Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Henry, 31 December 1797

To John Henry

Philadelphia Dec. 31. 1797.

Dear Sir

Mr. Tazewell has communicated to me the enquiries you have been so kind as to make relative to a passage in the Notes on Virginia, which has lately excited some newspaper publications. I feel with great sensibility the interest you take in this business and with pleasure go into explanations with one whose objects I know to be truth and justice alone. Had Mr. Martin thought proper to suggest to me that doubts might be entertained of the transaction respecting Logan, as stated in the Notes on Virginia, and to enquire on what grounds that statement was founded, I should have felt myself obliged by the enquiry, have informed him candidly of the grounds, and cordially have co-operated in every means of investigating the fact, and correcting whatsoever in it should be found to have been erroneous. But he chose to step at once into the newspapers, and in his publications there, and the letters he wrote to me, adopted a style which forbade the respect of an answer. Sensible however that no act of his could absolve me from the justice due to others, as soon as I found that the story of Logan could be doubted, I determined to enquire into it as accurately as the testimony remaining after a lapse of twenty odd years would permit, and that the result should be made known1 either in the first new edition which should be printed of the Notes on Virginia, or by publishing an Appendix. I thought that so far as that work had contributed to impeach the memory of Cresap, by handing on an erroneous charge, it was proper it should be made the vehicle of retribution. Not that I was at all the author of the injury. I had only concurred with thousands and thousands of others in believing a transaction on authority which merited respect. For the story of Logan is only repeated in the Notes on Virginia precisely as it had been current more than a dozen years before they were published. When Ld. Dunmore returned from the expedition against the Indians in 1774. he and his officers brought the speech of Logan, and related the circumstances of it. These were so affecting, and the speech itself so fine a morsel of eloquence that it became the theme of every conversation, in Williamsburg particularly, and generally indeed wheresoever any of the officers resided or resorted. I learned it in Williamsburg; I believe at Lord Dunmore’s; and I find in my pocket book of that year (1774.) an entry of the narrative as taken from the mouth of some person whose name however is not noted, nor recollected, precisely in the words stated in the Notes on Virginia. The speech was published in the Virginia gazette of that time: (I have it myself in the volume of gazettes of that year:) and though it was the translation made by the common Interpreter, and2 in a style by no means elegant, yet it was so admired,3 that it flew thro’ all the public papers of the continent, and thro’ the magazines and other periodical publications of Great Britain; and those who were boys at that day will now attest that the speech of Logan used to be given them as a school-exercise for repetition. It was not till about 13. or 14. years after the newspaper publications that the Notes on Virginia were published in America. Combating in these the contumelious theory of certain European writers, whose celebrity gave currency and weight to their opinions, that our country from the combined effects of soil and climate, degenerated animal nature, in the general, and particularly the moral faculties of man, I considered the speech of Logan as an apt proof of the contrary, and used it as such: and I copied verbatim the narrative I had taken down in 1774. and the speech as it had been given us in a better translation by Ld. Dunmore. I knew nothing of the Cresaps, and could not possibly have a motive to do them an injury with design. I repeated what thousands had done before, on as good authority as we have for most of the facts we learn through life, and such as to this moment I have seen no reason to doubt. That any body questioned it, was never suspected by me till I saw the letter of Mr. Martin in the Baltimore paper. I endeavored then to recollect who among my cotemporaries, of the same circle of society, and consequently of the same recollections, might still be alive. Three and twenty years of death and dispersion had left very few. I remembered however that General Gibson was still living and knew that he had been the translater of the speech. I wrote to him immediately. He, in answer, declares to me that he was the very person sent by Ld. Dunmore to the Indian town, that after he had delivered his message there, Logan took him out to a neighboring wood, sat down with him, and rehearsing with tears the catastrophe of his family, gave him that speech for Ld. Dunmore; that he carried it to Ld. Dunmore, translated it for him, has turned to it in the Encyclopedia, as taken from the Notes on Virginia, and finds that it was his translation I had used, with only two or three verbal variations of no importance. These I suppose had arisen4 in the course of successive copies. I cite General Gibson’s letter by memory, not having it with me; but I am sure I cite it substantially right. It establishes unquestionably that the speech of Logan is genuine: and that being established, it is Logan himself who is author of all the important facts. ‘Colo. Cresap, says he, in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not sparing even my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature.’ The person, and the fact, in all it’s material circumstances, are here given by Logan himself. Genl. Gibson indeed says that the title was mistaken: that Cresap was a Captain, and not a Colonel. This was Logan’s mistake. He also observes that it was on a water of the Kanhaway,5 and not on the Kanhaway itself that his family was killed. This is an error which has crept into the traditionary account: but surely of little moment in the moral view of the subject. The material question is Was Logan’s family murdered, and by whom? That it was murdered, has not I believe been denied. That it was by one of the Cresaps, Logan affirms. This is a question which concerns the memories of Logan and Cresap; to the issue of which I am as indifferent as if I had never heard the name of either. I have begun and shall continue to enquire into the evidence, additional to Logan’s, on which the fact was founded. Little indeed can now be heard of, and that little dispersed and distant. If it shall appear on enquiry that Logan has been wrong in charging Cresap with the murder of his family, I will do justice to the memory of Cresap, as far as I have contributed to the injury by6 believing and repeating what others had believed and repeated before me. If on the other hand, I find that Logan was right in his charge, I will vindicate as far as my suffrage may go,7 the truth of a Chief, whose talents and misfortunes have attached to him the respect and commiseration of the world.8

