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Conversation with George Beckwith, 12[–30] July 1791

Conversation with George Beckwith1

Philadelphia
July 12th. [–30] 1791

Lieutenant Colonel Beckwith.   The gazette of the United States, published this morning gives us a detailed account of certain recent proceedings in the Western territory and at Detroit, communicated at Pittsburgh, by a person of the name of Ray, who had been made prisoner by the Savages, and having, as it is stated been purchased by an officer in The King’s Service, obtained his freedom, was conveyed to Niagara, and from thence, returned to Fort Pitt;2 the whole account is so improbable, so incompatible with our system, and so diametrically opposite to my communications from Lord Dorchester, that I feel it incumbent on me to declare, I consider the information to be little better than a fable.

Mr. _____   I have not seen the Newspaper account, but I am acquainted with the communications to which you refer; from those, Ray appears to be a very illiterate man, and his intelligence is very improbable in many respects; he is however extremely particular; he says he saw a Colonel or Mr. McGee in the Indian Country, a Mr. Elliot and some others whose names he mentions, and he goes into details respecting these gentlemen and their objects at the Indian Towns;3 no decisive opinions can be formed from his communications but of course they attract attention.

Lt. Colonel Beckwith   Insofar as Ray’s declarations may have a tendency to excite any suspicions of an unfriendly nature on the part of the King’s government, they are totally devoid of truth, and as such, I trust will not be credited.

There are accounts from different parts of the Indian Country within these few days; they mention, that your treaty with the Five Nations is concluded, that you have made a peace with them and that they are determined to maintain a strict neutrality.4

Mr. _____   Yes, it is so stated; Colonel Pickering however is not yet arrived in Town; he is expected daily with the particulars of the Treaty, which are not yet fully known.5

Lt. Colonel Beckwith   Colonel Procter was sent to these Tribes, about the end of last March; it was reported at that time, that this gentleman’s message was to induce them to join your forces, against the hostile Indians; I never took particular notice of this, as it did not seem well authenticated.6

Mr. _____   Colonel Proctor was sent about the time you mention, but not with that object. You may recollect some of our frontier people, committed a murder on certain Indians of the Five Nations, and this gentleman was sent to those Tribes by The President, to dissuade them from joining the hostile Indians, in consequence of that atrocious proceeding, individuals might have wished them to have taken a part in The War, but Colonel Proctor was not charged with any such message by our government.

I have read the speech of one of the Indian Chiefs, at the late treaty with the Five Nations respecting the political conduct of your government in relation to them; this speech is replete with sound sense, and carries with it the most convincing proofs of your influence being extended to promote pacific purposes.

Lt. Colonel Beckwith   It is precisely in the spirit of the declarations I have uniformly made you, and the same views are extended to all the other Tribes in the Western Territory.

I have read General Scott’s report of his expedition against The Wabash Tribes,7 and his message to them, subsequent to the destruction of their Towns; from the general aspect of things at present, I am inclined to hope a peace may take place during the Autumn.

Mr. _____   We are disposed to pacific measures with those Indians, and if they shew any symptoms of such being their wish, we shall be ready to meet them on fair terms of accomodation.

D, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Records Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 4, Vol 12, Part II.

1This document was enclosed in a letter Beckwith wrote to Lord Grenville, July 31, 1791. Beckwith also enclosed in this letter an account of a conversation which he held with H on June 15, 1791.

Beckwith identifies his informant only as “a gentleman in office.” In the account of this conversation which Lord Dorchester sent to Grenville, however, the first of the two conversations recorded in this letter—that of June 15, 1791—was attributed to “Supposed 7,” Beckwith’s code number for H. As Beckwith in his letter of July 31 to Grenville attributed the conversation of July 12, 1791, to the same person who conversed with him on June 15, H must have been his informant.

2The “Narrative of Mr. Thomas Rhea, who arrived at Pittsburg, from captivity, the 30th of June 1791” is printed in ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 196–97. The “Narrative” was sent to Henry Knox, Secretary of War, by Major General Richard Butler, second in command under Governor Arthur St. Clair. Knox, in turn, submitted it to George Washington.

3Colonel Alexander McKee was the British deputy Indian superintendent at Detroit; Captain Matthew Elliott was McKee’s assistant. The Indians, Thomas Rhea reported, came to McKee’s headquarters on the Miami River “in parties of one, two, three, four, and five hundred at a time, from different quarters, and received from Mr. McKee, and the Indian officers, clothing, arms, ammunition, provision, &c. and set out immediately for the Upper Miami towns, where they understood the forces of the United States were bending their course, and in order to supply the Indians from other quarters collected there” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 196).

4At the beginning of this paragraph Beckwith wrote: “In continuation.” In the margin opposite the paragraph he dated this portion of the conversation “July 30th. 1791.”

On May 2, 1791, Colonel Timothy Pickering had been authorized by the Secretary of War to assure the “Six Nations of Indians, so termed” that the United States Government wished to treat them “with entire justice and humanity” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 165).

5Pickering concluded his negotiations with the Indians on July 15. They are described in his letter to the Secretary of War dated August 16, 1791 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 170), and in Pickering’s “Journal of the Council and Treaty Held at Newtown Point, June 1791,” Timothy Pickering Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

6In March, 1791, Colonel Thomas Procter was sent as commissioner from the United States to negotiate with the Miami and Wabash Indians. The Secretary of War’s instructions to Procter, which are printed in ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 145–46, do not include the orders mentioned by Beckwith.

7Brigadier General Charles Scott was authorized by Knox in March, 1791, to command the Kentucky militia in an expedition against Indian towns on the Wabash River. The results of the expedition were reported to Knox on June 28, 1791 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 131–32). Scott, leading some seven hundred Kentuckians, destroyed four or five Indian towns on the upper Wabash.

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