Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison
RC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of John Francis Mercer, except for the signatures of Theodorick Bland, Jr., and Arthur Lee. Docketed, “Virginia Delegates Sept. 8th. 1783.” For the absence of JM’s signature, see Delegates to Harrison, 24 June 1783, ed. n.
Princeton Septr. 8th. 1783
This Post brought us no Letter from your Excellency,1 & little has ocurred with us since our last communications, worthy your attention.
A recent letter recd. by the Secretary of War from Genl. Irvine, commanding at Fort Pitt informs that a body of abt 400 Men, from the Western Frontier of Virginia, had passed the Ohio, in order to establish a settlement on the Muskingum. The General apprehends, that an immediate Indian War, will be among the first of the many evil consequences that must result from such lawless measures.2
Intelligence received by a missionary, lately sent in order to communicate the substance of the Articles of pacification to the Indian nations, gives great weight to the surmises of General Irvine. This Person was well received by Brigr. Genl. McClene, the british officer commdg. at Detroit, (altho prevented from holding a council with the Indians,) Who communicated to him the purport of intelligence which he had recd. by an Indian runner from our Western Country, & which he had transmitted to General Haldimand. The substance of this was that the Virginians had passed the Ohio, & had committed many wanton & unprovoked acts of cruelty that had in some measure produced retaliation3
Baron Steuben is just arriv’d here from Canada whither he had been sent, in order to make arrangements with General Haldimand, for the reception of the Posts ceded on our north western Frontier. The purposes of his mission have been totally frustrated, as that Officer, (who met him at Sorrel) alledged he had recd: no orders from his Court except to cease hostilities. And that he considered the late pacification so far conditional untill a definitive Treaty that he did not think himself authorized to permit the Baron even to visit the Posts. which (it seems) cannot now (were orders recd. for that purpose) be evacuated untill the ensuing Season.4
The evacuation of New York advances rapidly notwithstanding, the number of those inhabitants whose fears have of late determined them, to accompany the Garrison. Their apprehensions exaggerated by doubt on one hand by the policy of the enemy & on the other by the publications which have of late appeared in the American Papers, will probably terminate in the sudden establishment of a very rich & powerful neighbour to the United States & certainly a very inimical one.5
A Committee was appointed by the Legislature of Virginia at a former session, to state their claim to the Western territory. This business we believe now rests with Mr. Randolph & we wish to be informed of the progress which that Gentleman has made in it,6
We have the honor to be with great respect & esteem Yr. Excellency’s Most obedient & very humble Servants
John F Mercer
Theok: Bland jr.
2. In a letter of 17 August to Benjamin Lincoln, secretary at war, Brigadier General William Irvine, commander of the continental troops at Fort Pitt, stated: “great numbers of Men have crossed the Ohio, and have made actual settlements in different places from the River Muskingham to Wabash, this will in all probability renew the Indian War.” Upon receiving the letter on 3 September, Congress referred it to a committee of five delegates, including James Duane, chairman, and Arthur Lee (NA: PCC, No. 149, III, 179–80; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 534, n. 2).
From the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers in the southeast of the future state of Ohio to the confluence of the Wabash and Ohio rivers at the southwestern tip of the future state of Indiana is a great distance, especially when measured along the meanderings of the Ohio River. For this reason the four hundred Virginians, chiefly from Yohogania and Ohio counties, who were said to have built their cabins north of that stream, seem few in proportion to the expanse of territory within which they had settled. Probably there were many more than “four hundred” whites (Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 529–30, 536; Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 197, 217, MS in Va. State Library). The movement of squatters into the lower Muskingum River valley had quickened in 1782, immediately after the Delaware Indians were expelled from that area. This renewed incursion by the whites soon led the Delawares and other Indian tribes, abetted by the British at Detroit and in their posts along the Lake Erie fringe of the Ohio country, to attack the settlers. The conflict continued with varying intensity until the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and the ratification of Jay’s Treaty at about the same time (C[onsul] W[illshire] Butterfield, ed., Washington-Irvine Correspondence. The Official Letters which Passed between Washington and Brig.-Gen. William Irvine … [Madison, Wis., 1882], pp. 193–94, n. 3). See also Harrison to Delegates, 19 Sept.; 26 Sept.; Delegates to Harrison, 4 Oct. 1783.
