John Jay Papers

To John Jay from Arthur St. Clair, 13[–15] December 1788

From Arthur St. Clair

Fort Harmar Decr. 13th.[–15th] 1788


I have received Information from Detroit, which I depend upon, that a certain Colll. Conolly, who came to that place, from Quebec, last Winter, has not long ago set out for Louisville at the rapids of the Ohio— he is the Conolly that made himself pretty remarkable during the progress of the Revolution, and was appointed a Lieutt. Collonel in one of the Refugee Corps— he is upon the half pay List, and has lately obtained from Lord Dorchester an addition of two hundred pounds Sterling pr Annum, and his Expences. The Reason he assigned, at Detroit for his Journey to Louisville was, that he might obtain Certificates of the value of his Property in that Country which had been confiscated in order to support the Claim he had made upon the british Government for Compensation.1 My Information is that he is sent to tamper with the People of Kentucky and induce them to throw themselves into the Arms of Great Britain, and to assure them of protection and support in that Measure— if that cannot be brought about, to stimulate them to Hostilities against the Spaniards, and at any rate to detach them from the united States. I have written to Major Wyllis2, who commands at the Rapids, informing him of those Circumstances, and requesting him to have an Eye upon him, and if he finds him either exciting a Revolt, or tempting the People to Hostilities against Spain, to make him a Prisoner, and to send him to this Post, with a transcript of the Testimony against him, and the Names of the Persons who will support it, that they may be forwarded together to You. I know of no other Officer of the united States Sir, who could with propriety take Cognizance of it; but if in that I am mistaken, you will please to inform me to whom he should be sent in case he should be apprehended. The Offence I have no doubt is treasonable; but whether we have any Laws to punish Treason against the united States, I doubt very much— even in that Case as the Country is within the Limits of Virginia, it will be Treason against that State, and there he might be punished for it. Since his arrival at Louisville he gives out that he has discovered some Flaw in the Act of Assembly, and means to attempt the recovery of his Estate by a Course of Law, and, as that will detain him in the Country, he has hired a House and taken up his Residence. It is certain Sir, that in their last Convention, a proposal was made that the District of Kentucky should set up for itself, not only as independent of Virginia but of the united States also, and was rejected by a small Majority only— it may possibly be that Overtures have been made to Lord Dorchester; but it cannot be that my Lord would make Conolly such an allowance, or indeed any allowance for looking after his property, and to bring on a Claim upon his Nation. Conolly has also been writing to many People about Pittsburgh and in that Country, and has intimated an intention to visit that Place this Winter; and I have heard has opened himself pretty freely to General Morgan3 of Winchester in Virginia— all these Circumstances put together make it more than probable that he is an Agent of the British for some sinister purpose— If any other Measures than those I have directed ought to be pursued, you will oblige me by pointing them out, and they shall be executed without delay.

After the tedious Expectation that has attended the proposed Treaty with the Indians, there is now a prospect of its soon beginning, indeed in a few days, as they are now within two short days Journey— It will not however be a very general meeting, as Brant, who is also a british Pensioner at four hundred pounds Sterling pr Annum, after coming within sixty Miles of Us, is gone back to Detroit, and has taken with him the whole of the Mohawks, and a part of some other Tribes of the five Nations, and it is to be feared will also prevail with the Shawanese and the western People, who were within two days Journey of him, on their way here, to return with him likewise— I do not however consider that as any great Misfortune, because I believe the Consequence will be the Dissolution of the general Confederacy which he and the british have taken so much Pains to form, and hope to be able [to] keep the Frontiers of New York, Pennsylvania and the upper part of Virginia in Peace this Winter— No Treaty I believe will secure the lower frontier of that State at present. If that, and the Possession and sale of the western Territory is an Object with Congress they must prepare to chastize the western Nations seriously as early in the Summer as possible— The Depredations they commit upon the Inhabitants is intolerable— and it is not confined now to the Inhabitants— they have had the audacity to fall upon the Parties escorting Provisions to the Posts; and those Posts are so weak, so distant from each other and supplied with so much difficulty that they will either fall into their Hands or be abandoned for want of Provisions, if things remain upon the Foot— It is to be feared that the Indians, at the same time, will not want for assistance from the British— and it is pretty evident that People have no thought of surrendering the Posts they hold within the Territory of the united States, for Lord Dorchester, who visited them himself this last Summer, has ordered the Town at Detroit to be picketted in, and which is compleated, and additional Works to be constructed there, and a Fort they call Castle St Clair, on the american side of the Shore between the Lake of that name and the Huron, which had been begun during the War, and abandoned at the Peace, to be compleated.

