Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Winthrop Sargent, 2 January 1794

From Winthrop Sargent1

Philadelphia Jany 2d. 1794


In Consequence of your Queries relative to the Absence of Governour St. Clair from the Territory northwest of the Ohio—causes thereof &ca.2 I have made a reference to the Records of Proceedings of the Executive Department of that Government (now in the Office of the Secretary of State) and it appears that his first Absence was from the 24th of January 1789 to the 24th. of December of the same year. This took place immediately after the Treaty of Fort Harmar,3 and probably to report the same to the general Government.

Upon the 11th. of June 1790, having formally relinquished to me his powers and Duties, He again left the Territory to attend the general Government—at this time the Disposition of the Savages was hostile and the Expedition which afterwards took place under General Harmar was mediated;4 He was absent to the 16th. of September of the same year, And upon the succeeding December (about the 20th.) and soon after the Event of the said Expedition He again visited the general Government and upon the 29th. of April 1791 returned to the Territory in Command of the Army.

Upon the 1st. of may his military Duties called him to Kentuckey and the Government was with the Secretary to the 8th. of June following.

From the 18th. to the 29th. of August, and from the 31st. of August to the 12th. of September the Governour again in Kentuckey.

Upon the 8th. of December in the same year, and very soon after the Defeat of the Army under his Command5 He quitted the Government and was absent to the 2d. of August 1793—probably in attending to the Investigation, directed, of the Causes of Failure of his Expedition.6

Antecedent to this Sir, and to the Law authorizing the Secretary of the western Territory to discharge the Duties of the Governour, bearing Date August 7th. 1789,7 I was involved in some Expenses not incident to my Office, from the Circumstance of preceding Him to the western Country and continuing resident from April 1788 to July, in his Absence.

It is proper I should observe Sir that my Duties as Scribe for indian Business8 which necessarily engaged very much attention to the 11th. of June 1790 were then considerably lessened by the Obstacles to a friendly Intercourse with the Indians. And that for the furnishing Copies of the Territorial Laws to the several Counties (which was one of the Objects of my petition to Congress) a provision has been made by our Legislature since June 1791.9

with great Respect   I have the honour to be Sir   your obedt Humble Servant

Winthrop Sargent

Honble Secretary
of the Treasury

ALS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

1Sargent, who was secretary of the Northwest Territory, had petitioned Congress on December 29, 1790, for additional pay to compensate him for extra work occasioned by the frequent absences of the governor, Major General Arthur St. Clair, from the territory. For information on Sargent’s petition to Congress, see Sargent to H, October 28, 1793.

2In a note dated March 22, 1794, to the committee which considered H’s report of January 31, 1794, on Sargent’s petition, Sargent wrote: “It is proper Mr Sargent should observe to the Committee in regard to his Letter addressed to the Secretary of the Treasury and more particularly as he has presumed to assign reasons for the Absences of his Governour that this letter had its Origin in the loose minutes herewith submitted to the Committee—made at the request of the Secretary merely to enable him to form some Opinion of the aggregate Absence and probable Causes—and was afterwards placed in the Style of a Letter at his, the Secretary’s Desire, this much Mr Sargent has thought it necessary to observe, to endeavour to apologize for any seeming Indelicacy in offering Explanations upon the Conduct of a superior Officer whose respectability and propriety of Character is so well established” (AD, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus).

The prolonged absences of St. Clair and one of the judges of the Northwest Territory had been a matter of comment, and on April 5, 1793, Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson that such “abuses of public trust” reflected “on the common rules of propriety” and “must implicate me in the shamefulness of their conduct” (LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

3The treaties of Fort Harmar were signed on January 9, 1789.

4Sargent is referring to the disastrous campaign of Brigadier General Josiah Harmar against the Miami (Maumee) Indians in September and October, 1790.

5On November 4, 1791, the troops under St. Clair’s command were decisively defeated by the Indians.

6On March 27, 1793, the House of Representatives appointed a committee to investigate the causes of the failure of the St. Clair campaign (Journal of the House, I, 552). The committee and a subsequent committee issued reports on May 8, 1792, and February 15, 1793, but Congress did not take final action on these reports (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends , 605, 704). Two letters from St. Clair concerning this investigation were read in the House on June 3, 1794, and November 20, 1794, but both were tabled (Journal of the House, I description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826), I. description ends I, 196, 246).

7“An Act to provide for the Government of the Territory Northwest of the river Ohio” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 50–53).

8On October 3, 1787, Congress added the superintending of Indian affairs to the duties of the governor of the Northwest Territory (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XXXIII, 601).

9Section IV of “An Act creating the Office of Clerk of the Legislature,” passed on June 22, 1791, in the Northwest Territory, provided that the clerk should obtain copies of the laws and publish them in every county and district in the territory (copy, RG 59, Territorial Papers: Northwest Territory, National Archives).

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