George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McHenry, 27 June 1796

War Office 27. June 1796.


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 22d instant with its references.

No. 1. here inclosed contains the documents respecting the meditated loan for the use of the federal City.

No. 2. The last letters received from Brigadier General Wilkinson with copy of my letter of the 7. May referred to in his instructions to Colonel Hamtramck.

General Wilkinson you will observe by this packet has adopted a line of proceeding relative to the British posts different from what my letter suggests.

No. 3. A private letter from General St Clair, a letter from Mr Seagrove and one from Mr Hawkins.

No. 4. Copies of letters to Governor Sevier founded on representations of forced settlements within the Indian boundaries which threaten very serious consequences, and a copy of a letter to the Officer commanding at Tellico appertaining to the same subject &c.

I thought it best to endeavour by gentle expressions to lead the new Governor into a knowledge of his duties; and as the Indian trading houses have been attacked in the Knoxville Gazettes, to touch lightly upon their policy.

No. 5 (A) A formula of the legionary establishment representing it as it now is (B) a Scheme of the legion resolved into four regiments conformably to the Act of Congress "to ascertain and fix the military establishment of the United States.”

According to this arrangement the Officers of the first Sub Legion become the Officers of the first regiment; those of the Second Sub Legion, the Officers of the Second regiment; those of the third Sub Legion, the Officers of the third regt; and those of the fourth Sub Legion, the Officers of the Fourth regiment, with a few exceptions, resulting from the principle of Seniority which forms the basis of the arrangement.

The Scheme gives the Senior Lieut. Colonel to the first regiment; the second Lieutenant Colonel in rank to the Second regiment; the third Lieutenant Colonel in rank to the third regiment; and the fourth Lieutenant Colonel in rank to the fourth regiment. In like manner, the eight eldest Majors have been numbered from 1 to 8 agreeably to rank. No. 1 and 5 are assigned to the first regiment No. 2 & 6 to the Second regiment No. 3 and 7 to the third regiment and No. 4. and 8 to the fourth regiment; so that the Officers (a few unavoidable transfers excepted) stand attached to the men they have been accustomed to command, by which as little violence as possible is done to established habits.

You will perceive that by following implicitly the principle of seniority three Majors (one of which Major Peters is said to be a good Officer) will be deranged, and eight Captains. Only three Lieutenants will (without their consent) become supernumeracy viz. McClean Cobb and Campbell. The first Genl Wayne says is somewhat insane; the other two should no resignations be given in previously to the arrangement taking place, may be tranferred to the Artillery.

There being but three Lieutenants to the Cavalry, James V. Ball may be appointed Lieutenant, in which case it will become necessary to appoint another Cornet.

While on this subject it may be observed also that the following vacancies exist in the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers. Viz. One Captain and nine Lieutenants.

You will be pleased to return the original letters. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your obedt servant

James McHenry

I have not heard from Capt. Lewis.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


Squadron of Light Dragoons
 Names Rank Date of rank
William Winston Major 17. July. 1793.  Supernumeracy.
Solomon Van Rensselaer Captain do
James Taylor do 20 Feby 1794.
Leonard Covington do 16. June — resigned 23d September 1795
John Webb do 20 August —
Abraham Jones Lieutenant 20 February 1794
John Posey do 16. June. — resigned 19. October 1795
William K. Blue do 14 July — requests he may reture as Supernumeracy Richard Butler of the 4. Sub Legion is mentioned to fill his vacancy
Matthias Slough Junr do 20 August —
James V. Ball Cornet 1. May. 1795
Paul McDermot do do


War Office 21 June 1796.


The regulations for the preservation of peace with the Indians require, that they should not be furnished with spirituous liquors; and that no settlements should be permitted within their Country which are not authorized.

With respect to the former you will be pleased to take immediate steps to prevent any person whatever from selling this destructive drink to them within their Boundaries and your controul, not specially authorized from this department.

As to the latter (or intrusions upon their land) you will consult and govern yourself by the act "to regulate Trade and intercourse with the Indian Tribes and to preserve peace on the frontiers," which I here enclose.

