George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Knox, 5 September 1789

To Henry Knox

United States Septr 5th 1789.


In order to carry into effect a certain survey directed to be made by a Resolve of the Congress of the United States, passed the 26th of August, it has been found necessary to ascertain a certain point within the Limits of Canada, from which a meridian line is to be drawn; and as the consent of the British Commander in chief in Canada is necessary to be obtained before any operations can be made within their territory, I have seen fit to direct the Honble John Jay, acting Secretary of foreign affairs for the United States, to send a special messenger to Lord Dorchester for that purpose;1 and as no provision is made to defray the expences which may attend the execution of the above survey—I hereby direct you to advance to Captn Isaac Guion (the messenger employed by the Honble Mr Jay) out of the money appropriated to Indian Affairs, & which is in the bank of New York subject to your order the sum of three hundred and fifty Dollars to defray the expences which may attend his mission into Canada, & to be accounted for by him on his return; which sum shall be replaced in your hands as soon as provision is made for the purpose of carrying into effect the beforementioned survey. I am, Sir, Your most Obedt Servt

Geo. Washington

Copy, DLC:GW; two letter-book copies, DLC:GW.

For background to this letter, see Andrew Ellicott to GW, 20 Aug. and 2 Sept. 1789.

1On 4 Sept. John Jay wrote Dorchester: “The President of the United States being persuaded that his britannic Majesty would readily permit such astronomical observations to be made at places under his Government as a neighbouring and friendly nation may find expedient to ascertain Lines regulating property among themselves, has directed me to represent to your Lordship the following facts, vizt.

“That on the 1st March 1781 the State of New York ceded to the United States all right, both of Soil and Jurisdiction, to the Lands lying west of a meridian Line to be drawn from the 45º of north Latitude, touching the most westerly bent or inclination of Lake Ontario, with a proviso, that if the said meridian Line should upon experiment be found to be less than twenty miles due west of the most westerly bent or inclination of the straight or river Niagara, then, in that case the meridian Line should be drawn through a point twenty miles due west of the most westerly bent or inclination of the straight or river aforesaid.

“That whether a meridian Line from the most westerly bent of Ontario would pass at the distance of twenty miles from the most westerly bent of the Straight, is a point which the United States find it necessary to determine, in order thereby to decide several questions of property which have relation to it.

“That on the 6th June 1788 the late Congress were pleased among other things to direct their Geographer to ascertain the boundary Line between the United States and the States of New York and Massachusetts agreeably to the Deeds of cession of the said States, but that this work still remains to be compleated.

“In pursuance of the President’s orders I have the honor of signifying to your Lordship his request that you would be pleased to permit Mr Andrew Ellicott whom he has appointed for the purpose, to ascertain the Longitude of the most westerly bent or inclination of Lake Ontario, and of the most westerly bent or inclination of the Straight of Niagara, and to make such mensurations as may be necessary to ascertain the meridian Line in question. In that case, be so obliging my Lord as to give the necessary orders for the purpose, and to convey your permission by the bearer to Mr Ellicott who will be near the ground on the tenth day of October next, in order that the delay which would be occasioned by its being first brought here and then sent to him may be avoided.

“Captain Isaac Guion will have the honor of delivering this Letter to your Lordship, and has orders to wait for and take charge of your answer.

“It gives me pleasure my Lord to be instructed to assure you of the Presidents disposition to promote an interchange of friendly offices between the two nations, and particularly to protect and maintain between their bordering Territories, the rights of hospitality and good neighbourhood” (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters). The letter was committed to the care of Isaac Guion, a New Yorker who had served in state regiments from 1776 to 1783 and gone into business in New York City after the war. In 1786 Guion held the rank of captain in a New York regiment of artillery. He had delivered Jay’s letter to Dorchester in Quebec by 24 Sept. when Dorchester’s secretary Henry Motz replied on his behalf: “I am directed by His Excellency Lord Dorchester to acknowledge the receipt of your letter to His Lordship of the 4th instant, in pursuance of the orders of the President of the United States, by Captain Isaac Guion.

“His Lordship receives with much satisfaction the President’s assurances of his disposition to promote an interchange of friendly offices between the United States of America and the dominions of His Majesty under his Lordship’s government; And I have it in command to request that you will be pleased to convey to the President of the United States His Lordship’s assurances of his ready inclination to meet the President’s disposition towards so desireable an object, with which the interests of both nations are intimately connected.

“I have the honor to inform you that His Lordship considers the elucidation of the geographical points, in the vicinity of Niagara, for which the President requests his permission, as a desireable acquisition to science, and that he has given the necessary directions accordingly to enable Mr Ellicott to make his astronomical observations, and mensurations, agreeable to the desire of the President” (DNA: RG 59, Correspondence of George Washington with the Secretaries of State). In spite of Dorchester’s letter, Canadian officials proved less than hospitable to Ellicott. See his account to GW of his difficulties, 15 Jan. 1790. Guion’s report to Jay, 30 Sept., is in DNA:PCC, item 78

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