George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Morgan, 1 September 1789

From George Morgan

New York September 1st 1789


Having been engaged here some days in the Examination of the deceased Mr Hutchins Papers, I have found amongst them, a Letter to your Excellency from the Marquis de la Fayette, accompanied by one from you, requesting Mr Hutchins Attention to the forming a Vocabulary of the Indian Languages, for the Empress of Russia; who has ordered an Universal Dictionary to be made of all Languages.1

If your Excellency hath not received satisfactory Returns from Mr Hutchins, or others to whom you may have applied, it will afford me particular Pleasure to contribute so essential a Service to the Republic of Letters, by giving your Excellency a Vocabulary & Grammar of the Shawnese Tongue, together with our Lords Prayer all composed, at my Request, by my Friend Alexander McKee Esqr.;2 to whom the best Speakers of the Nation recur for Instruction in all doubtful Words & Expressions in their own Language.

Mr McKees being a good English Scholar, and writing a very fair Hand, adds to the Certainty & Value of these Performances; and the more so, as I have Reason to believe that he neither kept nor made another Copy. I find too from my former Travels, & late Tour, that the Shawnese Tongue is the Root of many others of the more Western Tribes.

A Vocabulary & Grammar of the Delaware Language is made by the Reverend Mr Ziezberger,3 which if your Excellency hath not obtained I will procure & send to you: They are all at present in my Sons Possession, except our Lords Prayer, as I gave them to him when he entered a Cadet in the first United States Regiment; but I will write to him immediately for them, if your Excellency wishes to have them. I do myself the Honour to inclose our Lords Prayer, as I brought it here with Intention to publish it, to prevent its being lost: When your Excellency has had a Copy taken, be pleased to direct the original to be forwarded, inclosed in my Letter to Mr Carey.4 I have the Honour to be with perfect Respect, Your Excellencys most obt humble Servant

George Morgan

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, DLC:GW; copy, MHi: Miscellaneous Collection.

1Lafayette wrote to GW, 10 Feb. 1786, asking GW’s help in acquiring dictionaries of Indian languages for Catherine the Great’s proposed universal dictionary of all known languages. GW warned Lafayette that Catherine “must have a little patience—the Indian tribes on the Ohio are numerous, dispersed & distant from those who are most likely to do the business properly” (GW to Lafayette, 10 May 1786). For GW’s attempt to acquire information for the Russian empress, see GW to Thomas Hutchins, 20 Aug. 1786, to Richard Butler, 27 Nov. 1786, to Lafayette, 25 Mar. 1787 and 10 Jan. 1788, to Jonathan Edwards, 28 Aug. 1788, Hutchins to GW, 8 Nov. 1786, and Butler to GW, 30 Nov. 1787.

2Alexander McKee (d. 1799), who before the Revolution acted as Indian interpreter and deputy for Indian affairs in the area of Fort Pitt, was now deputy agent for Indian affairs at the British-held fort at Detroit. GW dined with McKee on his trip to the Ohio in 1770 (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 2:294).

3David Zeisberger (1721–1808), a Moravian missionary to the Indians who was known and trusted by the Six Nations and other tribes, had long made a study of Indian languages and customs. After the massacre of Moravian converts at Gnadenhutten in March 1782 by Indians led by Simon Girty, Zeisberger moved to New Gnadenhutten, in what is now Michigan where he remained until 1786. At this time he was helping to establish new Moravian settlements in Ohio and in Canada.

4Mathew Carey.

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