George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Reuben Harvey, 1 March 1792

From Reuben Harvey

Cork [Ireland] March 1st 1792

Respected Friend

Tho’ I have often wish’d for an opportunity of communicating To The President of The United States my heart felt satisfaction that it has pleased our gracious Father to grant thee life & health for the great purposes entrusted to thy Care, yet I found an unwillingness to intrude or break in upon the important & numerous Concerns that daily attend thy time, Nor should I now take the liberty of adressing these few lines for thy perusal, was I not sorely distress’d at the unexpected & shocking disaster which befel your Army in the Miamis Country, the relation of which given by Genl St Clair to Secy Knox exceeds all relations of the kind that I have yet met, And seems as if written by a broken hearted dying Commander,1 Indeed it’s Contents seem to imply an impracticability for him, with an increas’d Force to stand against Indians, which I think is the first instance I’ve heard of where this savage Foe was so much to be dreaded in open ground, against Troops well provided with small Arms & Artillery; Till now I apprehended that Indians were only formidable in bushy woody Ground, in places of Ambush, or when vastly superior in Number, but alas, in the late Slaughter, they attack’d an Army under Arms in the open Field, & as far as we know suffer’d little or no loss themselves, which is altogether beyond my capacity to account for, And is very different from Braddock’s defeat in 1755, he having incautiously march’d through woods & defiles, gave the Indians every advantage they could desire, notwthstanding (as I have heard) thy advice to him strongly enforced the necessity of having Partys on his Flanks. I hope thee’l forgive this freedom of expression, as it realy proceeds from my unabated affection for America, which has received a very painful Shock by the late Calamity. Before I conclude my letter, bear with me a little longer, just to let me say, that I have long lamented your not having the frontier Forts deliver’d up to you, according to Treaty; Is there not cause to suppose that The Possessors are not inimicable to your savage Enemys? I hope the Kentucky People have not acted improperly or unjustly, by taking any Land from the Indians, contrary to their inclination. With sincere good wishes for a continuance of thy Health I remain very respectf. Thy real Friend

Reuben Harvey

P.S. The 27th Ulto at 5 in the Evening a Fire broke out in our Parly House of Commons, & entirely consumed it—The Members were sitting.2

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

During the Revolutionary War, Reuben Harvey (1734–1808), a Quaker merchant living in Cork, Ireland, had strongly protested the mistreatment of American prisoners of war held at nearby Kinsale and provided the captives with money and supplies. In consequence, the Continental Congress, at GW’s behest, passed a resolution on 18 July 1783 expressing “the just sense” it entertained of “the services he has rendered during the late war, to American prisoners” in Ireland (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 24:439–40). After the war Harvey continued to champion the American cause, particularly in the realm of trade, and he also engaged in a host of local philanthropic activities (see Cohen, “Reuben Harvey,” description begins Sheldon S. Cohen. “Reuben Harvey: Irish Friend of American Freedom.” Quaker History 88 (Spring 1999): 22–39. description ends 22–39).

1GW’s message to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives of 13 Dec. 1791 and the documents it covered had been reprinted in a number of British newspapers by mid-February 1792 (see, for instance, Dublin Journal, 18 February). Harvey undoubtedly was referring to one of the enclosures, Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair’s despondent dispatch from Fort Washington to Henry Knox of 9 Nov. 1791.

2According to a British newspaper report, a malfunctioning stove started the fire at the Irish House of Commons that gutted the building and caused its dome to collapse. “The explosion of flame and smoke that followed,” the report continued, “exhibited a scene that has not inaptly been compared to an eruption of Vesuvius.” All of the Commons’s legislative records were saved, however (Times [London], 6 Mar. 1792).

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