Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Henry Harrison, 30 December 1801

From William Henry Harrison

Vincennes 30th. Decr. 1801.


A few days ago I received the petition herewith enclosed from Kaskaskias with a request from the Subscribers that I would forward it to you with such remarks as I thought necessary to make. Altho’ the present alarm of these citizens is not without foundation—I can hardly suppose it probable that the Delaware Nation generally have any disposition to make war upon us—I have been at great pains to explain to the chiefs of that and every other Tribe within my reach, the circumstances which led to the execution of one of their warriors—and as far as I can judge from the answers of the chiefs my explanations have been satisfactory—I am however persuaded that an establishment of Troops in the vicinity of Kaskaskias and an other on the Illinois river would be found extremely useful—it would probably put an end to the petty depredations which a Banditti composed of outcasts from all the Tribes (who have established themselves on the Illinois river) & the Kickapoos of the Prairie are continually making upon our settlements—In the article of stolen horses these depredations have become very frequent and vexatious—and my remonstrances to the chiefs have hitherto been attended with no good effect—the establishment of a garrison on the Illinois would be further beneficial as it would prevent the Spanish Traders from Monopolising the valuable Trade of that River—A trade which is now entirely carried on with goods which have paid no duty to the United States—these goods are in the first Instance brought from Canada in the Package, opened in Louisiania & then smuggled into our Territory—The falsehoods propagated by these, & the British Traders, who have a perfect understanding with each other; is one reason of the contempt with which the American Traders are treated by the Indians—Indeed so well have the exertions of these people been seconded by the Neglect of the United States towards the Indians and the violence and injustice with which they have been treated by some of our citizens, that the American name has become almost universally odious to the Tribes upon this frontier—To remove those impressions has been my constant aim since the Indian affairs in this country have been Committed to my management—their Complaints have been attended to, and as far as my power would go, redressed—and I have taken the liberty to assure them that, you Sir, who had always been the friend & defender of their race would do every thing necessary to remove their grievances and promote their comfort and happiness—On the subject of these people my communications to the Secretary of War have been frequent—but I have not yet been honoured with your commands—When I do receive them, give me leave to assure you Sir that they shall be executed with Zeal & fidelity.—Nothing certainly could be more gratifying to me, than to contribute towards the success of your administration by my humble exertions to place upon a better footing the affairs of the Wretched Indians—

With the Most perfect Respect I have the honour to be Sir your Most Hume Sert.

Willm. Henry Harrison

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 12 Feb. 1802 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found.

William Henry Harrison (1773–1841), born into a prominent family of Tidewater Virginia, studied medicine under Benjamin Rush before taking an officer’s commission in the infantry. Harrison resigned from the army in 1798 and obtained the position of secretary of the Northwest Territory. The next year the territorial legislature elected him the territory’s delegate to Congress. When the Northwest Territory was divided in 1800, John Adams appointed Harrison governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory. The term of the office was three years, but Harrison was renominated and confirmed several times, until he resigned in December 1812 to command American troops in the northwest during the War of 1812. He was elected president of the United States in 1840, but died soon after taking office (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , 7:13–14n; 8:227).

Kaskaskias: the settlement at Kaskaskia, on the Mississippi River on the western edge of the Indiana Territory, had its origins a century earlier as a village of French traders. Since the American Revolution, the isolated settlement, which had fewer than 500 inhabitants according to the 1800 census, had been the scene of political disruption, friction between French-speaking and English-speaking inhabitants, vulnerability to Indian attacks, and competition over land titles (Clarence Walworth Alvord, The Illinois Country, 1673–1818 [Urbana, Ill., 1920; repr., 1987], 132, 358–9, 362, 366, 368–9, 372–3, 405, 407; Vol. 18:194–6, 198, 207–15).

Alarm of these citizens: another petition from Kaskaskia in November 1802 referred to the inhabitants there as “exposed to the Unrelenting fury of a Cruel enemy, destitute of Troops for their defence without the most distant prospect of Obtaining assistance from any part of the United States” (Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , 7:77).

See Notes on Actions for the War Department, 10 Nov. 1801, regarding the execution of Wapikinamouk, a member of the Delaware tribe convicted of murdering a white man, and for Harrison’s efforts to stay on good terms with the tribe’s leaders. The murder had occurred near Kaskaskia. A letter from Harrison to Henry Dearborn early in December announced the carrying out of the execution (Harrison to secretary of war, 22 Oct., 3 Dec. 1801, noted in DNA: RG 107, RLRMS).

Establishment of troops: on 23 Feb. 1802, Dearborn informed Harrison that as a result of the petition from Kaskaskia and the information in Harrison’s letter above, a company of soldiers would be posted in the vicinity of the settlement “as early in the spring as circumstances will permit” (Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , 7:48–9).

The Kickapoos of the prairie lived in the watershed of the Sangamon and Illinois Rivers in what is now central Illinois. They were called “of the Prairie” to distinguish them from the other major band of Kickapoo Indians, who lived to the west of the Wabash River and were known as “of the Vermilion” (Sturtevant, Handbook description begins William C. Sturtevant, gen. ed., Handbook of North American Indians, Washington, 1978–, 14 vols. description ends , 15:596, 599, 657, 662).

Harrison had written letters touching on Indian affairs to the secretary of war on 1 Aug., 1, 26 Sept., 22 Oct., and 3 Dec. (noted in DNA: RG 107, RLRMS).

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