George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Bowdoin, 30 July 1776

From James Bowdoin

Boston July 30th 1776


At the time your Excellency’s Letter was received, requesting the Aid of this Government in procuring a body of the Eastern Indians for the Service of the United States, it happened very fortunately, that a Number of them were here, as Delegates from the St John’s & Mickmac Tribes in Nova Scotia. They came on a visit to you, in consequence of yr Letter to them, which they produced:1 and soon after a couple of Chiefs arrived here from the Penobscot Tribe.

At the Conference held with the former, there appeared in them a very good disposition in favour of the united States: and the Genl Court having resolved, that a Regiment should be raised for the Service of the States to consist of 500 Indians & 250 English, it was strongly urged upon them to join with us in the war: and accordingly they have engaged to do it, and have Signed a Treaty for that purpose.2 By what they said at the Conference it appeared the Six villages they represented could furnish about 120 men: but as those villages are at a great distance from each other, their men dispersed in hunting, and they proposed to call the whole together,3 they Said they should not be able, and they could not engage, to come till the next Spring. The St John’s Delegates however, on being told they lived near, and could be soon here again, promised to return early in the Fall with about thirty of their Tribe. There are Six other villages of Mickmacs, who had not been informed of yr Letter, and had not therefore Sent Delegates, but are equally well disposed, and have about the same number of men belonging to them. These therefore can probably furnish for the Service a like number of men with the other.

With regard to the Penobscots, they appeared well disposed. They Said, that when Genl Washington Sent his Army to Canada, five of their People went with them, and were at the Siege of Quebec: two of whom were wounded, and three taken Prisoners, who had since returned; that they had been promised, an allowance should be made to those, who went Wth Colo. Arnold; the Support of whose families, in their absence, had been a great burthen to them: and that they had had no recompence for these Services. They were told, this matter would be represented to Genl Washington, & that what is right & just he would order to be done. They Said further, they looked on themselves to be one people with us; and that whatever Governmt we were under, they were willing to Subject themselves to; that they had no doubt their Tribe would be willing to join Genl Washington; and that when they got home they would call the Tribe together, & consult them for that Purpose.4 This good disposition appearing in all the Indians, the Council thought it best, in Consequence of yr Letter, to Send with the Indians into their own Country, the most Suitable persons that could be had, in order to procure, with the utmost expedition, the number of Indians you desire may be engaged in the Service of the States, or as many as can be procured. An armed Vessel is accordingly engaged to carry these Indians to Penobscot & St John’s, where those Tribes will be respectively assembled, and all that can be persuaded to it, inlisted into the Service immediately. Mr Fletcher, who came with the Penobscots, is employed in this business with regard to that Tribe, and Major Shaw employd with regard to the St John’s, & their neighbours at Passamaquoddy. It being expected a considerable number might be had from these Tribes in a short time, the Sd Vessel was engaged to bring them up hither as soon as may be.5 One Mr Gilman is also employed to go to the St Francois Indians, and engage as many of them as he can.6 On the Conference with the St John’s & Mickmacs (a Copy of wch is enclosed together wth a Copy of the Treaty)7 three of them offered themselves to join the Army at New York immediately, and their Offer was Accepted: as it might not only secure the Fidelity of the Tribes to which they belonged, but induce many others of them to engage in the Service. Another has Since joined them. Accordingly these four, one of whom can speak French, will immediately Sett off for New York, under the Conduct of Mr Wm Shaw: who is orderd to wait upon you with them.8

The Council hope those measures will be effectual for the purpose they were ordered. In their name & behalf I have the honour to be with every Sentiment of respect Yr Excellency’s most obed. hble Servt

James Bowdoin

The names of the 4 Indians above-mentioned viz. Joseph Denaquara of Winsor, who speaks fr: & eng:[,] Peter Andrè of Le Hève, Sabattis Netobcobuit of Gaspee[,] Francis of St John’s.9

ALS, MeHi; ADfS, M-Ar: Revolution Letters; LB, M-Ar: Revolution Letters; copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 8 Aug. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169.

