Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Owl and Others, 8 January 1803

To Owl and Others

I am happy to see you here, to take you by the hand, & to renew the assurances of our friendship. the journey which you have taken is long: but if it leads to a right understanding of what either of us may have misunderstood it will be useful for all. for, living in the same land, it is best for us all that we should live together in peace, friendship and good neighborhood.

I have taken into serious consideration the several subjects on which you spoke to me the other day, & will now proceed to answer them severally.

You know, brothers, that, in antient times, your former fathers the French settled at Vincennes, and lived and traded with your ancestors, and that those ancestors ceded to the French a tract of country, on the Wabash river, seventy leagues broad, & extending in length from Point coupée to the mouth of White river. the French, at the close of a war, between them and the English, ceded this country to the English; who, at the close of a war between them & us, ceded it to us. the remembrance of these transactions is well preserved among the White people; they have been acknoleged in a deed signed by your fathers, and you also, we suppose, must have heard it from them. sincerely desirous to live in peace & brotherhood with you, and that the hatchet of war may never again be lifted, we thought it prudent to remove from between us whatever might at any time produce misunderstanding. the unmarked state of our boundaries, & mutual trespasses on each others lands, for want of their being known to all our people, have at times threatened our peace. we therefore instructed Governor Harrison to call a meeting of the chiefs of all the Indian nations around Vincennes, & to propose that we should settle and mark the boundary between us. the chiefs of these nations met. they appeared to think hard that we should claim the whole of what their ancestors had ceded and sold to the whitemen, and proposed to mark off for us from Point coupée to the mouth of White river, a breadth of twenty four leagues only, instead of seventy. this offer was of little more than a third of our right. but the desire of being in peace and friendship with you, and of doing nothing which should distress you, prevailed in our minds, and we agreed to it. this was the act of the several nations, original owners of the soil, and by men duly authorised by the body of those nations. you brothers seem not to have been satisfied with it. but it is a rule in all countries that what is done by the body of a nation must be submitted to by all it’s members. we have no right to alter, on a partial deputation, what we have settled by treaty with the body of the nations concerned. the lines too which are agreed on, are to be run and marked in the presence of your chiefs, who will see that they are fairly run. your nations were so sensible of the moderation of our conduct towards them. but they voluntarily offered to lend us for ever the salt springs, & four miles square of land near the mouth of the Wabash, without price. but we wish nothing without price: and we propose to make a reasonable addition to the annuity we pay to the owners.

You complain that our people buy your lands individually, & settle or hunt on them without leave. to convince you of the care we have taken to guard you against the injuries and arts of interested individuals, I now give you a copy of a law, of our great council the Congress, forbidding individuals to buy lands from you, or to settle or hunt on your lands; & making them liable to severe punishment: and if you will at any time sieze such individuals, and deliver them to any officer of the United States, they will be punished according to the law.

We have long been sensible, brothers, of the great injury you recieve from an immoderate use of spirituous liquors. and altho’ it be profitable to us to make and sell those liquors, yet we value more the preservation of your health and happiness. heretofore we apprehended you would be displeased, were we to withold them from you. but learning it to be your desire, we have taken measures to prevent their being carried into your country: and we sincerely rejoice at this proof of your wisdom. instead of spending the produce of your hunting in purchasing this pernicious drink, which produces poverty, broils and murders, it will now be employed in procuring food & cloathing for your families, and increasing instead of diminishing your numbers.

You have proposed, brothers, that we should deduct from your next year’s annuity, the expences of your journey here. but this would be an exactness we do not practise with our red brethren. we will bear with satisfaction the expences of your journey, and of whatever is necessary for your personal comfort; and will not, by deducting them, lessen the amount of the necessaries which your women and children are to recieve the next year.

From the same good will towards you, we shall be pleased to see you making progress in raising stock and grain, and making clothes for yourselves. a little labour in this way, performed at home & at ease, will go further towards feeding and cloathing you, than a great deal of labour in hunting wild beasts.

In answer to your request of a smith to be stationed in some place convenient to you, I can inform you that mr Wells, our agent, is authorised to make such establishments, and also to furnish you with implements of husbandry, & manufacture, whenever you shall be determined to use them. the particulars on this subject, as well as of some others mentioned in your speech, and in the written speech you brought me from Buckangelah & others, will be communicated and settled with you by the Secretary at war. And I shall pray you on your return, to be the bearers to your countrymen and friends of assurances of my sincere friendship: and that our nation wishes to befriend them in every thing useful, and to protect them against all injuries committed by lawless persons from among our citizens, either on their lands, their lives or their property.

