George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 9 January 1792

From Henry Knox

[Philadelphia] 9th January 179[2]


I submit to your consideration, instructions for Capt. Pond. A suitable character by the name of Steedman, presenting I submit the propriety of his joining Pond. I will wait upon you this evening to explain the idea further.1 I have the honor with perfect respect to be sir Your obedient Servant

H. Knox


1Capt. Peter Pond of Connecticut and William Steedman were Indian traders preparing to enter Indian country by way of Lake Erie. After his service in the French and Indian War, Pond had become one of the most successful Anglo-American traders, extending his network from Detroit all the way to the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories of present-day Canada. Altercations with other traders, two of which involved the death of his rivals, had forced Pond to move his operations to the United States (see Van Every, Ark of Empire, description begins Dale Van Every. Ark of Empire: The American Frontier, 1784–1803. 1963. Reprint. New York, 1977. description ends 246; Sosin, Revolutionary Frontier, description begins Jack M. Sosin. The Revolutionary Frontier, 1763–1783. New York, 1967. description ends 30).

The enclosed instructions have not been found, but a copy of the orders presented to Pond is printed in ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:227. GW probably returned the enclosure to Knox this evening with his approval, because the final instructions were dated 9 Jan. 1792. In them Knox reviewed the efforts of the administration to bring peace to the northwest frontier, both by negotiation and force, ending with Arthur St. Clair’s defeat. “No doubt can exist,” Knox wrote, “that our strength and our resources are abundant to conquer, and even extirpate the Indians, northwest of the Ohio. But this is not our object. We wish to be at peace with those Indians—to be their friends and protectors—to perpetuate them on the land. The desire, therefore, that we have for peace, must not be inconsistent with the national reputation. We cannot ask the Indians to make peace with us, considering them as the aggressors: but they must ask a peace of us. To persuade them to this effect is the object of your mission.” Knox instructed Pond and Steedman to go to Niagara disguised as traders and “Mix with the Miami and Wabash Indians. Find their views and intentions, through such channels as your discretion shall direct. Learn the opinions of the more distant Indians. Insinuate, upon all favorable occasions, the humane disposition of the United States; and if you can by any means ripen their judgment, so as to break forth openly, and declare the readiness of the United States to receive, with open arms, the Indians, notwithstanding all that is past, do it. If such declaration should be made, at the Miami or Wabash, and be well received, you might persuade some of the most influential chiefs to repair to our posts on the Ohio, and so, from post to post, to this place.” In such a case Knox enjoined the men to provide a guard to prevent white settlers from harming the Indians. Regardless of their success in encouraging the Indians to make peace, Pond and Steedman were to gather intelligence about the Indians involved in St. Clair’s defeat, to learn their numbers, the losses they had incurred, the disposition of their American prisoners and plunder, the state of their arms, and their intentions for the next year. Knox also instructed the men to meet with Samuel Kirkland to learn the purpose of an anticipated conference of the Seneca at Buffalo Creek but cautioned them not to disclose their broader mission to Kirkland, warning that “if you do, you will ruin the plan, and, perhaps, lose your lives.” Knox provided Pond and Steedman with $800 to defray their expenses, promising pay for their services consistent with their accomplishments (ibid., 227). Knox presented a copy of these instructions to Congress, in confidence, on 7 Nov. 1792. By early March 1792 Pond and Steedman reported that their mission had failed. GW, Knox, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson discussed their failure on 9 Mar. 1792. Jefferson noted that Pond and Steedman reported they had met with Col. Andrew Gordon, British commander at Niagara, who informed them that the Indians had suffered only 50 killed and 150 wounded at St. Clair’s defeat, according to a “sensible Indian.” Gordon, Pond and Steedman reported, had refused to allow them to proceed (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 23:239–44).

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