George Washington Papers

Memorandum from Tobias Lear, 18 August 1790

Memorandum from Tobias Lear

[New York] Augt 18th [1790]

On Wednesday at 3 O’clock P.M. the person who had written several letters under the signature of Jno. A. Dingwell,1 came to the House of the President & had an interview with Genl Knox & T. Lear with whom he left the enclosed papers;2 and promised to get copies of such others as he could come at, & likewise give all the verbal information that he could obtain—Jno. A. Dingwell’s real name is [ ] Smith: and the Thos Dalton mentioned in the enclosed papers boards at his House.

Smith informed T. Lear that he had carried several letters & notes from Major Beckworth3 to sd Dalton & once he had carried money to him—and that this day Dalton had 500 pounds which Smith thinks he must have got from Beckworth.4

AD, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

2See the enclosures.

3Maj. George Beckwith had been sent to New York by Lord Dorchester in June 1790, and after Alexander McGillivray arrived in the federal capital the following month, Beckwith attempted to win the confidence of McGillivray and the Creek chiefs and to discover the particulars of their current negotiations with the administration. Beckwith requested permission from Alexander Hamilton to meet with McGillivray, which was granted after the treaty was signed. Beckwith hoped, among other things, to obtain information about the Creek chief William Augustus Bowles who was then at Halifax with other Creek and Cherokee headmen on their way to Quebec. Beckwith was also concerned about the activities of another self-styled Creek leader, Thomas Dalton, who was at New York before McGillivray’s arrival and had met with Beckwith before 5 Aug. 1790 (see Alexander Hamilton to GW, 8 July 1790, source note; J. Leitch Wright, Jr., “Creek-American Treaty of 1790: Alexander McGillivray and the Diplomacy of the Old Southwest,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, 51 [Dec. 1967], 390–93). Dalton had earlier met with Samuel Street, a Niagara storekeeper originally from New England who was in New York to represent the Five Nations before the federal government, and he borrowed Street’s credentials to show to McGillivray (for Street’s mission, see Street to Jeremiah Wadsworth, 5 Aug. 1790, NNGL: Knox Papers). As Beckwith reported to his superior, “Mr. Dalton on the whole seemed to insinuate, that there would be a general Indian War, and that he wished to promote it; I replied, that I should be sorry for it. Mr. Dalton concluded by observing that the Government here were jealous of him, and that he was considered as an obstacle to the present Treaty” (Brymner, Report on Canadian Archives, 1890, description begins Douglas Brymner. Report on Canadian Archives . . . 1890. (Being an Appendix to Report of the Minister of Agriculture.). Ottawa, 1891. description ends 153).

On 9 Aug. 1790 Street went to the camp of the Creek chiefs two miles from the city to ascertain from their interpreter Joseph Cornell “whether Dalton was a man of confidence with Colonel McGillivray and the different Warriors” but bumped into McGillivray himself there. Their conversation, interrupted by the arrival of Henry Knox, was continued at Knox’s house the following morning, when Street learned from McGillivray “that about a year and a half ago Dalton came into the Creek nation, that he was a British officer, or had been one, and that he had been very industrious in forming a party, and in exciting divisions among the Indians, that Colonel M. had recommended it to him to withdraw, which he had accordingly done in a few months, and that he understood he had been in England.” Street reported to Beckwith that “the Interpreter gives a similar account of Dalton” (ibid., 153, 154; see also Street to McGillivray, 10 Aug. 1790, NNGL: Knox Papers).