1GW’s letter to the Massachusetts General Court of 11 July arrived on 15 or 16 July (see Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:845). The Massachusetts council, with Bowdoin presiding as president, opened its conference with ten representatives of the St. John (Malecite) and Micmac Indians at Watertown on 10 July and concluded the talks by signing a treaty of alliance and friendship with them on 17 July. When Bowdoin at the first full session on 12 July asked for proof that the ten Indians represented their tribes, Ambrose of the St. John Indians presented “a large parchment, containing a Treaty made between those Tribes and the Government of Nova-Scotia in 1760. Also, a letter to them from General Washington, dated in February last, and a letter to them from the General Court of Massachusetts-Bay, dated in October last; and said that those letters were the occasion of their coming hither to see General Washington” (ibid., 839).

Ambrose then delivered a speech on behalf of the delegation, saying: “The St. John’s and Mickmac Tribes are all one people, and of one tongue and one heart. We are very thankful to the Almighty to see all the Council; the Almighty has given the English and Indians one heart. General Washington sent us something (the letters aforesaid) last fall and this spring, and that is the reason of our coming here now to speak. The Captains that are come up with me, and all our people, are all one as Boston; our eyes and our ears will not turn to the other side of the water to see or hear what they do. We want a Father or a French Priest. Jesus we pray to, and we shall not hear any prayers that come from England. We shall have nothing to do with Old England, and all that we shall worship or obey will be Jesus Christ and General Washington. . . . General Washington advised us to pray to Jesus for aid and assistance, and to be thankful for the lands that God had given us. All our old men and women pray that the Almighty would enable us to walk in the right way. General Washington wrote us a letter desiring us to pray for him, and assist him all in our power. All our Captains and Chiefs do pray that he and his brothers may be masters of this country. We are both one country. We are of their country and they are of our country” (ibid.).

GW apparently had met representatives of the St. John Indians at his Cambridge headquarters sometime in October 1775 and again on 31 Jan. 1776, and in keeping with Congress’s earlier policy of maintaining Indian neutrality, he had politely declined to accept their offers of immediate assistance, promising to call for them when wanted (see Proceedings of the Committee of Conference, 18–24 Oct. 1775, and Speeches of the Caughnawaga, St. Johns, and Passamaquoddy Indians, 31 Jan. 1776). For the Massachusetts General Court’s letter to the St. John and Micmac Indians of 16 Oct. 1775, see Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 3:1464–65. GW’s letter of February 1776 to those Indians has not been found, but in his letter to the St. John Indians of 24 Dec. 1776, he says: “It gave me great Pleasure to hear by Major Shaw, that you kept the Chain of Friendship, which I sent you in February last from Cambridge bright & unbroken” (M-Ar: Revolution Letters).

2The Massachusetts General Court resolved on 13 July to employ “in the Continental service” five hundred St. John and Micmac Indians, “which, together with two hundered and fifty of such of the English as may inlist, shall form one Regiment; the three Field-Officers to be English, the other commissioned Officers to be one-half English and one-half Indian” (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:323). For the treaty of alliance and friendship which was signed on 17 July but is dated 19 July, see ibid., 847–50.

3The draft reads: “to call the whole to consult together.”

4The council informed the Massachusetts house of representatives on 29 Aug.: “We have . . . had a conference with two of the Sachems of the Penobscot Indians, in which they request a French priest to dwell among them, such a regulation of the French trade as to prevent its being exposed to abuses, and that a boundary line between such lands as are left for their use and other lands, may be fixed, and steps taken to prevent encroachment. We did not conceive ourselves authorized fully to adjust these matters without your aid; and we have promised to lay their requests before the General Court at this session” (ibid., 1223–24).