It was always my Fear that our western Territory, instead of proving a Fund for paying the national Debt, would be a Source of Mischief and encreasing Expence— but the Expence is not the worst part of it— It has given such a Spring to the Spirit of Emigration, too high before, that though it is pregnant with the most serious Consequences to the Atlantic States, it cannot now be held back— and the Spaniards are also trying to turn that Spirit, with great Industry, to their Advantage— so that those States not only lose their People and sink the value of their Soil for the present, but are laying the foundation of the Greatness of a rival Country. It is a considerable time that the Spaniards have been offering a thousand Acres of Land gratis, to every American who would remove into west Florida— to pay him ten Dollars for every hundred weight of Tobacco he could raise and deliver at New Orleans and an exemption from all Taxes and a proportionate price for Provisions and other Articles the produce of his Farm but they have lately gone a step farther— If I am well informed, Colll. Morgan,4 who was lately in Treaty with the Board of Treasury for a Tract of Land on the Mississ[i]ppi, has obtained of Mr. Gardoqui a Grant of a very large Tract upon the spanish side opposite to the mouth of the Ohio, which he engages to settle with Americans— They are to have the same Priviledges with those who remove into Florida— He is now at Fort Pitt, and it is supposed will carry a good many People from that Country—^upon^ Kentucky is however his chief Dependance, for in that Quarter are many Thousands of People who have been tempted by the Accounts published of its amazing fertility, to quit their ancient Settlements without having secured a foot of Land there and cannot obtain Lands, but at a Price that is beyond their reach.— There is no doubt many of those will readily join him, for they have no Country, and indeed that Attachment to the natale Solum that has been so powerful and active a Principle in other Countries is very little felt in America.— I have been casting about for some way to counteract Mr. Morgan and I cannot think of any so likely to succeed, as for Congress to change the mode of disposing of the western Lands in large Tracts— at least to change it for a part of them, and lay them open to be taken up by People who settle upon them— The Country upon the Mississ[i]ppi and between that and the Wabash, would accommodate the People of Kentucky who have no Land and I believe it would tempt them to remove to it, rather than the spanish side, and it might be disposed of in the manner the Proprietors of Pensylvania sold the Lands they last purchased of the Indians— It was thus— The Lands were set at five Pounds Sterling pr. hundred Acres— no more than three hundred acres were allowed to be taken up by one Man— he made a Description, in writing of the Piece he wanted, bounding it either upon Lands already granted, or some Creek or River, or marked Trees that rendered it sufficiently certain, and carried it to the Office of the Surveyor Genl. where it was entered in a Book kept for the purpose— The Surveyor General issued an order for making the Survey, returnable within a certain Time to his office and the applicant took Possession— The purchase Money ran upon Interest from the date of the order of Survey—and was discharged when it was in the Persons power tho’. to make them more industrious a time was fixed within which the Patents should be taken out, but no Advantage was ever taken of their overpassing that time— On the payment of principal and interest the Patent issued— I believe there is not an instance tho’ it was a very extensive Country, at least the Instances are few, where the Patents have not been taken out, and all the Land good and bad has been sold— Altho this mode would not so suddenly extinguish any part of the Debt as that now in Use, yet an Interest equal to the Interest of the Debt as far as the Lands went, would be accruing to the united States, and the principal would come in at last, and the People, who are of infinite value, that will otherwise be worse than lost, will be secured— the present Inhabitants of that Country, when they see it gathering strength by the accession of new Inhabitants will be more inclined to remain in it— The Spaniards are also at work with them to induce them to abandon it, and have succeeded with many of them. Excuse me Sir for troubling you with my Ideas on the Subject— they are crude Ideas, but you will improve upon them and perfect them, if they deserve any attention— the Subject is, in my Opinion an interesting one to the united States.

