George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 16 August 1792

From Henry Knox

War department August 16th 1792


I have the honor to submit a copy of a Letter from Brigadier General Putnam of the 14th Ultimo, & another of the same date from Brigadier General Wilkinson containing enclosures.1 and I shall transmit copies of the several papers which have been received, to Major General Wayne, as I conceive it highly proper for him to be informed of every thing relative to the objects of his command.2

I confess I think the accuracy of the information of the prisoners to be questioned—their sphere of observation must have been very small indeed—I think however there cannot be a doubt about Trueman.3

We may expect to hear of the reception of Captain Hendricks daily, as he probably arrived at the Miami River of Lake Erie about the latter end of June.4

That the Shawanese and some others are inveterate, I have no doubt, but I think if they have fairly explained to them the ample message sent by Trueman, that the mass of the hostile Indians will probably accede to a Treaty—But in any event the Executive of the United States will be considered by all impartial and moderate men as having taken every rational expedient to bring matters to an amicable termination.

I intimated to General Wayne some time since that the lateness of the Season would probably render it inexpedient to employ any Chickesaws or Choctaws this year.5

I have the honor to transmit a copy of my letter to Governor Blount of the 15th instant.6

The affairs in the South Western quarter are in a very ill position if Colonel Arthur Campbells letter is to be entirely credited—I have the honor to enclose a copy of his Letter to Lieut. Governor Wood who transmitted it to me.7

The Governor of Virginia set out on the 25th Ultimo for the South Western frontier.8

Since writing the above I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your favour of the 13th instant—the letter of General Putnam relative to the post on the Muskingum and the Fish error. TJM--> Carriers Speech are now enclosed.9 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your most obedt servt

H. Knox


1On 14 July, Rufus Putnam wrote to Knox from Fort Washington in the Northwest Territory: “Captain Armstrong, the Commanding officer of Fort Hamilton, in his letter to General Wilkinson of yesterday writes thus ‘one man of the first Regiment taken prisoner on the 19th of October 1791 when under my command, and one of the 4th of November after our late defeat, have reached this post, they made their escape from an Indian Village on the St Joseph 50 Miles above the Miami, passed that place, and early next day reached Jefferson, they came through the place where our Army was defeated and can no doubt give much information. Three different Flags from us have been received at the glaze River, when the messengers were tomahawked and throun in the water, The last was a great Captain (I suppose poor Trueman).’

“From this account it seems that nothing but War is to be expected from the Indians collected at the grand Council on the Oma, or Tawa River—That our only prospect of effecting any thing by way of Treaty is with the more Western tribes; my opinion with respect to them I have expressed in my letters of the 5th 8th and 11th instant.

“The Interpreter [William Wells] who (I informed you in my letter of the 5th instant) was sent for to Kentucke, arrived last evening” and “is of opinion that the Weya and Eel river Indians are disposed for peace they say its their Wish, but they are great liars, and he cannot answer for their intention, he has also heard some of the other tribes towards lake Michigan say they were for peace and others that they had never been at War with the Americans—Mr Wells also informs that when he left the Eel river Town the great chief was gone to see the Shawanoes and Delawares, and to know their intentions concerning the War.

“He also tells me that he expects a number of the Wabash Chiefs will arive here in two or three Weeks, which should it happen it is probable that through their influence a great number of Indians may be drawn together at Vincennes agreeably to the plan I have in my former letter recommended in which case it will be necessary that a quantity of provisions be furnished at that place, for the purpose, which circumstance cannot be too early attended to, if the Contractors are not already instructed on the Subject.

“The Prisoners who have lately made their escape from the Indians, and now at Fort Hamilton will be here in a few days, after the examination of whom I hope a more certain opinion of the intentions of the Indians, in the North, may be formed than at present” (DLC:GW). For an account of Putnam’s September meeting at Vincennes with the Eel River Indians and other friendly tribes, see Buell, Putnam Memoirs, description begins Rowena Buell, ed. The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence. Boston and New York, 1903. description ends 335–62.

