George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McHenry, 24 August 1796


War office 24 Augt 1796


I inclose you a rough draught of a talk to the Cherokees and instructions to agent Dinsmore, containing a plan for promoting their civilization and rendering the management of them easier and more œconomical. If you think favourably of it I will revise and correct it and have Mr Dinsmore dispatched to his station. You will find it to contain little more than a mode for executing the laws respecting the Indians which contemplate approximating them nearer to the civilized State, and the law passed at the late session of Congress. Dinsmore seems a prudent man. I have consulted him upon the practicableness of teaching the women to spin and weave, and he thinks it may be accomplished. With the most sincere respect I have the honor to be Sir your ob. st

James McHenry

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


29 August 1796


You will be pleased to have the annexed talk to the Cherokee Nation from the President carefully distributed, translated and explained in their respective Towns and Tribes; you will also consider it as forming a part of your standing instructions, at least, so far as you may have it in your power to facilitate the accomplishment of the objects to which it has relation.

It is to be lamented, that the experiments, heretofore made, with a view to civilize the Indians, have issued so unsuccessfully. Notwithstanding the pains that have been taken on this subject, the Indian differs but little at this day from what he was when first known to the Europeans. Neither the time which has since elapsed; nor our intercourse with them; nor our establishments among them, seem to have rendered them more civilized or less savage. We still find them characterized by the same habits and manners; the same pursuits and pleasures, varied only by certain incidental vices derived from the outcasts of Society.

What is it that can have perpetuated such an uniformity of character, and acted as a barrier against the different attempts that have been made to civilize them?

Is not the cause to be found in their mode of life? Is it not hunting and trapping which continues them indolent, savage and warlike, and must not this practice be broke in upon before they can be made to approach civilization? To trap and hunt for subsistence amidst immense deserts and wilderness would gradually approximate civilized Man to the Savage. How unreasonable then is it to expect that the Indian who does nothing else, and who spends so large a portion of his time in such situations should yet be civilized. I can entertain no such expectation.

To civilize him he must be weaned from hunting and trapping, by having set before his eyes other pursuits by which he may obtain a less precarious and more comfortable subsistence; and by rendering hunting and trapping by indirect means, disreputable as a mode of livelihood.

The Indian will have advanced one step towards this point, when he shall discover, that he has it in his power to provide better for his wants, by raising Cattle and Grain than by hunting and trapping. He will moreover be stimulated by strong motives to avail himself of the discovery, when he shall find that he can get more money or gratifications for his redundant Cattle, Grain or Tobacco, than he can for his Skins or Peltry.

To aid his sensations on this subject, it would seem expedient, that what he raised in the one way should meet a ready market and as much encouragement as possible; and what he got in the other be at least negatively discouraged. For in proportion as the Indian will perceive and experience this distinction or preference between Skins and Cattle or Grain, he will gradually and involuntarily desert hunting and trapping or practice it only as an occasional amusement.

I have made these observations with a view to illustrate the basis upon which the talk of the President is founded, and to direct your attention and efforts to the execution of the civilizing system which it contemplates. After the talk has been sufficiently explained to the Indians, you will communicate their understanding of it, and how far they appear to relish it or disposed to concur in its objects.

I conceive it will be no difficult thing to satisfy them of the utility of a general Council, as suggested in the talk, to be composed of two wise men from each town or tribe and held annually at Oostinahli, at which all affairs respecting their nation may be settled and plans for bettering their situation proposed & considered.

Complaints against those Cherokees who may violate the treaty may be made to this Council and modes of restitution or punishment devised and agreed to by the wise men. Here also the principal and you as resident agent will hear their Grievances and inform them, when founded, how and in what way they are to receive redress.

Such an institution as this it is conceived, will render the conducting of business with the nation easier and more œconomical than heretofore.

Should the Nation agree that an attempt should be made to introduce into it the art of spinning and weaving, you will give information of their Consent, and take immediate measures in conjunction with the Agent for the department of War to have the necessary apparatus and instructors provided and sent you.

It occurs that it may be advisable to commence the experiment under your own eyes and to have a kind of School opened at Oostinahli for teaching to spin and weave.

Women being ever where more docile and disposed to sedentary employments than Men, excites a hope that the manufacture of coarse Cotton and linen may, through their means, be introduced into the nation; and that it will be considerably quickened and extended as soon as they shall experience that a few yards of their manufacture will bring them more money, or exchange for articles of greater Value than a Bear Skin.

With respect to Stock raising. As this is an employment more congenial to the habits of the Men, than agriculture, it is likely to be more immediately relished by them. It will be relished upon another account. Persons will come into their Nation to buy Cattle as soon as it is known they have them to sell; a circumstance which may be converted into a powerful stimulus by proper management. Besides giving the Indians such instructions as may help them to increase their flocks, it will be permitted you upon a representation of its being necessary, to add such domestic animals as may serve to improve the breed of each kind.

It may also be an eligible measure, when the experiment has taken effect to concert with the wise men in Council upon the times and places proper to hold a fair for the sale of their superfluous stock, of which the Whites should have due information and at which you should always attend. Perhaps too, it would be a good regulation for the wise men in Council to establish, that no Indian should sell either a horse or any kind of stock to a White Man at any other time or place. Were such a regulation adopted it would be a check upon frauds to which they will be otherwise exposed, and to thefts that may be practiced, under cover of licences. If no horses or Cattle were to be sold but at fixed times; horses or Cattle brought out of their Country at other times would necessarily be considered as having been stolen.

But these ideas are offered, rather for consideration, than as rules for your government.

With respect to agriculture. You will use your best endeavours to encourage it among them; and from time to time, help them to such implements for tillage as they may actually stand in need of, and as you have reason to believe will be usefully employed.