It may however be expedient, before a resort to military force, as the law directs, to wait the issue of such measures as may be taken by Governor Sevier (who has been written to on the subject) unless it shall appear that delay would involve war or the most serious consequences. In the mean while, you will keep me regularly advised of the state of things relative to these intrusions. I am Sir, with respect Your obedient Servant


War Office 20. June 1796.


Within these few days past information has been received of numerous forced settlements on the Indian lands as confirmed to them by treaty, which threaten very serious consequences to the peace of that Country and the Union. These accounts which have given great uneasiness to the president, render it proper that instantaneous and effectual measures should be adopted to remove the intruders and prevent further intrusions.

When I consider, Sir, your well founded knowledge of the Indian Character; that no one can be more sensible to the good that must result from a strict observance of our promises to or treaties with them; of the confidence in and dependence upon us which such observance must inspire; of the wars and animosities it must prevent; and the disposition it must naturally produce in them to yield to all our reasonable wishes. When I add, besides to these reflexions, that the person who possesses this knowledge is placed in a situation which enables him to co-operate efficaciously with the president in his measures for the maintenance of the public tranquility, I feel relieved from much of the sensibilty I should otherwise have experienced, convinced that you will sincerely employ this knowledge & the means in your power to preserve the Inhabitants of Tennessee in the full enjoyment of Peace and the Indians in the occupancy of their rights.

Thinking it probable that many intrusions on the Indian lands, and violations of their rights, may proceed from the ignorance in which some of the people are, of the laws made to protect them; it occurs that an extensive and impressive promulgation of these laws might tend to the preservation of the peace of the frontiers.

It is submitted therefore, whether a proclamation from you might not be made to answer so desirable a purpose.

The second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, twelvth, fourteenth, sixteenth & seventeenth sections of the annexed act, entitled an act "to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian Tribes and to preserve peace on the frontiers" contain the principal regulations of Congress relative to the Indians. Were you, sir, to insert these for the information of the people, in a proclamation; to enjoin upon the Citizens of Tennessee a faithful observance of them; to threaten all those who should transgress them, with their penalties; to recommend to divines to read them to their hearers once every month; and to the judges, to cause them to be read at the sessions of their respective Courts, I cannot help flattering myself, that such paternal attention on your part, would be rewarded with the happiest Effects. It would serve to convince the restless and rapacious adventurer, of your determination to discountenance their projects, and be a proof to the Indians that the state was sincerely disposed to protect their rights.

I will not suppose that it can be the interest of any state to keep alive the flame of discord with its’ Indian Neighbours, or have its’ surface from time to time, drenched with the blood of its innocent Citizens. If an extension of frontier should become necessary can there be a doubt entertained as to the mode in which it ought to be acquired. Is is not a matter of certainty, putting the injustice of the act of dispoiling a people of their property by force out of the question, that it is cheaper to buy than to take from the Indians. Upon what ground then can a nation presume to take land when it has it in its’ power to purchase whatever it may want.

Let me be permitted to believe that the great body of the inhabitants of Tennessee, will esteem it a moral, if not religious duty, to do justice to the Indians on their borders, and will conduct themselves under your administration, conformably to the laws of the United States which are founded in justice.

As to those who may have settled on the Indian land in contempt of these laws or through ignorance of them, the president expects that you will bring into action all the means in your power, to dislodge them. He views their intrusion as a sure prelude to hostilities, and were they to be permitted to remain, as an express violation of treaty, and legitimate cause for recrimination and war; consequently he must resort to military force to effect this purpose, should your measures prove inadequate or ineffectual. But seeing how much the prosperity and honor of the State of Tennessee is concerned in dislodging these intruders, knowing that peace cannot long continue should they be suffered to remain, he cannot for a moment suppose, that you will employ less than the most efficacious means on so serious an occasion.

Indeed, to compel these persons who have thus intruded, to retire, will be an act of great kindness to themselves. For if suffered to remain, the probability is, that they would be among the first victims of the Tomahawk, while the desolations of War would soon extend to those who had committed no violations of the laws.