Like Putnam, James Wilkinson wrote Knox from Fort Washington on 14 July about the arrival of the escaped prisoners at Fort Hamilton. Wilkinson also reported: “In my letter by Mr Hodgdon I enclosed a copy of my correspondence with the Contractors on the subject of throwing an additional quantity of salted meat into Fort St Clair—which it would appear requires the immediate attention of Government—Escorts, Scouts and detached posts have greatly diminished our stock in that article—at this post and at Fort Hamilton the quantity on hand is very inconsiderable—at Fort St Clair about twenty days allowance for the Garrison and at Fort Jefferson about Seventy—But at the last post we have more than eight hundred small Casks of Flour and at St Clair five Months full allowance.

“I will not hazard another convoy of Pack Horses to Fort Jefferson before I have the Country well reconnoitred, but shall necessarily send up a quantity of live Beef after having delayed a sufficient time to disconcert the immediate plans and expectations of the Enemy; and I have it in contemplation so soon as the first Crop of Hay is secured at Fort Hamilton to move on to Fort Jefferson with the mounted Riflemen, mounted Infantry and Captain Peters’s company and in spite of the Enemy to secure a magazine of forage at that post; however this will depend on Contingencies, and I shall take my measures with cautious deliberation” (DLC:GW).

2Knox wrote Anthony Wayne on 17 Aug. enclosing “The Invoices of all the Stores forwarded since the 17th. of July to this day” and copies of James Wilkinson’s letter to Knox of 14 July, Rufus Putnam’s letter to Knox of 14 July, and John Belli’s letter to Knox of 12 July (Knopf, Wayne, description begins Richard C. Knopf, ed. Anthony Wayne, a Name in Arms: Soldier, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation; The Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence. Pittsburgh, 1960. description ends 69–71). For Wilkinson’s and Putnam’s letters, see note 1, and for Belli’s letter, see GW to Knox, 22 Aug. 1792, n.5.

3For the background to Maj. Alexander Trueman’s peace mission to the northwest Indians, see Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum of a Meeting of the Heads of the Executive Departments, 9 Mar. 1792, and Knox to GW, 1 April 1792, and note 2. Wayne sent Knox more detailed information about Trueman’s death in a letter of 6 Aug. from Pittsburgh. The letter, which was docketed by John Stagg, Jr., chief clerk of the War Department, as “Recd: Augt: 18th; since the departure of the Secy of War for New York,” reads: “I have this moment examined two men just from Detroit, by the way of Niagara, who were taken prisoners by the Indians, one of them near Fort Jefferson, on the 27th of October and the other a Mr John Cleghorn near the falls of Ohio. in April last, who was carried to Michilimackinac, and from thence to Detroit, where he arrived the 24 June and says, that, whilst he was at Michilimackinac, accounts were received that a Captain Hardin, and one or two others, were killed by the Indians, and the papers that were found upon them, were sent, or given to Captain McKee, he was also informed at detroit (where the report was common) that a Captain Trueman and another man, were killed near the Miami towns by two Indians, who were in company with them, in the evening, that, the Indians affected to be very uneasy, upon which Captain Trueman, told them they might tie the other man, so that the numbers should be equal, which was accordingly done. that they then shot Captain Trueman, & tomahawked, the man, that was tied—that the Interpreter made his escape into a Swamp or wood—that the Indians called to him and promised not to hurt him, upon which he came to them, and they carried him to the Council as a Prisoner, and reprobated the foolish conduct of Trueman (as they termed it) for suffering the man to be tied; that their papers were also, given up to McKee, and said this was a fifth flag, they had killed, nor had they any intention, or wish, to make peace with us, as the Americans had already deceived them, both last summer and before.