You will perceive by all this how essential it is to success that you should understand their language and be able to converse fluently in it. The President expects therefore, that you will apply yourself diligently to acquire it, as without it your power of being useful will be greatly abridged.

I enclose you an act passed at the last session of Congress entitled "An Act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes, and to preserve peace on the frontiers" which you will be pleased to have explained to the Cherokees that they may have a clear idea of its provisions.

To aid in the execution of this act you will be guided by the following instructions.

1. You will require from every person who comes into the Cherokee Country where you reside or of whom you have knowledge to exhibit his pass and you will keep a book in which you will record their names and by whom their pass is signed. If this person has no pass or refuses to produce it, you will forthwith report his or their names to the Governor of the State of Tennessee, and the Agent for the department of War and signify to the Indians that such person having violated the law may be expelled by them from their Nation; but that in driving him out they must do him no injury or violence.

2d Should any white Citizen of or resident in the United States offend against the second section of the aforesaid act, his or their property may be drove off, and he or they apprehended by the Indians and delivered to the Officer commanding at Tellico Block house or to any Magistrate in Tennessee: but no injury must be offered to their persons. The name of every Offender is also to be reported to the Agent for the department of war; and for every person delivered and for which the Indian shall produce you a receipt from the commanding Officer or a Magistrate as aforesaid, you may pay him Ten dollars.

3d In cases of property taken or destroyed belonging to an Indian or other offence committed within the purview of the fourth section aforesaid, you will as soon as possible ascertain with precision and have authenticated by the best evidence in your power the value of the property taken or destroyed and the nature of the offence committed and make a report of the case to the Governor of the State of Tennessee and the Agent for the department of War that means may be taken to obtain restitution.

4. Should it come to your knowledge that any Citizen of, or other person resident in the United States, has made a settlement on any lands belonging or secured or granted by treaty to the Cherokees, you will give immediate notice of the name of the person so offending and the place where he has settled to the Officer of the Troops of the United States commanding at the post nearest to the said Intruder and the Governor of the State of Tennessee. And should any Citizen or resident of the United States survey or attempt to survey any of their land or designate it by marking Trees or otherwise, you will report them in like manner and as aforesaid.

5. You will require of every person acting as a Trader among the Cherokees and who comes within your knowledge or that of your Assistants, a sight of his licence, which you will make a record of and report to the Agent for the department of War. And if any person is found without a licence you will report his name also and at the same time give information to the Indians that he has forfeited all the goods in his possession to the nation. You will in like manner inform the Agent of the names of such persons as may violate the ninth and tenth sections of the law aforesaid.

6. Till such time as the Cherokees shall meet in Council agreeably to the plan of civilization, you will make application for compensation or satisfaction for offences described by the fourteenth section of the aforesaid act, to the tribe of the Indian committing the Offence, if known, or to the nation generally if not known, and should satisfaction be refused or neglected to be made in the time prescribed by law you will inform the Agent for the department of War of the said neglect or refusal.

You will transmit half yearly to the Secretary of War, estimates of the value of the articles or Animals which you may deem necessary should be furnished to carry into effect the aforesaid instructions and plan of Civilization, taking care not to commit yourself or the Government by giving promises of any of these before such estimate is transmitted and you are authorized to do so. You will be pleased to keep a regular Journal of all occurrences, proceedings and facts relative to the Indians, and transmit the same half yearly to the War Office. You will besides communicate with the Secretary of War as often as any thing occurs of which it is proper he should be immediately informed.

Coody, Hicks and Cary are Interpreters in the Cherokee Nation, in the pay of the United States. You are hereby authorized to assign to them respectively such duties and stations as may facilitate the execution of your instructions or to displace either, if you should find their services unnecessary, or to appoint others in their room, if undeserving of trust or confidence.

You and the Interpreters and all other persons acting under you will take the following Oath. "I [          ] do swear that I will well and truly serve the United States in the Office of [          ] and promote as far as in my power the execution of the act passed the 19th May 1796 entitled ‘An Act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes and to preserve peace on the frontiers" and all regulations relative thereto proceeding from the President of the United States.’

You will as occasion may require, correspond with the principal temporary Agent to the Indians South of the Ohio, who will reside in the Creek Nation and consider yourself subject to his instructions. You will advise him of the times for holding the national Council, if agreed to, in order that he may attend, if convenient.

You will also agree with the Cherokee Indians upon a more equitable plan than has been heretofore adopted for the apportionment among them of their annual stipend of which you will notify the Agent for the department of War who will send you an invoice of the articles composing their stipend. Perhaps it would be a good way to settle with them in the first place who were to receive and in the second place how much of the articles the several persons fixed on were entitled to draw. This done, you might give an order to each person on the Agent for the department of War for his proportion.

To enable you to give motion to the plan of civilization with which you are charged I have directed four hundred dollars to be advanced you which you will expend in such articles or on such other objects as your instructions contemplate. As this sum must be accounted for, you will in all cases, where receipts or vouchers are obtainable, procure them, to support a settlement.

Your salary will be One thousand dollars per Annum and four rations per day or the value thereof to be computed at the Contract price of rations at the principal frontier posts.

Oostinahli where you have resided is mentioned as the Town at which you are to hold the Indian annual meetings. If however you should be of opinion, that another situation within the Indian Country is better adapted to carry into effect the objects of your instructions, you are at liberty to remove thither.

You have suggested that Mr McKee may be usefully employed in the scheme of Civilization. He is therefore continued in the service of the United States and will be requested to cooperate with you in such measures to promote it as you may deem advisable and proper in conformity with your instructions. Given at the War Office of the United States this twenty ninth day of August A.D. 1796

James McHenry

Secy of War

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