Th: Jefferson
Jan. 8. 1803.

PrC (DLC). Recorded in SJL as “Long-beard for Miamis & Delawares.”

Owl (also Hibou; also Meshingomesia) was a chief of the Miami Indians by 1778. TJ and Dearborn knew him as Long Beard when he met with them in Washington in January 1803. He was a political rival of Little Turtle, and after his visit to the capital, William Henry Harrison called him “an artful fellow.” Owl did not sign any treaties with the United States until 1804. Thereafter he was on friendly terms with the U.S. government, although on at least one occasion he contradicted Harrison during negotiations over land cessions (Stewart Rafert, The Miami Indians of Indiana: A Persistent People, 1654–1994 [Indianapolis, 1996], 38, 60, 70, 72, 73, 76; Esarey, William Henry Harrison description begins Logan Esarey, ed., Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, Indianapolis, 1922; repr., New York, 1975, 2 vols. description ends , 1:77, 82–3, 142, 370–1, 479, 684; Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 [Cambridge, 1991], 495, 501; Robert M. Owens, Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy [Norman, Okla., 2007], 201).

brothers miamis and delawares: Dearborn called the document printed above a “talk” delivered by the president on 8 Jan. The delegation that TJ met spoke for a council that had convened on the White River in Indiana Territory. Several groups, including Miamis, Delawares, Munsees, and Nanticokes, had been represented at that gathering. Two members of Owl’s deputation were George White Eyes, a Delaware who had attended school in New Jersey, and Beaver, who had recently become the leading member of the Delaware national council (Dearborn to Buckongahelas and others, 10 Jan., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; Dearborn to John W. Brownson, 12 Jan., in same; Lawrence Henry Gipson, ed., Harry E. Stocker, Herman T. Frueauff, and Samuel C. Zeller, trans., The Moravian Indian Mission on White River: Diaries and Letters, May 15, 1799, to November 12, 1806 [Indianapolis, 1938], 32, 193–4, 247, 387n; C. A. Weslager, The Delaware Indian Westward Migration [Wallingford, Pa., 1978], 62; Vol. 37:584, 585n).

happy to see you here: the delegation, consisting of a dozen people, passed through Moravian settlements on the Tuscarawas River in mid-November and arrived unexpectedly at Pittsburgh in the latter part of that month. The assistant military agent at Pittsburgh, John W. Brownson, had standing instructions from Dearborn that Indians without passports “must not come on” to Washington, and he wrote the War Department for orders. Dearborn replied that Brownson could help these travelers make a written communication to the president, but then, after giving them some clothing and supplies, he must send them all home. Visits to the capital could only be made “in conformity to the regulations.” Probably before Dearborn’s orders got to Pittsburgh, however, Brownson allowed six of the deputation to continue on to Washington and advanced them money for their expenses (Dearborn to Brownson, 19 Apr., 7 Dec. 1802, 13 Jan. 1803, in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; Brownson to War Department, 27 Nov., 10, 15 Dec. 1802, recorded in DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; Gipson, Moravian Indian Mission, 194n).

The War Department did not make a record of what Owl said to the president and the secretary of war about the several subjects of concern to the delegation. From what the Moravian missionaries learned as the travelers passed through Ohio, the delegation wanted to call attention to the easy availability of liquor, which they held to be the cause of 20 murders during the previous year in the Indian towns of the White River region. Other complaints centered on Harrison’s negotiations in September to obtain the vincennes tract and the salt springs of the Wabash saline. Those concerns were compounded by rumors that White River lands were being sold away by tribes that had no claim to them (Gipson, Moravian Indian Mission, 194n, 214–15; Notes on Bounds of the Vincennes Tract, [on or after 26 Oct. 1802]).

copy of a law: an act of Congress of 30 Mch. 1802 regulated the acquisition of land from Indians. It also allowed the president to restrict or stop the sale of spiritous liquors. A few days after TJ addressed Owl, Dearborn sent extracts from the statute to territorial governors and Indian agents, asking them to inform the Indians in their areas of the law’s provisions (Dearborn to W. C. C. Claiborne and others, and to Silas Dinsmoor and others, both 13 Jan. 1803, in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; TJ to Handsome Lake, 3 Nov.).

