George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 19 December 1793

From George Clinton

New York 19th December 1793


Although Mr Williamson mentions in his Letter to me of the 26th of November that he has transmitted to the secretary of state the affidavit of George Rankin yet I have thought proper to enclose a duplicate of it together with a Copy of his said Letter1 It is my duty at the same time not only to solicit redress from the Union of the Injury this State sustains from a foreign power’s continuing to hold military posts within our territory but also to express to you my apprehensions that the repeated insults which our Citizens experience from those garrisons may at length provoke a retaliation which it will not be in my power to prevent and which may involve consequences of the highest national concern.

Permit me sir to remind you of the exposed condition of our Frontiers—To the Westward we are accessible to the depredations of the Indians now in actual hostility against the United states—and perhaps our only immediate security against their incursions arises from the friendly disposition of the six nations, which ought not to be too much confided in.

The Caughnawagas of lower Canada (a settlement of whom, has, as I am informed since the peace been established under the patronage of the British Government at Oswegotchie2 on our side of the River st Lawrance) have joined the confederacy of Hostile Indians—which places our Northern Frontiers in a critical situation—and what increases the danger is that our Militia in those exterior settlements are generally destitute of fire arms and many are without the means of procuring them.

There is reason to believe that considerable inattention has taken place in this respect from an expectation that Congress would have made some efficient provision for arming the Militia.

Nor is our sea-board in a more eligible condition—This Port which is so easy of access and on which the public revenues so mu⟨ch⟩ depend, has no fortifications to defend it from the insults even of a single Pirate. I am with the highest respec⟨t⟩ Your most humble and most Obedt serv⟨t⟩

Geo: Clinton

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton.

1Charles Williamson (1757–1808), a native of Scotland, was general agent for the Pulteney Association, a London investment group developing lands in the present-day New York counties of Steuben, Allegany, Livingston, Yates, Monroe, Schuyler, and Wayne. Williamson was appointed as a judge for Ontario County in 1793 and 1795, and he represented Ontario and Steuben counties in the New York general assembly from 1796 to 1800. Williamson’s letter to Thomas Jefferson of 26 Nov., with the enclosed deposition by Rankin of the same date, are in DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters (see also Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 27:447–49). For the documents that Clinton enclosed here, see below.

Jefferson replied to this letter on 30 Dec., writing Clinton: “The President has received your letter on the seisure of goods in the county of Ontario by certain officers of the British government, and measures having been taken to procure a full and certain statement of the case, whenever that shall be received, he will proceed to have done in it whatever the facts shall render proper” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 27:636).

Jefferson had referred the documents to Israel Chapin for investigation, and Chapin wrote GW on 14 March 1794, "I have made enquiry and from the information that I have been able to obtain I have every reason to believe that the seizure was in consequence of some misconduct on the part of Rankin and that his intention was to Elude the vigilance of the British revenue officers and get his goods to Niagara free from the Duty for they were found concealed—part of the Cargo consisted of Iron and it was sunk not far from the shore—I therefore am not indu[c]ed to believe that there is any just ground of complaint in this instance but shall use every diligence to discover any outrage that may be committed on the property or persons of the inhabitants of the united states in this quarter" (ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, filed in 1795).

2Oswegatchie was an Iroquois village located at the current site of Ogdensburg, N.Y.

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