George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 26 November 1790

From George Clinton

New York 26th November 1790


I have this Moment received a Letter from Captain Brant dated Nassau the 5th Instant1—It contains Expressions of the warmest Friendship and Attachment, and a promise to visit me at this Place in June next &ca And gives the following Information which I begg Leave confidentially to communicate to your Excellency as I believe it would not be proper that my Correspondence with him should be publickly known; and if the Intelligence is true you will soon receive it through another Channel.

“By a Vessel just arived from Detroit we have the following Intelligence, That on the 23d Ultimo a Body of the Thousand Americans on Horseback being advanced of the Main Body in order to surprize the Maima’s Villages of whom the Indians were aware and laid in Ambush to receive them some Distance from the Place The Americans were warmly received and repulsed with considerable Loss. The Indians are One thousand strong and in high Spirits and we have every Reason to expect to hear of the Main Body being attacked.”2

The Informant adds “This I have long expected would be the Cosequence as Govor St Clair when I was at Muskingam laid Claim to great Part of their Country at once, and the Business had it not been for that might in my Opinion have been amicably settled without the State incurring the Expence of an Indian War.”3

Your Excellency will recollect that I mentioned to you on my Return from Fort-Stanwix last Summer that Brant entertained unfavourable Sentiments of the Management of the Treaty at Muskingam and was displeased with his Treatment at that Place—It is certain he is a Man of very considerable Information, Influence and Interprize, and in my humble Opinion his Friendship is worthy of Cultivation at some Expence.4 I have the Honor to be with the highest Respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant

Geo: Clinton


1Mohawk chief Thayendanegea, or Joseph Brant (1743–1807), was educated at Moor’s Charity School in Lebanon, Conn., and served as secretary to Superintendent of Indian Affairs Guy Johnson in 1774. During the Revolutionary War he served as a British captain and actively harried American settlers in the Mohawk Valley and on the southern New York and northern Pennsylvania frontiers. After the war he settled with his people on Grand River in Canada and attempted to organize the northwestern Indian nations to present a united front against land-hungry American settlers and speculators.

2For Gen. Josiah Harmar’s clashes with hostile Miami and Shawnee Indians on 19 and 22 Oct. 1790, see GW to Knox, 19 Nov. 1790, n.4.

3Arthur St. Clair had originally intended to treat with the northwestern Indians at the falls of the Muskingum (below present-day Zanesville, Ohio) in July 1788 but moved the negotiations to Fort Harmar after an Indian war party attacked some of his men.

4GW’s private reply to Clinton, dated Philadelphia, 1 Dec. 1790, reads: “Your favor of the 26th Ult. came to my hands last night. If the information of Captn Brant be true, the issue of the Expedition against the Indians will indeed prove unfortunate; and disgraceful to the Troops who suffered themselves to be ambuscaded. The relation of this event carries with it, I must confess, the complexion of truth—yet, I will suspend my opinion until I hear something more of the matter. The force which was employed against these hostile Indians (or the drawing out of which was authorized) ought to have bid defiance to the opposition of a thousand of them, because it was calculated for, and undertaken under the expectation of, meeting a larger number, if blows was to terminate the dispute.

“It gives me pleasure to learn from you, the friendly sentiments of Capt. Brant; and with you I think, they merit cultivation; but he has not been candid in his acct of the conduct of Genl St Clair, nor done justice in his representation of matters at Muskingham. It is notorious that he used all the art and influence of which he was possessed to prevent any treaty being held; and that, except in a small degree, Genl St Clair aimed at no more land by the Treaty of Muskingham than had been ceded by the preceeding Treaties” (ALS, ViMtvL).

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