George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 9 October 1792

From Henry Knox

War-department, 9th October 1792


I have the mortification to submit you, the copy of a Letter this day received by express from Governor Blount—The enclosures he mentions are too lengthy to be copied this day, but are such as to leave no doubt of the authenticity of the information.1

I have consulted with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury on this disagreeable affair. Our unanimous opinion is, That as Governor Blount has been furnished heretofore with the most ample powers, to draw for the Militia of his government for its defensive protection—that all measures of an offensive nature be restrained until the meeting of Congress, to whom belong the powers of war.

It is to be exceedingly apprehended, that this unfortunate event may light up a pretty general Indian war to the southward. Under this impression, it will be of the highest importance that it should, if constrained by sad necessity, be a constitutional and legislative act.2

I have the honor to transmit you the copies of the Letters I have written to Governors Blount & Lee on this occasion3—With the highest respect I have the honor to be sir, Your most Obed. servt

H. Knox


1William Blount’s letter to Knox of 11 Sept. from Knoxville, Tenn., enclosed copies of letters from “the little Turkey the chief of the Cherokees, The Boot who was his immediate Representative at the treaty of Holston and the two Interpreters of the United States James Carey and John Thompson by which you will be informed that the five lower towns of the Cherokees have declared War against the United States, you will observe James Carey estimates the numbers who were to leave the towns on the 7th instant to make an attack on the settlements of three hundred.” The letters were delivered to Blount by James Ore who reported “that the party was estimated at five hundred of whom one hundred were Creeks the whole commanded by John Watts and from the best information he could collect it appears their destination is against Cumberland or the Frontiers of Knox County.”

Blount also enclosed a copy of a letter received from Gen. John Sevier “containing the same information with the addition of three hundred more than mentioned by Mr Carey a part of whom are mounted on horses, supposed to the number of one hundred, and I also inclose copies of three Letters from Mr [Leonard] Shaw all which serve to shew the design of those Indians against the United States.

“I have ordered the Regiment of the County of Knox into actual service for its defence for a few days until the destination of John Watts and his party is certainly known, and have dispatched an express to General [James] Robertson giving him the necessary information with orders to put the Brigade of that district in the best possible state of defence.

“I have also given orders to the Colonels of the several Counties of Washington district to be in readiness to march on the shortest Notice.

“This declaration of War was very unexpected, and has given great alarm to the Frontiers.”

Blount anticipated that the attack would be on Cumberland where “the guards stationed for the protection thereof [are] no ways equal to the weight of so unexpected an Attack. Inclosed is a Copy of my Order to Major [Anthony] Sharpe of the 10th Ultimo, which will shew the force and destination of those Guards.

“I am apprehensive the numbers may be thought too few, but it was with great difficulty so many were turned out, difficult to myself lest I should be thought too extravagant, and equally difficult to get so many from the district of Washington to the district of Mero” (DLC:GW). For the enclosures in Blount’s letter, see 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 1:276–79.

2For the president’s message concerning Indian hostilities in the Southwest Territory, see GW’s Address to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 6 Nov. 1792. The “Information received relatively to the disposition of the Southern Indians, and the causes of the hostilities of part of the Cherokees and Creeks” that Knox presented to the House on 7 Nov. included copies of Blount’s letter of 11 Sept. and its enclosures (see Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 2d sess., 673; DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–93, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, Reports and Communications).

3Knox replied to Blount on 9 Oct.: “It is with infinite regret I have perused your letter of the 11th Ultimo which I have this day received containing information of the declaration of War by the five lower Cherokee Towns against the United States.

“From the train of the negociations with the Cherokees the causes of such a conduct on their parts is involved in obscurity—and the affair is still rendered more perplexed by their being headed by John Watts, from whom you have heretofore expected such assistance.

“I beg leave to request as early as possible a statement of the alledged and actual causes of their violent conduct in order that it may be explained to Congress.

“As you have ample powers to call forth such portions of the Militia of your Government for its defensive protection as you shall judge occasions to require no further steps can be taken at this moment.

“The Congress which possess the powers of declaring War will assemble on the 5th of next Month—Until their judgments shall be made known it seems essential to confine all your operations to defensive measures—This is ⟨intended⟩ to restrain any expedition against the Indian Towns—but all incursive parties against your frontiers are to be punished with the greatest severity.

“It will be of an high degree of importance on your part to confirm all the well disposed part of the Cherokee nation, and to quiet their apprehensions against our attacks.

“Were it possible to make them the instruments to punish the revolted towns it would seem to be just as well as good policy.

“Will it not be possible for you to send a faithful and intelligent agent to the upper Towns of the Creeks to restrain the expedition of their banditti? such a measure is indispensible.

“Mr [James] Seagroves communications are it seems more with the lower than upper Creeks—the depredations upon Cumberland seem to be confined to the latter.

“The President of the United States will arrive here on Saturday next being the 13th instant—any further measures which he shall direct to be taken shall be communicated to you by the post who will commence his operations on the 15 instant.

“Mr [David] Allison has not arrived nor have I heard from him.

“I have received your letters and also one from Genl Pickens dated the 22d of August” (DLC:GW).

In his letter to Virginia governor Henry Lee of 9 Oct., Knox summarized the information contained in Blount’s letter of 11 Sept., including the declaration of war made by “the five lower Towns on the Tennesee, headed by John Watts,” and the defensive measures taken by Blount. Knox explained that since Congress will be meeting soon and since only its members “are invested with the powers of War,” it was necessary to wait for its decisions before the federal government can take offensive measures. “In the mean time,” Knox wrote, “your Excellency will be the Judge whether any further measures should be necessary for the defense of the South western parts of Virginia at the expence of the Union, of the nature and in addition to those before taken” (DLC:GW).

Index Entries