George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Knox, 19 June 1791

To Henry Knox

Mount Vernon June 19th 17911


My letter of the 15th inst.2 mentioned that I had not received any letters from you between the 15th and the 30 of May—it should have been the 15th of April and 30th of May.

By the last post from the southward I received yours of the 17th of April—which renders a duplicate of that letter unnecessary.3

As it appears to be alike requisite to the satisfaction of the public mind and to General Harmar’s honor that the enquiry which he requests should be instituted, I herewith transmit to you his letter to me, with its enclosures, in order that you may give the necessary directions for convening a board of Officers.4

Being unacquainted with the state of the subject to which the enclosed letters from Messieurs Foster of Rhode Island relate, I refer them to your consideration.5 I am Sir your most Obedient servant

Df, in William Jackson’s hand, DLC:GW; LB, in Tobias Lear’s hand, DLC:GW.

1Jackson first wrote “June 16” in the draft’s dateline with a tilde over the number and superimposed a “7” over the “6” before apparently writing “19th” above the obscured numeral.

2Lear wrote out “instant” in the letter-book copy followed by an asterisk and noted at the bottom of the page: “The letter of the 15th instant was not among those put into the hands of T. Lear on the President’s return from his southern tour.” GW’s letter of 15 June to Henry Knox has not been found but might have been similar to the one he wrote to Thomas Jefferson the same day.

3Knox sent two letters to GW on 17 April [1] [2]: a private one recommending Oliver Wolcott, Jr., for comptroller of the treasury and an official dispatch from the War Department. GW probably received only the official one.

4Josiah Harmar’s enclosed letter of 28 Mar. to GW from Fort Washington reads: “If the delicacy of the military character is such, that it will not bear to be even suspected, let it be my apology for the liberty I am taking in addressing this Sheet to yourself. Throughout the course of long Service, it has ever been my greatest ambition to deserve your good opinion—I viewed it as an object inseparable from the duties I owed to my Country—If Vanity has sometimes prompted me to imagine that my feeble endeavors to obtain your approbation were not wholly unsuccessful; think, Sir, how great must be my mortification to forfeit, at this time a little of your Confidence. I will not presume to trouble your Excellency here with the justification of my Conduct on the late expedition—All I intreat is, that you would be pleased to suspend for a while your judgment of it. Arraigned, as I feel myself to be, before the bar of my Country; Accused, as I know myself to be, by the tongue of malevolence, and the machinations of old and designing enemies; I need not hint at the extreme anxiety of my mind to see that day when your Excellency will permit me to call on and dare even the worst of them, to prove a word to my dishonor—Then Sir, shall I confront them with that cheerfulness and perfect indifference, which on such occasions can only flow from the pride of conscious innocence. I beg you, Sir, to gratify me with a board of Officers on my Conduct—I should not object were they taken from among my Kentucky accusers—Prejudged however as I have been, by acquitting me, they would condemn themselves. Among the acrimonious falsehoods which art and malevolence have joined to circulate, I find there is one of a deeper dye. ‘General Harmar was in a scene of continual intoxication, during the expedition.’ Let the enclosed Copies of letters from such of my Officers as are here, answer to this charge. The Originals are reserved for the Court of Enquiry, should they be thought necessary” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Harmar noted in his letter-book copy that the original, which apparently was never received by GW and has not been found, was sent by one Mr. Williams (MiU-C: Harmar Papers). The text is taken from the duplicate, delivered by Capt. John Pratt. The enclosed copies of the letters from his officers have not been identified, but GW also forwarded them to Knox with Harmar’s letter. For the background to Harmar’s request for a court of inquiry, see GW to Knox, 19 Nov. 1790. Knox replied to GW on 21 June: “Agreeably to your directions, I will by the next Post direct Major General St Clair, upon the subject of Brigadier Genl Harmar’s request for a Court of enquiry” (DLC:GW), and on 23 June he sent instructions for instituting a board of inquiry to Arthur St. Clair (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 1:178). In response to a general order issued by St. Clair on 14 Sept. a military court of inquiry convened at Fort Washington on 15 Sept., presided over by Maj. Gen. Richard Butler. It met daily until 23 September. No Kentucky militia officers served on the court or ever appeared before it to offer evidence. Butler presented the court’s findings to St. Clair on 24 Sept. and 3 Oct.: Harmar’s personal conduct was “irreproachable,” the organization of the army was “calculated to support harmony,” the order of march was “perfectly adapted to the country,” the order of encampment and battle was “judicious,” and the disposition of his detachments were “made on good principles” (ASP, Military 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 1:30). Harmar resigned his commission on 1 Jan. 1792 and served as adjutant general of Pennsylvania from 1793 to 1799.

5The enclosed letters have not been found. Knox’s reply of 21 June notes that “The Letter from Messrs Foster, relate to the Rhode Island company which is vacant, and which will remain so until I have the honor to receive personally, your decision upon the subject” (DLC:GW).

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