable to obey my orders, or do duty under my Command?

What compensation am I authorised to promise the Chacktaws, for their Services?

May I take goods from the Chacktaw factory at St. Stephens, for the use of the Chacktaws?

As far as depends on me, & the means in my power, I am determined to bring the Creek war to a speedy conclusion, and if I shall be authorised to carry the war against Pensacola, I have little doubt but I shall take possession of that place, should the British not interfere.

After Captain Mc.Queen has delivered you this packet, & answered all questions that may be exhibited to him, he is Ordered to join his Regiment. I have the honor to be with high respect Your Ob. Sert

Tho. Flournoy
Brigr Genl. Comg
7th. Mil. Dist.

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 107, LRUS, F-1813). For surviving enclosures, see nn. 2–5.

1Enclosures not found, but for the two letters that initially passed between Flournoy and Mateo González Manrique, governor of West Florida, see William C. C. Claiborne to JM, 9 July 1813, n. 1. On 14 Sept. 1813, Flournoy forwarded to John Armstrong the continuation of the correspondence. In his letter to González Manrique of 29 July 1813 (3 pp.), Flournoy requested that the governor return the U.S. mail that had been captured by the Indians and taken to Pensacola. Regarding the alleged gifts of arms and ammunition to the Indians in that town, Flournoy stated that he would not accuse the Spanish government of arming the Indians against U.S. citizens. He added, however, that by permitting Indians armed and obviously bent on war to cross its territory toward that of the United States, the Spanish government had committed “an infraction of the law of nations, and an act of hostility … against the American Govt.” González Manrique’s 3 Sept. 1813 response (7 pp.; in English translation) began with a series of sarcastic comments about what he perceived as inconsistencies in Flournoy’s letter. The governor did not believe himself “bound to make Confession” to Flournoy “to obtain absolution,” he wrote, but acknowledged nevertheless that “the Indians did come to Pensacola to receive the presents that my Goverment allowed them.” He stated further that he had “not given them arms”; in addition, he had returned the only U.S. mail that had come to Pensacola. González Manrique chided Flournoy for paying attention to rumors, adding that had he done the same, he would have complained to Flournoy of the forces reportedly gathering in U.S. territory to invade Mexico. In a final jab, he commented that Spain’s conquests were not attributable “to fraud nor to intrigue, but to the valor of her troops.”

Flournoy also forwarded a ten-page English translation of González Manrique’s 18 [August] 1813 reply to Flournoy’s letter of 27 June 1813. It was “inconceivable,” González Manrique wrote, that Flournoy should assert that Mobile had been part of the Louisiana Purchase, when the French themselves had said the opposite. The United States’ right to West Florida, he informed Flournoy, “exists but in your own imagination, and that of your Government.” Therefore, the U.S. occupation of Mobile was a far greater outrage than Spanish soldiers’ burning of a few blockhouses, or “two or three dozens useless logs,” as González Manrique referred to them, in the disputed territory. The governor disparaged the idea that the United States might go to war, as Flournoy had threatened, over such an insignificant event (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, F-77:7).

2In his affidavit of 4 Oct. 1813 (3 pp.), sworn before Harry Toulmin, John Smith certified that a British privateer, the Diana, had arrived at Pensacola on 7 Sept. 1813 with a “large supply of guns & ammunition for the Indians.” The Diana’s Captain Johnson told Smith that “it was the policy of England to sever the Eastern from the Southern states,” and that the British had tried to send to Pensacola “a large ship laden with goods & munitions of war for the Indians amounting to three hundred thousand pounds Sterling,” but that it had been lost at sea. One Captain Madrid, “a member of the Cabildo” of Pensacola, informed Smith that “the English were to furnish [the Indians] with every necessary to carry on the war; that they intended sending troops from Jamaica &c. for the purpose of co-operating with the Indians in the contemplated subjugation of Florida & of Louisiana.” Smith certified further that “the Seminoloe chief Perriman … with his son William & others of that Tribe” had lingered in Pensacola several days after the arrival of the Diana, allegedly to obtain some of the ammunition brought by that ship. Smith also relayed reports that the Seminoles and “many of the Chactaws” were joining the hostile Creeks, whose leaders had informed the governor of Pensacola that they would either help him retake Mobile or they would burn it. The Creek chiefs also asked the governor to provide the Seminoles and Choctaws with guns and ammunition.

