George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Arthur St. Clair, 2 May 1789

From Arthur St. Clair

New York May 2d 178[9]


I have the honor to lay before you the Treaties concluded, in pursuance of the Instructions received from Congress on the twenty sixth of October 1787 and second of July 1788, with several of the Indian Nations in January last.1 That they were not presented at an earlier period was owing, in part, to my own Indisposition—to the severity of the Winter which rendered the Communication by the Ohio, for a long time impracticable—and to the Circumstance that the last Congress did not assemble after it was in my power to have sent them forward.

With the Treaties I beg leave to submit the Minutes of the proceedings at the different Meetings after the Nations were assembled, and I have added to them, by way of appendix, all the Letters and Messages that passed between them and me prior to their assembling. These were communicated to the Secretary at War from time to time, and tho’ they will, no doubt, be submitted by him to your Consideration, I thought it best, as they form a considerable part of the transactions, to connect them in that way, that the whole might be seen together.

By the Instruction of July the second, I was directed to endeavour at extending the northern Boundary, as far north as the Completion of the forty first Degree of North Lattitude. Besides that it would have been extremely difficult to have made the Indians comprehend how that was to be asscertained, I found that any Attempt to extend the limits at that time would be very ill received, if not defeat entirely the settling a Peace with them; it was therefore not proposed, and the Boundaries remain as settled at the former Treaties except the rectifying an Error about the Portage at the Miami Village.

The Negociation was both tedious and troublesome, and for a long time had an unpromising Aspect, but it came at last to as favorable an Issue as could have been expected—and I trust will be attended with Consequences freindly to the frontier parts of the united States.2 There are however several Nations on the Wabash, and the Rivers which empty themselves into it, that are ill disposed; and from whom there is reason to expect that a part of the Frontier of Virginia, and the Settlement forming on the Miami, will meet annoyance—indeed that they have not been disturbed during the Winter was not expected, either by me or the Chiefs of the Nations who met me at Fort Harmar. The Wyandots did appoint Persons to go to them and inform them of the Result of the Treaty, and insist upon their desisting from further Hostilities, which may have had some Effect in producing the late Tranquillity.

The Claim of the Wyandot Nation to the Lands reserved to the Shawanese was strongly insisted upon by them and to be made an article of the Treaty: to that I could not consent: but to satisfy them, and that it might be kept in Remembrance, it is inserted at the Bottom of it, by way of Memorandum.3 It seems this is a Claim that has always been held up, and the Reason it was so much insisted on at this time, they said was, that they were sure that the Shawanese, and Cherokees incorporated with them would continue to give us trouble: that it could not be expected to be borne with, much longer: that they would be driven out of the Country, and then it would be claimed and held by the united States by right of Conquest—they farther added that, if the Shawanese continued their depredations, they would, themselves, drive them off. They also proposed that a Post should be taken, by the united States, at the Miami Village as the surest Means to overaw the Nations on the Wabash. It is certainly well situated for that purpose, and would command the greatest part of the Indian Trade. As it was very uncertain whether Congress might approve of such a Measure; as a Post so far in Land would with difficulty be supported, and were in no readiness to carry it into Execution if it should be approved, I desired them to consider well whether it could be done without a Contest with the Indians who live there—and whether, in that Case, there was not Danger of they themselves being involved thro’ the ungovernableness of their Young Men: They acknowledged they thought there was danger of both, but promised to send some of their principal Men to the Miamies and prepare them for receiving a garrison peaceably, and are to give me Notice in the Spring.

The Reason why the Treaties were made separately with the six Nations and the Wyandots & more westerly Tribes was a Jealousy that subsisted between them, which I was not willing to lessen by appearing to consider them as one People—they do not so consider themselves; and I am persuaded their general Confederacy is entirely broken: indeed it would not be very difficult, if Circumstances required it to set them at deadly variance.

The great length of time that elapsed between the appointed period for the Meeting, and that at which the Indians assembled, during which, Numbers of them were constantly going and coming, has encreased the Expence in the Article of Provisions considerably; the utmost possible Œconomy however was used thro the whole of the Business, and in transacting it, I flatter myself with meeting the Approbation of Congress.4 With the utmost Respect I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedient and most humble Servant

Ar. St Clair

LS, DNA: RG 46, entry 12; copy, DNA: RG 26, entry 12. St. Clair inadvertently dated this letter 2 May 1788. It was submitted to the Senate by GW as part of a report of 25 May 1789 on the treaties negotiated with the northern tribes (ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:6–12).

After his services in the Revolutionary War, Arthur St. Clair (1736–1818) was active in Pennsylvania politics and served as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1785 to 1787 and as its president in 1787. When the Northwest Territory was created in 1787 he was appointed governor and served until 1802. In addition to his duties as governor he also acted as superintendent of Indian affairs in the territory and in the fall of 1791 led an American army to a disastrous defeat at the hands of the northern tribes. St. Clair was occasionally embroiled in difficulties with the Washington administration over his frequent unauthorized absences from his post.

