George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General James Clinton, 2 January 1779

From Brigadier General James Clinton

Albany [N.Y.] January 2d 177[9]


By a Letter received last week from the Commanding Officer at Fort Schuyler, I am informed that a certain William Johnston an Indian of the Six nations had been at the Oneida Castle endeavouring to persuade that friendly Tribe to forsake our Interest, and join them—An Officer and party were immediately dispatched to apprehend him; but they returned the next day unsuccesfull—he having fled previous to their arrival. However the Oneida Chiefs came to the fort shortly after, and informed the Commanding Officer, of the Nature of Johnston’s Embassy togather with their Answer which I have enclosed for your Excellency’s farther information.1

The Letter also informs that about seventeen Indians who have fled from Aquaga have made application in Genl Schuyler’s Name for Provision—after consulting the Genl and receiving his Assent, I ordered them to be supplyed in small quantities untill I receive Your Excellency’s Orders respecting them.

In my last Letter of the 28th of December, I informed Your Excellency that the Department was very ill supplied with Amunition, as you will see by the Return which I enclosed—A speedy supply will be very acceptable as it is much wanted. I have the Honour to be Sir Your most obedient humbl. Servant

James Clinton B. Genl

P.S. Two Companies consisting of about one hundred Men of Col. Gansvoorts Regt under the comd of Majr Cochran will ma[r]ch to Saratoga tom<orrow>.


1Col. Cornelius Van Dyck, the commanding officer at Fort Schuyler, had sent this intelligence to Clinton in a letter dated 23 Dec. (Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 4:417–18). The enclosed copy of a report, dated 23 Dec. 1778 at Fort Schuyler, N.Y., reads:

“Priest Peter informs that a few days since, an Indian known by the Name of William Johnston was at Oneida—he profesed to be sent by the Quyiagas with a Message in writing to the Oneidas, which was farther confirmed by eight Strings of black Wampom painted with Vermilian—In the Message the Quiyogas mentioned to the Oneidas the near Connextion and intimate Friendship which for a long time had subsisted between their Tribes, and also the relation which the Oneidas stood in to the six Nations as head of the Confederacy—They expressed their sorrow that the Oneidas had seperated themselves from the Confederacy, and joined its Enemies, by which means they had exposed themselves to the severe resentment of the other tribes, but that they (the Quiyogas) had hitherto protected them from insult—that the Conduct of the Oneidas in carrying Information to the Americans, of all the Measures of the Six nations, had proved them to be notoriously disafected to the Confederacy, that it was neither their Interest, nor indeed in their power to protect them any longer—They desired the Oneidas to reflect upon the Consequences of their Seperation and to reunite with their antient Friends and Alies in a vigorous opposition against the common Enemy of the Confederacy—But if they cou’d not be persuaded to take up an active part against the Common Enemy, they hoped that they wou’d at least strictly observe those solemn Promisses of nutrality, which they had repeatedly made to the six Nations, at the same time they assured them that if they woud not comply with either of these requests, that they shou’d not see another Spring in peace, but that this Winter shoud determine their fate.

“The Oneidas replyed, that the affair was of great Importance, and must be deliberated upon by the whole Tribe—that several of their people were not returned from Hunting and that an Answer must be deferred untill their Arrival.

“Joseph a Frenchman informs that an Onondaga Indian told him that the Batteaux with Provision designed for this Post had not been able to reach this, in the Fall, and consequently a large Quantity of Provision had been stored upon the Mohawk River, which the Six nations determined to possess themselves of this Winter—And also that they had resolved entirely to cut off the Communication between this and the Settlements below, that their People were now gone to Niagara, but as soon as they returned they shoud undertake this Enterprise” (DLC:GW).

William Johnston apparently was William Brandt Johnson, one of Sir William Johnson’s half-breed sons; another son, confusingly also known as William Johnson, had been killed at the battle of Oriskany, N.Y., in August 1777. See also Philip Schuyler to GW, 1 Jan., n.2.

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