George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 1 April 1792

From Henry Knox

[Philadelphia] April 1. 1792

I submit two letters one from Genl Wayne and the other from Colonel Willet, and I have seen Colo. Burr relatively to the latter.1 In the morning when I wait upon you I will detail, the business. I have directed Capt. Trueman to be in readiness to set off on tuesday.2 I am Sir with perfect respect Your humble Sert

H. Knox


1The enclosed letter from Anthony Wayne was probably that to Knox of this date, which reads: “I have seriously & maturely considered the confidential and friendly communication with which you honor’d me yesterday, and entertain the most greatful & lively sense of the favorable Opinion the President is pleased to express of my Military abilities—and of his very kind intention in my favour; But I shou’d be wanting in duty—not only to that great and good man—but to myself was I to accept of an Appointment in which its more than probable I shou’d be restrained from rendering that service to my Country—in a subaltern station—that my experience might otherwise afford, if subject only, to the Orders and advice of the President and yourself. I can not therefore think of Committing my Military Character (which is dearer to me than life) to the fortuitous events of A War—which I can not direct—and shou’d it be crowned with success—the Glory & honor will belong to an other—whilst on the Contrary—shou’d it be unfortunate, I must share in the disgrace, after giving up peace and ease—and relinquishing certain pleasing prospects in the Civil line to which I am invited by my fellow Citizens. Be pleased to accept of my sincere thanks for the friendly part you have taken—and assure the President that I shall always be ready to serve him with my life and best services in a situation in which I cou’d use, and exert them to the best advantage & with effect. . . . I will do myself the honor to call upon [you] at 10. OClock if you will be at leasure” (NNGL: Knox Papers). The letter from Marinus Willett to Knox has not been identified.

2For GW’s proposal that a peace mission be dispatched to the hostile Indian nations of the Northwest and Knox’s suggestion that Capt. Alexander Trueman be sent, see Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum of a Meeting of the Heads of the Executive Departments, 9 Mar. 1792. On 2 April, Knox sent Tobias Lear for submission to the president a proposed message to the western Indians, which was to be written on parchment and delivered with a wampum belt, and Knox’s proposed instructions to Trueman (DLC:GW). The final copy of Knox’s message to the hostile Indian nations, which apparently was approved by GW, is dated 4 April and reads: “Brothers: The President of the United States, General Washington, the Great Chief of the nation, speaks to you by this address. Summon, therefore, your utmost powers of attention, and hear the important things which shall be spoken to you concerning your future welfare; and after having heard and well understood all things, invoke the Great Spirit above to give you due deliberation and wisdom, to decide upon a line of conduct that shall best promote your happiness, and the happiness of your children, and perpetuate you and them on the land of your forefathers.

“Brothers: The President of the United States entertains the opinion, that the war which exists is founded in error and mistake on your parts. That you believe the United States want to deprive you of your lands and drive you out of the country. Be assured this is not so; on the contrary, that we should be greatly gratified with the opportunity of imparting to you all the blessings of civilized life, of teaching you to cultivate the earth, and raise corn; to raise oxen, sheep, and other domestic animals; to build comfortable houses, and to educate your children, so as ever to dwell upon the land.

“Brothers: The President of the United States requests you to take this subject into your serious consideration, and to reflect how abundantly more it will be for your interest to be at peace with the United States, and to receive all the benefit, thereof, than to continue a war which, however flattering it may be to you for a moment, must in the end prove ruinous.

“The desire of peace has not arisen in consequence of the late defeat of the troops under Major General St. Clair; because, in the beginning of the last year, a similar message was sent you by Colonel [Thomas] Procter, but who was prevented from reaching you by the same insurmountable difficulties. All the Senecas at Buffalo creek can witness for the truth of this assertion, as he held, during the month of April last, long conferences with them, to devise the means of getting to you with safety.

“War, at all times, is a dreadful evil to those who are engaged therein, and more particularly so where a few people engage to act against so great numbers as the people of the United States.

“Brothers: Do not suffer the advantages you have gained to mislead your judgment, and influence you to continue the war; but reflect upon the destructive consequences which must attend such a measure.

“The President of the United States is highly desirous of seeing a number of your principal chiefs, and convincing you, in person, how much he wishes to avoid the evils of war for your sake, and the sake of humanity.