“He further says—that a certain Simon Girty with four hundred Indians, had left Detroit, some days before he arrived—say about the 15th June, and swore that he would make an immediate Stroke at the Americans, and kill or be killed, in the attempt.

“Query—may not this be the person in red or Scarlet who was seen with the Indians, in the attack upon the Serjeants party, near Fort Jefferson on the 25th June, as mentioned in General Wilkinsons letter of the 6th Ultimo, and do not all the accounts, from the different quarters, and Channels strongly corroborate, so as to amount, almost, to positive proofs, of the Murder of our Flags and the inveterate, hostile intentions of the Indians” (DLC:GW; the date on which this copy was sent to GW has not been identified).

4Knox is referring to the Maumee River, which flows northeast from Indiana through Ohio and empties into the southwestern end of Lake Erie at present-day Toledo, Ohio.

Hendrick Aupaumut’s first peace mission to the western Indians had failed in the summer of 1791 (see Knox to GW, 18 April 1792, note 2) as did a second attempt in February 1792, when he failed to pass the Iroquois settlement of Grand River in Canada. He made a third effort in the summer of 1792, leaving Buffalo Creek, in western New York, on 18 June and arriving among the western Indians in early July. Aupaumut delivered the American peace message on numerous occasions, both formally and informally; the last occasion was during the grand council that convened at Au Glaize between 30 Sept. and 9 October. He and other U.S. envoys failed to persuade the hostile Indians to accept the American terms of peace (see Aupaumut, “Narrative,” description begins “A Narrative of an Embassy to the Western Indians, from the Original Manuscript of Hendrick Aupaumut.” Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania 2 (1827): 61–131. description ends 61–131). For Knox’s report on the failure of Aupaumut and of the peace mission in general, see Knox to GW, 6 Dec. 1792.

5Knox wrote Wayne from Philadelphia on 27 July 1792: “The Season is so far advanced that it is not probable any very serious offensive operations can be undertaken before the cold weather sets in.

“If this should be the case it will not be proper to endeavour to obtain a body of the Chickasaws to join our army—Should they be brought to Fort Washington with the expectation of seeing there a large army ready for offensive operations and find it otherwise, disgust would ensue.

“But perhaps they would like to make a stroke by themselves. In this however they cannot be indulged unless the negociations should be at an end and it shall be discovered that the War must progress” (Knopf, Wayne, description begins Richard C. Knopf, ed. Anthony Wayne, a Name in Arms: Soldier, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation; The Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence. Pittsburgh, 1960. description ends 52).

6In his letter to William Blount of 15 Aug., Knox wrote: “it is to be hoped this may find you at Holstein after having made satisfactory arrangements with all the ⟨illegible⟩.

“By letters from Colonel Arthur Campbell of Washington to the Governor of Virginia and myself, it would seem that all the conferences at Coyatte and Estanula amounted to nothing, and that parties of the lower towns had set off not only to attack the Boats under the charge of Mr Allison with the Goods, and also to attack you and General Pickens. These ideas are said to have arisen from the information of a friendly Chief of the upper towns.

“I am very much inclined to believe and sincerely hope from your Letter of the 4th of July, that these fears will prove groundless—and I am the more encouraged in this as I have been informed verbally that Mr Chisholm had brought in some prisoners who had lately been taken near the Cumberland settlements at a place called Bledsoes station. If my information, given by Mr Vigo of post Vincennes lately from Kentuckey, be true, the above mentioned station was attacked by a banditti formed of Shawanese, Cherokees and Creeks, partly of the very men who attacked Major Doughty in 1790. . . . The five companies of Infantry and one of horse you have ordered into service if the companies are nearly full would amount to a pretty formidable force. If sufficiently alert and active it would seem to be a reasonable expectation, that they would intercept and chastise some of the banditti that lately have given your government so much trouble, and the south western frontiers of Virginia such serious alarms. . . . Every thing indeed depends upon your exertions to avert the event of a war, that will be reluctantly entered into, and at best but illy supported.

