George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Chiefs of the Choctaw Nation, 17 December 1789

To the Chiefs of the Choctaw Nation

[New York, 17 December 1789]


I have sent Major Doughty one of our Warriors, in order to convince you that the United States well remember the treaty they made with your Nation four years ago at Hopewell on the Keowee—guard and protect him and show him the places at which trading posts shall be established in order to furnish you with goods; and when the said posts shall be established, support them to the utmost of your power.

Be attentive to what he shall say in the name of the United States for he will speak only truth.

Regard the United States as your firm and best support—Keep bright the chain1 of friendship between the Chickasaws and your nation—reject the advice of bad men who may attempt to poison your minds with suspicions against the United States. Given under my hand and Seal, at the City of New York this seventeenth day of December One thousand, seven hundred and Eighty nine.

Go: Washington
By Command of the President of the United States.

H. Knox
Secretary for the department of War

LS, Archivo General de Indias, Papeles de Cuba; copy, Archivo General de Indias, Papeles de Cuba. This document was addresed to “Yockonahoma great medal Chief of Soonacoha, Yockehoopoie leading Chief of Bugtoogolo, Mingohoopie leading Chief of Haskoogua, Tobocah great medal chief of Congaltoo, Pooshemastubie Gorget Captain of Sonwyazo, and all the other Medal Chiefs, Gorget Captains, and Warriors of the Choctaw Nation.” The document was given into the care of Maj. John Doughty (d. 1826), one of the small postwar army’s few career officers. Doughty rose from captain lieutenant to major during the Revolution and remained in the service after the war. During the fall and early winter of 1789 he was engaged in the construction of Fort Washington at Cincinnati and was in command of troops at the fort. The failure of the mission of David Humphreys, Benjamin Lincoln, and Cyrus Griffin to the Creek (see Henry Knox to GW, 4 Jan. 1790, source note) indicated to GW and Knox that new measures must be taken to protect the frontier in case of a major Indian war in the South. One aspect of their policy was the construction of a fort at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River “provided the same can be effected with the entire approbation and support of the Chickasaws and Choctaws which there is reason to beleive may be obtained—and the President of the United States has directed that Major Doughty be sent to those tribes to ascertain their sentiments—If the post be established with an adequate force it will enable us either to intimidate the Creeks or to strike them with success” (Knox to Arthur St. Clair, 19 Dec. 1789, in Carter, Territorial Papers, Northwest Territory, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 1:224–26). Knox sent virtually the same information to Doughty’s commander, Josiah Harmar, requesting Harmar to “detach Major Doughty on this business with all possible expedition. Furnish him with Every facility Either by Land or by water, and assist him with one or two intelligent officers, and Such guards as shall be necessary—direct that he be furnished with 20 barrels of powder & a good proportionable quantity of lead.” Harmar also was directed to furnish Doughty with money, blankets, and horses, and, if needed, boats for the expedition (Knox to Harmar, 19 Dec. 1789, WHi: Draper Collection, Harmar Papers). Doughty reached the mouth of the Tennessee River on 28 Feb. 1790 and continued some two hundred and twenty miles up the river when he was attacked by a party of Indians from various tribes including Cherokee and Shawnee. Out of Doughty’s party of an ensign and fifteen men, six were killed and five seriously wounded. With the group decimated, Doughty retreated to the Spanish post of Ance à la Graisse at New Madrid until aid could be sent from the Northwest Territory (Doughty to John Wyllys, 25 Mar. 1790, in Smith, St. Clair Papers, description begins William Henry Smith, ed. The St. Clair Papers. The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair: Soldier of the Revolutionary War; President of the Continental Congress; and Governor of the North-Western Territory with his Correspondence and other Papers. 2 vols. Cincinnati, 1882. description ends 2:134). Doughty’s report to Henry Knox on the expedition, 17 April 1790, advising against an attempt to fortify Muscle Shoals without the consent of the Cherokee and Choctaw, is in MiU-C: Josiah Harmar Papers. For a printed text, see Colton Storm, “Up the Tennessee in 1790: The Report of Major John Doughty to the Secretary of War,” in Eastern Tennessee Historical Society’s Publications, 17 (1945), 119–32. For another account of the attack on Doughty, see Capt. Joseph Ashton to Harmar, 19 April 1790, WHi: Draper Collection, Harmar Papers. On 17 Dec. Knox submitted for GW’s approval a “draft of the instructions to Major Doughty, and drafts of Messages to the Chickasaws and Choctaws” (DLC:GW). Doughty’s instructions have not been found, nor has the message to the Chickasaw. According to Doughty’s report to Knox, Piomingo, a Chickasaw chief long friendly to the United States, had agreed to carry GW’s message to his nation and to the Choctaw.

1In MS this word reads “clain.”

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