When Beckwith met with McGillivray, he asked first about Bowles and then queried, “There is another person here who has been in your nation, whose name I do not mention, but with whom probably you may be acquainted from this description; in what light do you consider him?” McGillivray replied: “Dalton you mean, he is one of Mr. Boles’s Captains, he is a man from whose hardiness, activity and other acquirements, I expected to have derived much assistance, but whom I soon found tampering with the Indians, in a way highly unjustifiable. He was a loyalist during the war, and had settled in Nova Scotia with his family since the peace; about two years ago he came to the Bahamas in a small craft with some fish, where he was cast away, and shortly afterwards he came into our nation. After discovering the dispositions of this man I recommended it to him to quit the country, but he excused himself, saying he was sick, which indeed he was, he remained ill in the lower Creek country for five months, during which I was absent; on my return I found him recovered, and I accompanied him to the sea coast, where I put him on board one of our ships from whence he might have got a passage in some small vessel to the Bahamas; but he had other projects, he had got together some of the chiefs of the lower Creeks during my absence, had imposed himself upon them for a person of consequence, and made them believe, that he could do great things for them in England, instead therefore of looking out for a passage for the Bahamas in a small vessel he proceeded to London in the ship, and plagued the English Ministry for some time, who I fancy discovered him to be a man of no pretensions to notice. I was very much surprized to find him here on my arrival; we met in public on my landing, he has been plaguing me very frequently by messages and notes from day to day, and I was not able to get rid of him, until General Knox left directions for him to be told that if he came again he would be sent to Jail” (Brymner, Report on Canadian Archives, 1890, description begins Douglas Brymner. Report on Canadian Archives . . . 1890. (Being an Appendix to Report of the Minister of Agriculture.). Ottawa, 1891. description ends 155).

When Beckwith met with Hamilton between 7 and 12 Aug. 1790, the secretary of the treasury informed him: “There is a person here who calls himself a British officer, who has been busy with the Indians, and who drew away two or three of them one night, he is a man of low character and has been wandering about through the West India Islands of different nations; it is therefore highly problematic, whether such a man may not be a Spanish Agent; if any thing had appeared to lead to the idea of this man’s being employed by Your government, I should have mentioned it to you in direct terms” (ibid., 150).

4In DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, is a letter transcribed by “Dingwell” and presented to the president or his staff sometime after Lear and Knox met with “Dingwell” on 18 Aug. 1790. The letter from Dalton to “Smith Esqr.,” dated New York, 20 Aug. 1790, reads: “your atteatchment to the Royal Standad of Briton Induces’s me as a Sojurner in the land of Enimies to address you and Suffer me to Say in three hours I depart this white town of discord and Repair to the Creek nation ⟨withon⟩ this Sacred hour of midnight, the preface I fear is too long but my love to your Colours I hope will paliate the infringment or your good nature[.] Suffer me to Say I have Solicited by Requist of my friends you may Judge my meaning that my Embasy to England might be Re⟨c⟩d at the ⟨Chãtãël⟩ with lord Dorchestor—however nothing on my part has been deficent which my letters to Major Beckwith of the 17th & 18th I[nstan]t[.] I Can Charge my memory of this date will dictate[.] My Views are in a measure Retarded from what Channal I Cannot devise[.] the Standard of my master I Shall never depart as I hold the British nation Sicrad to my life[.] I have been pointed at as an Enemy to the States, I admit it notwithstanding the treaty, Inform my Lord Dorchestor of my Attatchment for that Colours I had first I breathed under and when I desert I wish to breath no longer[.] Think not Sir Insinuate any favour from you or your Colours from Such Explination[.] no I wou’d Sooner be a King amongst Beggers then a begger amongst Kings[.] I Speake in freedom you Know those Charactors I have mentioned on our passage from Jarsey to newyork[.] I Shall so far Close and beg if any letters Shoud Come from white Hall to me that you will be pleased to order the post master Gen’l to Send them to No. 12 water Street as the owner of the house is an old British Soldier and has Rec’d my Instructions in Safety to me, I Shall drink my Royal master in a Hallow and full Cup of black drink in the Square of the Cowatas—at present I wish you and your Brothers well and labour under obligations to brother Beckwith[.] Inseperably I am your brother.” Lear’s later correspondence with the president concerning the “Dingwell” affair does not mention this Dalton letter (see Lear to GW, 12, 26 Sept. 1790, and GW to Lear, 20 Sept. 1790).

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