To John Gibson
Philadelphia May 31. 1797.
In my Notes on the state of Virginia I have given a translation of the celebrated speech of Logan to Ld. Dunmore with a statement of facts necessary to make it better understood. A Mr. Luther Martin of Maryland has lately come forward, denies the facts and also the authenticity of the speech. As far as my memory serves me we received the speech as a translation of yours, and tho’ I do not recollect that I have heard the facts from yourself, yet I think I understood that you stated them substantially in the same way. I have to ask the favor of you to give me what information you can on this subject, as well respecting the speech as the facts stated by me. I do not mean to enter the newspapers with Mr. Martin. But if any mistake has been committed to the prejudice of Colo. Cresap, it shall be set to rights in a new edition of the book now about to be printed. The book is too large to send you by post, but I imagine you may find a copy of it in Pittsburgh so as to see in what manner the facts are stated. I should express my regrets at the trouble I have proposed to give you, but that I am persuaded you will with willingness give your help to place this transaction on solid ground. It affords me at the same time the satisfaction of recalling myself to your recollection and of renewing to you assurances of the esteem with which I am Dear Sir Your most obedt & most humble servt
PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Genl. Gibson.”
This is the first of a series of letters TJ exchanged with various correspondents in 1797–98 concerning the celebrated speech of Logan, long a staple of oratorial instruction and a focus of sentimental feeling toward Native Americans. As a result of that correspondence TJ amended a passage in his Notes on the State of Virginia, but that change did not resolve all questions surrounding the oration. “Nothing Jefferson ever wrote,” William Peden has asserted, “has evoked more controversy than the passage and its revision on the murder of Logan’s family” (Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, Chapel Hill, 1955 description ends , 298). For assessments of TJ’s role in this issue from very different perspectives, see Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , III, 346–56, and Clarkson and Jett, Luther Martin, 171–88.
Otherwise called Soyechtowa or Tocaniadorogon, the man commonly known as Logan (d. 1780) had in recognition of his father’s diplomatic relations with Pennsylvania adopted the name of the colony’s longtime public official, James Logan. One of the Iroquoian Indians of the greater Ohio Valley who were called the Mingos, Logan in 1774 sent a short address to the governor of Virginia, the Earl of Dunmore, at the conclusion of Dunmore’s War, a brief but violent conflict between frontier militia and the Shawnees and their allies. Early the following year newspapers published Logan’s declaration, which lamented the murder of members of his family at Yellow Creek by white frontiersmen on the eve of Dunmore’s War, a crime that transformed his previously cordial relations with whites and compelled him to seek revenge. As TJ indicated in his letter to John Henry of 31 Dec. 1797, he learned of the speech in 1774 and wrote it down at that time. By including it in the Notes on the State of Virginia he gave it a wide circulation, and Logan’s tragedy became a poetic theme during the early 1790s. The speech itself, along with TJ’s accompanying statement of facts, was reprinted from the Notes in various works (Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, Chapel Hill, 1955 description ends , 63; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , xiii, 836–7; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962– , 26 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 4 vols. description ends , I, 137–8n; Seeber, “Critical Views,” description begins Edward D. Seeber, “Critical Views on Logan’s Speech,” Journal of American Folklore, LX, 1947, 130–46 description ends 130–1; Luther Martin to TJ, 24 June 1797).
TJ’s query to Gibson was prompted by a letter of Luther Martin, the attorney general of Maryland, which was printed in William Cobbett’s fiercely anti-Jeffersonian newspaper, Porcupine’s Gazette, on 3 Apr. 1797, and a week later appeared in the Baltimore Federal Gazette, where TJ saw it (TJ to Henry, 31 Dec. 1797). Martin addressed the letter to James Fennell, a performer who had included Logan’s speech in an oratorical program in Philadelphia. Logan had named Colo. Cresap as the person responsible for the entrapment and slaughter of his relatives, and in the Notes TJ referred to the colonel—a title generally applied to Thomas Cresap of Old Town, Maryland, a prominent figure in the early western settlement of Virginia and Maryland—as “infamous for the many murders he had committed” against Indians (Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, Chapel Hill, 1955 description ends , 275). Martin’s wife, recently deceased, was a daughter of Thomas Cresap’s son, Captain Michael Cresap. Both Cresaps were dead by 1797, and Martin felt obliged to clear the family’s name of the blot left by Logan and TJ. In his letter to Fennell, Martin stated that no Cresap played any part in the killing of members of Logan’s family.