3. On 1 May 1783 Congress ordered Benjamin Lincoln to “take the most effectual measures to inform the several Indian Nations, on the frontiers of the United States” that the war with Great Britain had ended; that the British-held forts within the United States “will speedily be evacuated”; and that Congress, although “disposed to enter into friendly treaty with the different tribes,” would take the “most decided measures to compel them thereto,” unless “they immediately cease all hostilities against the citizens of these states” (NA: PCC, No. 186, fols. 98, 99; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 319–20; Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., X, 45, 46; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 432–33; 434, n. 10; 444, n. 2; Harrison to Delegates, 13 Sept. 1783, and n. 4). In fulfillment of this directive, Lincoln appointed Colonel John Bull (1730–1824) of Philadelphia County, Pa., who had been a prominent negotiator of treaties with the Indians in both the French and Indian War and the Revolution, to be the “missionary” to the Iroquois tribes in upper New York State (Pa. Mag. Hist. and Biog., III , 197, 422; XXIV , 345–47; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , IV, 347, and n., 350, 383). At about the same time, Lincoln named Ephraim Douglass (d. 1833), also a Pennsylvanian, who was soon to retire in the grade of major at the Fort Pitt garrison commanded by his friend General Irvine, to undertake a similar mission to the Indians in the Ohio country (Heitman, Historical Register Continental description begins F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, 1914). description ends , p. 202).
As an aide-de-camp of General Lincoln in 1777, Douglass had been captured by the British and held a prisoner for over three years (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , V, 753; Pa. Mag. Hist. and Biog., I , 44–54; Colonial Records of Pa., XVI, 447; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , IX, 429, and n.). By December 1783, following his return from his mission, Douglass was appointed by President John Dickinson and the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania to several administrative offices in the newly created Fayette County, and settled at Uniontown, the county seat. Thereafter until at least 1808 he held a succession of appointive or elective positions in that county and village (NA: PCC, No. 78, VIII, 35; No. 149, III, 187, 191; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 536, n. 1, 699, n. 1; Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., X, 118, 262, 553–56, 588, 696; Colonial Records of Pa., XIII, 705; XVI, 447; Franklin Ellis, ed., History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men [Philadelphia, 1882], pp. 130–33, 135, 150, 151, 153, 155, 302).
Although Mercer’s allusion to Irvine and Detroit referred to the reports of Bull and an associate received by Congress on 6 and 12 August, respectively, his reference to Brigadier General Allen Maclean (1725–1784) as “the british officer commdg. at Detroit” shows that he had confused the reports of the mission there with the similar report by Douglass, received by Congress on 19 August. Lieutenant Colonel Arent Schuyler DePeyster (1736–1822) was the British commandant at Detroit (Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, I , 552). Maclean commanded at Niagara. At the time of Mercer’s letter, the committee, with Duane as chairman, to which these narratives and accompanying documents were referred, had not yet reported.
DePeyster and Maclean had prevented Bull and Douglass from carrying out their orders to address the Indian tribes in person, but the envoys had been impressed by their courteous reception at the garrisons and by the apparent determination of commanding officers to restrain the tribes from attacking the settlers. The Indians were largely dependent for their economic well-being upon the British and comprised an important part of the garrison at Niagara. Lieutenant General Frederick Haldimand, commander-in-chief of the British forces in Canada and the Old Northwest, had not ordered the evacuation of the posts south of the Great Lakes and evidently did not plan to do so in the near future (NA: PCC, No. 149, III, 61–69, 109–10, 135–74, 187–94; No. 185, III, 73, 74, 76; No. 186, fols. 112, 118, 119, 120; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 517, n. 1; Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., X, 62–64, 70–71, 80–90; Pa. Packet, 11 Sept. 1783; Worthington C. Ford, British Officers Serving in the American Revolution, pp. 59, 86, 120).
4. On 2 September Congress received and referred to a committee, including Ralph Izard, chairman, Duane, and Arthur Lee, a letter of 30 August from Washington, enclosing the report by General Steuben on his conference with Haldimand at Sorel, Canada, between 8 and 12 August. Acting under the authority of Congress, conferred by a resolution on 12 May, Washington had directed Steuben to survey the British posts within the United States after arranging with Haldimand for their early evacuation. Steuben’s report, accompanied by Haldimand’s written statement, reconfirmed what Bull and Douglass had learned at Detroit and Niagara. Lacking orders from King George III, Haldimand chose to regard the preliminary articles of peace as merely warranting a cessation of hostilities rather than as an equivalent of a definitive treaty of peace. For this reason he refused to “evacuate an inch of ground,” or to allow Steuben to negotiate with the Indians or to visit the British garrisons south of the Canadian border (NA: PCC, No. 152, XI, 449–75; No. 185, III, 77; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 337–39; XXV, 532, n. 1; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVII, 39–40, 48, and n. 83, 61–65, 118, 120–24). See also Harrison to Delegates, 13 Sept., and n. 3; 26 Sept. 1783.
5. Delegates to Harrison, 23 Aug., and n. 2; JM to James Madison, Sr., 30 Aug. General Sir Guy Carleton had promised bounty lands in Nova Scotia to Loyalists who served in the British armed forces. The Pennsylvania Packet of 4 and 6 September announced that between 12,000 and 15,000 Loyalists would embark in the New York City area for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or the Great and Little Abaco Islands in the Bahama archipelago. See also Pa. Packet, 21, 23, 26 Aug., 9 Sept. 1783. Many of the émigrés were persons of considerable wealth and social prominence (Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, Father Knickerbocker Rebels: New York City during the Revolution [New York, 1948], pp. 248–66).