George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 25 May 1794

From Thomas Mifflin

Philadelphia, 25th May 1794


I have occasion to regret, that your opinion, on the expediency of suspending, for the present, the establishment at Presqu’-isle, was not communicated to me, previously to the receipt of the letter from the Secretary at War, dated yesterday, in which that opinion is, for the first time, explicitly expressed.1 I am apprehensive, indeed, that it is too late to prevent the execution of the measures, which, under the authority of the law of Pennsylvania, were concerted relatively to that object, and of which I had the honor regularly to apprise you: but, ever anxious to promote the views of the General Government, and to avoid encreasing the dissatisfaction of the Six Nations, or in any other manner extending the sphere of Indian hostilities, I shall consider your interposition and request, as a sufficient justification for attempting, even at this late period, to arrest the progress of the Commissioners in laying out the Town at Presqu’-isle, conformably to those directions of the Legislature which I could not, on any less authority, venture to supersede. Copies of my letters to the Commissioners, to the Captain of the Detachment, and to the Brigade Inspectors of the Western counties, for that purpose, are now inclosed.2

It may not, at the same time, be improper, Sir, to remark, in vindication of the measure projected by the Legislature, that the territory within which the Town is directed to be laid out, has not only been purchased from the United States by Pennsylvania, but has, likewise, been ceded to her, for a valuable consideration, by the Six Nations.3 It could not, therefore, be in the contemplation of her government, that any hostile opposition would be made to her settling upon a property thus fairly acquired; or that the advancement of her peculiar interests in that respect, would be deemed incompatible with the general interests of the Union.

In regard to my agency upon the occasion, permit me, also, to trouble you with a short recapitulation. On the 8th of April 1793, the Act for laying out a Town at Presqu’-isle was passed; in which I was empowered to obtain a survey of the reserved Tract in that quarter, and directed to cause a certain number of acres to be surveyed and laid out in Town-lots and Out-lots. It was obviously the intention of the Legislature that this trust should be speedily executed; as the bounty offered to settlers, was limited to those who should actually inhabit and reside in the Town before the 1st of January 1794: but the dangerous state of the Frontiers at that time, induced the Commissioners appointed for making the survey, to protract their departure, till the meeting of the General Assembly in December last, when I represented the necessity of providing adequate means for the protection and safety of those gentlemen, if the accomplishment of the plan confided to them was deemed of immediate importance. Accordingly, during the Session, two laws were passed; by one of which I was authorised to make a detachment, for that particular service, from the four Defensible Companies raised by Pennsylvania; and by the other the period for allowing bounties to settlers was extended to the 1st day of May 1795.4 The language and spirit of these Legislative provisions left me no alternative, but as to a choice of means for carrying them into effect; and lest, even in that respect, any interference with the Federal arrangements should occur, I have punctually transmitted to you, information of every step that was taken; as you will perceive by a reference to my several letters of the 28th of March, the 9th 23rd and 24th of May 1794.5

Under these circumstances, Sir, I trust it will appear, that I could not, with justice to my official station, act upon the bare intimation given on the 10th current by the Secretary at War to the Secretary of the Commonwealth;6 and that I sufficiently manifest my confidence in your advice, by pursuing it, when it is expressly stated. I am, with perfect respect, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant

Tho. Mifflin

Copy, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99; LB, PHarH: Executive Letterbooks; copy, DLC: Papers of Andrew Ellicott; copy, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages. The copy at PHarH is endorsed by Pennsylvania deputy secretary of state James Trimble, "Two Copies made & Examined," and by another clerk, "Examined." The copy in RG 46, which omits the closing of the letter, was sent to Congress on 20 Nov. 1794, among the documents submitted in support of GW’s annual message, which was dated 19 November. On behalf of GW, Secretary of War Henry Knox acknowledged the receipt of this letter in his letter to Mifflin of 27 May (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99).

1For Knox’s letter to Mifflin of 24 May, see Mifflin to GW, 24 May, n.2.

2Mifflin’s letter of 24 May to the commissioners at Presque Isle enclosed a copy of Knox’s letter of 24 May, lamented that GW’s decision had not come sooner, and directed them to "suspend all proceedings . . . until further orders." His letter of that date to Capt. Ebenezer Denny, commanding the detachment sent to protect the commissioners, enclosed a copy of Knox’s letter, stated that the commissioners had been ordered to suspend operations, and directed that the detachment stay at Le Boeuf rather than proceeding to Presque Isle. His circular letter of that date to the brigade inspectors of Washington, Westmoreland, Allegheny, and Fayette counties announced that the work at Presque Isle had been suspended "at the particular instance and request of the President of the United States" and rescinded the draft of militia to cooperate with Denny’s detachment. Mifflin, however, reiterated his grant to the inspectors of authority "for embodying, in cases of emergency, a force of the Militia, competent to repel any threatened or actual invasion and hostility" (all PHarH: Executive Letterbooks; 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 , 1:506). The enclosed copies have not been identified.

3The purchase of this land by Pennsylvania from the United States was agreed to in 1788 and completed in 1792 (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 11:237, 252, 308-10, 313-14, 387-91, 395-96, 2d ser., 6:672; Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 9:485; Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 1:229). The claim that the Six Nations had ceded the area to Pennsylvania was based on the deed of cession mentioned in article one of a treaty of 9 Jan. 1789, by which Pennsylvania paid $2,000 for the land (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 , 1:512-14). For $800 the state had secured an additional quit claim in February 1791 (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 6:669-70).

4For the initial act, see Pa. Acts, 1792-93, 346-48. For the acts authorizing a detachment and extending the period for bounties (of 28 Feb. and 18 April 1794), see Pa. Acts, 1793-94, 463-65, 518.

5Mifflin was referring to his letters to GW of 28 March and 24 May, his letter to Knox of 23 May (see Knox to Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., 23 May, n.1), and Alexander James Dallas’s letter to Knox of 9 May (see Knox to GW, 10 May, n.2).

6For the intimation given in Knox’s letter to Dallas of 10 May, see Knox to GW, 10 May, n.2.

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