“Every just pretence of grievances on the part of the Indians, if any such exist must be removed, and if a war must inevitably ensue, it ought to be made appear to all the world that the government and Citizens of the United States have not been the cause of bringing it on.

“Understanding as you do the wishes of the President of the United States, a full persuasion must be entertained that you will leave no reasonable expedient unattempted, to effect a general tranquility. Indeed your efforts to preserve peace must, and I flatter myself will be rendered conspicuous.

“General Wayne seems at a loss what steps to take relative to any of the Chickasaws or Choctaws joining the army this Campaign. I have written him intimating that the bad season would be so far advanced before the result of our pacific overtures should be known, as to preclude any important offensive operations—That therefore it would be best not to engage any Indians for the present year—this point will be left to his judgment, his orders are to be obeyed.

“But it would appear that it would be the preferable arrangement to calling any Indians this year to an ineffectual Campaign, to make an agreement with them that they should hold themselves in readiness at an early period of the next year to obey our call if necessary.”

Regarding allegations that deputy Indian agent Leonard Shaw was “deficient in prudence and sobriety,” Knox advised Blount “to enquire into these charges, and if you find them well founded it is the orders of the President of the United States that he be dismissed from all employment in the Indian Department” (DLC:GW).

7In his letter to James Wood, written from Washington County, Va., on 19 July 1792, Arthur Campbell reported that since the departure of Governor Blount “from Knoxville for Cumberland, the place appointed to hold a treaty with the Chickasaws and Choctaws. We have the alarming intelligence, that all the lower towns of the Cherokees have seceded from their late engagements to the United States, that a large party of warriors had set out to intercept the Boats carrying the Goods for the treaty, and as the river has been remarkably low, it is to be feared they have succeeded in their design.

“There are also serious apprehensions that Governor Blount and General Pickens have been attacked on their way out as their guard was but weak. One party of the enemy set out to attack the settlements in Virginia on Clinch and Powell’s river. This intelligence was brought a few days ago to Knoxville by a friendly Chief of the Upper Towns. . . . From Fort Washington I learn, that the Indians have lately been uncommonly furious, often killing people within view of the Garrisons—in a late attack of a guard of Twenty men, eighteen were killed on the spot” (DLC:GW).

8Gov. Henry Lee left Richmond around 20 July for an extended tour of the militia outposts in southwest Virginia. For Lee’s observations on the militia, see Knox to GW, 15 Sept. 1792, n.7.

9Putnam’s letter may be the one he wrote to Knox on 9 July (see GW to Knox, 22 Aug. 1792, n.2).

The “Speech of the Fish Carrier the Head Chief of the Cyuga Nation of indians to Israel Chapin Esqr: D. Superintendant of the Five Nations,” delivered at Buffalo Creek on 3 July 1792, reads: “Brother Canadasago. Open your ears and hear me speak a few words.

“You have told me all—you have hid nothing. I heard our brothers before you came—My heart was then bad—My ears were shut—Your talk entered a little way—I began to listen, and my ears were opened. I have received your words, and the words of my brothers—I have pondered them well—My heart is glad for the Union ratifyed by our brothers who went to Philadelphia, and the great council of your nation at the council fire lighted at that place; and which your talk has made me take hold of.

“Brother. As I now think your minds are good towards us, my path looks straight. I will now with a glad heart join my brothers in carrying the talk of peace to the southward. In confidence of justice, I will do all—I will risque all for my brothers of Congress—I look and expect the assistance of the Great Spirit to do good—He can conquer the stubborn hearts of proud warriors, and make peace.

“Brother—You tell me Gen: Washington is a father to your people—You tell me too he is a father to indians—Will he not see justice done me and my people—I will then return if it pleases the Great Spirit, and visit my father at Philadelphia.

“Brother Canadasago. Will you present this my talk to our common father” (DLC:GW).

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