3Flournoy enclosed Walter H. Overton’s letters to him of 4 Sept. (3 pp.) and 5 Sept. (2 pp.) 1813 and his reply of 19 Sept. 1813 (2 pp.). On 4 Sept., Overton reported the defeat of the Republican Army of Texas at San Antonio, noting that its leader, José Alvarez de Toledo, and most of his officers had retreated to Nacogdoches, which they might try to hold in order to assist fleeing settlers. Overton anticipated nevertheless that the Spanish might cross the Sabine River, and requested orders and reinforcements to enable him to “repel an invasion of this frontier.” On 5 Sept., Overton asked Flournoy to send arms for the members of the Republican Army that Overton expected to enlist, and reported that Toledo and his troops had been forced to abandon Nacogdoches. Flournoy responded by reprimanding Overton for even considering the possibility of becoming involved in hostilities with Spanish forces. He instructed his captain to “have nothing to do in the contest between the Spanish Royalists & what you call the Republican army. Give countenance to neither party—the United States are not seen nor are they concerned in the affair, let it eventuate which way it may.” Should the Spanish cross the Sabine, Overton was to remain in his current position and “act as … a neutral.” Flournoy acceded, however, to Overton’s request for arms.

4Flournoy enclosed a transcript, taken by Harry Toulmin, of his conversation with the Choctaw chief Pushmataha on 29 Sept. 1813 (5 pp.). The chief agreed to persuade two other friendly Choctaw chiefs to fight on the side of the United States against the hostile Creeks and the British and to sign an agreement to that effect, on condition that the United States supply the Choctaws with arms and ammunition. The Choctaws were to rendezvous at St. Stephens as soon as they could assemble 400 to 600 warriors, and would retain their own internal leadership but also be placed under the overall command of an American officer. The transcript included a copy of the declaration of war against the enemies of the United States, which was to be signed by the chiefs, and stated that Pushmataha and another representative of the Choctaws expressed full agreement with it.

5The enclosed undated letter from Flournoy to Mushulatubbee Etootamastubbee, “Chief of the Middle District of the Choctaw Nation” (1 p.), asked him to sign and return the accompanying declaration of war against the enemies of the United States and to report to St. Stephens with his warriors, where they would receive arms and ammunition to attack the hostile Creeks. Flournoy wrote that JM would be informed of the Choctaws’ services to the United States and would decide how they were to be rewarded.

6Flournoy may have been under the impression that a Senate bill “to prohibit the citizens and inhabitants of the United States from carrying on any trade or traffic with the dominions or dependencies” of Great Britain had been signed into law. The Senate passed the bill on 30 June 1813, but it did not get beyond a second reading in the House of Representatives. It specified that any U.S. citizen “who shall, during the war in which the … United States are at present engaged, either directly or indirectly carry on any trade, commerce, or traffic, in any articles whatever, with any of the dominions, colonies, or dependencies” of Great Britain, would be “adjudged guilty of a misdemeanor.” Flournoy may also have confused this bill with one that did become law on 2 Aug. 1813, prohibiting the use, “either directly or indirectly,” of “a license, pass, or other instrument granted by … Great Britain … for the protection of any ship, vessel, or merchandise” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 13th Cong., 1st sess., 36, 38–39, 382; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 3:84).

7The general order of 5 Aug. 1813 instructed U.S. Army commanders “to turn back and in case of any attempt to evade this order, to detain, all sea vessels or river or bay craft which may be suspected of proceeding to, or communicating with, any station, vessel, squadron, or fleet of the enemy” (DNA: RG 94, General Orders).

8The eighteenth section of “An Act in addition to the act entitled ‘An act to raise an additional military force,’ and for other purposes,” 29 Jan. 1813, repealed the Volunteer Acts of 1812. The 10 Apr. 1812 act “to authorize a detachment from the Militia of the United States” empowered the president to call into service up to 100,000 militia and to assign to each state the quota it was to provide (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 2:705–6, 794, 796).

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