George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Seagrove, 27 July 1792

From James Seagrove

Rock landing on the Oconee in Georgia 27th July 1792


I herewith send you a copy of what I had the honor of communicating to you on the 5th instant which I sent by express to Savannah to be forwarded from thence by Mr Habersham the Collector since that date I am not so happy as to receive a line from any of the public departments and as the Cloud in this Southern Country seems to thicken with matter interesting to you and the Union I must again trouble you with what information I have been able to collect since the above period.

In the first place you will find inclosed the Copy of a letter which I wrote Governor Telfair of Georgia and also the declaration of Charles Wethersford against a Col. Samuel Alexander of the Militia of Green County in this State which will in some degree convey to you the licentious ungovernable spirit of the people on this frontier and on how precarious a tenure we hold peace with the Indians—The refractory conduct of the frontier inhabitants of the upper part of this State is so notorious and so apparently determined to bring on a War with the Indians that all endeavours to preserve peace seems in vain.1

My motives for sending Governor Telfair the deposition against Alexander and writing him as you will please observe was that he should not plead ignorance at a future day of the Conduct of his Citizens and at same time to see what measures he would take to check such doings.

Was it necessary or would it answer any purpose I could have many very many of such testimonies taken. Scarcely a day passes but I have fresh instances of those frontier banditti’s opposition to pacific measures and of their flying in the face of the General Government. To such lengths have matters got among them that they now consider the troops and servants of the United States who are placed among them nearly as great Enemies as they do the Indians and for no other reason than that they recommend moderation and a compliance with the laws of the land.

It is truly distressing that a few such vile characters should bring an oduim on the State of Georgia; For they are few comparatively speaking to the good people in the State, who are as forward as any in the Union to support federal measures. but the misfortune is that there is sufficient of those bad to involve the whole in great distress which will be the case should there be an Indian War.

Since my last to you which was pretty full on the subject of Spanish and Indian matters I have received many pieces of information, all tending to confirm me in the opinion that the Spaniards are acting as much to the injury of the United States as they possibly can, and that General McGillivray hath verified my predictions of him.

From every information which I can collect from White people and Indians there does not remain a doubt with me but that the Spaniards will if they possibly can involve the United States in a War with the four Southern Nations of Indians every exertion is making by the Spaniards and undue measures taking with the Savages to stir them up against us.

The enclosed testimony on Oath of James Leonard who appears to be a man of information and respectable decent manners will explain and open to you new matter of perfidy in spain as well as base Conduct in General McGillivray—Mr Leonard is a Stranger to me and in this Country—his appearance is much in his favour, he is a modest man, of few words, and seems actuated in this information by no other motive but to serve the United States. He is a Citizen of Massachusetts & lived at Beverly.

Mr Leonard’s testimony being corroborated to me by a variety of Accounts and circumstances within my own knowledge that I am the more readily led to place confidence in it. He is now with me, and I have taken much pains in cross examining and sounding him on this information, but cannot find him defective, or any room for suspicion as to his veracity.2

That General McGillivray has all along been acting a Traitor’s part by the United States. I have long suspected and hinted to you. To him alone are the United States to charge all the delays and confusions and irregularities which have taken place between them and the Creek Nation. He it is who hath impeded and prevented business being done with them—It is to him that Bowles owes his consequence—for certain it is that he was weak and wicked enough to believe (for several Months after Bowles [’]s arrival in the Nation) that he came under authority from the British Government, and therefore underhandedly favoured him. Bowles had address enough to impose this belief on McGillivrays director Mr Panton, and they carried on the deception, with a view in the end, to injure Spain as well as this Country and to reastablish the English with the Creeks. This I have from one of McGillivrays own family who was let into the secret.3

McGillivray is now gone & I hope most sincerely never will return to the Nation; for so long as he has a say in their Councils the United States never will succeed with the Indians. He is an Enemy in his heart to our Country & measures & is now so totally under the influence & direction of Spain & Panton, that he cannot or dare not, serve the United States if he was so inclined. Upon the whole I think it fortunate that he has thrown off the mark, & taken himself out of the nation—his name will soon be dispised by the Indians—provided the Agents of America are allowed to speak freely to them. I can with confidence and truth say, that had not McGillivray been in the way, that I should, ere this, have had all matters agreeably situated between the United States & the Creeks. He has been a heavy clog on my endeavours —for instead of opposing him in his perfidious acts, I was using every argument to reinstate him with his Country who had penetration to see that he was acting a double part, & therefore they dispised him. I view and consider him as of very little consequence to the United States; there are men in the Creek Nation may be made much more useful, & of greater influence than ever he was.4

