George Washington Papers

Enclosure: James Seagrove to Henry Knox, 4 June 1794


James Seagrove to Henry Knox

Savannah [Ga.] 4th June 1794


Since I had the honor of writing you on the 28th ultimo by Capt. Skelly,1 his Excellency the Governor of Georgia arrived here. I have been frequently with him since his being in town, and have conversed freely and at large on the outrageous conduct of the people of this country. I should feel a sincere pleasure in being able to inform you that any measures have been taken by this government to bring to justice the offenders in the late wanton attacks on the Creek Indians, in order to remove the disgrace which hath been brought on this state, and the consequences that may be expected2—but I am sorry to say that there does not appear the most distant hope of anything of the kind being done or any exertions made to check the licentious lawless spirit of a certain class of the citizens of this state.

I have always given you my opinion of these people with candor and truth, and what I have predicted I have reason to believe you will shortly come to pass. It is now reduced to a certainty that a very considerable body of the people in the upper part of Georgia have associated for the purpose of setting up an independent government for themselves, on the territory belonging to the Creek Indians. A constitution for this new government is already framed, and the terms of settlement all fixed, and which is to be put into operation without delay. The land on which they are to begin their settlement is that lying between the Oconee & Flint Rivers, and below the Apalachee. Old General Clarke appears to be at their head. I made free to ask Governor Matthews if he was acquainted with this very extraordinary business. He told me that he was, and he knew it to be absolutely true, and that he had forbid it, but did not believe any attention would be paid to his order. He tells me that he has seen part of their plan and under the hand of General Clarke. They commence by erecting six strong forts from the Oconee to the Oakmulgee, at the distance of ten miles apart, and as their numbers encrease they are to extend their territory.3 Thus Sir, you see the strides those lawless men are taking. what will be the consequence or where it will end I will <not p>retend to determine, but I cannot help thinking that there is a premeditated plan formed by designing men in the southern states to involve the general government in a war at all events be it ever so disgraceful or unfavorable.

This conduct of the Georgians will give our neighbours the Spaniards a favorable opening to work on the passions of the Indians and whatever may be the professions of the Court of <Sp>ain toward the United States, that of their Govern<or>s of the Floridas and their Indian Agents are hostile toward us. Having lately seen publications (in consequence of declarations from the Court of Spain) which hold out the appearance of friendship with that Court toward our country,4 I am impelled to give it as my humble opinion that the same is not sincere so far as respects Indian matters. In order to support this belief of mine I have now enclosed you, the substance of the Governor of New Orleans late call on the Creeks Chickasaws and Cherokees5—and I do not hesitate to add, that had it not been for the opposition I gave to his application, and also that of the Governor of St Augustine, they would long since have had the Indians at war on Georgia, as well as on all the western settlements. The talks which I had the honor to inclose you which was sent by <the> Creek nation to these Governors will confirm what I here assert of application having been made to the savages.6 It is true that those Governors did it under pretence of opposition to the people said to be assembling under french authority in different states. but Sir those Governors well know that the savages who they should send to war on the frontier of any part of the United States, neither could nor would discriminate between persons of such description and the peaceable well disposed American citizen. On this principle I opposed the application and the talks alluded to proves my success. Since my last letter to you another Creek Indian has been killed on the Oconee by the Georgians.7 I have not to add at present more than that I am sir.

Copy, DLC:GW.

1Seagrove’s letter of 28 May has not been identified. Capt. Thomas Skelly of Philadelphia was master of the schooner Peggy, which made frequent runs between that city and Savannah and Charleston, S.C., from 1792 through 1796. The Peggy arrived at Philadelphia from Savannah on 12 June.

2Seagrove probably was alluding to the wounding of the Cussetah Dog King by militia on 8 May and the attack made by militia on some Creek Indians encamped near Fort Fidius on 10 May (Constant Freeman to Knox, 11 May, and Seagrove to George Mathews, 16 May, 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 , 1:485, 487; Freeman to Mathews, 9 and 10 May, Georgia Gazette [Savannah], 22 May).

3Seagrove was referring to the settlement that later historians have called the "Trans-Oconee Republic." An early report was given by Thomas Houghton, a justice of the peace from Greene County, Ga., who wrote to Georgia governor George Mathews on 20 May about "a free . . . State" west of the Apalachee and Oconee Rivers. He identified Elijah Clarke of Wilkes County and Joseph Phillips of Greene County as the primary leaders of the effort. Houghton’s description generally matches the information given here by Seagrove. He also informed the governor that a "man becoming an Adventurer and supporting himself is to have 640 Acres of Land, and if supported the first year, is to have 400." He mentioned the existence of a constitution, but that document has not been identified (Georgia Historical Quarterly, 14[1930]:254-55).

Also on 20 May, Mathews wrote militia general Jared Irwin that "I have received information of Settlements having been made, and Blockhouses and Posts Established, on the Southside of the Oconee River, over the Temporary line, should this be fact, you will order them immediately to be evacuated." Irwin was to inquire about the report that Clarke gathered supporters "with the design of invading the Creek Nation, and report from time to time the information you may collect" (G-Ar: Governor’s Letterbooks).

For more information, see Edwin Bridges, "To Establish a Separate and Independent Government," Furman Review, 5 (1974):11-17; E. Merton Coulter, "Elijah Clarke’s Foreign Intrigues and the ‘Trans-Oconee Republic,’" Proceedings of The Mississippi Valley Historical Association, 10, part 2 (1921):260-79; and Richard K. Murdoch, The Georgia-Florida Frontier, 1793-1796: Spanish Reaction to French Intrigue and American Designs (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1951), 50-61).

4See, for example, James Gunn to George Mathews, 24 April (Georgia. The Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State, 17 May). Gunn quoted a letter of 24 Jan. from William Short to the effect that Spain had concluded that the Indians were aggressors against Georgia and had ordered her governors "to give no assistance to the Indians."

5The summary of the January address of Francisco Luis Hector, Baron de Carondelet, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, has not been identified.

6The 19 March address of the Creek chiefs to Carondelet rejected the portion of his talk that asked them to send warriors to the Chickasaw Bluff to join with the Spaniards in fighting the Frenchmen and "bad Americans" coming down the Mississippi River. The chiefs continued, "Our nation has too long been distracted by bad advice from your country; and we have injured our brothers in the United States in consequence thereof: But our eyes are now open and we see the abuse—Therefore peace and friendship with the Americans is the voice of every man in our land." The 18 April address of the Creek chiefs to the Spanish governor at St. Augustine, Juan Nepomuceno de Quesada y Barnuevo, complained about a recent message from him "calling us to war" and asserted "we wish to hear no more such Talks." The chiefs went on to "insist that you will not set our friends the Seminolies to do mischief on the subjects of the United States in any respect whatever" (Georgia. The Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State, 10 May, supplement). For a copy and translation of Nepomuceno de Quesada’s message of 15 Jan. 1794, see DNA: RG 59, Notes from the Spanish Legation.

7For a report of this incident, see Georgia Gazette (Savannah), 5 June.

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