George Washington Papers

Henry Knox to Tobias Lear, 27 October 1792

Henry Knox to Tobias Lear

[Philadelphia] 27 October 1792.

Dr sir,

The statement relatively to the Cherokees shall be made tomorrow, or next day at furthest1—The intelligence received, this afternoon from Governor Blount renders alterations necessary. I submit this intelligence to the President in Governor Blounts Letter of the 7th instant, received at 3 oClock P.M.,2 together with certain Letters which I have written in consequence, to the Governors of South Carolina & Georgia—and to Mr Seagrove & Major Gaither3—Two Vessels sail in the morning—One for Charleston and the other for St Marys.4

If the President should direct any alterations or additions to the said Letters, I shall be glad to have them as early as possible.5

H. Knox


1Knox presented a report on Indian affairs, “with sundry papers therein mentioned,” to both houses of Congress on 7 Nov. 1792 (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., 611, 673). It included “A statement of the measures which have been taken to conciliate and quiet the Southern Indians” and “Information received relatively to the disposition of the Southern Indians, and the causes of the hostilities of part of the Cherokees and Creeks” (all in DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–93, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, Reports and Communications).

2Blount’s letter to Knox written from Knoxville on 7 Oct. 1792 enclosed recent accounts that warned about the increasing hostility of the Cherokees from the five Lower Towns and the Creeks. Blount reported that the “Militia are turning out with unusual alacrity” and that he hoped to receive Knox’s orders “as speedily as possible” (DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–93, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, Reports and Communications; see also 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 1:292–94).

3These letters, each of which is dated 27 Oct., are in 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 1:262–63. In his letter to South Carolina governor Charles Pinckney, Knox wrote: “The President of the United States has directed me to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency’s letter, of the 30th ultimo, with the enclosures therein contained, from General Pickens and Colonel Anderson, dated the 12th, 13th, and 20th of the same month.

“Governor Blount, of the territory of the United States, south of the Ohio, has also transmitted similar information to that contained in your enclosures, relatively to the hostile designs of the five Lower Cherokee or Chickama[u]ga towns, on the Tennessee river.

“It would appear, that the five Cherokee towns, containing perhaps from three to five hundred warriors, and abetted by a number of individuals of the Upper Creeks, chiefly young men, are disposed for war; and their principal object appears to be the settlements on Cumberland river. A summary of this information is contained in the papers No. 1, 2, 3, and 4, this day received from Governor Blount.

“The information from Mr. Seagrove, agent to the Creek nation, dated at St. Mary’s, on the 13th ultimo, appears to encourage the hope, that the Lower towns of the Creeks are favorably disposed for peace.

“The United States have existing treaties of peace and friendship with the four Southern tribes of Indians: no complaints have been made of the infraction of those treaties, nor does it appear that any of the Southern tribes have any just cause of war against the United States. Valuable presents have been given to all the said tribes, in the course of the present year, and the Creeks and Cherokees have, each of them, an annual allowance of one thousand five hundred dollars.

“The Chickasaws and Choctaws are friendly, and it would appear, so are the mass of the Cherokees and Creeks, the five towns of the former, and certain individuals of the latter, excepted; for it has not yet been made to appear that the conduct of the Creeks is the result of any deliberation of any assembly of chiefs, or of any particular towns.

“It has been said, that the sudden turn that the Indians have taken for war, has been dictated by the interference of a neighboring European Power; but the evidence on this head may be questioned.

“As Congress will be in session in a few days, the information on this subject will be submitted to them. The constitution has invested them with the right of declaring war. Until, therefore, their decision shall be made known, the Executive cannot authorize offensive measures; although, in the mean time, it may be necessary to make the most vigorous preparations for defensive, and eventually for offensive measures, by providing abundance of arms and ammunition.

“The President of the United States has commanded me to express his entire approbation of your Excellency’s sentiments and orders on this head.

“The agent appointed by you, to provide six hundred arms in this city, being unable to purchase any that were suitable, the President of the United States directed that he should be furnished from the public arsenal, at the prices mentioned in the within schedule.” For GW’s directive, see Tobias Lear to Samuel Hodgdon, 16 Oct. 1792, and note 2.

Knox’s letter to Georgia governor Edward Telfair contains information similar to that sent to Pinckney and questions “whether it would not be highly expedient that the militia should be well armed, and furnished with ammunition as soon as possible, so as to be ready for any events.”

Knox’s letter to Indian agent James Seagrove also reported that the “five Lower towns on the Tennessee . . . have probably decided for hostilities . . . and are aided by a number of banditti of the Upper Creeks, chiefly young men. It does not appear in evidence, that the conduct of the said Creeks is influenced by the result of any deliberations of any assembly of chiefs, or even of towns.” Knox urged Seagrove to “strain every nerve, and make use of every possible expedient” to impress the various chiefs to restrain their young men from war with the United States, and he suggested that a visit by Seagrove to the Upper Creeks “might be the means of preventing a war.” A visit with the Creek leader Alexander McGillivray might also “have a good effect.”

Knox’s letter to Maj. Henry Gaither, commanding officer of the U.S. troops in Georgia, instructed him “to be on your guard” and to observe, along with his troops, “the most soldierly vigilance,” but Gaither also must “endeavor to avoid an air of suspicion to any friendly Indians; always treating them with frankness and kindness, and assuring them of the friendship of the United States.”

4A notice that the brig Georgia Packet “intended to sail the 27th” for Charleston appeared in the 27 Oct. issue of Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia).

5No alterations or additions have been identified.

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