“Consult, therefore, upon the great object of peace; call in your parties, and enjoin a cessation of all further depredations; and as many of the principal chiefs as shall choose, repair to Philadelphia, the seat of the General Government, and there make a peace, founded upon the principles of justice and humanity. Remember that no additional lands will be required of you, or any other tribe, to those that have been ceded by former treaties, particularly by the tribes who had a right to make the treaty of Muskingum in the year 1789.

“But, if any of your tribes can prove that you have a fair right to any lands, comprehended by the said treaty, and have not been compensated therefor[e] , you shall receive full satisfaction upon that head.

“The chiefs you send shall be safely escorted to this city; and shall be well fed and provided with all things for their journey; and the faith of the United States is hereby pledged to you for the true and liberal performance of every thing herein contained and suggested; and all this is confirmed, in your manner, by the great white belt, hereunto attached.

“Captain [Alexander] Trueman, the bearer, will show you the treaties which the United States have made with the powerful tribes of Indians south of the Ohio—the Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws. You will there have the most decisive proof of the justice and liberality of the United States towards the Indian tribes.

“At present, there is in the city of Philadelphia, a deputation of fifty of the principal chiefs of the Five Nations, to wit: The Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Onondagas, and Senecas. Were you to see, with your own eyes, the kind manner in which these chiefs are treated, you would never more think of lifting the hatchet against the United States, who are desirous of being your best friends.

“Come, then, and be convinced for yourselves, of the beneficence of General Washington, the Great Chief of the United States, and afterwards return and spread the glad tidings of peace and prosperity of the Indians to the setting sun” (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 1:230).

Knox’s final instructions to Trueman, dated 3 April and also apparently approved by the president, read: “Confiding in your judgment and abilities to execute the mission herein designated, I hereby request you, in the name of the President of the United States, to enter upon the duties thereof, with all possible despatch.

“You will, therefore, immediately repair to Pittsburg. I have herewith given you an order to Captain [Thomas] Hughes, to furnish you with an escort, and a boat to transport you to fort Washington. On your arrival at that place, you will disclose to Lieutenant Colonel-commandant [James] Wilkinson the object of your mission, and concert with him the proper means for carrying it into execution.

“I have directed him, in a letter herewith delivered to you, to afford you all possible facility in pursuance of your orders.

“I have also, herewith delivered to you a speech for the Western Indians, with which you will repair to the Miami village, accompanied by such Indians, men or women, or both, as shall be judged best by you and Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson. This speech is also accompanied by a belt. It will be of the highest importance that you shall have an interpreter capable fully of explaining your ideas.

“You will observe that the speech is designed to effect a peace with the hostile Indians, on the terms of humanity and justice; your language must all, therefore, be to the same effect.

“As the confederacy of Indians is supposed to be extensive, it will require time to bring your negotiations to a favorable issue. Your patience, your fortitude, and your knowledge of the human character, will all be tested by the objects of your mission.

“It may be said on all occasions, and the issue will justify the assertion, that nothing is more desired than to remove all causes of discontent, and to establish a peace upon a firm foundation.

“But, that, in order to bring about an event so pregnant with happiness to the Indians, they must instantly abstain from all further hostilities, recall their parties if they have any out, as we shall do, and let every thing be settled amicably.

“If the chiefs of the hostile tribes can be induced to repair here, it is conceived the view of the population of the country, and the improvements of all sorts, will exhibit to their minds, in strong colors, the futility of their continuing the war. As a further inducement to repairing here, presents of clothing and silver ornaments may be stipulated. The Creek treaty, the treaty with the Cherokees, and the present manner in which the deputation of the Six Nations, now in this city, are treated, may be cited as strong proofs of the pacific and liberal intentions of the General Government.

“Impressed verbally, as you have been, of the importance of a peace being concluded with the hostile Indians, little more need be added. I shall only say, that it is an event most devoutly desired by the President of the United States, and the people generally. If you shall be the instrument of effecting it, much personal reputation and honor will be the result; besides which, I am authorized by the President of the United States, that your expenses, while in the employment, shall be supported by the public, and that you shall be liberally rewarded in a pecuniary manner.

“It will be important that you take with you some white, or other persons, to serve as messengers between you and the commanding officer, so that he may be informed, and through him, me, of your prospects, from time to time. If you should succeed, you will please to accompany the chiefs to this place; but if you should fail, you will join the army under the commanding officer, after stating in the most ample manner the progress and result of your proceedings” (ibid., 229–30). On 20 May 1792 Gen. James Wilkinson instructed Col. John Hardin to act in conjunction with Trueman (Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, Historical Collections 24 [1895]: 414–16).

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