George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Marshall, 11 September 1790

From Thomas Marshall

Woodford County [Kentucky District of Va.]
Septr 11th 1790


I have taken the liberty to inclose you a Kentucky paper wherein is published an extract from one of Mr Brown’s letters respecting the Spanish business.1 My reason for doing this is that you may judge how far it confirms a representation I formerly had the honor to make you on that subject.2 The part I then publickly took in this affair has intirely excluded me from any knowledge of his subsequent communications to his confidential friends.

You will discover by the paper I send you, to what lengths matters have been carried. Every thing relative to this matter on the part of Mr Brown has by his friends & coadjutors been denied or conceeled, which has produced a necessity for the inclos’d publication.

I shall only take the liberty of adding that a great majority of the people of this District appear to be well dispos’d to the government of the United States tho’ they have, through the influence and industry of his confidential friends, again elected Mr Brown to Congress; and that our official & influential characters having taken the Oath to support the general Government together with the position the continental troops have taken, in my opinion leaves us little to fear at present from t⟨he⟩ machinations of any Spanish party.

That God may bless & preserve you, and that the United States may long continue to enjoy the happiness of your Government & protection, is the most fervent prayer of one who has the honor to be with the most respectful esteem & sincerity, Your most obedient and very humble Servant3

T. Marshall


For the earlier intrigues of Spanish and British agents to separate the people of Kentucky from the United States, see Harry Innes to GW, 18 Dec. 1788 and notes, Thomas Marshall to GW, 12 Feb. 1789 and notes, and 26 June 1789, and GW to Marshall, 27 Mar. 1789; see also Thomas Jefferson to GW, 8 Aug. 1790, source note and note 1.

1Marshall enclosed two pages of the 23 Aug. 1790 issue of the Kentucky Gazette (Lexington), in which was printed an undated letter of Thomas’s son James to the freeholders and other citizens of the district, quoting John Brown’s letter to George Muter, 10 July 1788 (see Marshall to GW, 12 Feb. 1789, n.3). It reads: “Gentlemen, Unused as I have been, to a necessity of clearing my character from aspersion, it may readily be conceived with how much pain I find myself compelled to do so on this occasion. Reports have been industriously propagated among the people, that I have falsely charged Mr. John Brown with having, during the continuance of the former Congress, entered into treaty with the Spanish Minister for the purpose of separating the district of Kentuckey from the United States and forming an alliance with Spain. My motives are said to have been, to injure Mr⟨.⟩ Brown in the succeeding election. I trust a plain statement of my conduct from the commencement of this business, will sufficiently free me from every part of this charge. On my arrival in this district in the year 1788 I found it currently said by men of characte⟨r⟩ here that Mr. Brown had entered in⟨t⟩o negociations of the kind above-mentioned, with Don Gardoqui. I soon afterwards saw him charged in the Alexandria Gazette with having done so. By a letter from Mr. Brown to the Honorable George Muter I was convinced in my own mind the charge w⟨as just.⟩ I then mentioned it as my opinion publicly and frequently. Mr. B⟨row⟩n was at that time in this country. Since my having been declared a candidate for the ensuing Congress, in opposition to Mr⟨.⟩ Brown I have as much as possible avoided speaking on this subject, but when I have spoken, I have given my opinion freely. I can with confidence affirm that neither myself or (to my knowledge) any of my friends, have made use of this charge against Mr. Brown, to injure his interests with the people or to acquire votes for me. But, now, since I am charged with giving birth to false reports, I consider it as my duty to lay before the public the proofs on which I have formed my opinion; for this purpose I have prevailed with the honorable George Muter to permit me to publish a copy of that letter from Mr. Brown, which f⟨ur⟩nishes these proofs and is as follows[:] Dated July 10th 1788.

“’It was not in my power to obtain a decision earlier than the 3d inst [A] great part of the winter and spring there was not a representation of the States sufficient to proceed in this business and after it was referred to a g⟨r⟩and committee they could not be prevailed upon to report a majority of them being opposed to the measure. The Eastern States would not⟨,⟩ nor do I think they will assent to the admission of the district into the Union as an independent State, unless Vermont or the Province of Main is brought forward at the same time the change which has taken place in the general gove⟨r⟩nment is made the ostensible objection to the measure, but a jealousy of the growing importance of the Western country and an unwillingness to add a vote to the Southern interest are the real causes of opposition an⟨d⟩ I am inclined to believe they will exist to a certain degree even under the new government to which the application is referred by Congress. The question which the district will now have to determine upon will be whether or not it will be most expedient to continue the connection with the state of Virginia or to declare their independence and proceed to frame a Constitutional government. ’Tis generally expected that the latter will be ⟨the⟩ determination as you have proceeded too far to think of relinquishing the measure and as the interest of the district will render it altogether inexpedient to continue in your present situation until an application for admission into the Union can be made in a Constitutional mode to the new Government⟨.⟩ This step will in my opinion ⟨t⟩end to preserve unanimity and wil⟨l⟩ enable you to adopt (with effect) such measures as may be necessary to promote the interests of the dist⟨rict.⟩

“‘⟨Illegible⟩ conferences which I have had with Mr. Gardoqui the Spanish Minister at this place I have been assured by him in the most explicit terms that if Kentucky will declare her independence and empower some proper person to negociate with him that he has authority and will engage to open the navigation of the Missisippi for the exportation of their produce on terms of mutual advantage But that this priviledge never can be extended to them whilst part of the United States by reason of commercial treaties existing between that court and other powers of Europe. As there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of this declaration, I have thought proper to communicate it to a few confidential friends in the district with his permission not doubting but they will make a prudent use of the information which is in part confirmed by dispatches yesterday received by Congress from Mr. Carmichael our Minister at that court the contents of which I am not at liberty to disclose.’

“I think it is unnecessary for me to make a single observation on the foregoing letter. Mr. Brown well knew how it was understood, he knew the manner in which it was spoken of and as far as I know has never once attempted to explain the motives for his conduct.—The public will judge if my opinion has been well grounded they can judge too whether I have made an unfair use of the information I was possessed of. How I have been compelled to make this appeal will I hope be fairly stated, by those who know more of the subject than my self. I will only add that ’tis painful to me on any occasion to become the principal in a public dispute” (DLC:GW). On the same page of the newspaper is a 16 Aug. 1790 letter of Thomas Marshall’s son-in-law, Humphrey Marshall, explaining his accidental presence at an abortive duel between James Marshall and John Brown.

3GW’s 6 Feb. 1791 reply from Philadelphia reads: “In acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 11th of September I must beg you to accept my thanks for the pleasing communication which it contains of the good disposition of the people of Kentucky towards the government of the United States.

“I never doubted but that the operations of this government if not perverted by prejudice or evil designs, would inspire the Citizens of America with such confidence in it as effectually to do away those apprehensions which under the former confederation our best men entertained of divisions among ourselves or allurements from other nations; I am therefore happy to find that such a disposition prevails in your part of the Country as to remove any idea of that evil which a few years ago you so much dreaded.

“I shall receive with great satisfaction and with due thanks any information of a public or private nature that you may think proper to communicate to me from your district. These communications will be the more grateful as we seldom hear the particulars of any transactions from that quarter—and the intelligence often comes through such channels, as in a great measure to prevent confidence being placed in it” (LB, DLC:GW).

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