George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 15 July 1794

From Thomas Mifflin

Philadelphia, 15th July 1794.


I have the honor to transmit, for your information, copies of the various documents which I have received by Express from Genl Gibson, stating, among other things, the proceedings of a Council, held at Fort Le Bœuf on the 26th ulto, between Capn Denny and Mr Ellicot, and a deputation from the Six Nations in the presence of Genl Chapin.1

The requisition which has been made on this occasion, for the abandonment of a great portion of the territory of the State, is so extravagant, that we must suppose it to proceed from the instigation of a policy more hostile to the United States, than can reasonably be ascribed to the natural arrogance or enmity of the Indians themselves. It is a circumstance, indeed, additionally mortifying, that no attempt was made, even to conceal the source from which the insult came: Mr Johnston the British Agent, attended the Council.2

It will be obvious to you, Sir, that it is not in my power to authorise a compliance with the requisition, or to treat upon the subject. My duty calls upon me to execute the laws; and, in doing so, it will be incumbent on me to maintain not only the public claim of jurisdiction, but the private rights of property, throughout the State, against invasion and outrage. For that important purpose, I shall exert all the legal authority of my office: and I take this opportunity to request the co-operation of the General Government, as far as its Federal obligations will extend.

The suspension of the Presqu’-Isle establishment,3 has probably increased our difficulties; but after the information, which has just been received, I conceive that the essential interests of the State, the safety of its Citizens, and the preservation of its property, [are]4 involved in the immediate prosecution of our object and I trust, that you will now find reason to concur in that opinion. I am, with perfect respect, Sir, Your Excellency’s Mo’t Obed: Servt

Tho. Mifflin

DfS, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99; LB, PHarH: Executive Letterbooks; copy, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages; copy, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99; copy, DLC: Papers of Andrew Ellicott; copy, PHi: Papers of William Irvine. The draft is in the writing of Pennsylvania deputy secretary James Trimble, with revisions by Pennsylvania secretary of state Alexander James Dallas. The copy in Senate records was enclosed with GW’s message to Congress of 19 November. GW received the letter on this date and forwarded it to Secretary of War Henry Knox for consideration (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 313-14).

1At the council on 26 June, Israel Chapin read the portion of the speech given at the council of 18 June in which he was requested to remove the Pennsylvanians from Presque Isle, and Andrew Ellicott and Ebenezer Denny gave their reply to the Indians, for which see Henry Knox to GW, 14 July (fourth letter), n.1.

According to GW’s journal of proceedings, Mifflin also enclosed John Gibson’s cover letter to Mifflin of 7 July, Israel Chapin’s letter of 24 June to the commanding officer at Fort Le Boeuf, Denny’s letter to Gibson of 27 June, Ellicott’s letter to Mifflin of 29 June, and Denny’s letter to Mifflin of 29 June (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 313-14). The copies of these enclosures that were submitted to Congress on 20 Nov., in support of GW’s message of 19 Nov., are to be found in DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793-95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages (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 , 1:515-17). Certifications by Trimble and Dallas indicate that GW was sent an extract of Denny’s letter to Mifflin and copies of the remaining documents.

Gibson warned Mifflin, "The British have at length succeeded in accomplishing their long wished for Object in getting the six Nations to join the western Indians against the United States, and I am afraid our Frontiers will feel the effects."

Chapin informed the commanding officer of his arrival at Presque Isle "with a Deputation from the six Nations of Indians, consisting of sixteen Chiefs and Warriors with a message we were desired to deliver to some People, whom they supposed were here," and his intention to bring the delegation to the fort.

Denny enclosed the conference proceedings to Gibson, commenting, "You will perceive by the Message that the Indians are disposed to have us pushed back, and if we don’t leave the Country they are to consider us as no Friends." He did not "apprehend much Danger here as long as we can keep our men together," but with his numbers reduced by illness and detachment, he found himself "under the Necessity of begging a few Militia" to protect a cattle drive and the settlement at Cussewago (now Meadville, Pa.).

Ellicott informed Mifflin about his efforts to strengthen forts Franklin and Le Boeuf and enclosed a copy of the proceedings of 26 June, commenting, "I leave to yourself to consider the propriety of a British Agent attending a considerable Number of Indians with a Superintendant of Indian Affairs of the United States, to order the People of Pennsylvania to remove from those lands which had been ceded to them by Treaty, by the King of Great Britain, and since that time, regularly purchased from the six Nations and punctually paid for."