Compelling then these intruders to leave the Indian lands; preventing others from settling on them, by diffusing thoughout all parts of the state a knowledge of the laws, and making examples of obstinate Offenders, will I am persuaded, claim your immediate and unremitted attention. For it is only by opposing first attempts at fixed settlements with vigour; by a due execution of the regulations of Congress and inforcement of their Sanctions that the peace of the Country can be maintained, and the morals of its Inhabitants preserved from corruption.

Should war emerge notwithstanding such cares and endeavours on the part of the Magistracy of Tennessee, it will not be viewed as a Calamity which the State has brought upon itself, by having omitted what it ought to have done, or permitted what it ought to have prevented: the Succour of course which it may claim from the general Government in such a case will flow with good will, and without being embarrassed or with-held from an opinion, that it may have brought its sufferings upon itself.

The president led by such considerations as these, anticipates from your administration; the Courts of Justice; and the good Citizens of the State the most happy issue as it regards the disquietudes excited among the Indians by the settlements in question.

Such a co-operation on the part of the State and the people, with the measures of the general Government, he believes cannot fail to secure to it the continuance of Peace; to augment the good will of the Indians; and dispose them to such relinquishments of Territory as the United States may at any time think it expedient should be purchased.

It may not be improper perhaps to add a few remarks on some of these measures.

With respect to the annuities stipulated to be paid them. Care is taken that the articles which compose these should be good and their delivery made without fraud or deception; for in all transactions with Indians, policy, as well as honesty require fairness of dealing.

With respect to the public Agents resident with them. These hear all their complaints, administer in certain things to their comfort and convenience, make faithful representations to them of the intentions of the government; distribute its favors, and transmit to it their Complaints. As the Indians know that their grievances pass thro’ this medium to Government, if justice is delayed beyond a reasonable time it ought not to surprize, when they attempt, in such cases to become the avengers of their wrongs.

As to the trading houses. These are meant to furnish them with such goods as they may stand in need of, in exchange for their Skins and peltry, without their being loaded with other or greater charges than will cover the expences attendant upon the Business.

Among the effects expected from this institution may be reckoned the following.

1. Its exempting the Indians from the frauds that they are subject to from itinerant Traders, and which have a tendency to sour them against the people of the United States and stimulate to retaliations and thefts.

2. Its enabling Government to put a more effectual stop to the sale of spirituous liquors among them; a practice baneful to them, and productive of innumerable evils to our Citizens.

3. Its rendering Indians supplies more dependent upon the nation, and consequently encreasing their motives to peace and a continued good understanding with the nation.

Such being some of the evident results from the institution of public trading houses, whatever facility you can give to their establishment, it is taken for granted will be readily and cheerfully afforded

Calculating therefore upon your utmost aid whenever it can favor the execution of a law or its object, I mention without reserve and with pleasure the anxiety of the president to preserve to the State of Tennessee the Blessings of Peace; and that you may assure its good Citizens of his earnest desire to extend to them every means of protection within his disposal, at the same time that he conceives it an indispensable requisite to their peace that the Indians should not be disturbed in the possession of their lands. With great respect, I have the honor to be, Sir, Your obedient servant


War Office 23rd June 1796.


I do myself the honour to inclose you a duplicate of my letter of the 20th instant forwarded by express, to which permit me to intreat your attention.

As the frontiers of the State of Tennessee may occasionally require the protection of militia it may not be improper to mention, that no claims for militia services, which have not been authorized by the President, can be admitted or paid, agreeably to existing laws: And that altho a State may call out its militia or any part thereof, without the consent of Congress or the President "when invaded or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay," yet no pay can be allowed them or remuneration made to the State till the whole circumstances of the case be laid before Congress and have received their decision and approbation.

Should you therefore conceive the services of any part of the Militia to be requisite for the defence of the frontiers you will be pleased to mention it to me with the circumstances which induce the opinion and the number deemed necessary that it may be submitted to the President for his consideration and orders. With the highest respect I have the honor to be Sir Your obedient servant

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