Dearborn promised to send a smith “as soon as a suitable man can be obtained, who can mend your Axes, hoes, and Guns,” and he indicated that the government would also send plows and other implements (Dearborn to Buckongahelas and others, 10 Jan., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA). William wells, who was Little Turtle’s son-in-law and had, with him, assisted Harrison in the recent negotiations over land boundaries, was the Indian agent at Fort Wayne (Vol. 36:285n; Notes on Bounds of the Vincennes Tract, [on or after 26 Oct. 1802]).

written speech you brought me: the Delaware leader Buckongahelas, who had been to Washington with Black Hoof’s delegation of Shawnees and Delawares the previous winter, lived on the upper part of the West Fork of the White River. At the council before the departure of Owl’s delegation to Washington, Buckongahelas, who was retiring from the Delaware council, and other speakers made addresses directed to the U.S. government. John Conner, who accompanied Owl’s party as a translator—see his letter to TJ at 10 Jan. below—made notes of those addresses, and when the deputation passed through the Moravian towns in Ohio, one of the missionaries put Conner’s notes into fuller form. That manuscript has not been found, but Dearborn’s reply, in a written message of 10 Jan., indicates that Buckongahelas, who was wary of a close relationship with the United States, objected to Harrison’s transactions in September. Buckongahelas and others from the White River must be “mistaken or deceived” if they thought their tribes had any say regarding the Vincennes tract or the saline, Dearborn declared. They had “no reason to complain” of the agreements reached with Harrison. Buckongahelas and his colleagues apparently also brought up crimes committed against Indians. “The President your father,” Dearborn answered, “will never fail to punish any white Man, who shall be wicked enough to kill or in any manner injure any of his red Children”—provided, of course, the wrongdoer could be apprehended. To Harrison, Dearborn wrote in February that the “deputation of Delawares and Miamis, who visited the seat of Government the present winter complain loudly of the unfair means used for obtaining the assent of some of the Chiefs to the proposed boundaries, and they state that the loan of the Salt Spring was only for one year.” The government “ought not to deviate from the principles of strict integrity in any of our dealings with the Indian Nations,” Dearborn advised. He also informed Harrison that Owl and Conner had reported French or Spanish agents might be attempting to influence the Indians against the United States (Dearborn to Buckongahelas and others, 10 Jan., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; 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 , 7:86–7; Gipson, Moravian Indian Mission, 194n; Weslager, Delaware Indian Westward Migration, 54, 57, 62; Vol. 36:514, 516).

David Redick, who wrote to Gallatin from Washington, Pennsylvania, in December, understood that the delegation then on its way to the nation’s capital represented eleven tribes who “go to speake of grievances they suffer at the hands of Governor Harrison as they say.” There were also reports that Conner was “at much pains to abuse the British” for intriguing to alienate the Indians from the United States, yet “at the same time it is some how or other believed that he is a British Subject if not a British agent.” Redick, whose information about the delegation was secondhand, particularly wanted to inform TJ, through Gallatin, that someone traveling with the group was claiming to be Logan, the Mingo Indian whose famous 1773 address to Lord Dunmore TJ had published in Notes on the State of Virginia (and which became a controversial issue in 1797, leading to TJ’s preparation of his Appendix to the Notes on Virginia). “I have many strong reasons for believing that the Genuine Logan has been long dead,” Redick wrote. He hoped to arrange for the imposter to be brought before someone who remembered Logan. Redick also thought it a “Suspicious circumstance” that George White Eyes was in the deputation bound for Washington. It was George White Eyes, Redick wrote, who the previous year had spread a story, damaging to Moravian and Presbyterian missionary endeavors, that TJ “had advised the Indians not to embrace the Christian Religion.” Redick wanted the president to know that after he received TJ’s June 1802 letter denying the rumor, a group of missionaries confronted White Eyes in Wheeling and got him to retract what he had said (Redick to Gallatin, 17 Dec., RC in ViW: Tucker-Coleman Collection, endorsed by TJ with notation “Logan”; Vol. 29:452–5; Vol. 30:285–8; Vol. 31:373n, 551–4; Vol. 37:584–5, 627–8).

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