George Washington Papers

Tobias Lear to Henry Knox, 18 December 1792

Tobias Lear to Henry Knox

U.S. [Philadelphia] Decr 18th 1792

By the President’s commd T.L. has the honor to return to the Secy of War the letters from Genl Wilkinson wh. have been submitted to the Presidt—and to say that if there be any thing in these letters wh. in the Secy’s opinion should be communicated to Congress the President wishes it might be done.1



1Knox presented the Senate on 19 Dec. an extract of a letter that he had received from James Wilkinson, “dated at fort Hamilton, the 6th of November last, with an enclosure from Major [John] Adair,” commandant of the Kentucky mounted infantry (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 1:335). Adair’s letter to Wilkinson, which was written at Fort St. Clair on 6 Nov. 1792, recounted an Indian attack on his troops within sight of the fort. “Some of my men,” Adair reported, “were hand in hand with them before we retreated, which, however, we did, about eighty yards, to a kind of stockade intended for stables; we then made a stand. . . . We made a manly push, and the enemy retreated, taking all our horses except five or six,” which was the only great advantage gained by the Indians from this battle (ibid.). Wilkinson wrote in his letter that “the immediate consequence” of this encounter will be “an entire stop to the transport of forage to the advanced post, as our pack-horses are either destroyed or disabled, and the riflemen dismounted; in this situation I am perplexed by difficulties, as, from my ignorance of the designs of Government, and for the want of explicit orders, I am at a loss whether to direct the purchase of more packhorses, or to encourage the riflemen to remount themselves; on these points I shall duly deliberate, and will make such decision as my judgment may direct, relying confidently on the liberality of Government for an excuse, should I err; and, in the meantime, I shall urge forward the transport of forage from fort Washington to this post, by every means left in my power” (ibid.).

Knox also submitted to the Senate on 19 Dec. a copy of a letter to him dated 17 Nov. 1792 at Lexington, Ky., from John Belli, deputy quartermaster general, who reported that he had drawn $8,090.66⅔ without orders from Knox but “by General James Wilkinson’s advice.” I “was necessitated so to do,” Belli wrote, “or, to see the General’s arrangements entirely defeated. I hope the quartermaster general will in future supply me with sums equal to the demands in this quarter: for, sir, I have already spent a great many uneasy hours for want of funds; indeed, I shall now be obliged to curtail General Wilkinson’s order for pack-horses, for want of money, which this country at present does not afford” (ibid., 336).

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