George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 19 June 1779

From Thomas Jefferson

Williamsburg [Va.] June 19th 1779.


I have the pleasure to enclose you the particulars of Colo. Clarkes success against St Vincenne as stated in his letter but lately received the messenger with his first letter having been killed.1 I fear it will be impossible for Colo. Clarke to be so strengthened as to enable him to do what he desires2 indeed the express who brought this letter gives us reason to fear St Vincenne is in danger from a large body of Indians collected to attack it and said when he came from Kuskuskies to be within 30 leagues3 of the place. I also enclose you a letter from Colo. Shelby stating the effect of his success against the seceding cherokees and chuccamogga.4 The damage done them was killing a dozen, burning 11 Towns, 20,000 bushels of Corn collected probably to forward the expeditions which were to have been planned at the Council which was to meet Governor Hamilton at the mouth of Tenissee, and taking as many goods as sold for £25,000.5 I hope these two blows coming together and the depriving them of their head will in some measure effect the quiet of our frontieres this summer. We have intelligence also that Colo. Bowman from Kentuckey is in the midst of the Shawnee country with 300 men & hope to hear a good account of him.6 The enclosed order being in its nature important and generally interesting, I think it proper to transmit it to you with the reasons supporting it. It will add much to our satisfaction to know it meets ⟨your⟩ approbation.7 I have the honor to be with every sentiment of private respect & public gratitude Sir your most obedient & most hbe servant

Thos Jefferson

P.S. The distance of our north western counties from the scene of Southern service and the necessity of strengthening our Western quarter have induced the Council to direct the new levies from the Counties of Yohoganie, Ohio, monongalia, Frederick, Hampshire, Barkly, Rockingham and greenbriar amounting to somewhat less than 300 men to enter into the 9th Regiment at Pittsburgh.8 The aid they may give there will be so immediate & important and what they could do to the Southward would be so late as I hope will apologize for their interference.

Copy, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers.

1The enclosure presumably was Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark’s letter to Virginia governor Patrick Henry, written at “Kaskaskias Illinois” on 29 April, reporting his capture of the British outpost at Vincennes on the Wabash River. A letterpress of Clark’s letter reads: “A few days ago I received certain intelligence of William Morris [Myers] my express to you being killed near the falls of Ohio news truly disagreeable to me as I fear many of my letters will fall into the hands of the Enemy at Detroit altho some of them as I learn were found in the woods torn in pieces. I do not doubt but before the receipt of this you will he⟨ar⟩ of my late success against Governor Hamilton at post St. Vincenne. … Having more prisoners than I knew what to do with I was necessitated to discharge a greater part of them on parole. Mr Hamilton his principal officers and a few soldiers I have sent to Kentuckey under convoy of Capt. Williams in order to be conducted you: After dispatching Morris with letters to you treating with the neighbouring Indians &c. I returned to this place leaving a sufficient garrison at St Vincenne. … By your instructions to me I find you put no confidence in Genl McKintosh’s taking Detroit as you encourage me to attempt it if possible. It has been twice in [my] power. Had I been able to raise only 600 men when I first arrived in the country, lastly when I was at St Vincenne could I have secured my prisoners and only had 300 good men I should have attempted it and since learn there could have been no doubt of success as by some gentlemen lately from that post we are informed that the Town and country kept three days in feasting and diversions on hearing of my success against Mr Hamilton and was so certain of my embracing the fair opportunity of possessing myself of that post that the merchants and others provided many necessaries for us on our arrival the garrison consisting of only eighty men not daring to stop their diversions. They are now completing a new fort and I fear too strong for any force I shall ever be able to raise in this country. … A small army from Pittsburgh conducted with spirit may easily take Detroit and put an end to the Indian war. … P.S. I understand there is a considerable quantity of Cannon ball at Pittsburg we are much in want of four & six pound ball I hope you will immediately order some down” (DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; see also James, Clark Papers, description begins James Alton James, ed. George Rogers Clark Papers, 1771–1781. Springfield, Ill., 1912. In Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, vol. 8. Virginia Series, vol. 3. description ends 169–174, and Daniel Brodhead to GW, 29 May, n.1).

William Myers (Mires, Miers, Moires; d. 1779), an express rider for the Virginia government, had begun his ill-fated return trip to the east after 15 March (see English, George Rogers Clark, 1:381–84).

2Jefferson is referring to Clark’s thoughts on attacking the British at Detroit.

3This is a distance of about ninety miles.

