George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Hugh Williamson, 8 May 1789

From Hugh Williamson

New York 8th May 1789


It does not appear from any Information in my Hands that Col: Jos: Martin has at this Time any public Commission under which he may be authorised to treat with the Indians.1

On the 20th of June last he was appointed by Congress Agent for the Cherokees having been previously nominated by Mr Brown of Virginia. That appointment was for six months from the Time he took on himself the Duties of the Office. It must have expired.2

He was appointed by our Legislature on Decr[,] was a Year Brigadier for the District between the Mountains, the Place for some Time called a State, and in his Military Capacity he attempted on the last Fall to chastise the Chikamagas without Success.

The Legislature of N. Carolina at their last Session appointed a Mr Steel of Salisbury a very discreet young Man their Commissioner who in conjunction with the Commissioner of S. Carolina & Georgia and the Indian Superintendant in the Southern Department are to treat with the Indians.3 They have taken some Steps in this Business.

From those Facts compared with every Information from the State I have Reason to believe that Mr Martin cannot at this Time treat with the Indians under any public Authority, and that from sundry Causes he is in low Estimation in the State. As an Indian Trader and a man who has an Indian Wife it is probable nevertheless that having an old Commission in his Pocket he may talk to the Indians as a public Officer. I have the Honour to be with the utmost Consideration Your most obedient & most hble Servant

Hu. Williamson

P:S: About to set out to day for N. Carola if any thing on this Subject or any other that deserves your Attention occurs I shall have the Honour to communicate the same.

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Hugh Williamson (1735–1819), a native of Pennsylvania, was educated in mathematics at the College of Philadelphia, in theology in Connecticut, and studied medicine in Edinburgh and at the University of Utrecht. He practiced medicine briefly in Philadelphia before the Revolution and was active in Patriot circles in America and in Europe at the beginning of the war. Around 1777 he moved to Edenton, N.C., and opened a successful mercantile and trading business, serving in the North Carolina house of commons and from 1782 to 1785 and again in 1787 and 1788 as a member of the Continental Congress. He attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and the North Carolina Ratifying Convention at Fayetteville in 1789, in both of which he strongly supported the Constitution. Williamson was elected to the First and Second Congresses.

1GW evidently had asked Williamson for information on the activities of Joseph Martin, probably as a result of information received from Gov. George Walton of Georgia. For a description of the difficulties caused by Martin, see Walton’s letter to GW, 11 Mar. 1789. For further information from Williamson on frontier matters, see his letter to GW, 21 May 1789.

2In a letter of 13 May 1788 to Gov. Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Martin complained about violations of the Cherokee’s treaty rights by white settlers. Randolph submitted the letter to the Virginia congressional delegation on 20 May, and on 26 May Secretary at War Henry Knox, to whom the letters were referred, reported that Congress should appoint an agent to the Cherokee for the period of six months. On 20 June John Brown, delegate from the district of Kentucky, nominated Martin (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 34:165, 182–83, 241, 247).

3John Steele (1764–1815) of Salisbury, N.C., was at the beginning of his political career. He had already served as assessor and town commissioner of Salisbury, as a member of the North Carolina house of commons, and as a representative at the Hillsboro convention to consider North Carolina’s adoption of the Constitution. Steele was also a member of the second North Carolina convention, which met at Fayetteville in November 1789 and ratified the Constitution. For his role as North Carolina’s commissioner to negotiate with the southern Indians, see Williamson to GW, 21 May 1789. With North Carolina’s ratification, he was elected as one of the state’s representatives to the United States Congress. In 1796 GW appointed him comptroller of the Treasury.

Index Entries