George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 21 May 1790

From George Clinton

New York 21st May 1790.


With this I do myself the Honor to inclose You Copies of Letters from Lieut. Colonel Woolsey, Judge Platt, Justice Moor, and other Inhabitants of this State residing on the West Banks of Lake Champlain containing all the Information which I at present have on the Subject to which they relate.1

Your present Indisposition will not permit me personally to attend You on this Business and I have therefore thought it prudent for the present only to write to Colo. Woolsey who commands the Militia in that Quarter recommending it to the Inhabitants not to remove unless they are compelled by an armed Force and I shall also direct him and the Civil Magistrates to make farther Enquiry respecting this Aggression. His Answer and whatever other Information I may receive shall be immediately communicated to your Excellency. I have the Honor to be with the highest Respect Your most obedient Servant

Geo: Clinton

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1This letter concerned land occupied by refugees from the United States’ Canadian campaign during the early years of the American Revolution. Many Canadian supporters were forced to flee Canada with the Americans during their retreat and Congress eventually provided land near the Canadian border in settlement of their claims. See Clement Gosselin to GW, 18 Sept. 1789, source note. The interference by Canadian officials with the settlers described in the enclosures to Clinton’s letter undoubtedly arose from disputes over the boundary of the refugee tract. See Everest, Moses Hazen and the Canadian Refugees in the American Revolution, description begins Allan S. Everest. Moses Hazen and the Canadian Refugees in the American Revolution. Syracuse, N.Y., 1976. description ends 137. Among the enclosures to George Clinton’s letter, was a letter to the governor, 26 April 1790, describing the challenge of Canadian officers to the settlers of Champlain, New York. It was signed “in behalf of ourselves and the Inhabitants of the Town” by William Beaumont, Elnathan Rogers, Murdock McPherson, and Jacques (James) Rous (Rouse), who, together with Pliny Moore, had all settled in the area around 1787. “We the Subscribers beg leave to Represent to your Excellency the Peculiar Situation of ourselves and A number of the Inhabitants of this Town we are Setled in the Northermost Township in the State of New York on the West Side of Lake Champlane in the Neighbourhood of the British Garison at Point Aufair, the 24th of Inst. Apl—The officer Commanding at Point au Fair Came to A Number of our Houses With A Party of unarm’d Soldiers and informd us that he had Orders from head Quarters in Canada to Command Us the Subscribers and A number more of the Inhabitants of this Town Not to make any more Improvements on the Lands here, but to remove with our families and Effects from this Place as soon as possible our answer was that we had Setled here on land that were our own and that we Should Continue here until we were remov’d by force (Some of the Inhabitants were Commanded to remove within Eight Days) Should Those Orders be put in Execution⟨,⟩ Should we be forced to remove, our situation would be Peculiar⟨ly⟩ Distressing the most of us have Expended what Property we ⟨were⟩ Possessd of in Cultivating this New Country our dependence is therefore on the produce of our Lands, we have Suffered Every fatigue and hardship incident to Setling New Countrys and our Situation is very Critical on Account that we are so far from any Old Settlement and we have no Land roads nor any sufficient water Craft to Transport ourselves our families and Effects in Case of Necessity, all which tend to Increase the Difficulties of our Situation—We would therefore beg your Excellency to take our Circumstances into Consideration and if possible direct Some Measures for our relief should matters Come to Extremity we Expect from your Wisdom and Paternal Care Every Consistant Support and that we Shall not be Abandon’d in the hour of Distress, we would likewise Claim Some Merrit (and think ourselves Intitled to the Attention of the State) from our past Services We have the most of us Personally Servd in the American Army During the Late Unnatural War with Great Britain the Greatest number of the Inhabitants of this Town are Refugees from Canada who have left their Country and their All for the American Cause and have no Where to Look for relief Should they be driven from their habitation but in the Indulgent Care of the Suprem⟨e⟩ Authority of this State.

