George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 21 April 1792

From Henry Knox

[Philadelphia] Saturday 4 oClock P.M. 21 April [1792]


I have the honor respectfully to submit a draft of a proposed letter to Governor Blount, of which, the clerk has just finished a copy.1

Genl Putnam left this City, this Morning, to return early in the next week. I am Sir Most respectfully Your obedient Servant

H. Knox

Dr Allen will be in readiness to return on Monday. He is getting Clothes made and his accounts are to be settled.2


1The enclosed draft of a letter from Knox to Southwest Territory governor William Blount has not been identified. Knox had received a letter from Blount, written at Knoxville and dated 20 Mar. (Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 4:129–30), on 14 April, and he had transmitted it to Tobias Lear the same day for submission to the president (DLC:GW). Lear apparently returned this letter to the secretary of war on 15 April with GW’s request that Knox report his opinion on the steps that needed to be taken (DLC:GW).

The letter that Knox sent to Blount on 22 April, which GW apparently approved, reads: “I have the honor to enclose you a duplicate of my letter to you of the 31st ultimo acknowledging the receipt of yours of the 2d ultimo by Mr [David] Allison, and containing some general principles relative to the militia you may judge expedient to call into service, for the defensive protection of such parts of your government as are exposed to the incursions of hostile Indians—and also containing the approbation of the President of the United States, for the proposed conference with the Chickasaws and Choctaws at Nashville on the first day of June next.

“Having on the 13th instant received your letter of the 14th of the last month, I shall now reply to it, and the one of the 2d of the same month.

“But previously thereto, I take occasion to state, That it is the most ardent desire of the President of the United States, and the general government, that a firm peace should be established with all the neighbouring tribes of Indians on such pure principles of justice and moderation, as will enforce the approbation of the dispassionate and enlightened part of mankind.

“That it is the intention of the President of the United States, that an adherence to this desire as to a well founded maxim, shall be the leading feature in the administration of Indian affairs while he is at the head of the government.

“That he shall lament, exceedingly all occasions which shall either suspend or impede the operations of those principles, which he considers essential to the reputation, and dignity of the Republic.

“That in pursuance of these ideas he endeavoured that a genuine state of their situation, and of the general dispositions of the United States upon this subject should be brought home to the minds of the western Indians before any co-ercion was attempted.

“That although the essays to this end were then ineffectual, yet it has been his directions that similar intimations should be continued.

“That therefore, every effort is making in order to impress the hostile Indians with their past errors—That the United States require nothing of them but peace, and a line of conduct tending to their own happiness.

“That all which has past shall still be buried in oblivion provided that they will immediately agree to a treaty of peace, in which they will obtain all they can possibly desire and relinquish nothing; for we demand none of their lands.

“That we are not sensible the hostile Indians, that is, the Miami and Wabash Indians, have any just claim to lands comprehended in the former treaties—But notwithstanding, if they can show they possess a fair right to any of those lands they shall receive a liberal compensation for the same.

“It is presumed if these sentiments could be fully impressed on the minds of the hostile Indians (and measures are taking for that purpose) that the establishment of tranquility on the frontiers would be the probable consequence.

“But if the hostile Indians should, after having these intentions of the government laid fully before them still persist in their depredations on the frontiers, it will be considered as the dictates of humanity to endeavour to punish with exemplary severity so incorrigible a race of men in order to deter other tribes in future from a like conduct.

“I have been thus particular in detailing to you these sentiments in order that you may lay them before the assembled nations at the proposed conference in full and strong terms.

“It will therefore be only in the result of the hostile Indians continuing in their hostility that the aid of the southern Indians would be required—But as this result will be known and as the commanding general will be directed to communicate it to you by expresses, while you are at the conference—You will of course proceed in obtaining the number mentioned in the letter to general Pickens, which is enclosed open for your perusal and consideration.

“The President of the United States being very favorable impressed with the character of general Pickens, is greatly desirous, if the war must proceed, that he should command the Indians combined with other troops.

“You will therefore please immediately to forward the letter to general Pickens, first sealing it—and upon receiving his answer, you will transmit it to Richmond by express, whence it will arrive by the stages as soon as by express.

“Mr Allison has been detained for the arrival of the spring ships—But he has now provided all the goods you requested as pr Invoice herein enclosed, excepting the rifles which unfortunately cannot be obtained here without taking those which are designed for the rifle Corps.

“If Mr Allison can obtain the number requested in the southern district, he is requested so to do.

“He will embark with the goods for Richmond on the 25th instant.

“Besides the Goods, which amount to Eight thousand, one hundred and ninety one dollars, eleven cents; he is charged with the sum of Two thousand dollars to pay for the provisions and other expences of the treaty as stated in your estimate: together with the sum of seven hundred and fifty dollars, contingencies of the treaty.

“In addition, he is charged with the sum of Three thousand dollars, for to pay the expence of transportation to Richmond and thence to your government.

“He is also charged with the further sum of Three thousand dollars, for to pay the Levies, who served in the campaign under general [Arthur] St Clair.

“I am anxious to hear of the safe arrival of Mr [Leonard] Shaw with you, and that they have gone forward into their nation continuing in that grateful state of mind in which they departed from this place.

“I flatter myself the manner of their treatment here, and the impressions of good designed by the United States for their, and the other friendly nations, will be received by joy by all the well disposed Cherokees—and will of course put to the route the ill disposed and bloody minded.

“We have in this city at present a numerous delegation of the principal Chiefs of the five nations, who have been invited to make this visit in order to prevent their being influenced to war, by the hostile Indians and their emissaries—They will return in a few days apparently well satisfied and have engaged to repair to the Miami village in order to influence the Indians in that quarter to peace.

