Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James McHenry, 18 May 1799

From James McHenry

War Department, May 18, 1799. “The enclosed papers are, No 1 a copy of a letter from Major D. Bradley,1 No 2 a copy of a letter from Colo Hamtramck,2 No 3 a copy of a letter from Colo Strong3 No 4 the Speech of Kesas, Nanqui, Okia, Abeeway & Machibas Kisegan, lately returned from Philada., and Cotowaso, pesoto, and peswas chiefs of the Chippiewa, Ottawa, and Potowatomie nations,4 No 5 My answer to the Speech5 delivered in Philada. by the above mentioned chiefs.… The information relative to the above mentioned Tribes of Indians, is given to assist you in forming your opinion, and it is left to you to decide, whether, as the garrison of Detroit consists of but about 160 Men, non commissioned officers and privates, it will be adviseable, and proper it should be reinforced. This garrison has been weakened by draughts for the Mississippi. The persons who have speculated illegally in Indian lands, and who have excited them to complain to government, will, no doubt, continue to practice upon them and even to stimulate them to acts of hostility, should they consider such a proceeding calculated, eventually to procure to them from the united States a title to their purchases.”

LS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; LS, letterpress copy, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.

1On May 7, 1799, Daniel Bradley wrote to McHenry concerning the progress of his recruiting party (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress).

2On April 1, 1799, John F. Hamtramck wrote to McHenry concerning his difficulties in dealing with the Indians in the vicinity of Fort Wayne (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress).

3David Strong wrote to McHenry on March 22, 1799, that a saloon keeper in Detroit had sued him for trespass because he had placed a sentinel in front of the saloon to prevent soldiers from entering it (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress).

4“Speech delivered [at Detroit] by Kesas, Nanqui, Okia, Abeeway & Machibas kisegan who have lately returned from philada: also Cotowaso (or black Chief) pesoto and peswas,” February 23, 1799 (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress). This speech reads in part: “Father—Attend to us—Our former Chiefs and ourselves have given certain Tracts of Land to the Canadians, whom we conceive to be our Brothers and also to many Englishmen in this place, and are determined to make good their title to those Lands. What would you think of us should we sell our Lands, and take them back after disposing of the consideration which you had paid us? we again say we will protect them in their possession.

“Father—How would you like it? We are confident your feelings would be mortified, should we take the Lands on which we live, and drive you to the other side of the great water from whence you came.

“Father—But for you we should have been unacquainted with War. But for you we should never have felt its calamitous consequence. You have taught us the barbarous custom. In all disturbances your white people have been the Aggressors, and our Lands have been lost in the Contest.

“Father—Whatever may be your conceptions of the matter, We are of opinion, that you are under obligation to us for the Lands on which you dwell. When you first landed upon them their fertility created in you a desire to possess them.

“Father—do you get provisions from the other side of the great Water? No—the produce of our Lands supports you. You call us Children but might call us Fathers with greater propriety as we are the sources from whence your necessities are supplied.

“Father—Your Children have other complaints. You wish to reduce the quantity of their provisions—will this conciliate their affections? It should be augmented, for it is now too little.

“Father—When your Children arrived here from a great distance, they have no quarters prepared for them, the Inhabitants sometimes accommodate them, but as thro’ us they sometimes sustain losses. We hope you will have a house built for us near the Town.”

5“Speech of the Secretary of War to the Chiefs and Warriors of the Potowatomies, Ottawa and Chippewa Nations,” n.d. (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress). McHenry’s speech reads in part: “Brothers. Your Father the President is convinced, and believes upon due reflection, you also will be convinced that it is much better for your respective nations, and for Indian nations in general, that all sales of their lands should be made at public open treaties in the presence of an agent specially authorized by the government of the United States. At public treaties all the Indians would be noticed, and could meet, be heard and would be secured by the public agent the impositions they must be liable to, at private meetings.

“With the same views, the security of the Indians against imposition, by designing purchasers, and to guard against the jealousies and animosities that might thereby be occasioned, we find that the British Government always exercised a power of superintending the sales of Indian lands within their limits.”

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