James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Harry Toulmin, 13 August 1813

From Harry Toulmin

Fort Stoddert 13th. Augst. 1813.

Dear Sir

I have for sometime past felt the importance if not the necessity of addressing you relative to the alarming situation of this part of the Mississippi Territory—but having communicated the leading facts to some friends in Congress, & also availed myself of the relation I stand in to the Post Master General as his deputy at this place; I have flattered my self that every end would be answered without intruding upon you by a personal address. As it is probable however that the congress may have adjourned previously to the arrival of my last communication; I deem it safest to take the liberty of forwarding the inclosed directly to yourself.1 The last statements which I made were addressed to Mr Rhea and Mr Sevier of Tennessee: and as it is probable that they left the city before the arrival of my letter; I would beg leave to ask the favour of you to receive from the post-office and to open the same (which the address and the postmark will sufficiently designate) as it probably contained some particulars, though I think not many, in addition to those which I submitted to the postmaster general.2

No man I believe has been more cautious than myself in listening to tales of Indian hostility: and I have always been solicitous that every step should be avoided, which under the pretence of warding off a blow, had a tendency to provoke it. But on the present occasion I have neither any doubt of hostile dispositions among the Creeks, nor of their pervading a portion of the nation sufficiently numerous to afford the highest grounds for apprehension as to our own safety. It is a fact that for months parties of them have been in the habit of dancing the war dance, with the avowed intention of making war on the white people; that the persons thus engaged have been either the men themselves or the known confederates of the men who had been with the northwestern enemy and had committed murders on the Ohio;3 that there are Shawaonese emissaries among them who take a strong interest in fomenting their warlike dispositions; that a letter of recommendation, at least, from a British general to the Spanish Governor in West Florida, strongly indicated the existence of British patronage; that they professed in their confidential communications to people of their own nation, an intention to commit hostilities upon us; that such was generally understood to be their plan in Pensacola; and that they have actually committed the most desolating outrages on the persons and property of such as were known to be attached to the United States, and on the ground of that attachment. The only instance of actual hostility towards our citizens, was indeed the robbery of the mail, and the attempt to murder the postrider. But this was not a mere private act of violence. It was the act of a numerous, public body dispatched to Pensacola for the purpose of procuring ammunition. It seemed to be held by them there as a sort of national property. The governor was requested to open it & inform them what the Americans were going to do with the Muscogees. The murder of the postrider was avowed. Under all these circumstances, it was considered here, that hostilities had actually commenced: and that the state of things fully warranted an attempt to arrest the progress of the ammunition bringing into this country for our destruction. The attempt however was miserably conducted, and it proved in a great degree, abortive.4 Nothing has since occurred. There has not indeed been time for it, and the weather, fortunately, has been remarkably unfavourable to the operations of our enemies. The people are in a state of continual alarm and a large proportion of them have abandoned their houses and plantations, and taken shelter in some of the numerous forts, which they have erected on the spur of the occasion. On the waters of the Pascagola, and in the upper settlements of this river, they are in great dread of the Choctaws: but how great the danger is I cannot ascertain: and I believe that it might even now be removed, by proper exertions to counteract the intrigues of the British and of the northern emissaries. It is true, I have not heard of them among the Choctaws: but as they are certainly among the Creeks, and many Choctaw towns are known to be disaffected, I think it but rational to ascribe similar effects to similar correspondent causes, when no others present themselves, adequate to produce the same effects.

Genl. Claiborne from the Mississippi, is using every exertion to protect the people, and I rely much on his zeal and ability. At present however, his force is inadequate to so extended a settlement as this.5 Governor Holmes is making preparation to aid us with a few companies of Militia from the Mississi: and I am happy in receiving information from him that he intends being here himself. Genl. Flournoy still sick at the Bay of St. Louis feels anxiously for our situation, and has already thrown in a much needed supply of ammunition from N. Orleans: an article our people are destitute of, and can procure only at the enormous price of 125 to 150 cents pr. lb. for gunpowder. The Genl. will also detatch to this frontier, I believe, the 7th. regt. if means of transportation can be procured in the present low state of public credit.