The Spaniard has also been making Seizures upon the east side of the Mississ[i]ppi within the Territory of the united States. General Harmar,5 some time ago, transmitted to the War Office, the complaint of a Mr. McIntosh, and I now enclose you the Deposition of a Monsieur de St. Marie on a Like Occasion, and extracts from a Letter of Major Hamtramack6 the Commandant at Post St Vincennes of the 13th of October to Genl. Harmar.

I ought Sir to beg pardon for troubling you with so long a Letter but I cannot put an end to it without requesting you to present my best respects to Mrs. Jay, and to believe that I am with the greatest Respect and Esteem

Sir Your most obedient Servant

Ar. St. Clair7

The honorable John Jay Esqr. Minister of foreign Affairs for the United States

15th. I have mentioned Extracts from Majr. Hamtramack’s Letter that you will find but one— the other which respects some depredations and the Murder of some friendly Indians, has been enclosed by Genl. Harmar in his Dispatches to the Secry. at War, and I have not now time to get another made out.

The treaty with the Indians is opened, and as far as we have yet gone looks well.

ALS, with enclosures, DNA: PCC, item 150, 3: 509–17; LbkC, with enclosures, DNA: Domestic Letters description begins Domestic Letters of the Department of State, 1784–1906, RG 59, item 120, National Archives (M40). Accessed on description ends , 4: 17–29 (EJ: 02344). Enclosures: Deposition of Joseph St. Marie, 23 Aug. 1788, regarding seizure of his goods by Spanish officials along the Mississippi River; Extract of Major Hamtramck to General Harmar, 13 Oct. 1788, regarding Spanish efforts to encourage French settlers to move from American to Spanish territory. Former President of Congress Arthur St. Clair was at this time governor of the Northwest Territory created under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

1Lord Dorchester (Sir Guy Carleton) was governor of Canada. Lieut. Col. John Connolly (c. 1743–1813) was a Pennsylvania Loyalist recruited by the British in 1775. He was soon captured and imprisoned and his property in Pennsylvania and Virginia was confiscated. On his exploits, see Percy B. Caley, “Life and Adventures of Lieutenant-Colonel John Connolly: The Story of a Tory,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 11 (1928): 10–49, 76–111, 144–79, 225–59.

2Major John P. Wyllys of Connecticut, later killed in battle in 1790 during the Harmar campaign.

3General Daniel Morgan.

4Colonel George Morgan (1743–1810), formerly an Indian agent at Fort Pitt, had moved to the Ohio River Valley after the Revolution intent on land speculation. He had petitioned Congress on 13 May 1788 on behalf of a group of investors called the New Jersey Land Society to purchase a large tract of land on the Mississippi. While this was under negotiation, however, he instead accepted from Gardoqui a Spanish offer to found a colony west of the Mississippi. He developed plans for a colony at New Madrid, Missouri, but returned to Pennsylvania a few years later. See Max Savelle, George Morgan: Colony Builder (New York, 1932); and “The Founding of New Madrid, Missouri,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 19 (June 1932): 30–56.

5Josiah Harmar (1753–1811), a Continental army officer from Pennsylvania, was the senior army officer in the United States army from 1784–91. As commander of the First American Regiment, he was supervising the construction of forts in Ohio to protect settlers along the frontier. He commanded the expeditions against Native Americans in 1790.

6Jean François Hamtramck (1756–1803), was a French Canadian from Quebec who joined the Continental army, and in 1787 was made commander of Vincennes in the Illinois Country. He participated in the Harmar campaign in 1790, and the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, and commanded various western posts until his death at Detroit in 1803.

7St. Clair’s letter was received 25 Jan. 1789 [OFA Journal description begins Daily Journals, Office of Foreign Affairs, 1784–1790, 2 vols., Papers of the Continental Congress, RG 360, item 127, National Archives (M247). Accessed description ends (EJ: 03795)], and answered on 28 Jan., below.

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