We beg therefore your Excellency would be pleasd to give us you⟨r⟩ advice how to Conduct in the present Crisis. . . .” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Pliny Moore’s letter to Clinton, dated Champlain, 24 April 1790, reads: “This day the officer Commanding the British Garrison at Point ofere was at my House attended by a party of unarmed Soldiers, Told me he was Commanded by the Governor of Canada to order me not to make any further improvement on the Land where I am settled but to remove from it in a short time—I gave him for answer that the Land and improvement where he saw me Settled were my property by a Grant from the Governor of the State of New York that I was determined to remain on my possession till compelled by force of arms to remove⟨.⟩ I asked him if he had orders to inforce a compliance, he told me his orders were only to deliver the message and report my answer. I requested a Copy of his orders or the purport in writing which he declined giving. He then proceded up the River to Mr Rogers’s and Esquire Beaumonts and delivered the same message to them their answers were for Substance the same as mine, he requested of each of us a determinate answer—as soon as the officer has reported our refusal to Head Quarters we shall probably hear more of their determinations with respect to us, may we not expect and depend on protection in the enjoyment of our property from the Goverment to which we are subject, or are we to submit to the repeated incroachments of British Govement? was it merely a sacrifise of the property of a few individuals though grievous in the last degree to the sufferers it might be born with some degree of patience, but the insult to the United States to a person who feels for the Honour of his Country is intolerable—Two or thre⟨e⟩ families who lived near the Garrison have been ordered of[f] by the officer and have actually removed about three weeks ago—I Enclose your Excellency the Copy of a Letter Received by Express from Esquire McPherson who resides about Ten miles distant on the Lake Shore and about five miles South of Point ofere—this together with the Reports from Canada of the warlike preperations, the Militia ordered ⟨to⟩ hold themselves in readiness the frequent presents lately made to the Indians and an other armed Vessel to be refitted and put in Commission to be stationed on this Lake to Inhabitants so cont⟨e⟩gious as we are and so defenceless your Excellency will think somewhat alarming—In th⟨is⟩ situation we beg your Excellencys Speedy advice—Ruin to us attend our ⟨remo⟩val and for ought we know our stay may be equally dangerous if no⟨t⟩ fatal—The Loyalists settled on the other side the line near us talk much of the British Lines being extended to Split Rock and the Maria and the other armed Vessel to be refitted to be stationed there, of this and the reports I mentioned from Canada I will endeavour to gain a more certain account of and give your Excellency the earliest information.” Moore added a postscript dated 27 April: “since writing the above I have been convinced of a small mistake respecting the person from whom the officer received his orders. he told me his orders were from Head Quarters I had the Idea that Head Quarters was at Quebeck and that consequently they were from the Governor I have since been informed that the Garrison of point ofere is releived from St Johns (the officer monthly) and believe he calls that post Head Quarters, probably the Governor knows nothing of those orders and that they have been influenced by interested persons.

“That they are raising and repairing the Shipping at St Johns all that will answer I believe may be depended on” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Also enclosed was a letter from Murdock McPherson to Pliny Moore, 24 April, reporting the Canadian order that he move from his residence within eight days (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). A similar letter from James Rous to Melancthon Woolsey, dated 27 April, indicated that Rous had been given six days to vacate his property (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

The letters were enclosed by Melancthon Woolsey and Charles Platt in a letter to George Clinton, 28 April from Plattsburg, N.Y.: “Inclosed are two letters from Pliny Moor Esqr. and Capt. Jaques Rouse, those letters will inform your Excellency of our situation—in consequence of them I have Ordered all the Militia to be in readiness for service & Capt. Rouse particularly to be prepared and in case of invasion by an armed force, to repel the same by force, but by no means to be the agressor.

“I request your Excellencys pointed Orders on this subject which untill I receive I shall govern myself by the militia law and the advice of the superior magestrates near me.

“Judge Platt who is all the friend I have here to advise with, approves of the Orders already issued & joins as your Excellency will perceive by his signature in beging for such instructions, (as spedily as may be) as will conduce most to the Dignity of the State and our security.

“Had it been in our power to have raised money sufficient to defray the Expences of an Express, this information would have been communicated in that way as it is, we are obliged to forward it to Albany, and from thence by Post” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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