Difficulties, however, are felt in taking the measures necessary for suppressing the spirit of hostility, and indeed of rebellion among the Indians against a local government patronized by the United States, difficulties arising partly out of doubts about the authority of any general here to enter the Indian country, and still greater perhaps from a want of the funds necessary for making any movements.

As to the real temper and intentions of the Spanish Governor; I am greatly at a loss to form an opinion about them. His conduct in supplying the Indians with ammunition, when avowedly intending an aggression on the American settlements, is certainly not to be justified; and his plea that it had been an annual custom, I do not believe to be founded in fact. But whether his concession to them resulted merely from a desire to retain the friendship of the Indians, (rendered more earnest perhaps by the anticipation of a declaration of war by the parent state) or from his disposition to accommodate himself to the wishes of the British, or from pure pusalinimity, or from a secret wish to encourage a spirit of hostility towards the United States, I have no data on which to form a satisfactory judgement. In his conduct with respect to the mail; I can see nothing but what is truly honourable, and becoming the representative of a friendly power. He may have been more fearful than became him, of giving offence to the Indians; but that was all. The Spaniards, however, have always been so: and the inhabitants of these countries never knew what it was to receive protection from savage outrage, until they became citizens of the United States. I have the honour to be, dear sir with the highest respect, your most obedt. and most humble servant,

Harry Toulmin

P.S. This was written to be sent thro’ the Choctaws. But no one seems disposed to risque going with the mail from the apprehension of danger from the Choctaws. I hope however to be able to get some one to go on. I sent this to Col. Hawkins by a special messenger who goes unfrequentd paths.

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, T-155:7). Docketed as received in the War Department on “Sept[…]th 1813.” Damaged by removal of seal. For enclosures, see n. 1.

1Toulmin enclosed an extract of a letter from John Innerarity of Pensacola to James Innerarity of Mobile, 27 July 1813 (8 pp.); a copy of Benjamin Hawkins to James B. Wilkinson, 27 July 1813 (1 p.); a deposition by David Files, 4 Aug. 1813 (1 p.); a deposition by Michael Ehlert, 15 Aug. 1813 (1 p.); and an undated deposition by James Cornells (2 pp.). John Innerarity, a merchant, wrote that a band of Indians had come to Pensacola to demand ammunition from him as well as from the governor. Chiefs Peter McQueen and Attakulpia told him that “they had taken up the tomahawk, and that the whole [Creek] nation with the exception of the Cowetas and Tookebaches had joined them: that the Choctaws were also about to join them, and that the flame of war would be kindled from the Mississippi to the lakes of Canada” because “the great spirit above had spoken to many of the chiefs & had commanded them to go to war.” Innerarity also spoke with a Shawnee chief who said he and his followers had “come a great way to see their brothers the Creeks … and that when they went back they would inform their friends the English of what we had done for them.” Innerarity reluctantly offered the Indians a token present, while the governor provided them with a “considerable” amount of provisions and “about 1000 lb. of gun powder, and a proportion of ball &c.” Finding the gifts insufficient, the Indians expressed their displeasure by “set[ting] up the war whoop in every direction,” but “tranquility was restored” by the militia. The governor then gave the chiefs a “milky” reprimand, rather than “threatening them severely for their audacity and insolence, as every body around him advised him to do.” It was “remarkable,” Innerarity observed, that none of the Indians “would taste a drop of liquor.” McQueen promised that he and his warriors would not damage any of the Inneraritys’ property but advised that James Innerarity bring his family to Pensacola because the Indians intended to attack Mobile and the young warriors could not be controlled. John Innerarity dismissed that particular threat as “balderdash” but predicted that the Indians would “annoy the inhabitants very much” and “spill much innocent blood” with the ammunition they had obtained at Pensacola.

Benjamin Hawkins’s 27 July 1813 letter to Capt. James B. Wilkinson, commander at Mobile, stated that “the British in Canada” had instigated a “Civil war among the Creeks,” and that “as soon as the Cheifs friendly to the plan of civilization and their adherents are murdered or put to flight, the Fanatics will attack our frontier settlements.” Hawkins described defense preparations in Georgia and recommended that the white and mixed-blood inhabitants of the “Forks of Alabama … put themselves into the best situation they can to resist an attack from the Alabama Indians.” An extract of the letter was published in the Daily National Intelligencer on 20 Sept. 1813.

