George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 27 March 1791

From Henry Knox

War department 27 March 1791


I have the honor to enclose a representation received from the Cornplanter. The fact of murdering the friendly indians by Capt. Samuel Brady, formerly of the Pensylvania Line, is mentioned in several letters from Fort Pitt, and that the people along the upper parts of the ohio are exceedingly alarmed on that account. The enclosed from Colo. Neville to General Butler, and from Major Craig to me, contain the most particulars.1

This event combined with others of a similar nature, will have most pernicious consequences. According to the statement received, it appears to have been an atrocious murder, and therefore merits a rigid inquiry, and if as represented, exemplary punishment.

As the crime was committed within Pensylvania I shall officially transmit the information to the Governor of this state and request him to demand the Governor of Virginia that the accused be given up for trial, by the laws of this state. This is the joint opinion of Mr Jefferson Colonel Hamilton and myself.

Although the accused will either not be apprehended, or if apprehended, will not be convicted, yet nothing farther on this point, can be attempted by the general government.

But I think it adviseable to write to Major General St Clair who sat out on the 23 instant, to inquire into the fact, and finding it as stated, to disavow and disapprove the murder in the strongest terms to the indians, and to assure them, that all possible means shall be taken to bring the accused to punishment; and in the mean time that he indemnify the relations of the deceased for the loss of the horses and other property.

Judge Rufus Putnam informs me of a letter dated at Marietta, the 16th instant, that from the intelligence he had received it would appear, that the Wyandots and Delawares will join in the war against us. and that appearances indicated a general indian War.

Arrangements are made and in operation for recruiting the two battalions of Levies to be raised in this State, and the prospects are good.

One company of the Levies is also recruiting in New Jersey. Lt Colonel Cummings declines taking the battalion and I have therefore offered it to Major Samuel Reading, who was a major, of reputation in the Jersey Line.2

Colonel Harry Lee has declined accepting any subordinate command. I humbly request therefore, that you would please to appoint the officers for the Virginia battalion, and to direct the Major to repair immediately to this office for instructions. I take the liberty of suggesting either Colo. Josias Carvel Hall, or Colonel Rawlings, in the place of Colonel Lee.3

Brigadier General Sevier has been detained from setting out by sickness, but he has recovered, and will set out tomorrow morning being entrusted with the means of raising a battalion of Levies, in the territory south of the Ohio, and with Instructions to Governor Blount—relative to the proposed treaty with the Cherokees.4 I have the honor to be sir with the highest Respect Your obedient Servant5

H. Knox
secretary of War


1For the representation from Cornplanter, see Seneca Chiefs to GW, 17 Mar. 1791. The enclosed letters from John Nevill to Richard Butler and from Isaac Craig to Henry Knox have not been found. The murders of four Senecas at Beaver Creek in western Pennsylvania threatened to undo the administration’s successful efforts to prevent the Seneca from joining the Miami and Wabash Indians and did not bode well for Col. Thomas Proctor’s mission. See Knox to GW, 27 Dec. 1790 and note 4, and GW to Seneca Chiefs, 29 Dec. 1790 and note 5. Knox assured Cornplanter and the other Seneca chiefs on 28 Mar. 1791 that GW had not ordered the murders and “will be very angry indeed when he shall hear of it” and that Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair would be instructed to look into the matter and to compensate the victims’ friends and relations. Knox also enjoined them to assist Proctor “in the good work of peace” (Knox to Seneca Chiefs, 28 Mar., ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:145).

2Maj. Samuel Reading (1752–1838) served in the Revolutionary War as an officer with New Jersey troops in the Continental army.

3The organization of the Maryland and Virginia battalions of temporary levies was of particular concern to Knox, who informed William Jackson on the day Jackson and GW left Philadelphia that GW had agreed to appoint the commissioned officers for the Maryland levies while GW was in that state. Knox asked Jackson to remind the president of this and to transmit a list of the appointments as soon as they were made (Knox to Jackson, 21 Mar., DLC:GW). While GW was at Annapolis, Gov. John Eager Howard gave him a list of potential subordinate officers and Benjamin Brooks’s letter declining command of the battalion. GW then decided to offer the command to Moses Rawlings (1745–1809) of Frederick County, Maryland. Jackson informed Rawlings of his appointment on 29 Mar. (DLC:GW) and wrote to Knox on 30 Mar.: “The enclosed paper was delivered to the President by Governor Howard, and a letter has, in consequence been written to Colonel Rawlings informing him of his appointment to command the battalion of levies to be raised in Maryland, and requesting him to repair immediately to Philadelphia, or to signify his non-acceptance to you without delay. As you will recollect that no arrangements were taken between the President and yourself for appointing the Virginia Officers, in the event of Colo. Lee declining his appointment, the President finds himself at present unprepared for that contingency. He commands me to request you, if Colonel Lee has declined, to signify to Colonel Josiah Carval Hall that he appoints him to command the regiment, and desires that you will take measures with that Gentleman for officering and completing the battalions of levies directed to be raised in the States of Virginia and Maryland—observing in the choice of the Captains and subalterns to appoint such Gentlemen, who, in addition to other qualities, may be likely to recruit their men with the greatest dispatch—proximity of residence in the officers to the places of rendezvous the President likewise considers as an important object, as it may facilitate recruiting, and be a mean of procuring men most proper for the service. The President says he will, in the mean time make inquiries relative to the Officers, but that he will do nothing which may affect your arrangements until he has informed you thereof. The President will halt a few days at Mount Vernon where your letters will reach him, or overtake him at Fredericksburg” (DLC:GW). The next day Jackson instructed Governor Howard to notify the men he had recommended as subordinate officers of their appointments and transmitted to Knox GW’s request that he communicate directly with the subordinate appointees (Jackson to Howard, 31 Mar., MdAA; Jackson to Knox, 31 Mar., DLC:GW). Knox replied to Jackson on 4 April that the Virginia regiment was offered to Hall, adding that “The recruiting service of the levies in this state is promising. According to present appearances, the levies will be completed both in this state and New Jersey by the time contemplated. The Clothing is preparing, and will be distributed as fast as the recruits shall be raised” (DLC:GW).

4For Brig. Gen. John Sevier’s militia expedition and Southwest Territory governor William Blount’s proposed treaty with the Cherokees, see Knox to GW, 30 May 1791 and note 4.

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