5Thomas Fletcher wrote to the Massachusetts council from the Penobscot River on 16 Aug.: “Agreeable to your Instructions Deliverd me in Councill Dated 27th July 1776 To proceed to ye residence of the Penobscot Indians to Endeavour to Enlist as many of them as I could to serve in the War under his Excellency General Washington . . . Immediatly on my Arrival at Penobscot, I Proceeded up the river accompany’d with Coll [Jonathan] Lowder to Mr Jere: Colburns near Penobscot Village where I meet with some Indians, & sent to the Tribe to acquaint them of my Business and in Answere to it they appointed Tuesday 13th August to meet me at Colo Lowders at ye Falls Accordingly they meet with Eighteen Cannoes amounting to about thirty besides Woemen & Children. I read to them my Instructions & also his Excellency Genl Washingtons request to Inlist Indians, & the Establishment for ye Pay of the Army. Their Answer is as follows. That they don’t think that any of their young men can be spar’d, for that they don’t know how soon they may be wanted to Defend themselves against the English Army.” The Penobscot Indians also expressed fear that the British in Canada might “induce French & bad Indians to come amongst them & Destroy them . . . otherwise they would Emediately join General Washington in his Army at the Southward.” They did promise, however, to send intelligence to the Americans and to provide scouts for any rangers that Massachusetts might raise for service in their area (Maine Hist. Soc. Col. description begins Collections of the Maine Historical Society. Portland, Maine, 1831–1916. description ends , 2d ser., 14 [1910], 367–69).

Francis Shaw, Jr. (1748–1785), a resident of Gouldsboro in the District of Maine and second major of the 6th Regiment of Lincoln County militia, had brought the ten St. John and Micmac representatives from Machias to Salem in his sloop and from Salem to Watertown in carriages (see Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:838). On 27 July the council ordered Capt. John Lambert of the Massachusetts state schooner Diligent to take Shaw and the Indians remaining under his care “to St Johns River in Nova Scotia, or as near thereto as Major Shaw Apprehends you Can sail to with Safety” and return with any Indians that enlisted in the Continental service (Clark and Morgan, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 5:1238). Delayed by “many Difficultys started by the Crew” and a British warship cruising off the Maine coast, the Diligent did not reach Machias until 25 Aug. and was prevented from going farther by news of British naval activities in the Bay of Fundy (see Shaw to the Massachusetts Council, 28–30 Aug., in Maine Hist. Soc., Collections, 2d ser., 14 [1910], 374–77). Shaw proceeded to the St. John River by other means but had little success in recruiting. He returned to Boston with only “a few Indians” in November (see the Massachusetts Council to GW, 26 Nov. 1776, DLC:GW; see also GW to William Heath, 17 Dec. 1776, MHi: Heath Papers). For the controversy that Shaw created later in the war with a proposed plan of neutrality for eastern Maine, see Maine Hist. Soc. Col. description begins Collections of the Maine Historical Society. Portland, Maine, 1831–1916. description ends , 2d ser., 19 [1914], 235–49, 307–8.

6Lt. Andrew Gilman commanded a guard station on the Penobscot River and served as an interpreter to the Penobscot Indians for most of the war.

7The minutes of the Massachusetts council’s conference with the St. John and Micmac Indians, 10–17 July, and the Treaty of Alliance and Friendship, 19 July, are in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:838–50.

8William Shaw (1756–1803), a brother of Francis Shaw, Jr., was a merchant in Gouldsboro, District of Maine. The council on 31 July wrote to Richard Derby, or in his absence Daniel Hopkins, at Salem, asking assistance in procuring as soon as possible a carriage to take Shaw and the four Indians to New York (ibid., 701). On that same date John Winthrop, chairman of a committee of the council, wrote GW: “The bearer Mr William Shaw waits on your Excellency with four Indians of the Mickmac, & St John’s Tribes, who have agreed to join you in the War, The Hon: Mr Bowdoin (President of the Council) has, or will soon, write to your Excellency particularly on Indian Affairs inclosing the Conference with the Indians, and the Treaty made with them, to which we refer you” (LS, DLC:GW; see also LB, M-Ar: Revolution Letters). Shaw and his party arrived at New York by 14 Aug. (see GW to Bowdoin, that date).

9In the LS the first three names of this list are included in a brace labeled “Mickmacs” in Bowdoin’s writing. The name of the third Indian on the list appears as “Sebattis Netobcobwit” in the treaty of alliance and friendship (see Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:848–50). A fifth Indian from the delegation also went to New York. On 31 July John Avery, deputy secretary of the Massachusetts council, wrote GW: “The Bearer hereof, Newell Wallis one of the St John’s Tribes of Indians has apply’d to the Council for a Commission, as he says he had one under the French Commander; but have refer’d him to your Excellency for to grant him such Commission as You may think proper” (LS, DLC:GW; see also LB, M-Ar: Revolution Letters). GW apparently did not give Wallis a commission.

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