I have gone, my dear Sir, into this lengthy detail to satisfy a mind, in the candour and rectitude of which I have the highest confidence. So far as you may incline to use the communication for rectifying the judgments of those who are willing to see things truly as they are, you are free to use it. But I pray that no confidence which you may repose in any one may induce you to let it go out of your hands so as to get into a newspaper. Against a contest in that field I am entirely decided.   I feel extraordinary gratification indeed9 in addressing this letter to you, with whom shades of difference in political sentiment have not prevented the interchange of good opinion, nor cut off the friendly offices of society and good correspondence. This political tolerance is the more valued by me who consider social harmony as the first of human felicities, and the happiest moments those which are given to the effusions of the heart. Accept them sincerely, I pray you from one who has the honor to be,10 with sentiments of high respect11 and attachment Dear Sir Your most obedient & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

Dupl (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; at foot of first page: “Governor Henry of Maryland”; below signature: “(Copy)”; with the most significant emendations recorded below. PrC of Dupl (DLC: TJ Papers, 102: 17533–5); lacks some changes to Dupl, as recorded in notes below. PrC of RC (same, 102: 17528–30); incomplete (see notes 10 and 11 below); significant variations and emendations are recorded below. Printed for private circulation in 1798, following Dupl (see below; 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. 48485). Printed in An Appendix to the Notes on Virginia Relative to the Murder of Logan’s Family (Philadelphia, 1800), following Dupl, with two significant variations recorded in notes 2 and 5 below (in Notes, ed. Peden, 226–9; 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). Enclosed in TJ to Henry Tazewell, 31 Dec. 1797, and in a letter from Tazewell to Henry of 2 Jan. 1798 (see below).

Since TJ never replied to Luther Martin directly, the letter above was an important part of his response to Martin’s attacks concerning the circumstances of Logan’s lamentation. TJ soon had the letter set in type to facilitate his private distribution of it, paying Benjamin Franklin Bache $5.50 for the printing job on 12 Jan. 1798 (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , ii, 977; TJ to Samuel Brown, 25 Mch. 1798). According to an article in the Richmond Examiner that was reprinted by other newspapers during June 1799, TJ’s injunctions against publication were taken seriously by those people who received the printed copies. However, prompted by an attack on TJ in the Lynchburg Weekly Gazette, the Richmond paper expressed dismay over “frequent and reproachful allusions to the uncontradicted libels of Luther Martin,” and intimated that TJ’s political cause would benefit if his friends could be armed with more ammunition from his own pen. Acknowledging that the step was “contrary to the desire of the vice-president,” the Examiner published a lengthy extract from one of the privately printed copies of the letter (Greenleaf’s New York Journal & Patriotic Register, June 15, 1799). When TJ, abiding by his declared intention for handling any revision of the Logan affair, published his appendix to the Notes on Virginia in 1800, he included the letter to Henry as an explanatory introduction to his new evidence on the subject.

The enquiries you have been so kind as to make: Henry to Henry Tazewell, 24 Dec. 1797. In a letter of 13 Mch. 1798 written to Tazewell and passed on to TJ, Henry explained that soon after he assumed office as governor of Maryland, Martin’s charges prompted him to stand up for TJ’s character and abilities. He found, however, that in the local political climate his “acknowledgment of a personal Amity with such a Man as Mr. Jefferson” was thought so offensive that most of the legislators who had unanimously appointed him governor only days before would almost certainly have reversed themselves and removed him from office had it been in their power to do so. Acknowledging receipt of TJ’s letter covered by one from Tazewell on 2 Jan. 1798, Henry asked Tazewell to convey his respects to TJ, noting: “As occasions offer I make use of his letter and shall continue to do so. He may rest assured that it shall not go out of my hands” (DLC; endorsed by Tazewell and TJ).

If Logan’s declaration became the theme of every conversation, it likely did so early in 1775, when Madison took it down from an unidentified source and sent it to William Bradford of Philadelphia, through whom it was quickly published in the Pennsylvania Journal and subsequently elsewhere (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, 136–8). Reports from the frontier published in Virginia in 1774 had described Michael Cresap as threatening to kill any Indians he encountered on the Ohio River and as “the Perpetrator of the first Offence” that caused events to spiral out of control. No doubt contributing to later confusion, one account called him a colonel and another mistakenly named him as a leader of the killers at Yellow Creek, where Logan’s kin were slain (Virginia Gazette, Purdie & Dixon, 2 June 1774, Rind, 14 July 1774).

The version of the speech that Madison conveyed to Bradford differed in minor aspects from the one TJ recorded in his pocket book in 1775 (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , i, 385–6). Logan’s speech was published in the Virginia Gazette of Dixon and Hunter on 4 Feb. 1775, differing somewhat in its phrasing but containing essentially the same sentences in the same order, and with much of the same wording, as Madison’s text and the version in TJ’s memoranda.

Letter of Mr. Martin in the Baltimore paper: to James Fennell; see TJ to John Gibson, 31 May 1797.

I wrote to him immediately: TJ to John Gibson, 31 May 1797, to which Gibson wrote an answer on 17 June 1797. Murdered all the relations of Logan: in the three versions from 1775—Madison’s, TJ’s, and that in the Virginia Gazette—Logan said that Cresap had “cut off” the members of his family, whereas in the Notes on Virginia TJ employed the less ambiguous term “murdered” (Notes, ed. Peden, 63).

1Word interlined in place of “publick.” Emendation not in PrCs.

2Preceding ten words lacking in Appendix.

3Preceding five words not in PrC of RC.

4PrC of RC: “happened.”

5Appendix: “on the Ohio.”

6Preceding five words interlined in place of “concurred in.” Emendation not in PrCs.

7Word interlined in place of “weigh.” Emendation not in PrCs.

8Here in PrC of RC TJ drew a dash and continued the paragraph.

9Word interlined; emendation not in PrCs.

10Preceding five words lacking in PrC of RC.

11Text of PrC of RC ends here.

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