George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Harry Innes, 18 December 1788

From Harry Innes

Kentucky Danville Decr 18th 1788


Never was a person more perplexed than I am at the present moment. I have it in my power to communicate important intelligence, which not only affects the happiness of the Western Country but the prosperity of the Union. To what power then shall I make the communication? At the first view, it would appear to be most eligible to the Executive of Virginia; but this to me is exceptionable, because they could do nothing but communicate the subject to Congress, besides, Secrecy is necessary, & altho’ the Executive are few in Number I doubt whether they all possess integrity.

Suppose I was to address Congress. I fear nothing could be done, the attention of that Body is too much engross’d by the approaching change of the Government; or perhaps there is at this period no Congress, arising from the absence of the Delegates, in which case my information would be ineffectual & the subject might probably transpire at an improper time.

Under these reflections, I have ventured to address you Sir, as the late Protector & Guardian of America, the friend of Liberty & the friend of Mankind, & to intrude for a few moments on your domestic tranquillity. Altho’ Sir I am an intire Stranger to you, & altho’ you have retired from the publick scenes of Life, yet I trust that the importance of the subject which I shall communicate, will justify the intrusion & make a sufficient Appology therefor.

In the latter end of this Summer it was suggested to me that the British Court had Emissarys in Kentucky. From the abhorrence & detestation which I have to a British connection, other than that of friends & allies, I was induced to keep a look out & scrutinize the conduct of all Strangers[.] My observations soon convinced me of the truth of the case.

Among others Lieut. Colo. Connally (late of Ft Pitt) from Detroit hath visited the District.1 His conduct hath alarmed my fears, he had some confidential conferrences with influential characters;2 he touched the Key to Fomentation and offered assistance to enable the Inhabitants of the Western Country to sieze on the City of New Orleans and secure thereby the Navigation of the Mississippi. How his Machinations are to be counteracted is the great object? I would be more explicit if the conveyance of my Letter was more certain; it is thrown into the Womb of chance; I must therefore act with caution.

Relying implicitly on this Fact—that whatever tends to disturb the peace of United America, would distress & injure your tranquility & repose, & that your aiding hand would not be withheld when your Country’s cause required it. I have ventured to solicit your advice & directions on this interesting Subject, & would wish to write confidentially to you on this business, if by your Answer I should concieve myself justified in the attempt. Should this proposed communication meet your approbation will it not be advisable to invent a Cypher for the preservation of that Secrecy which the magnitude of the subject requires. This being arranged, I pledge my Honor to give you from time to time a faithful detail of Facts. The happiness of my Country & the prosperity of Posterity yet unborn are the motives which actuate me on the present occasion, & I shall feel myself amply compensated if by my communications the Plots of that Haughty & Imperious Nation (G.B.) can be counteracted & frustrated.

At an early period of my Life I formed an acquaintance with your friend Dr Steuart, by inquiring of him you may learn who I am. I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir your mo. ob. Servt

Harry Innes


Harry Innes (1753–1816) served briefly in the Virginia legislature in 1784 and in 1785 became attorney general for the District of Kentucky. He moved across the mountains to take up his post around 1785 and soon became heavily involved in Kentucky politics. In 1789 GW appointed Innes United States district judge for Kentucky.

1In the fall of 1788 both Spanish and British agents, encouraged by unrest in the district and the growing grievances of frontier leadership against the policies of the Continental Congress, were attempting to woo Kentucky leaders away from the Confederation government. Many Canadian officials shared the opinion of John Graves Simcoe, lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, that “nothing would be more for the service of this Country than the opening a trade between Kentucky and Michillimackinac, by the Ilinois River; could we wean and detain this State from the United States and connect her with Upper Canada, It would give the Indians perfect security—The attempt may be difficult, but It should not for a moment be out of sight” (Simcoe to Alexander McKee, 28 June 1793, in Cruikshank, Simcoe Papers, description begins E. A. Cruikshank, ed. The Correspondence of Lieut. Governor John Graves Simcoe, with Allied Documents Relating to His Administration of the Government of Upper Canada. 5 vols. Toronto, 1923–31. description ends 5–52–53). One of the British agents, sent by Lord Dorchester, governor of Canada, was John Connolly (c.1743–1813), a native of Lancaster, Pa., and a well-known trader and land speculator on the frontier during the 1760s. On his trip to the frontier in 1770 GW encountered Connolly at Pittsburgh and listened with interest to his account of frontier lands (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 2:322–23). In the early 1770s Connolly helped set up local government in the Pittsburgh area, but when the Revolution broke out he threw in his lot with the British. See Valentine Crawford to GW, 24 June 1775, note 3 (Papers, Revolutionary War Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends , 1:31–32). Connolly’s visit to Kentucky in the early winter of 1788 was described in detail by Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, in a letter to Secretary for Foreign Affairs John Jay: “I have received Information from Detroit, which I depend upon, that a certain Coll Conolly, who came to that place, from Quebec, last Winter has, not long ago set out for Louisville at the rapids of the Ohio—he is the Conolly that made himself pretty remarkable during the progress of the Revolution, and was appointed a Lieutt Collonel in one of the Refugee corps—he is upon the half pay List, and has lately obtained from Lord Dorchester, an addition of two hundred pounds Sterling pr Annum, and his Expences. The Reason he assigned, at Detroit for his Journey to Louisville was, that he might obtain Certificates of the value of his Property in that Country which had been confiscated in order to support the Claim he had made upon the british Government for Compensation: My Information is, that he is sent to tamper with the People of Kentuckey and induce them to throw themselves into the Arms of Great Britain, and to assure them of protection and Support in that Measure—if that cannot be brought about, to stimulate them to Hostilities against the Spaniards, and at [any] rate to detach them from the united States” (St. Clair to Jay, 13 Dec. 1788, DNA:PCC, item 150, vol. 3, 509–16). As John Dawson, member of the Continental Congress from Virginia, wrote to the governor of the state, “for the want of a congress and a federal tribunal we could do nothing decisive in this business. We, however, advis’d the Secretary to write to Gov. St. Clair, and to advise him to keep a strict eye over Conolly, and if he finds his suspicions well grounded, to have him apprehended and delivered to the State in which he should be taken, and to be careful to have his papers, &c., secured, as it would probably bring on a national discussion” (Dawson to Beverley Randolph, 29 Jan. 1789, in Calendar of Virginia 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 4:554–56).

2For Connolly’s conversations with Thomas Marshall and George Muter, see Marshall to GW, 12 Feb. 1789.

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