George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the St. Tammany’s Society, 24 August 1790 [letter not found]

Letter not found: from the St. Tammany’s Society, 24 Aug. 1790. Requests GW to sit for a portrait. On 24 Aug. 1790 Tobias Lear wrote John Pintard, the society’s first sagamore, or master of ceremonies, “In reply to your letter of this date which I just now had the honor to receive.”1

In the anti-imperial ferment immediately preceding the Revolution, several patriotic associations were organized under the name of Tammany, or Tamanend (a seventeenth-century Lenni-Lenape chief mythologized for his friendship to Anglo-American settlers), to oppose the St. George, St. Andrew, and St. David societies. After the war upholsterer William Mooney and other members of the uban middle class organized a social and benevolent club, the New York Society of Tammany, partly as a response to the perceived elitism of the Society of the Cincinnati. In 1789, when New York became the new federal capital, the Society of St. Tammany, or Columbian Order, adopted its own written constitution, and Mooney was chosen the society’s first grand sachem. William Pitt Smith was the grand sachem in 1790. GW and his presidential successors through Andrew Jackson held the honorary position of the society’s Kitchi Okemaw, or great grand sachem (New York City Directory, description begins The New-York Directory, and Register, for the Year 1790. New York, 1790. description ends 1790, 143).

In the summer of 1790 the Society of St. Tammany took upon itself the task of making Alexander McGillivray and the other Creek Indian negotiators feel at home during their stay in New York City. It had just that June established a museum of Indian relics in the old City Hall. On 21 July 1790 society members, “in their proper dresses,” received the visiting dignitaries at Murray’s wharf at two o’clock. “The number of citizens that assembled on the landing of Col. McGillivray has not been equalled since the first arrival in this city of the President.” The society marched in two files as the Indians’ escort up Wall Street to Federal Hall, where McGillivray and his party saluted Congress, then to the secretary of war’s house in lower Broadway, where several of the Creek headmen smoked the calumet of peace with Henry Knox, who next accompanied them to the president’s house, where GW “received them in a very handsome manner—congratulated them on their safe arrival, and expressed a hope that the interview would prove beneficial both [to] the United States and to the Creek nation.” The society then escorted the company to Governor Clinton’s and finally to the City Tavern, where they enjoyed a public dinner and toasts with Knox, the U.S. congressman and senators from Georgia, William Malcolm and the other militia officers whose troops also served as escort that day, and three of the officers of the society. Before the Creeks left New York, the Society of St. Tammany held its own banquet for them, on 2 Aug. 1790 (New York Daily Advertiser, 22 July 1790; New York Journal, 23 July 1790; Pennsylvania Packet [Philadelphia], 24 July 1790; Caughey, McGillivray of the Creeks, description begins John Walton Caughey. McGillivray of the Creeks. Norman, Okla., 1938. description ends 43).

1Lear wrote Pintard on 24 Aug. 1790 that the president directed him “to inform you that it is with regret he must decline the honor which the St. Tammany’s society would do him by having his portrait taken—The President is detained now in this city only by some particular business with the heads of the Executive departments, in which he is constantly engaged, and desireous of dispatching as soon as possible, being anxious to get to Virga He therefore requests that you will be so good as to present his best thanks to the Society for their politeness, and he trusts they will consider his declining their request in its proper light” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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