George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Timothy Pickering, 5 September 1790

From Timothy Pickering

Philadelphia Septr 5. 1790.


The messenger to the Seneca nation set off this afternoon, with a letter addressed by me to their Sachems Chiefs & Warriors, informing them of my appointment from you to meet them under the authority of the United States; inviting the relations of the deceased Indians to come to Tioga on the 25th of October next; and expressing your desire that the chiefs of the Turtle tribe, & other Great Men of the Seneca nation would accompany them, to be witnesses to their people of the Justice of the United States, & to receive assurances of your & their friendship.1 I also wrote to Mr Phelps, & to Smith the interpreter.2 In each letter I have pointedly declared that tis only the relations of the deceased & the chief men whom I desire to meet; & have urged Mr Phelps to use his influence to prevent a large assembly. However, on conversing with Wm McClay esqr. who has had experience in such business, I find that notwithstanding every precaution to prevent it, a considerable company may be expected. I have therefore in the estimate subjoined stated them at 200.3 I had first supposed six days provisions would be sufficient; but Colo. Wilson assured me that I must reckon upon at least 12 days, including their supply when returning. However, as the beef & flour may be procured at Tioga & in its neighborhood,4 I purpose to make an absolute purchase of but part of the quantity mentioned in the estimate taking care at the same time to secure a full supply, if more should be wanted.5

ADf, MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers.

1Pickering’s 4 Sept. 1790 letter that Robert King carried to the Seneca reads: “Brothers, Sachems, Cheifs & Warriors of the Seneca nation.

“I address you in the name & by the authority of the United States of America, in pursuance of the orders of their President & Great Chief, General Washington.

“Brothers, The killing of two of your nation at Pine Creek has kindled the resentment not only of Pennsylvania, but of the United States; and diligent endeavours are used for taking the murderers, that they may suffer the punishment due for their crime. Our Great Chief abhors such wicked men; and is determined that no injury done to our brothers of the Indian nations, at peace with the United States shall go unpunished, if the offenders can be found. Brothers, our Great Chief, General Washington, is renowned through the world for his justice and goodness, and you and all the Indian nations may perfectly rely upon his virtues. But tho’ his arm is strong, and extends over all the thirteen states, yet wicked men may sometimes escape. For we are a great people, numerous as the stars which in a clear night brighten the heavens. Among such multitudes, a few bad men may pass unknown; or they may hide themselves in the forests, or going to the sea-coast, get into the big vessels, & sail over the great water to other countries. If therefore for any injuries done to you, brothers, or to any others of the Indian nations, the bad men who commit them should not be brought to punishment, rest assured it will be because they hide themselves where they cannot be found, or flee from their country.

“Brothers, As all business between you and the citizens of these states is in future to be conducted by the authority of the United States, through their President; I now inform you that I am appointed by him to wash off the blood of our murdered brothers and wipe away the tears from the eyes of their friends. For these purposes I will meet the relations of the deceased at Tioga on Monday the 25th day of October next. And Brothers, the President, our Great Chief, desires that the Chiefs of the Turtle tribe and other great men of your nation will on that day come to Tioga with the relations of the deceased, to be witnesses to the above transaction, to receive the assurances of his good will towards you & of the friendship of the United States. Then too the chain of friendship between us shall be brightened: and may the Great Spirit lead your nation & the United States to keep it always bright while the Sun shines” (MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers).

2See Pickering to Oliver Phelps, 4 Sept. 1790, and to Joseph Smith, 4 Sept. 1790, both in MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers.

4For the convenience of transporting the commission’s goods and supplies, Pickering had decided to move the meeting place forty miles east from Painted Post, a frontier trading settlement in New York State, to Tioga Point, a settlement of a half-dozen log cabins on the Susquehanna River eighty miles above his Wilkes-Barre home (Seneca Chiefs to the Governor and Council of Pennsylvania, 12 Aug. 1790, MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers; Phillips, “Pickering at His Best,” description begins Edward Hake Phillips. “Timothy Pickering at His Best: Indian Commissioner, 1790–1794.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 102 (1966): 163–202. description ends 168, 173).

5As soon as Pickering received his instructions from GW he began making preparations for his mission. After arranging for his Philadelphia business partner to provide and transport the requisite Indian goods, he left the city for Wilkes-Barre, probably on 7 Sept. 1790. After receiving notice there that between 300 and 400 Indians would meet with him at the appointed place and time, he had food and drink sent ahead to Painted Post and Newton Point along the Senecas’ route. Pickering set out with his clerk, Ebenezer Bowman, on 17 Oct. 1790 but did not hurry to the rendezvous at Tioga, as no news of the Indians’ approach had been received. He met Colonel Wilson on 27 Oct., and the two proposed undertaking a tour of the Finger Lakes until the Senecas arrived, but their trip was cut short two days later when five Indian runners came in with the news that their companions would arrive at Tioga in a week. When the main Seneca party did arrive on 14 Nov. 1790, Pickering was relieved to see that it consisted of only about 230 men, women, and children (Samuel Hodgdon to Pickering, 23 Sept. 1790, Joseph Smith to Pickering, 4 Oct. 1790, Pickering to GW, 23 Dec. 1790, and Pickering’s account with the United States, c.December 1790, all in MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers; Phillips, “Pickering at His Best,” description begins Edward Hake Phillips. “Timothy Pickering at His Best: Indian Commissioner, 1790–1794.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 102 (1966): 163–202. description ends 167–68). For Pickering’s reports on his mission, see Pickering to GW, 4 and 23 Dec. 1790, MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers.

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