George Washington Papers
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To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 13 June 1794

From Thomas Mifflin

Philadelphia 13th of June 1794

Sir

I think it proper to communicate the letters which I have received from the western Counties representing the hostile proceedings of the Indians, in that quarter and the dissatisfaction of the Citizens at the suspension of the Presqu’isle establishment in compliance with your request.1 As I wish to answer these letters by to morrows post I have for the sake of dispatch transmitted the originals which you will be pleased to return as soon as you have perused them. I take the liberty to request, likewise, that those parts of this Correspondence which are of a private nature may be considered as a Confidential communication. I am with perfect respect, Sir, Yr Excellency’s most obedient humble Servant

T.M.

list of original letters above referred to.

No. 1. The Presqu’-isle Commissioners to the Govr—5 June 17942

No. 2. Genl Gibson to the Govr 6 June 17943

No. 3. Capt. Denny to the Gov. 4 June 17944

No. 4. Brig[ad]e Insp. of Allegheney to the Govr 6 June 945

No. 5. Brig. Insp. of Westm[oreland] to the Govr 5 June 946

No. 6. Andw Ellicot to the Secretary.7

No. 7. From Wm Jack to the Govr 6 June 17948

No. 8. From Genl Irvine to the same—3d June ’949

Note—In this last letter are sent, a part of Genl Wilkins’s Narrative to Genl Irvine and a Copy of a Letter from Jno. Obail to Lieut John Polhemus.10

Df, 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, DLC: Papers of Andrew Ellicott. The copy in Senate records was sent to Congress with GW’s message of 19 Nov. 1794.

1This request was conveyed in Secretary of War Henry Knox’s letter to Mifflin of 24 May (see Mifflin to GW, 24 May, n.2).

2William Irvine and Andrew Ellicott wrote: "The President and Secretary at war must, it is presumed be possessed of more powerful reasons than are expressed in the Secretary’s letter to you, to justify this interference. Our information is much more recent than theirs can possibly be, and in our opinion would justify the pursuit of a very different line of conduct. . . . The six nations are wavering, being pressed by the British on the one hand to join them, and on the other extremely apprehensive if they should, that we may succeed; of course that they will be totally driven out of this country: but they will certainly be governed by existing circumstances, and whoever first establises a respectable force at Presqu’ Isle, or some other good position in the neighbourhood, will not only command their attachment, but an immediate commencement of hostilities against the advanced party if required. As to disgusting our friends the six nations, you may rely on it Sir, that nothing but fear will keep them quiet, and it requires no deep penetration, or judgment to perceive, that the relinquishment of this object will tend more to encourage their insolence, as well as that of their abettors, than to intimidate. . . . This suspension or interference, added to recent murders committed by the savages . . . occasions great disgust, and considerable alarm among the inhabitants of Westmoreland, and Allegany counties, they speak openly of the abandonment of their protection" (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99).

3John Gibson (1740–1822), an Indian trader who had settled near Fort Pitt, was a veteran of the French and Indian War and had served during the Revolutionary War as a colonel of Continental regiments from Virginia. He was at this time a major general in the Pennsylvania militia. In 1800 Jefferson appointed him secretary of the Indiana Territory, an office he held until 1816.

Gibson enclosed to Mifflin a letter of 2 June from Lt. John Polhemus, commanding at Fort Franklin, claiming "reasons to believe the Indians will attempt to make themselves Masters of this post." Gibson reported that he had written the various brigade inspectors to have militia in readiness to be called out (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 6:730; see also PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99)

4Ebenezer Denny wrote: "Tis impossible to express the astonishment which the interference of the General Government occasioned—The disappointment is much lamented." He also indicated a wish for a leave of absence, noting that "The prospect of being at Presqu isle" had "reconciled" him to extended duty, but "the present is not so encouraging" (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99; Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 6:722).

5Presley Nevill reported that he had retained in service the militia that were called out "to support the Presqu’ Isle detachment" because "the Indians have committed several Murders within the County, within a few days past" and "the frontiers are greatly alarmed" (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 6:728).

6The brigade inspector for Westmoreland County was Charles Campbell (1742-1828), who settled along Blacklick Creek in Westmoreland (now Indiana) County in the 1770s and served as a militia officer and county sub-lieutenant during the Revolutionary War. Campbell remained brigade inspector for Westmoreland County until 1800, when he was appointed a brigadier general of Pennsylvania militia. From 1806 until his death he was a judge in Indiana County. He wrote Mifflin that the suspension "Seemeth mutch to Alarm the frontiers Of our County as it discovers to the Indians that we are Not Able to Maintain that Post," and he continued with several reports of Indians firing on and killing or wounding settlers (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99; see also Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 6:723).

7No letter of early June from Ellicott to Pennsylvania secretary of state Alexander James Dallas has been identified. On 5 June, however, Ellicott addressed a strong protest of the Presque Isle suspension to Mifflin, indicting it as a "highly improper" interference with state "sovereignty" that would "leave a valuable portion of our citizens a prey to savage barbarity" (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 6:725-27). Presumably the letter to Dallas expressed similar sentiments.

8William Jack (c.1752-1821) was an associate justice of the court of common pleas for Westmoreland County and a brigadier general in the 9th Division of Pennsylvania militia. He sent Mifflin "a Statement of the information I have received of the Hostile disposition manifested by the Indians on our Frontiers." In separate incidents of 30 May, Indians had fired on a canoe and on a boat, killing and wounding some occupants of the vessels. Spies had discovered "A large trail of Indians," and other spies found that Indians had crossed the Allegheny River. As a result, the frontier was alarmed: "there is great Reason to believe these Indians are of the six Nations, and that the Frontiers will of Course Continue to be Constantly harassed" (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99; see also Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 6:727-28).

9Irvine wrote that the Presque Isle suspension "has occasioned a mixture, of disgust resentment and fear." The suspension was a victory for the British, who were not prepared to occupy both Presque Isle and the rapids of the Maumee River, but who would likely in the future "possess themselves quietly, of the key of this Country." Moreover, the suspension would encourage Indian opposition to Pennsylvania’s settlement at Presque Isle (PHi: Irvine-Newbold Family Papers).

10John Wilkins, Jr. (1761-1816), who served as a surgeon’s mate during the Revolutionary War, was at this time a brigadier general in the 9th Division of Pennsylvania militia. He was also contracted to supply rations for the Presque Isle venture. Wilkins subsequently served as quartermaster general for the U.S. Army from June 1796 to April 1802. Wilkins’s narrative has not been identified.

John Obail (Abeel) was an alternative name for the Seneca chief Cornplanter (Kayentwahkeh). John Polhemus was appointed an ensign in the levies of 1791 and promoted to lieutenant of the 3d sublegion in 1792. He was discharged in November 1796. Obail’s letter to Polhemus of 24 May discussed his conference with representatives of the Munsee Indians about the killing of a man on French Creek. Obail reported that Bears Oil, a Missisauga chief, said "his mind is very uneasy, and the reason is that he can hardly keep the western nations back any longer, as the white people are making forts in their country; and another thing, our warriors and children are very uneasy, they say that they can not go out of doors to ease themselves, for fear of hurting General Washington’s lands, which must be the reason we are to be killed." Obail said that he had called a more general conference and had asked Bears Oil to tell any of the western people going to war "not to interrupt any body about French creek," but he expressed uncertainty about whether the Indians would attend (Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser [Philadelphia], 20 June).

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