George Washington Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Knox, Henry" AND Recipient="Washington, George" AND Period="Washington Presidency"
sorted by: editorial placement

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 25 October 1790

From Henry Knox

War-department [New York] October 25th 1790.

Sir.

Having been unavoidably longer detained at Boston, than I expected, I did not return to this place until the 22nd instant, and I shall this day set out for Philadelphia to make the necessary arrangements to remove my office and family to that city.

No events of sufficient importance have arisen in my department to warrant my troubling you with particular details at present—But as the expedition on the Western frontier is an object of real importance, I have the honor of transmitting you Governor St. Clair’s letter of the 19th of September,1 which is the latest information.

Brigadier General Harmar of the 2’nd of September writes that he ought to have 2500 or 3000 men in order successfully to encounter the force which may be opposed to him—He mentions in a former letter that the militia of Kentucky were in high spirits on the occasion.2

The contractors have informed me that ample supplies of provisions had been furnished, and also of horses and other necessaries in the quartermasters line.3

Mr McGillivray arrived safely at St Mary’s after a pleasant passage of fourteen days.

If any thing further should occur relative to the Western expedition, I shall have the honor to communicate it.4 I have the honor to be Sir, with the highest respect, Your most obedient humble Servt

H. Knox

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.

1The enclosure was Arthur St. Clair’s 19 Sept. 1790 letter from Marietta to Knox, which detailed the deficiency of the Pennsylvania militia quota, discussed continuing Indian depredations on the Wabash and Ohio, and praised Sargent’s actions at Vincennes (DLC:GW). St. Clair’s letter to Knox also covered a copy of his 19 Sept. 1790 notice to the commanding officer at Detroit (whom he presumed was Maj. Patrick Murray), which reads: “As it is not improbable that an account of the military preparations going forward in this quarter of the country may reach you, and give you some uneasiness while the object to which they are to be directed is not perfectly known to you—I am commanded by the President of the United States to give you the fullest assurances of the pacific disposition entertained towards Great Britain and all her possessions, and to inform you explicitly that the expedition about to be undertaken is not intended against the post you have the honor to command, nor any other place at present in the possession of the troops of his Britannic majesty, but is on foot with the sole design of humbling and chastising some of the savage tribes whose depredations are become intolerable; and whose cruelties have of late become an outrage not on the people of America only but on humanity, which I now do in the most unequivocal manner. After this candid explanation Sir, there is every reason to expect, both from your own personal character, and from the regard you have for that of your nation, that those tribes will meet with neither countenance nor assistance from any under your command, and that you will do what in your power lies to restrain the trading people from whose instigations, there is too good reason to believe much of the injuries committed by the savages has proceeded. I have forwarded this letter by a private gentleman in preference to that of an officer by whom you might have expected a communication of this kind that every suspicion of the purity of the views of the United States might be obviated” (DLC:GW).

2On 9 June 1790 Knox instructed General Harmar to prepare a punitive expedition against the Shawnee and other Wabash “banditti.” “The troops to be employed on this occasion, to be composed of one hundred continental, and three hundred militia, non-commissioned officers and privates, all picked men, and properly officered.

“The militia to be drawn from the nearest counties of Kentucky, to rendezvous at fort Washington, or the mouth of the Great Miami, or such other place as you may judge more proper, to be engaged for thirty days from their arrival at the rendezvous” (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 1:97).

St. Clair called out the militia of the Kentucky district of Virginia on 15 July 1790, ordering the lieutenants of Nelson, Lincoln, and Jefferson counties to march 300 troops to Fort Steuben at the falls of the Ohio by 12 Sept. and those of Madison, Mercer, Fayette, Bourbon, Woodford, and Mason to assemble 700 militia at the Fort Washington rendezvous by 15 Sept. (ibid., 94–95). On 2 Sept. 1790 Knox wrote to Gov. Beverley Randolph of Virginia notifying him of St. Clair’s authorization to call for additional militia and adding, “It has been suggested that the expedition may be liable to miscarriage, from a jealousy of the militia and regular troops. It is devoutly to be wished that such suggestions may be entirely unfounded. But, if jealousies should exist, it would be highly important that they should be entirely removed, or suspended during the season of activity. I shall write particularly on this point to Governor St. Clair and to Brigadier General Harmar, to adopt the most conciliatory conduct.” Knox also asked Randolph to influence veteran Indian fighters Benjamin Logan and Isaac Shelby to accompany the expedition, “great confidence being placed in the characters of these gentlemen” (ibid., 99). Neither accompanied the expedition, and the militia that began arriving at forts Steuben and Washington on 18 Sept. justified the contemptuous opinion that most regulars held of them. Instead of the experienced woodsmen and well-armed hunters expected from the Kentucky frontier, most were untrained and undisciplined levies and useless substitutes, many with broken firearms. More disruptive was the quarreling over seniority and command between Lt. Col. James Trotter and Col. John Hardin. The heavy dependence upon such citizen soldiers—Harmar’s army consisted of 1,133 militia and 320 regulars on 26 Sept. 1790 when he ordered Hardin and all the militia to advance from Fort Washington to open a road for the artillery—did not bode well for the success of the 1790 expedition (Sword, Washington’s Indian War, description begins Wiley Sword. President Washington’s Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790–1795. Norman, Okla., 1985. description ends 92, 94–95; Guthman, March to Massacre, description begins William H. Guthman. March to Massacre: A History of the First Seven Years of the United States Army, 1784–1791. New York, 1975. description ends 180–81).

3The firm of Elliot & Williams, which had been awarded the general supply contract for the western military establishment in 1788, wrote Knox on 14 Oct. 1790: “In consequence of orders received from General Harmar, dated the 15th of July, which we engaged to comply with by the 1st of October, we have, before the 18th of September, furnished and equipped for the use of the army, in the intended expedition against the savages, one hundred and eighty thousand rations of flour, two hundred thousand rations of meat, eight hundred and sixty-eight pack and artillery horses, equipped with pack saddles, bags, ropes, &c. and one horse-master general, eighteen horse-masters, one hundred and thirty pack-horse drivers, all of which could not have been done upon so short a notice as we have had, if we had not employed all our funds, and pledged our credit to the extent, to the people of the Western country, where the supplies were principally furnished.

“The expedition, we trust, cannot fail from any default of ours, for we have forwarded supplies in greater quantities than were required of us; and even more than our most sanguine expectations, at the commencement of the business, encouraged us to promise” 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 1:96, see also pp. 99 and 100; Guthman, March to Massacre, description begins William H. Guthman. March to Massacre: A History of the First Seven Years of the United States Army, 1784–1791. New York, 1975. description ends 67, 69, and 180; and Sword, Washington’s Indian War, description begins Wiley Sword. President Washington’s Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790–1795. Norman, Okla., 1985. description ends 91).

4Despite Knox’s requests to Harmar and St. Clair for ongoing reports, the secretary of war received no further official information on the expedition until 13 Dec. 1790. St. Clair’s 9 Oct. 1790 letter reporting “the little army moved in high spirits” and “I have not heard from General Harmar since his second day’s march [1 Oct.]” apparently must have miscarried. A concerned GW wrote to Knox from Mount Vernon on 2 Nov. 1790 asking for news of the expedition, only two days before receiving Knox’s 25 Oct. 1790 letter. Two weeks later concern had deepened to distress as the president passed on to his secretary of war rumors of the expedition’s failure (GW to Knox, 2, 4, and 19 Nov. 1790, and Knox to GW, 10 Nov. 1790; 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 1:96, 99, 100, 104).

Index Entries