George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 7 September 1791

From George Clinton

Greenwich [N.Y.] 7th September 1791


I do myself the Honor to transmit to your Excellency Copies of certain Dispatches, which I this Day received from Lieutenant Colonel Woolsey, commanding Officer of the Militia of Clinton County in the Northern Part of this State; with an Extract of his Letter to me in which they were inclosed.1 The repeated Insults which our Citizens have experienced from the British; both before, and since my last Communications to your Excellency on this Subject have been extreamly mortifying, and I have reason to conclude have in a very considerable Degree obstructed the Growth of the Settlements in that Quarter.2 Until the Receit of the inclosed Information I was induced to ascribe this Conduct to the unauthorized Insolence of Inferior Officers at their advanced Posts and flattered myself that it would soon have ceased; But the recent Proceeding of Colonel Tomlinson as stated in Mr Moore’s Letter appears to be too formal and unequivocal to admit of a Doubt that the present meditated Incroachment is sanctioned by the Orders of the British Government.

On this Occasion I presume I should stand justified in issuing Orders to the Militia to repel the Invasion; but as this might be attended with Consequences which would probably terminate in an Interruption of the Peace of the Union; I have thought it most adviseable to submit the Matter to your Excellency’s Consideration previous to my giving any Directions on the Subject.

Permit me Sir to observe that this State has already abundant Reason to complain of the Conduct of the British Government for the Retention of different Military Posts within it’s acknowledged Limits contrary to the Articles of Peace; and should they now be permitted to establish new Ones it will not fail to encrease the already prevailing disatisfaction.3 I have the Honor to be with the highest Respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant

Geo: Clinton

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

For background to British occupation of the posts on northern Lake Champlain, see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 5 June, n.2. For the administration’s policy “to repel force by force” in order to bring the matter forcibly to the attention of the British government and compel “propositions to an amicable settlement,” see Jefferson to GW, 27 Mar., GW to Jefferson, 1 April 1791. Dissatisfied with the boundaries drawn by the Treaty of Paris of 1783, the British desired to limit American settlement along the Canadian border in order to pursue future opportunities to redraw the line, especially in the Old Northwest, where they hoped to establish an Indian buffer state. In northeastern New York and northern Vermont their policy was to warn off potential American settlers from disputed areas. In February 1791 the governor of Quebec complained to the British commander at Point au Fer on Lake Champlain that the Canadian border had been “destroyed” in 1775 and 1776, and that “there is no frontier. When a frontier treaty shall be formed, all foreign improvements on the Canadian side will be lost. Those who complied with the warning will be satisfied; those who stealthily made a pitch, as they call it, will probably be punished more than could be wished by the loss of their time, labour, and expense. This is to be repeated to them from time to time with civility and good humour” (Lord Dorchester to Lieutenant Colonel Buckeridge, 14 Feb. 1791, calendared in 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 Q. 50–1, pp. 283–84). In writing to other post commanders, Dorchester’s military secretary stressed “that the people shall always be treated by the troops in a gentle, friendly manner” and “to be told civilly to remove and warned of the loss they will sustain if they refuse to obey the warning” (Francis Le Maistre to British commanders, 14 Feb., 8 April 1791, ibid., 284, 286). Reacting to Lord Dorchester’s dispatches of June 1791, Lord Grenville instructed George Hammond on 2 Sept.: “You will represent, that it is absolutely necessary both in point of Justice and from the regard which is due in return for the friendly line of conduct now adopted by His Majesty that no steps should be taken by the American Governments to alter the relative situation of the two Countries, such as it now exists de facto, pending the Negotiation to which your Mission will give rise. And therefore, that every degree of discouragement should be given [by] those Governments as well as [by] His Majesty’s officers to any Americans who may under these circumstances attempt to settle themselves within the limits of the Country now occupied by the British. Some recent Circumstances of this nature which have occurred make it particularly necessary that you should urge this point, and I am persuaded that if the American Governments are really desirous to promote a good understanding, it will not be difficult for you to convince them how repugnant it is to such an object to suffer points of so much magnitude to be brought into discussion by the Enterprises of Individuals, instead of being made the Subject of temperate and friendly negotiation between the two Governments” (Mayo, Instructions to British Ministers, description begins Bernard Mayo, ed. Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States, 1791–1812. Washington, D.C., 1941. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1936, vol. 3. description ends 13–17).

1The documents are included as an enclosure and notes.

2The “last Communications” from George Clinton to GW on the subject were probably his letter and enclosures of 21 May 1790.

3GW replied on 14 September.

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