George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 8 May 1794

From George Clinton

New York 8 May 1794


By an act of the last Session—a Copy Of which I enclose You will perceive that a Sum not exceeding 12,000£ is appropriated for the Purposes of erecting such fortifications building and equipping one or more floating batteries and Other Vessels of force for the Security Of the Northern and western Frontiers Of this state as shall appear necessary to certain Commissioners therein mentioned when in the Opinion of the Person administering the government of this State its frontiers shall be in danger of an Invasion1 In Order therefore to a faithful discharge of this trust reposed In Me And at the same time that I may pursue such measures as shall be most consistent with the views of the general Government and the Interests Of the Union I have taken the liberty of making this communication to you And of requesting your Opinion and advice on the Occasion.

The recent conduct of Great Britain to this Country and the measures taken for fortifying the different Ports and Harbours in the Union have naturally tended to excite great apprehensions In our frontier settlements and to render them peculiarly anxious for being placed in some State of Security. from the Means you possess of acquiring information you are best able to determine whether their Apprehensions are wellfounded and to judge of the Policy of my authorising our Commissioners to carry into effect the Measures provided by our Legislation.

I also enclose a Copy of a letter from the Commissioners on this Subject dated the 30th April last.2 I am with the highest Respect Your Mo. Obedient Servant

Geo. Clinton

Copy, N-Ar: Correspondence, petitions, and reports on defense of the frontier, Onondaga Salt Springs, and other subjects, 1791-1830. The copy was most likely among the documents submitted in support of Clinton’s message to the New York legislature of 3 Jan. 1795. A transcript in the Henry O’Reilly Collection at NHi shows only minor differences from the copy.

1Clinton was referring to "An Act authorising the Erecting of Fortifications, within this State," 26 March 1794 (Laws of the state of New-York: comprising the Constitution, and the acts of the Legislature, since the Revolution, from the first to the twentieth session, inclusive [3 vols., New York, 1797], 3:133-36). The act provided in part "That Baron Frederick William de Steuben, Peter Gansevoort, jun. William North, Stephen Van Rensselaer, John Taylor, John Vernor, and Daniel Hale, shall be commissioners for the purpose of erecting such fortification, building and equipping one or more floating batteries, or other vessels of force, as to them, or a major part of them shall appear necessary to the security of the western and northern frontiers of this state."

Secretary of War Henry Knox replied to Clinton on 20 May, informing him that the Six Nations had broken off peace talks, which "seems to render it expedient that your Excellency should take such precautionary measures on the Western frontiers . . . as may tend to Shelter and secure the Inhabitants on a sudden emergency." GW had no information about whether "precautionary measures to the northward" were necessary, but "If any defences should be erected at the northward the president recommends they should be only of a defensive nature and calculated not to produce a Collision with the British troops in that Quarter." If Clinton would communicate "the places on which it may be deemed Expedient to erect fortifications," then GW could "Judge how far the Plan could be pursued without interfering with the Actual train of our affairs with Great Britain" (N-Ar: Correspondence, petitions, and reports on defense of the frontier, Onondaga Salt Springs, and other subjects, 1791-1830).

2Clinton may be referring to a letter signed by Steuben, undated but docketed 30 April, which transmitted a resolution that the commissioners "are ready to receive any Communications, relative to the object of their Appointment which his Excellency may think proper to Make to Them" (N-Ar: Correspondence, petitions, and reports on defense of the frontier, Onondaga Salt Springs, and other subjects, 1791-1830). However, the same repository has another copy of that letter dated 20 April.

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