George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 22 September 1791

From Henry Knox

War Department [Philadelphia] 22d September 1791.


The Minister of France has written me a Letter of which the enclosed is a copy1—As this crisis of affairs is of the highest importance to the essential interests of France; and as it appears a singular opportunity for the United States, to manifest their zeal to repay in some degree the assistance afforded us during the perilous struggles of the late war, I have assured him of every aid in my department, which shall be authorized by you—Accordingly I have instantly dispatched an Express, to receive your orders on the occasion.

The articles which are requested are in readiness, and may be spared from the Arsenal of West-Point, without any detriment to the public service—excepting the Cartridge-boxes which are much damaged, but which however might answer in this exigency.

In order therefore to save time, I have also dispatched a person to West Point to have the Arms and stores prepared for sea transportation, and forwarded to New York—but to wait your orders for the final delivery.2

As the aid requested is for the exigent service of a nation, with which the United States are in close alliance, and from which they received the most eminent support during the late war, and being for the purpose of quelling an internal rebellion, no foreign nation can take umbrage at the measure; as it can be afforded without impediment or injury to the public service, and as all the stores in the Arsenals are under your direction as President of the United States and Commander in Chief, I feel but little hesitation in submitting as my opinion, that the circumstances of the case render it highly proper to afford the supples requested, and that your authority is competent to the occasion.3 I am Sir, With the highest respect Your most Obedient huml. servant

H. Knox
secy of War


For Jean-Baptiste, chevalier de Ternant’s report of 28 Sept.–2 Oct. to the French minister of foreign affairs on the arrangements he made with the federal government to obtain aid for the colonists of Saint Domingue, see Alexander Hamilton to GW, 22 Sept., source note. Ternant informed the comte de Montmorin that the most economical source of quality arms and military supplies was the federal arsenal at West Point, which alone could provide the island the requisite materials in a timely manner. In explaining his motivations in officially approaching the U.S. government, Ternant claimed that the heads of the federal departments had assured him that his demands would not be without success (see Turner, Correspondence of the French Ministers, description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed. Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797. Washington, D.C., 1904. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903, vol. 2. description ends 45–51, especially 48).

1The enclosed copy of Ternant’s letter to Henry Knox, dated Philadelphia, 21 Sept., reads: “The distressed and very alarming situation, in which I learn the french settlements of Hispaniola have just been reduced, by an insurrection of negroes, that threatens the most fatal consequences, obliges me to forward immediately to that island, a supply of musquets, cartridges, and powder, which the government appears to be in the most pressing want of—As those objects can be better and more speedily obtained, from the federal arsenal of West Point, I have to request as a signal service, that you will give immediate orders for sending to New York, and delivering to Mr [Antoine-René-Charles Mathurin] de la forest: 1000 Musquets complete. 1000 Cartridge boxes 50,000 Cartridges to suit the musquets, and about 20 thousand weight of musquet powder—Those objects may either be returned in nature or accounted for in a future settlement of accounts between our natives, as the President of the United States may choose to determine. I hope the extreme urgency of the case, and the interest I am convinced you take in the welfare of my nation, will induce you to gran⟨t⟩ my request, which I am going to lay immediately before the President of the United States” (DLC:GW).

2Knox dispatched Capt. Constant Freeman on 21 Sept. with orders to the keeper of the public stores at West Point to deliver to Freeman 1,000 muskets and bayonets; 110,000 cartridges; 10 barrels of the best musket powder, as well as musket balls, cartridge paper, and thread to make up cartridges; 5,000 musket flints; 5,000 gun screws; 1,000 bayonet scabbards and belts; 1,000 brushes and priming wires; and 1,000 “of the best cartridge boxes and belts at the post, to be picked out of the whole number. and every other article to render the equipment perfect” (Knox to George Fleming, 21 Sept., DLC:GW).

3GW replied to Knox from Mount Vernon on 24 Sept.: “I have recd your letter of the 22d Inst. enclosing a copy of one from the French Minister, and I do empower you to comply fully with the request of the Minister of France for certain supplies mentioned in his letter” (LB, DLC:GW).

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