1Congress’s instructions to St. Clair of 26 Oct. 1787 ordered him to negotiate a treaty with as many of the northern tribes as possible. “Altho’ the purchase of the Indian right of Soil is not a primary object of holding this Treaty, yet you will not Neglect any opportunity that may Offer of extinguishing the Indian rights to the Westward as far as the River Mississippi.” The line stipulated by the Ordinance of May 1785 was to be the boundary between the United States and the tribes, “provided they stipulate that it shall run throughout unto the River Mississippi, and you may Stipulate that any white persons going over the said boundary without a Licence from the proper Officer of the United States may be treated in such manner as the Indians shall think proper” (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 33:712). The 2 July 1788 instructions appropriated $26,000 “particularly directed to be applied solely to the purpose of obtaining a boundary advantageous to the United States, between them and the said Indian Tribes.” For the boundary line mentioned in St. Clair’s earlier instructions, he was ordered to substitute “an East and West line as far North as the completion of the forty first degree of north Latitude” (ibid., 34:285–86).

2In obedience to his instructions St. Clair reached Fort Harmar by 13 July 1788 and over the next months launched an attempt to persuade the chiefs and headmen of the northern tribes, amidst increasing reports of Indian depredations, to come in for the treaty. By September St. Clair feared that a major Indian war was impending and requested that Virginia and Pennsylvania militia be held in readiness. “If the Indians come to the treaty with hostile designs, they will endeavor to amuse us for some time, get whatever they can, and then make their stroke suddenly” (St. Clair to the Secretary of War, 2 Sept. 1788, in Smith, St. Clair Papers, description begins William Henry Smith, ed. The St. Clair Papers. The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair: Soldier of the Revolutionary War; President of the Continental Congress; and Governor of the North-Western Territory with his Correspondence and other Papers. 2 vols. Cincinnati, 1882. description ends 2:85–87). By the end of the year enough representatives of the tribes had arrived at Fort Harmar to make the treaty feasible, and two separate treaties—with the Six Nations and with the Wyandots and other western tribes—were signed on 9 Jan. 1789. For the text of the treaties, see Kappler, Indian Treaties, description begins Charles J. Kappler, ed. Indian Affairs. Laws and Treaties. 5 vols. Washington, D.C., 1903–41. description ends 2:18–25. The Indians abandoned their stand on an Ohio River boundary between their territory and the United States and made concessions north of the Ohio and east of the Muskingum. Based largely on misunderstandings of aims on both sides, the treaty was a success for the Americans but was widely repudiated by the tribes, who charged that no major chief or headman had signed the treaty. For a brief description of the treaty negotiations, see “Account of the Indian Treaties from the Diary of Major Ebenezer Denny,” in Smith, St. Clair Papers, description begins William Henry Smith, ed. The St. Clair Papers. The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair: Soldier of the Revolutionary War; President of the Continental Congress; and Governor of the North-Western Territory with his Correspondence and other Papers. 2 vols. Cincinnati, 1882. description ends 2:109–11.

3This memorandum reads: “Be it remembered, That the Wyandots have laid claim to the lands that were granted to the Shawanese, at the treaty held at the Miami, and have declared, that as the Shawanese have been so restless, and caused so much trouble, both to them and to the United States, if they will not now be at peace, they will dispossess them, and take the country into their own hands; for that the country is theirs of right, and the Shawanese are only living upon it by their permission. They further lay claim to all the country west of the Miami boundary, from the village to the lake Erie, and declare that it is now under their management and direction” (Kappler, Indian Treaties, description begins Charles J. Kappler, ed. Indian Affairs. Laws and Treaties. 5 vols. Washington, D.C., 1903–41. description ends 2:22).

4GW submitted the papers relating to the Fort Harmar treaties to the Senate on 25 May 1789. A committee appointed on 12 June to consider the message reported on 12 Aug. that the treaties “were made in pursuance of the Powers and instructions heretofore given to the said Governor [St. Clair] by the late Congress, and are a confirmation of the Treaties of Fort Stanwix in October 1784—and of Fort Mcintosh in January 1785—and contain a more formal and regular conveyance to the United States of the Indian Claims to the Lands yielded to these States by the said Treaties of 1784 and 1785.” On 8 Sept. the Senate resolved “That the President of the United States be advised to execute and enjoin an observance of the Treaty” between the Wyandots and other western tribes, but the resolution did not mention the treaty with the Six Nations. For GW’s uncertainty about the instructions to him, see his letter to the Senate, 17 Sept. 1789. On 18 Sept. the committee to which GW’s letter of 17 Sept. was committed reported that “the Signature of treaties with the Indian Nations has ever been considered as a full completion thereof, and that such treaties have never been solemnly ratified by either of the contracting Parties as hath been commonly practised among the civilized Nations of Europe, wherefore the Committee are of opinion that the formal ratification of the Treaty concluded at Fort Harmar on the 9th day of January 1789, between Arthur St. Clair . . . and the Sachems and Warriors of the Wyandot, Delaware, Ottawa, Chippawa, Pattawatima and Sac Nations is not expedient or necessary, and that the Resolve of the Senate of the 8th September 1789 respecting the said treaty, authorises the President of the United States to enjoin a due observance thereof.” On 22 Sept. the Senate voted to give its advice and consent “that the President of the United States ratify the Treaty” with the Wyandots and allied tribes. Concluding that the treaty with the Six Nations must “be construed to prejudice the claims of the States of Massachusetts and New York,” it then agreed that the treaty should be postponed to the next session of Congress (De Pauw, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2:3–6, 7–8, 26, 37, 38, 40–41, 42, 43).

Index Entries