“I am commanded by the President of the United States, to whom your letters are constantly submitted, to say with respect to your remarks upon the Line at Littleriver, that you will be pleased to make a liberal construction of that article, so as to render it entirely satisfactory to the Indians, and at the same time as consistently as may be with the treaty [of Holston]—and to observe, that he is satisfied with your sentiments on that subject.

“It is submitted to you, as the late depredations by the Cherokees must in some degree have interrupted that harmony and confidence, which ought to have flowed from the treaty of Holstein—whether, it will not be for the public interest to invite a few of the Chiefs of the Cherokees, to be present at the proposed conference at Nashville.

“And it were to be wished that Mr [Alexander] McGillivray’s affair with [William Augustus] Bowles would permit him also to attend,—Provided you should be convinced of his cordiality to the post at Bear’s creek, and the employment of some Creeks.

“You would then have an opportunity perhaps of talking over the whole affair relatively to Bear’s creek, which the Chickasaws relinquished as a trading post, by the treaty of Hopewell.

“If this could be established by the general and open consent of all the tribes, it would be well—But it is to be apprehended that starting a new object at the mouth of Duck river [i.e., establishing a post there], would have the effect to excite suspicions and jealousies and unhinge any confidence they may have—That at this crisis the risque of injury would far over balance any advantages, and therefore the attempt ought not to be made.

“The distance from Duck river to Nashville is not more than fifty or sixty miles—and although not quite as convenient as at the mouth Duck river, yet the difference is not so great as to require any hazard of bad consequences from the attempt.

“General [James] Robertson has from his situation, character and other circumstances, incurred expences on account of the Indians, for which he has petitioned Congress—The petition is referred to me—Although general principles of equity seem to support the claim, more especially coming from a man of his character, yet it is extremely difficult to establish a general principle by law, to compensate such unauthorized advances without fixing dangerous precedents.

“The object of my mentioning this is, that in future, and until further arrangements, the President of the United States will consent that General Robertson be considered as temporary agent for the Chickasaws, with an appointment at the rate of Four hundred dollars per annum—you will therefore please to administer to him the oath of office which you yourself have taken.

“It is to be observed that the law authorizing such appointments has not yet passed, and that therefore this appointment can only at present have a temporary aspect.

“He will in future distribute such things, and perform such duties for the conciliation of the Choctaws, Chickasaws and others, as you shall from time to time direct.

“The business of the proposed conference will be interesting to the United States. I am happy it will be managed by you in person, as I am satisfied the government may rest with great confidence, in your exertions, as well as abilities to execute its wishes.

“The great object in managing Indians, or indeed any other men however enlightened is to obtain their confidence. This cannot be done but by convincing them of an attention to their interests—Deeply convinced of this general disposition of their protectors, they will be yielding in smaller matters.

“The Indians have constantly had their jealousies and hatred excited by the attempts to obtain their lands—I hope in God that all such designs are suspended for a long period—We may therefore now speak to them with the confidence of men conscious of the fairest motives towards their happiness and interest in all respects—A little perseverance in such a system will teach the Indians to love and reverence the power which protects and cherishes them. The reproach which our country has sustained will be obliterated and the protection of the helpless ignorant Indians, while they demean themselves peaceably, will adorn the character of the United States.

“It is the special direction of the President of the United States, that there be a full representation of the Chickasaws and Choctaws, and that all who shall be assembled shall have impressed on their minds clearly and strongly, the dispositions of the general government towards the hostile tribes particularly, as well as to all the tribes generally.

“You will find in the letter to General Pickens, that it is the desire of the President that the total of the Indians to be employed, should not exceed Five hundred warriors; and if the arrangement could be so made, that these should be taken in such proportions from the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws as you shall judge proper. The number so constituted, would induce them to consider the war as a common cause, as well among one another as with the United States. It must be understood however, that the number of Five hundred is not be considered as an ultimatum, but only as a general idea to govern the number to be employed.

“It will be necessary that you should intimate to General Pickens, that you are in confidence made acquainted with the letter to him, and that you should also know the tenor of his answer.

“If the Indians should object joining our troops on account of not being well armed, you may assure them they shall be well supplied at Fort Washington with smooth bored muskets, but they cannot be promised Rifles.

“Any subordinate arrangement of characters which you shall judge proper to accompany them will be confided to your discretion—and also the nature of the rewards for their services, which however must not exceed the pay of the troops—with rations they will be abundantly provided. I am—&c.

“N.B.—In the duplicate transmitted by Mr Allison, the blanks were filled as above inserted—and the following added closing the letter.

“Instead of the sum of seven hundred and fifty dollars mentioned in this letter for contingencies of the Treaty, a warrant has been issued for this consideration for one thousand dollars.

“The sum of two thousand dollars is now advanced for the provisions at the Treaty, any excess of this sum will be paid on the final adjustment of the accounts” (Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 4:137–42).

David Allison (d. 1798), the deputy paymaster of federal troops and county militia in the Southwest Territory since 1790, had arrived in Philadelphia at the end of March carrying a letter from Blount to Knox dated 2 March. While in the capital he collected goods for Blount’s upcoming treaty with the Choctaws and Chickasaws (see Knox to Blount, 31 Mar., ibid., 131–32).

2Dr. Deodat Allen returned to western New York to deliver Knox’s invitation to Joseph Brant and instructions to Israel Chapin, who had been appointed temporary deputy agent to the Five Nations (see Knox to Chapin, 23 April, 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 1:231). Allen accompanied Brant to Philadelphia in June 1792, and he served in 1793 as a surgeon in the Ontario County, N.Y., militia (see Knox to GW, 22 April, n.2, and GW to Gouverneur Morris, 21 June 1792, n.5).

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