Alexander Hamilton Papers

Conversation with George Beckwith, [7–12 August 1790]

Conversation with George Beckwith1

[New York, August 7–12, 1790]2

[Beckwith] “As our packet is to sail to morrow I wish to know, whether any thing has occurred to occasion an addition to the communications, which you were pleased to make to me on the 15th. of last month.”

Supposed 7.3 No, nothing at all. I at the same time think myself warranted to acquaint you, that Mr. Morris’s letters by your June packet mark an alteration in the disposition of your Cabinet, according more with the spirit of Lord Dorchesters communications by you, than seemed to be the case before; Mr. Morris has been asked, whether we should be disposed to send a minister, if such was your disposition; to this Mr. M. has been too shy in his reply; but I conclude your communications on that point had not then reached England.4

[Beckwith] “No, they were not forwarded from Quebec until late in May, and I think it right to say the matter respecting the mutual appointment of Ministers was fully explained.”

[Hamilton] “I believe you will recollect, that shortly after the arrival of the Creek Indians I mentioned to you, that I took no part whatever in Colonel MacGillivray’s negotiation, that I was ignorant of his intentions in coming here, and that I had no concern in Indian Affairs:5 I judged it necessary to come to this explanation at that time from particular circumstances.”

Supposed 7. The step You took on that occasion was very satisfactory.

[Beckwith] “The object of my present application is this, I have rigidly adhered to the same system since that time, but when your Treaty shall be completed, and every thing finally concluded, I should wish to see Mr. McGillivray. You undoubtedly have heard from public report, that some of the Southern Indians have been at Halifax, and the public prints assert, they are gone to Quebec; now I wish to ascertain who they are, and by what authority they act.”

[Hamilton] I may mention in confidence to you, that we are by no means satisfied with the conduct of the Spanish Officer, who arrived lately from the foreign possessions of that Crown;6 we cannot prove it positively, but have every reason to think, that he has been using endeavours to check or even to frustrate our negotiations with the Creek Indians, and with this view that he has made them large presents in this city; this we consider as perfectly unwarrantable. I am not sure whether our disapprobation of this conduct may have yet been communicated, but if not, it will immediately. Now if we take this step with respect to the servants of the Spanish Government, it occurs to me it may seem inconsistent to give You a toleration to negotiate with the same party, this I throw out for Your consideration.

[Beckwith] “I have no authority to negotiate; I wish merely to come to an explanation with Colonel Mc.Gillivray on the points I stated to You.”

[Hamilton] There is a person here, who calls himself a British Officer, who has been busy with the Indians, and who drew away two or three of them one night; he is a man of low character, and has been wandering about through the West India Islands of different nations; it is therefore highly problematic, whether such a man may not be a Spanish Agent; if any thing had appeared to lead to the idea of this man’s being employed by Your Government, I should have mentioned it to You in direct terms.7

[Beckwith] “Such a man, or such men, may have three objects; they may be pushing a personal interest, they may be employed by Spain, or (what I confess I think improbable) they may be employed by the Government here; in any of these events it would make no sort of difference, as it respected me; peace and friendship between you and the Creek Indians, is evidently not hostility with us, and I trust it will never be viewed in that light here.”

[Hamilton] Certainly not. I shall think of Your application; from the forms of our Government, the Treaty although matured, must be approved by the Senate, and I shall let You know to morrow or next day, whether Your request is considered as leading to any sort of inconvenience or not; but I cannot think for many reasons, that we should employ any person or persons whatever in the manner You have described.

[Beckwith] “I am far from believing You would, I only expressed all the possible circumstances of such a case.”

D, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; PRO: C.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Records Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends 42/69 f. 16-25.

1This document was enclosed in Lord Dorchester to William Wyndham Grenville, September 25, 1790.

2This conversation, although undated in Beckwith’s report, must have taken place between August 7 and August 12. During the course of the conversation H said that the treaty with the Creek Nation “although matured must be approved by the Senate.” The treaty was sent to the Senate on August 7 and was approved by that body on August 12.

3“7” was Beckwith’s code number for H.

4The most important of those letters from Gouverneur Morris was the one to George Washington dated May 29, 1790. In describing his conversation with the Duke of Leeds and William Pitt, Morris wrote that Pitt asked him “whether we would appoint a minister if they would.” “I told him,” Morris reported, “I could almost promise that we should, but was not authorized to give any positive assurance” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 123–25).

5In August, 1789, Washington had sent a commission to negotiate with the powerful Creek Indians of the Southwest. The Creeks and the State of Georgia had been unable to reach any agreement in boundary negotiations, and it was thought that the intervention of the United States might settle their differences. United States officials also hoped to persuade the Creeks to give up their alliance with the Spanish in Louisiana. In November, 1789, the members of the commission returned to New York and reported they had been unsuccessful in their negotiations with the chief of the Creek Indians, Alexander McGillivray. In the spring of 1790, McGillivray was persuaded to come to New York City. With twenty-nine other leaders of the Creeks, he arrived in New York on July 20. A treaty between the United States and McGillivray was dated August 7, 1790.

6Probably Carlos Howard who at this time came to New York from St. Augustine, Florida, ostensibly on sick leave.

7Probably an Englishman named Thomas Dalton. According to George Beckwith, McGillivray described Dalton as

“… a loyalist during the war, [who] had settled in Nova Scotia with his family since the peace; about two years ago he came to the Bahamas in a small craft with some fish, where he was cast away, and shortly afterwards he came into our nation. After discovering the dispositions of this man I recommended it to him to quit the country, but he excused himself saying he was sick, which indeed he was, he remained ill in the lower Creek country for five months, during which I was absent; on my return I found him recovered, and I accompanied him to the seacoast, where I put him on board one of our ships, from whence he might have got a passage in some small vessel to the Bahamas; but he had other projects, he had got together some of the Chiefs of the lower Creeks during my absence, had imposed himself upon them for a person of consequence, and made them believe, that he could do great things for them in England; instead therefore of looking out for a passage for the Bahamas in a small vessel he proceeded to London in the ship, and plagued the English Ministry for some time, who I fancy discovered him to be a man of no pretensions to notice. I was very much surprized to find him here on my arrival … he has been plaguing me very frequently by messages and notes from day to day, and I was not able to get rid of him, until General [Henry] Knox left directions for him to be told, that if he came again he would be sent to Jail.” (Quoted in Lord Dorchester to William Wyndham Grenville, September 25, 1790, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.)

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