George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Commissioners of Indian Affairs, 13 March 1778

To the Commissioners of Indian Affairs

Head Quarters Valley Forge 13th March 1778.


You will percieve by the inclosed Copy of a Resolve of Congress that I am empowered to employ a Body of four hundred Indians if they can be procured upon proper Terms1—Divesting them of the Savage Customs exercised in their Wars against each other, I think they may be made of excellent Use as Sevnts and light Troops mixed with our other parties.

I propose to raise about one half the Number among the Southern and the Remainder among the Northern Indians. I have sent Colonel Nathaniel Gist, who is well acquainted with the Cherokees & their Allies to bring as many as he can from thence,2 and I must depend upon you to employ suitable persons to procure the stipulated Number (about 200) or as near as may be from the Northern Tribes. The Terms made with them should be such as you think we can comply with, and persons well acquainted with their Language, Manners and Customs and who have gained an Influence over them should accompany them. The Oneidas have manifested the strongest Attachment to us throughout this Dispute and I therefore suppose, if any can be procured, they will be most numerous. Their Missionary Mr Kirkland seemed to have an uncommon Ascendency over them and I should therefore be glad to see him accompany them.

If the Indians can be procured I would chuse to have them here by the opening of the Campaign and therefore they should be engaged as soon as possible, as there is not more Time between this and the Middle of May than will be necessary to settle the Business with them and to march from their Country to the Army.

I am not without Hopes that this will reach you before the Treaty, which is to be held, breaks up3—If it should you will have an opportunity of knowing their Sentiments, of which I shall be glad to be informed as soon as possible. I have the Honor to be Gentlemen Your most obedt Servt

Go. Washington

LB, NN: Schuyler Papers; Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Although the letter was addressed to Philip Schuyler, James Duane, and Volckert Pieterse Douw as commissioners, Duane was not on the commission (see note 3). The third commissioner was Timothy Edwards, and all four men met on 15 April to consider GW’s letter.

1For the resolution of 4 Mar., see Henry Laurens to GW, 5 Mar., and note 4.

2Instructions from the Board of War, dated 6 Mar., had authorized Gist to engage up to two hundred Indians and fifty inhabitants of neighboring settlements for six months’ service (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:228–29).

3On 3 Dec. 1777 Congress approved an address to the Six Nations and directed the commissioners of Indian affairs for the Northern Department to deliver it to the Indians “to urge them to some decisive enterprize, which will effectually tie them to our cause and promote the public service.” Congress also requested Duane “to confer with the commissioners. . . and to give them every aid and assistance in his power, in their deliberations, conferences and treaties with the Indians” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:994–99). Duane and the commissioners proposed a conference with the Six Nations at Johnstown, N.Y., to take place in mid-February. For a report on the meeting, which began on 9 Mar., see Duane to George Clinton, 13 Mar., in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 9:287–91; see also Duane to Robert Morris, 19 Mar., ibid., 309–11.

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