George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Edmund Randolph, 10 October 1791

To Edmund Randolph

Mount Vernon Octor 10th 1791.


By the Post of Friday, I received your communications of the first instant; and from the character of Mr Campbell am glad to hear he is disposed to act as Attorney for the District of Virginia; & that you had forwarded the Commission to him for that purpose. Also, that a pardon had been sent to Saml Dodge as it appears that his errors were unintentional.1

It is my wish & desire that you would examine the Laws of the General Government which have relation to Indian Affairs—that is—for the purpose of securing their lands to them—Restraining States—or Individuals from purchasing their lands—and forbidding unauthorized intercourse in their dealing with them. And moreover, that you would suggest such auxiliary Laws as will supply the defects of those which are in being—thereby enabling the Executive to enforce obedience.2

If Congress expect to live in Peace with the neighbouring Indians and to avoid the expences & horrors of continual hostilities, such a measure will be found indispensably necessary; for unless adequate penalties are provided, that will check the spirit of speculation in lands & will enable the Executive to carry them into effect, this Country will be constantly embroiled with, & appear faithless in the eyes not only of the Indians but of the neighbouring powers also. For Notwithstanding the existing laws—solemn Treaties—and Proclamations which have been issued to enforce a compliance with both—and some attempts of the Government So. Wt of the Ohio to restrain their proceedings, the agents for the Tennessee company are at this moment by public advertisements under the signature of a Zachariah Cox encouraging by offers of land, & other inducements, a settlement at the Mussle-Shoals, & is likely to obtain Emigrants for that purpose altho there is good evidence that the Measure is disapproved by the Crks & Cherokees—and it is presumed is so likewise by the Chicasaws & Choctaws, unless they have been imposed upon by assurances that trade is the only object they have in view by the Establishmt.3 I am Sir Yr most Obedt Hble Servt

Go: Washington

ADfS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

1The letter has not been found. For the appointment of Alexander Campbell, see Tobias Lear to GW, 18–19 Sept., n.3. For the pardon of Samuel Dodge, see Lear to Randolph, 14 Sept., Lear to GW, 2 Oct. 1791, and GW to Edmund Randolph, 1 Mar. 1791, n.1.

2In August or September GW apparently asked Randolph about “An Act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes” (see Randolph to GW, 12 Sept., n.2), probably after receiving from Alexander Moultrie a copy of An Extract from the Proceedings of the South-Carolina Yazoo Company, Containing an Account of Its Views, Transactions and Present State (Charleston, S.C., 1791) outlining an elaborate plan of colonization in the Southwest. Moultrie inscribed the flyleaf of the copy in MdHi: “To George Washington Esqr; President of the United States From His most Obt. hum: Sert: Axr: Moultrie Presidt: So: Car: Yaz: Comy: July 13th: 1791” (Haskins, “Yazoo Land Companies,” description begins Charles H. Haskins, “The Yazoo Land Companies.” Papers of the American Historical Association 5 (1891): 395–437. description ends 404, n.5). Moultrie wrote to GW early in October, reporting that the company had abandoned its plans, but GW evidently had not yet received that letter when he wrote to Randolph this day. See GW to Moultrie, 8 November. On 3 Nov. Lear wrote Randolph: “By the President’s command T. Lear has the honor to transmit the enclosed papers respecting Indian Affairs to the Attorney General, and to inform him that the President is of opinion, that there would be the strictest propriety in the Attorney General’s giving all the aid that may be required of him in forming this business” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). No report by Randolph on federal laws protecting Indian lands has been found.

3Zachariah Cox had been interested in the Muscle Shoals area of the Tennessee River since 1785. In December 1789 he, John Sevier, and other associates formed the Tennessee Company and were granted by the state of Georgia some three and a half million acres in the Great Bend of the Tennessee River, for which they agreed to pay $46,875. The company’s attempt in March and April 1791 to settle land guaranteed to the Indians by the Treaty of Hopewell was defeated by an attack by a band of Cherokee, and the company’s leaders were indicted before the superior court of Washington District in the summer of 1791 (see Blount to Daniel Smith, 17 April, to James Robertson, 3 Sept., in Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 4:55–56, 79). Cox apparently renewed his plans after the grand jury acquitted him, as Thomas Jefferson sent from Philadelphia to William Blount on 12 Aug. “a paragraph from a newspaper on the subject of a Zachariah Coxe and others, which we hope to be without foundation” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 22:29–30). In Blount’s absence Smith, secretary of the Southwest Territory, wrote Jefferson on 4 Oct.: “Cox’s publication holds out to the Public that his party now have a settlement on the Tennessee. This is not a truth—The Chickasaws who went to see him, agreed he should settle a post on the island where he was, for the sole purpose of supplying them with trade—not to make plantations over the Country. . . . His acquittal by the Jury at the last Superior Court has had some effect on a few of the inhabitants of this district, who now seem to believe the laws cannot punish them for settling at the shoals, and Cox has advertised on Holston in Virginia that in November he and his party will assemble at the mouth of French-Broad to proceed down the Tennessee and begin their settlement—to prevent this I published a proclamation forbidding them to proceed through this territory—enjoining the citizens not to associate with or on any pretence whatsoever to join these adventurers and informing them that should they be so injudicious they would subject themselves under heavy recognizances to appear and answer their conduct before the federal court” (Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 4:83–84). See also the intelligence from an unnamed correspondent in the Southwest Territory, originally published in a Winchester, Va., newspaper on 1 Oct., reprinted in the Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Advertiser, 12 October.

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