George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Hugh Williamson, 21 May 1789

From Hugh Williamson

Edenton [N.C.] 21st May 1789.


Immediately on my arrival here I attempted to learn the State of our Western Affairs & am informed by the Governor That a Treaty is to be held on or about the 24th Inst. at the War-Ford on French Broad. This Treaty is, on the Part of the United States, to be conducted by the Agent for the Southern Department and a Commissioner from each of the three southern States, Georgia, S. Carolina & N. Carolina. Mr Steel, as I had formerly the Honour to mention, is the Commissioner appointed by this State.1 Governor Johnston has given Orders to Jos: Martin as Brigadier for the District including French Broad to attend at the Treaty with all the Indian Prisoners lately taken by any Parties of our Citizens; it seems there are a good many Prisoners.2 Genl Martin is also ordered to have a Guard in readiness if the Commissioners require one. The Mr Sevier who has for some Years occasioned so much trouble in the Western Country, as the Governor of a new State, has lately submitted to the Government of North Carolina and taken the Oaths accordingly.3

I am not yet informed what are the Sentiments of my fellow Citizens in the Northern & Western Parts of this State concerning the new Government; you will learn in a few Days the Sentiments of the Governor and Council, but the People who live near the Sea Coast are far from being neutrals on this Subject, the Remarks of some of them give me painful Sensations; They declare that they must remove out of the State or perish with their Families unless we come into the Union. The Bankers in particular, a numerous hardy Race, live by the coasting Trade & raise no Provisions. The Alien Impost on their small Vessels would destroy them. Those Men who (many of them) are Pilots, never in a single Instance during the late War assisted the Enemy nor betray’d their Trust. Their Cause alone would have its Weight but the Mercantile Interest seems to be unanimous and extremely uneasy in their present humiliating Situation. I have the Honour to be with the utmost Consideration Sir Your most obedient and most humble Servant

Hu. Williamson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1For John Steele, see Williamson to GW, 8 May 1789, n.3. On 26 Oct. 1787, “several circumstances rendering it probable that hostilities may have commenced, or are on the eve of commencing, between the State of North Carolina and the Cherokee nation of Indians, and between the State of Georgia and the Creek nation of Indians,” the Continental Congress drew up instructions “for negotiating a treaty with the tribes of Indians in the Southern Department, for the purpose of establishing peace between the United States and the said tribes” (ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:26). South Carolina and Georgia both appointed commissioners, but Gov. Samuel Johnston of North Carolina delayed appointing the state’s commissioner until the end of 1788, when the legislature appointed Steele on 29 Nov. to act in concert with Andrew Pickens and Henry Osborne, the commissioners from South Carolina and Georgia (N.C. State Records, description begins Walter Clark, ed. The State Records of North Carolina. 16 vols., numbered 11-26. Winston and Goldsboro, N.C., 1895–1907. description ends 20:568; for Steele’s instructions from the legislature, 4 Dec. 1788, see Wagstaff, Steele Papers, description begins H. M. Wagstaff, ed. The Papers of John Steele. 2 vols. Raleigh, N.C., 1924. description ends 1:22–24). The site for the treaty making was specified in Steele’s instructions as “the upper War-ford on French Broad River,” the location of a major Cherokee defeat in 1776. In spite of the commissioners’ efforts, negotiations with the tribes were largely tentative, partly because the commissioners lacked funds for the elaborate presents expected by the Indians and partly because increased depredations on the part of frontiersmen angered the Indians. “This ungovernable Spirit of the white people will render it very difficult for the Commrs. to effect a peace,” Steele wrote to Johnston on 19 Feb. 1789 (ibid., 34–35). GW reported to the Senate in August 1789 that “By the public newspapers it appears, that, on the 16th of June last, a truce was concluded with the Cherokees, by Mr. John Steele, on behalf of the State of North Carolina, in which it was stipulated that a treaty should be held as soon as possible, and that, in the mean time, all hostilities should cease on either side. As the Cherokees reside principally within the territory claimed by North Carolina, and as that State is not a member of the present Union, it may be doubted whether any efficient measures in favor of the Cherokees could be immediately adopted by the General Government” (ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:55).

2For Joseph Martin, see George Walton to GW, 11 Mar. 1789, n.1.

3John Sevier (1745–1815) was born in Virginia but settled in 1773 at the Holston settlements in what is now Tennessee and became well known as a backwoods leader. He helped persuade North Carolina to extend jurisdiction over the Holston and Watauga settlements, took an active part in military activities on the southern frontier during the Revolution, and engaged heavily in land speculation at Muscle Shoals. When the plan for a separate state on the frontier was advanced, Sevier at first opposed the scheme but soon became the leader of the venture and governor of the state of Franklin. After the collapse of the Franklin experiment, his personal affairs in chaos and his prestige badly damaged, Sevier engaged during the late 1780s in a series of intrigues with both the Spanish and the Indians. By 1789, however, a band of influential friends had helped him recoup his political fortunes. In 1788 he was elected to the North Carolina senate and replaced Joseph Martin as brigadier general of the Washington District. In 1790 he was elected to Congress.

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