He added: "The line described by the Indians on the Map will take from the State of Pennsylvania, the Cassewago Settlement, being part of the purchase of 1784 and the whole of the purchase of 1788. But with respect to this Claim they can be serious only so far as encouraged by the British Agents, and the Countenance shewn them by the late interference of the United States.

"The Objection made by Mr Brant to Genl Chapin that the Establishment at Presqu’ile would cut off the Communication between the six Nations and the western hostile Indians and thereby diminish their joint Strength, is the strongest argument that can be urged in favour of that Establishment. Genl Chapin and myself are of Opinion, that all differences between the State of Pennsylvania and the six Nations, might be accommodated by Treaty, which Treaty ought not to be held in the neighbourhood of any post occupied by the British, The United States or this State at present, and that Presqu’ile is the most eligible place for such a Treaty. Genl Chapin I presume has communicated his Sentiments to General Knox on this Subject.

"Standing Stone, a Chief residing at Conyat has informed us since we arrived at this place that the late Mischief on the Allegheny River and Venango Path was done by a party of eight Warriors from Huron River which falls into Lake Erie about twenty six Miles above Cayahoga—One of his Brothers saw them on their Way to commit those Depredations—Those Indians are only to be chastised by the way of the Lake, but it is neither the Interest of the British, Brandt, nor the other Agents to have them punished; it is the Interest of the United States, and yet the United States by directing a suspension of the Business at Presqu’ile have taken effectual measures for the Security of this Nest of Murderers, whose Cruelties have for some years past been severely felt by the Citizens of this State.

"You must recollect that I always had my Doubts respecting the Fulfilment of the Contract for opening the Navigation of French Creek, and a Road from Le Bœuf to Presqu’ile, and agreeably to my Expectations have hitherto not been able to discover any thing done in that Business. For the further Security of the Frontiers of this State, it would be necessary to erect two Blockhouses on the Venango Path, between Fort Pitt and Venango, and a third between Venango and this place."

Denny’s letter to Mifflin discussed the route from Fort Franklin to Fort Le Boeuf and illness among his troops, and it enclosed another copy of the proceedings of 26 June. He commented: "William Johnson who is mentioned in the message is a British Agent, he acted slyly as prompter to the Chiefs. They denied having sold their Country. told us that the Paper (Deed) which they signed at Fort Harmar was thought by them then to be nothing but a Treaty of Peace, and that the Goods which was delivered them, they considered as presents—Money they say, they received none—The line which they had marked upon their Map began at OBails Town and in a direct line crossed French Creek, just below Mead’s and on to the Head of Cayahaga—from thence to the Muskingum and down the Ohio and to its Mouth, and up the Mississippi leaving a small Square for a trading House at the Mouths of the rivers, and one where Clarke’s Ville now is—The Fellows were very inquisitive to know if any Surveyors were out, and told us to stop every Person going towards the Lake—They will expect an Answer from our great Council.

"I wou’d just remark, that in case of a War it will be very difficult keeping either Horses or Cattle about the Place, and impossible to get any Supplies, being so near their Towns; unless we have three Times the Number of Men, which we now have and establish several intermediate Posts."

2William Johnston (c.1742-1807) was an interpreter for the Indian Department at Niagara and an early settler of the area that became Buffalo, N.Y. The British governor of Canada, John Graves Simcoe, had reported to Lord Dorchester on 16 March that he would "press upon" Johnston "the necessity of using all his influence with O’Beal . . . and in general with the Six Nations, to defeat the purposes of the Pennsylvanians in this quarter" (Cruikshank, Simcoe Papers, 2:189).

3On the draft, the remainder of this paragraph is a revision which replaced the following text: "<illegible> I <was> apprehensive, been falsely imputed to our <fears> and is probably, as I predicted, the cause which increased the difficulty of accomplishing our object. If, indeed, your opinion shall continue in favor of that suspension, so as to render it impracticable to lay out the Town, within the period contemplated by the law, it will become necessary to convene the Legislature, in order to obtain their sanction. On this subject, therefore, permit me to request an early declaration, whether, in your opinion, the important interests of the United States require that special interference."

4The word "are" is absent in the draft, perhaps because the word "that," which makes it grammatically necessary, was a late addition. The word "are" does appear at this point, however, in the letter-book copy and in the copy that was submitted to the Senate.

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