George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 14 September 1784]

14th. Remained at Mr. Gilbert Simpsons all day. Before Noon Colo. Willm. Butler1 and the Officer Commanding the Garrison at Fort Pitt, a Captn. Lucket2 came here. As they confirmed the reports of the discontented temper of the Indians and the Mischiefs done by some parties of them and the former advised me not to prosecute my intended trip to the Great Kanhawa, I resolved to decline it.3

This day also, the people who lives on my land on Millers run came here to set forth their pretensions to it; & to enquire into my right. After much conversation, & attempts in them to discover all the flaws they could in my Deed, &ca.; & to establish a fair and upright intention in themselves; and after much Councelling which proceeded from a division of opinion among themselves—they resolved (as all who live on the Land were not here) to give me their definitive determination when I should come to the Land, which I told them would probably happen on Friday or Saturday next.4

1William Butler (1745–1789), of Pittsburgh, was known to GW to be a good woodsman and something of an expert in Indian warfare. Both before and after the War of Independence, Butler was an Indian trader in the Ohio Valley. During the war, as a lieutenant colonel in the Pennsylvania line, he was assigned by GW to help defend the New York frontier 1778–79. In Oct. 1778 he led a small expedition of Continental soldiers which destroyed a number of Indian villages near Unadilla, N.Y., and the following year he was responsible for wiping out several more Indian settlements in the vicinity of Lake Cayuga. In all Butler served nearly seven years in the Continental Army before retiring 1 Jan. 1783 (BOATNER [1] description begins Mark Mayo Boatner III. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. New York, 1966. description ends , 152; CHALFANT description begins Ella Chalfant. A Goodly Heritage: Earliest Wills on an American Frontier. Pittsburgh, 1955. description ends , 69–70; GW to Continental Congress, 22 July 1778, and GW to John Stark, 5 Aug. 1778, DLC:GW).

2David Luckett of Maryland had very recently assumed command of the small detachment of underpaid and ill-clad Marylanders who currently occupied Fort Pitt (FRONTIER FORTS description begins Report of the Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania. 2 vols. [Harrisburg], Pa., 1896. description ends , 2:151–52). Although sometimes addressed as captain, the rank the fort’s commander apparently was supposed to hold, Luckett was a lieutenant, having advanced only one grade since entering the Continental Army as an ensign in 1779 (EVANS description begins Hallock F. Raup, ed. “Journal of Griffith Evans, 1784–1785.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 65 (1941): 202–33. description ends , 227; Craig Bayard & Co., to Luckett, 27 May 1785, DNA:PCC, Item 163; HEITMAN [1] description begins Francis B. Heitman. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783. 1893. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C., 1914. description ends , 271). He requested the War Department on 1 Aug. 1784 to relieve him of his command before 20 Sept.; “I can’t,” he declared, “think of spending my time and Substance in so trifling a Service as the present without some advantage” (DNA:PCC, Item 60). Nevertheless, he remained in charge at Fort Pitt until after 7 June 1785, when Congress finally permitted him to retire from the army (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 28:435).

Luckett probably came to Simpson’s today in response to a letter which GW had sent to Fort Pitt 10 July, requesting the use of public boats there, if any, and “three or Four trusty Soldiers” from the garrison to go down the Ohio (DLC:GW).

3The situation, GW explained in a letter to Henry Knox 5 Dec. 1784, did not “render it prudent . . . to run the risk of insult.” In another year the Kanawha lands might be usurped by “people who [will] set me at defiance, under the claim of pre-occupancy . . . but as the land cannot be removed . . . I thought it better to return, than to make a bad matter worse by hazarding abuse from the Savages of the Country” (DLC:GW). That danger was real, according to Thomas Freeman. “Had you Proceded on you[r] Tour down the River,” Freeman wrote GW 9 June 1785, “I believe it would have been attended with the most dreadfull Consequences. The Indians by what means I can’t say had Intelligence of your Journey and Laid wait for you. Genl. [James] Wilkinson fell in their Hands and was taken for you and with much difficulty of Persuasion & Gifts got away. This is the Common Report & I believe the Truth” (DLC:GW).

4GW’s 2,813–acre tract on Millers Run, a branch of Chartiers Creek, lay in Washington County about eight miles northwest of present-day Canonsburg, Pa. William Crawford surveyed this tract for GW in 1771, but almost from the start Crawford was hard put to keep unauthorized settlers off it. To protect GW’s claim he built four cabins on the tract in 1772 and engaged a man to stay there (Crawford to GW, 1 May 1772, DLC:GW). However, he still had to reckon with the wily speculator George Croghan. Miffed because GW questioned his land titles and declined to buy any tract from him, Croghan arbitrarily extended his already overblown claims to include the Millers Run land and urged settlers to move on it. The result was that 10 or 12 persons occupied the tract in the fall of 1773 without purchasing or leasing from either GW or Croghan. “There is no geting them of without by Force of Arms,” Crawford wrote GW 29 Dec. 1773, and such tactics would be of little use, because “they will com back Emedetly as soon as my back is turnd. They man I put on the Land, they have drove away, and Built a house so Colse to his dore that he cannot get into the house at the dore” (DLC:GW).

On 5 July 1774 GW obtained a patent for his Millers Run land from Virginia, which was then disputing Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction over what is now southwestern Pennsylvania (Va. Colonial Patents, Book 42, 516–18, Vi Microfilm). Although Virginia gave up its rights to the area six years later, its grants there remained valid, being recognized by Pennsylvania as the price for Virginia’s concession (CRUMRINE [3] description begins Boyd Crumrine. “The Boundary Controversy between Pennsylvania and Virginia; 1748–1785.” Annals of the Carnegie Museum 1 (1901–2): 505–24. description ends , 521–23). Nevertheless, the people on Millers Run questioned GW’s title on grounds that Crawford was not a Virginia county surveyor in 1771; that his survey was registered and the patent granted after they moved on the land; and that the tract was deserted when they occupied it.

Among the arguments GW later made in response were that Crawford did not have to be a county surveyor because the land was surveyed under a military warrant; that most of the present occupants did not move on the land until after the date of his patent; that none of them ever took any steps to obtain a patent; that Crawford improved and had the land occupied long before anyone else did; and that the settlers were frequently warned over the years that they were trespassing. In short, he was convinced that the Millers Run people had taken “a very ungenerous advantage” of him (GW to John Harvie, 19 Mar. 1785, and GW to Thomas Smith, 14 July 1785 and 10 Sept. 1785, DLC:GW).

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