4The enclosure presumably was Col. Evan Shelby’s letter to Henry, written in Washington County, Va., on 4 June. A letterpress of Shelby’s letter reads: “Since my last which I had the honour to address to your Excellency some of the chiefs of the peaceable towns of the Cherokee nations came into Fort P. Henry where they delivered some talks which I herewith send you. …

“It gives me great pleasure to find by those letters and other circumstances that those people are reduced to a sense of their duty & a willingness to treat for peace with the United States which I flatter myself will in some measure ease us from the calamities incident to an Indian war.

“I am informed that the chiefs of the chuccamogga Towns have since my departure from the place discharged all the white people and traders from among them who came from mobille or had connection with the British party & from the purport of their letters it seems they depend altogether on the State of Virginia for their goods. I would therefore offer it as my opinion th⟨at⟩ the procuring some necessary goods for them would answer a good end” (DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers).

Shelby apparently is referring to three communications, including one of 22 May from Chickamauga chiefs to “Colo. Shelby at Fort P. Henry on Big Island in Holston” that reads: “They have seen your letter that you left and have had it read to them by the white people and they think very much of it. Their eyes are now opened. They have been shut a great while and we could not hear from our brothers who gave us good advice and told us always wait still and be quiet. It was our bad white men that were always setting us on to war but now we are determined to do so no more and are desirous to stay here until our crop is made & then we intend to go to our own Towns and live in peace and quiet as we formerly did. The great warrior desires you will send some tobacco Salt & powder for his people he sent in three men to bring this to your hands.

“This is the great warriors talk to his brother Colo. Shelby” (DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; see also James Cornish to Shelby, 21 May, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers, and an account from “a meeting held by Col. Evan Shelby, Maj. Jos. Martin (Agent for Virga), The Raven and Hanging Maw chiefs of the peaceable Towns of the Cherokees,” 22 May, DNA:PCC, item 71).

Evan Shelby (1719–1794), born in Wales but raised in Frederick County, Md., was captain of a Maryland ranger company during the French and Indian War and also served as a major of a detachment from the Virginia Regiment. After experiencing financial problems, Shelby moved to Fincastle County, Va., where he prospered and became a local leader. He was named militia colonel and justice of the peace for Washington County, Va., in December 1776 and took charge of several frontier garrisons the following year. His successful expedition against Cherokee and Chickamauga towns on the lower Tennessee River during April 1779 earned him appointment as a brigadier general in the Virginia militia and a resolution of thanks from Congress (see 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 14:810). When a new state boundary survey placed his residence in North Carolina, Shelby became a citizen of that state. He remained active in North Carolina political and militia affairs until his retirement from public life in late 1787.

5Jefferson is summarizing the results of Shelby’s expedition against Cherokee and Chickamauga towns during the past April. For details, and an assessment that the destruction secured no long-term benefit, see Pate, “Chickamauga Resistance,” 83–96. The Chickamauga Indians were a band of the Cherokees who favored the British and established a new settlement near present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee.

6Col. John Bowman led an expedition of 300 Kentucky County, Va., militia against the Shawnee Indians living at Chillicothe on the Little Miami River, a village just north of present-day Xenia, Ohio. Bowman’s force attacked Chillicothe on 29–30 May. The Shawnees successfully defended their council house, but the militia burnt other structures, inflicted significant casualties, and secured considerable plunder. Shawnee chief Blackfish received a fatal wound. For additional details on Bowman’s expedition, see Kellogg, Frontier Advance, description begins Louise Phelps Kellogg, ed. Frontier Advance on the Upper Ohio, 1778-1779. Madison, Wis., 1916. description ends 365; see also William Crawford to GW, 12 July.

John Bowman (1738–1784) participated in revolutionary activities while living near the Kentucky River in Fincastle County, Virginia. He was appointed militia colonel in Kentucky County, Va., in 1777 and county lieutenant in 1778. Bowman became sheriff and county lieutenant of Lincoln County, Va., upon the formation of that jurisdiction in 1781.

7The enclosure presumably was a broadside of the Virginia council order on 16 June that placed Henry Hamilton, former British lieutenant governor of Detroit, and others captured at Vincennes, in irons (see Early American Imprints, description begins American Antiquarian Society. Early American Imprints, 1639–1800. New Canaan, Conn., 1983. Microfiche. description ends no. 16657; see also Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 2:292–95, GW to Jefferson, 10 July, n.3, and Jefferson to GW, 17 July).

8Jefferson is referring to the Virginia Continental levies originally meant to reinforce the southern army (see GW to Richard Henry Lee, 30 April, and n.1 to that document, and GW to Charles Scott, 5 May; see also Jefferson to Scott, 21 June, in Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 3:7–9). The Virginia council minutes between 5 April 1779 and 12 May 1780 are missing (see Va. State Council Journals, description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds. Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia. 5 vols. Richmond, 1931–82. description ends 2:250, 254–55).

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