Should it be found that the Spaniards are acting as has been represented; & that you see fit to combat them in their own way: that is, make use of the Indians—I will engage to turn the tables compleatly on them. For you may rely, that the Indians are disposed to be our friends, notwithstanding the underhand unwarrantable doings of McGillivray & the Spaniards. The Spaniards it is well known they dislike, & would sooner join any nation then them. So that if I am allowed to Speak plainly to the Leading characters, and have it in my power to make them presents. I think I cannot only prevent them acting against us—but secure them to act as circumstances may require. I have allready taken measures to have two or three trusty fellows at The Treaty at Pensacola, from whom I shall hear what is done there. Tomorrow I shall set off for the head of St Mary’s where I expect to meet Kinnard the principal active man in the lower Towns, with some other Chiefs, to give them their lesson before they go to Pensacola.5 Allow me to mention the naked defenceless state of the So. W. frontier—not more than fifteen men there & those without even a Serjant to direct them. I have applied to Major Call to send one of the Company’s now here to go to the head of St Mary’s, but he does not find himself at liberty6 in my opinion a respectable force on that frontier is necessary at this time.

Inclosed I send you an Anonymous letter which came enclosed to me from the Creek nation—it is directed to the Printer in Savannah. The writer of it I do not know, but it contains the received opinion & belief of all the white people in the nation—and many matters stated in it, are absolutely true.7

The situation of affairs in this quarter seem so very interesting that I do not think prudent to delay giving you information; and as the conveyances to me, are uncertain and danger of dispatches falling into improper hands, I have sent the Bearer James Jordan a very trusty young man who lives with me, & to whom you may committ the care of any Commands you may have to me. He has orders to wait your time for that purpose. I have sent also a letter I received from Timothy Barnard—it may afford you some information—as Bernard is a man to be depended on. I have left my letter to the Secretary of War open for your perusal.8

I shall continue my endeavours to discover what is going forward in the Nation as well as among the Spaniards & convey you notice. In hope of soon hearing from you with further power & instructions9 I remain Your Most Obedient Most Devoted and Very Humble Servant

Js Seagrove

LB, DNA: RG 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Letters Sent and Received, 1791–1797; LB (photocopy), DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–1793, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Reports and Communications Submitted to the Senate; copy, DNA: RG 233, Third Congress, 1793–1795, Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; copy (extract), DLC: Jefferson Papers; copy (extract), DNA: RG 59, Instructions to Diplomatic Officers, Instructions, 1785–1906; copy (extract), DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–1795, Records of Executive Proceedings, President’s Messages—Foreign Relations.

1On 10 July, Charles Weatherford declared that Col. Samuel Alexander of Greene County, Ga., had told him: “We are determined” that the boundary line between the Creeks and the state of Georgia “shall not be run, unless the first articles of the treaty shall be complied with beforehand . . . [and] that they (meaning the people of the upper counties of Georgia) could, in seven days, raise one thousand men, who would, by force, prevent its being run, and break up the whole business” (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 1:307). Seagrove had written in his letter to Georgia governor Edward Telfair of 18 July that Colonel Alexander was a man who had murdered Indians “in cool blood, and who was the principal cause (as your Excellency well knows) of involving the country in a long, bloody, and expensive war with the Creek Indians,” and he observes that “if my labors are not counteracted by bad white people in this country, I have not a doubt of preserving peace” (ibid., 306–7).

2James Leonard, a merchant who had plied his trade in New Orleans, Spanish Florida, and the Creek Nation during the previous two years, declared on 24 July that “from what he has seen, and came to his knowledge in the Spanish country, that the Spaniards are doing every thing in their power to engage the Indians in a war with the United States; not only the Creeks, but the other three nations, viz. the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees. . . . That this deponent received undoubted accounts, before his quitting Tensa, that five Spanish regiments, said to contain between five and six hundred men each, had actually arrived as a reinforcement to the posts on the Mississippi, since the beginning of May last; and that many more regiments were expected from the Havana to that country. That very large quantities of artillery and stores had also arrived to the posts on said river” (ibid., 307–8).