In his deposition of 4 Aug. 1813, David Files stated that Warren R. Dodge, whom Wilkinson had sent to Pensacola to retrieve “the three mails lately taken by the Creek Indians,” had returned with the mail by 2 Aug.; and that Wilkinson had inspected it and told Files that “all letters appearing to have money within had been broken open and a packet directed to his father General Wilkinson had been destroyed.” Toulmin inserted an asterisk after the word “money” and in an 8 Aug. note below wrote that Wilkinson had forwarded the mail to him and that it was in “as good order as common,” with seals unbroken, although some packages had “certainly been destroyed or detained.”

Michael Ehlert’s deposition, 15 Aug. 1813, stated that he had lived with the Creeks for more than twenty years and had never heard of the Spanish government giving annual presents to the Indians; that “about twenty years ago” he had procured “seven horse loads” of “ammunition” in Pensacola for the Creeks, but from the mercantile firm of Panton, Leslie, and Company rather than the government; and that “till the late occasion,” the governor had given gunpowder to the Indians only “now and then,” in very small quantities.

James Cornells’s deposition recounted his recent conversations with Creek Indians who “declared themselves enemies of the United States” and “friends of Great Britain,” avowing their intention to “put off all Americans and their friends & to burn and destroy as they go.” Some of these Creeks had “Spanish arms … which they declared they had received from the Spanish Govenor at Pensacola from whom they could at all times receive as great supplies as they wished, on the authority of a letter from a British General in Canada.” Cornells also learned from an express rider for the Indians that the governor had given them about “forty horse loads of powder and one barrel of flints with many guns.” Finally, “from his own knowledge,” Cornells stated that “the inimical Creeks” were “distroying their own stock & provisions & property promiscousley with those of the friends of the United States.”

2For Toulmin to Gideon Granger, 8 Aug. 1813, see Abraham Bradley Jr. to JM, 10 Sept. 1813, and n. 1.

3Toulmin referred to a band of Creek Indians, led by Little Warrior and another chief, who had been sent on a mission to the Chickasaws. They extended their journey to the Great Lakes, where they received messages from Tecumseh and the British and fought against the United States, probably in the Battle of the River Raisin. On their way home, they murdered a number of white settlers living near the Ohio River (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Indian Affairs, 1:839–40, 842, 846, 851).

4Toulmin probably referred to the Battle of Burnt Corn, 27 July 1813, in which several companies of militia and volunteers led by Col. James Caller and Capts. Sam Dale and Dixon Bailey attacked the Creek chief High Head Jim and his company, who were bringing some of the ammunition obtained in Pensacola back to their towns. The Americans’ initial charge forced the Creeks to retreat, but when the majority of the attackers stopped to secure the abandoned ammunition, the Indians mounted a countercharge. After fighting for more than an hour, the Americans withdrew, but the Creeks were unable to recover the powder and lead (Quimby, The U.S. Army in the War of 1812, 1:381–83). An account of the battle sent by Col. Joseph Carson of the Mississippi Volunteers to Brig. Gen. Ferdinand L. Claiborne was published in the Daily National Intelligencer on 20 Sept. 1813. In an encounter with a second group of Creeks returning from Pensacola, an American force led by Cornells and David Tate was less successful. The Indians, under the leadership of McQueen, repulsed the Americans’ attack, killing and scalping two of them, and McQueen reportedly brought “one hundred horse loads” of ammunition back to the Creek town of Hoithlewaulee (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Indian Affairs, 1:851).

5Brig. Gen. Claiborne, commander of the approximately 700 Mississippi Volunteers charged with defending Mobile and the Mississippi Territory frontier, received an advance of only $200 to move his troops from Baton Rouge to Mobile. After the Battle of Burnt Corn, he asked Brig. Gen. Thomas Flournoy for permission to call out the territorial militia and attack the Creeks, but Flournoy replied that he was not authorized to take such steps (Quimby, The U.S. Army in the War of 1812, 1:384–85).

Index Entries