George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Butler, 30 November 1787

From Richard Butler

Carlisle [Pa.] 30th Novr 1787

Excellent Sir

To know at any time that it is your Excellencys wish that any thing within my power should be done, will always be a Sufficient motive with me to do it. But when you were pleased to inform me that it had been required by the August Empress Sovereign of all the Russias, Through the medium of that Excellent Character the Right Honorable Major General The Marquis de La Fayette, it was an additional excitement to the completion of this work, And I only regret the difficulty of Obtaining more, which if wished for must be the work of time there being so few of our people or Uropeans Among the Indian tribes who have perseverence and understand a Sufficiency of their own tongue to be able to Translate the Indian into it—Should this be an Object of future Attention nothing will give me greater pleasure than to add my endeavours to its promotion.

With the greatest Respect I have the Sattisfaction to transmit this to your hand, and to Assure your Excellency That I am at all times and all places, Your Excellencys most Obedient Hbl. St

Richd Butler

ALS, DLC:GW. This letter is bound with: (1) Shawnee and Delaware Indian vocabularies, or word lists, running to forty pages in all, prepared by Butler, along with a copy of a two-page Cherokee and Choctaw vocabulary prepared by Benjamin Hawkins (see Enclosure I); and (2) an abstract of a letter from Butler to GW containing his observations on the life and culture of the Ohio Valley Indians (printed as Enclosure II). These bound manuscript pages are encased in a wallpaper cover. A notation by Jared Sparks indicates that the manuscripts, bound in this fashion, were a part of GW’s papers when he examined them early in the nineteenth century. The letter printed here is inserted after the seventh page of Butler’s vocabulary (see source note, Enclosure I). Butler also at this time returned to GW the printed vocabulary that Lafayette had sent to have the Indian words inserted.

Lafayette wrote GW the year before on 10 Feb. 1786, that he was enclosing “a Vocabulary which the Empress of Russia Has Requested me to Have filled up with indian Names as she has ordered an Universal dictionary to be made of all languages—it would greatly oblige Her to collect the words she sends translated into the several idioms of the Nations on the Banks of the Oyho.” GW replied on 10 May 1786 that he would do his best to have Catherine’s vocabulary “compleated” but warned that she must be patient, for “the Indian tribes on the Ohio are numerous, dispersed & distant from those who are most likely to do the business properly.”

On 20 Aug. 1786 GW wrote to Thomas Hutchins, the geographer of the United States, who was supervising the survey of the Ohio territory for Congress. He sent to Hutchins Lafayette’s letter of 10 Feb. with “a specimen of the vocabulary” and urged him to “extend the vocabulary as far as, with the aid of your friends, you conveniently can.” Presumably the “specimen” was Lafayette’s list of words, and by asking him to “extend the vocabulary” GW apparently meant that Hutchins should include as many tribal languages or dialects as he could. Hutchins wrote in reply on 8 Nov. 1786 that he would try to “make the Vocabulary as extensive and perfect” as possible.

Before receiving Hutchins’s reply, having learned that the Indian agent Richard Butler (1743–1791) had been made superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern department, GW wrote to Butler, on 27 Nov. 1786, to request him “also” to assist with the Indian vocabulary. “If Capt. Hutchins is on the Ohio,” he told Butler, “he will shew you the paper which was transmitted to me by the Marquis, and which I forwarded to him. If he is not, it may be sufficient to inform you that it was no more than to insert English words & the name of things in one column—& the Indian therefor [thereof] in others on the same line, under the different heads of Delaware, Shawnees, Wiendots &c. &c.” In his introduction to the Shawnee-Delaware vocabulary (see Enclosure I), Butler speaks of “the words which were sent me to be translated,” indicating that he received from Hutchins Lafayette’s list of English words for which Indian equivalents were to be supplied. (On 3 April 1788 GW responded to a letter from Butler dated 13 Mar., which has not been found: “My not acknowledging the reception of the printed Vocabulary must have been an omission, for it came safely to hand with the manuscript one.”) On 10 Jan. 1788 GW sent to Lafayette the Indian vocabulary that Butler enclosed in this letter, the vocabulary treated here in Enclosure I being a copy of the one sent to Lafayette or possibly Butler’s expanded version of it.

GW at the same time sent Lafayette “a shorter specimen of the language of the Southern Indians” prepared by Benjamin Hawkins (see the note for Enclosure I) and “The Delaware Indian & English spelling Book by Mr [David] Zeisberger.”

Hutchins failed to send his vocabulary to GW before his death in April 1789 (see George Morgan to GW, 1 Sept. 1789).

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