Moreover, Martin asserted “that no such specimen of Indian oratory was ever exhibited.” Indeed, Logan did not speak directly to Dunmore, his address having been conveyed and translated by Gibson, who evidently was Logan’s brother-in-law—Gibson’s consort, Logan’s sister, having been one of the victims at Yellow Creek, and their infant child almost killed (White, Middle Ground description begins Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815, Cambridge, 1991 description ends , 358; Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds., Documentary History of Dunmore’s War: 1774 [Madison, Wis., 1905], 10–11). Martin suggested that whatever “fair flower of aboriginal eloquence” Logan’s original oration may have presented, TJ gave it “the embellishments of cultivation.” Disparaging the efforts of “philosophers,” all of whom “are pretty much the same” in their efforts to prove their own hypotheses, Martin depicted TJ as so intent on the refutation of the Comte de Buffon’s slanders against the Americas—“weighing the rats and the mice of the two worlds to prove that those of the new are not exceeded by those of the old”—that he would go to any lengths to aggrandize Logan’s message to Dunmore as an example of native rhetoric. Martin called Logan’s “story and speech” as presented by TJ a “fiction” (Porcupine’s Gazette, 3 Apr. 1797; Federal Gazette & Baltimore Daily Advertiser, 10 Apr. 1797).
Martin subsequently penned a sequence of eight letters, the first dated 24 June 1797, all of which he nominally addressed to TJ but sent to newspapers for publication. TJ, averring that he would have replied to a direct query, ascribed a partisan motive to Martin’s published attacks and refused to answer them (see TJ to Henry, 31 Dec. 1797; TJ to Samuel Brown, 25 Mch. 1798). The information he solicited from various sources did lead him to some revision of facts, although surely not to Martin’s satisfaction. In 1800 TJ published An Appendix to the Notes on Virginia Relative to the Murder of Logan’s Family, which printed statements that he had compiled on the affair (see Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, Chapel Hill, 1955 description ends , 226–58; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 3225). The accounts from his informants indeed absolved “Colonel”—that is, Thomas—Cresap of any involvement in the murder of Logan’s kin, much of the blame for which appeared to lie with one Daniel Greathouse. Nor was Captain Michael Cresap guilty of that outrage, although he was the leader of a group that had, in the belief that war had already broken out, killed other Native Americans not long before the Yellow Creek incident and had considered attacking the Mingos there (White, Middle Ground description begins Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815, Cambridge, 1991 description ends , 357). Although the evidence in the Appendix indicated that Michael Cresap was not involved in the actual killings at Yellow Creek, TJ gave fresh currency to a longstanding imputation that he bore responsibility for the events that precipitated the war. TJ proposed that in any new edition of the Notes he would revise the language introducing Logan’s speech by deleting the passage about the “infamous” Colonel Cresap and substituting three sentences, which named Michael Cresap and Greathouse as leaders of parties involved in ambush killings of Indians but did not specifically ascribe the tragic killing of Logan’s relatives to either man (see Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, Chapel Hill, 1955 description ends , 62, 274–5, where the revised language appears in the text and the original passage, the one known to readers prior to 1800, is reported in a note). The Appendix left the wording of Logan’s address, with its condemnation of “Colonel” Cresap, intact as it had appeared in the Notes. Readers, even with TJ’s revised comments introducing the oration, would be likely to conclude that Michael Cresap, called by one military rank or another, led the killers at Yellow Creek. Concerning the charge, made long after TJ’s death, that he suppressed evidence favorable to Cresap, see Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , III, 353–5; Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, Chapel Hill, 1955 description ends , 298–300; and Anthony F. C. Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans (Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 6–11.
There were two printings of the Appendix, both dated 1800, the second of which included a declaration by John Sappington that had come to hand after the initial printing (see Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends Nos. 37770, 37701). A revised edition of the Notes on Virginia did not appear during TJ’s life, although as early as 1800 a printing of the work included the appendix on the Logan affair (see Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends No. 37702).
As for the authenticity of Logan’s speech itself, TJ believed any assertion that it was not of Logan’s own composition must pass the test of rebutting not only Gibson’s statements but “the general mass of evidence” (TJ to Benjamin Smith Barton, 21 Dec. 1806). While some critics, hoping to exonerate Cresap, still attempted to cast doubt on it, Logan’s oration continued to be widely known in nineteenth-century America and, introduced by TJ’s revised explanatory comments, formed a lesson in the famous McGuffey readers used by generations of schoolchildren (Seeber, “Critical Views,” description begins Edward D. Seeber, “Critical Views on Logan’s Speech,” Journal of American Folklore, LX, 1947, 130–46 description ends 130–46; Ray H. Sandefur, “Logan’s Oration—How Authentic?,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, xlvi , 289–96; James H. O’Donnell, III, “Logan’s Oration: A Case Study in Ethnographic Authentication,” same, lxv , 150–6; William H. McGuffey, McGuffey’s New Fifth Eclectic Reader: Selected and Original Exercises for Schools, electrotype ed. [Cincinnati, 1866], 324–5).