3For the background to William Augustus Bowles’s intrigues against Alexander McGillivray in the Creek country from the summer of 1791 until Bowles was seized by Spanish authorities in late February 1792, see the Secret Article of the Treaty with the Creeks, 4 Aug. 1790, source note, enclosed in GW to the U.S. Senate, that date, “John A. Dingwell” to GW, 12, 16 Aug. 1790, “Dingwell” to Henry Knox or Tobias Lear, 17 Aug. 1790, the enclosures to Memorandum from Lear, 18 Aug. 1790, Knox to GW, 14 Nov. 1791, n.1, 26 Dec. 1791, n.1, and to Lear, 30 Nov. 1791, n.1. For William Panton’s long-standing business interests in the region, see Knox to GW, 6 July 1789, note 1.

4On 6 July 1792 Alexander McGillivray signed at New Orleans a treaty with the Spanish governor Francisco Luis Hector, Baron de Carondelet, guaranteeing the lands belonging to both Spain and the Creek Nation at the time of the 1784 Treaty of Pensacola and requiring Spain to furnish the Creeks “& their Ally’s with ample, & sufficient Supplys of Arms & ammunition, not only to defend their Country, but even to regain their encroached Lands, should the Americans refuse willingly & peaceably to retire in the time pointed out [two months], or in case of the Creek Nation being unjustly attacked by any People whatever unprovoked” (Caughey, McGillivray of the Creeks, description begins John Walton Caughey. McGillivray of the Creeks. Norman, Okla., 1938. description ends 329–30). McGillivray returned to Little Tallassie by 10 Aug. 1792 (ibid., 333).

5For the background to the gathering of Indian chiefs at Pensacola in the fall of 1792, see notes 4 and 7 to this document and Seagrove to GW, 5 July, and note 2.

6For earlier criticisms of Maj. Richard Call’s intemperance and the impact it might have on his decision making, see Henry Knox to GW, 9 July 1791, and Seagrove to GW, 21 April, 5 July 1792.

7The anonymous letter to the printer of the Georgia Gazette (Savannah) which was written by “A FRIEND TO JUSTICE” on 29 June 1792, reads in part: “Mr. [William] Panton has lately made a tour through the Upper Creeks to the Cherokees, and returned through the Lower Creeks to St. Mark’s. He encouraged the Indians every where to oppose the Americans, and not give up their land; he particularly told the Creeks not to run the line. To back Mr. Panton, a Spanish officer has been sent into the Creeks; his talks are to the following purport, viz: Not to give up an inch of land nor run the line, and they should be protected in it; and that there was a large quantity of arms, ammunition, &c. for them at Pensacola, which he invited them to come and receive. He also told them, that, if any blood was spilled to let him know, and he would write to the King of Spain, who had soldiers enough, not far off, to assist them. . . . Talks to the same effect have been sent to the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, but we are happy to hear that neither his nor Panton’s talks will be taken by the Chickasaws nor Lower Creeks, but treated with the contempt they deserve. Some of the Upper Creeks, we understand, approve of them.” The author also asserts that Panton and Pedro Olivier were attacking Alexander McGillivray’s reputation, that the Spanish were sending cannon up the Mississippi River for use against the United States, and that William Augustus Bowles “is gone to the court of Spain, to negotiate some business relative to a free port; he is allowed four dollars per day during his embassy; he is treated with every mark of distinction, and not a prisoner, as has been industriously insinuated by Panton and his myrmidons” (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 1:309).

8Timothy Barnard served as deputy agent to the Creeks for several years during the first half of the 1790s, and he was one of the interpreters at the Treaty of Coleraine in 1796. His letter to Seagrove of 13 July, which includes all of the stock arguments about William Augustus Bowles, Pedro Olivier, and the calling of a meeting at Pensacola in the fall of 1792, hypothesizes that “there were some disputes on the Mississippi, between the Spaniards and Americans, about the land; that the Spaniards were afraid of the Americans, and that they wanted to get the Indians to fight the Americans first, to save themselves” (ibid., 309–10). Seagrove wrote Secretary of War Knox on 27 July that “if I am supported with goods and provisions to give [the Creeks], and allowed to act freely with them in gaining their friendship, that, notwithstanding every thing to the contrary, I will be able to keep the Creeks in peace with us, if not make them very useful” (ibid., 310).

9Secretary of War Knox, after consulting with GW, Alexander Hamilton, and Edmund Randolph, replied on 31 Aug. to Seagrove’s letters of 5 and 27 July (ibid., 259). Both Knox’s letter and GW’s shorter response to Seagrove of 4 Sept. apparently were delivered to Seagrove by James Jordan on 1 Oct. 1792.

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