George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 15 May 1792

From Henry Knox

War-department, May 15th 1792.


I have the honor to inform you, that yesterday I received letters, from governor Blount, dated the 22’d of April, of more pacific appearance, than the one of the 14th of April to Doctor Williamson.1

Mr Shaw, and the Bloody Fellow, and other Cherokees who left this city the 19th of February, were on the 22’nd, within four miles of governor Blount; all well.2 The said indians had generally been well treated, but sometimes alarmed by the folly and wickedness of the frontier people.

I have the pleasure to inform you, that the bearer of Blount’s letters, brought the enclosed from major Hamtramck.3 I trust, in God, it is the sure dawning of a general peace, north west of the Ohio.

General Putnam has not yet finished his Ohio business; but will probably to day—He, General Wayne, and the quarter master general, will, I expect, all depart this week.

The person who delivered Hamtramck’s letter, informed me, that Lieutenant Jennifer was charged with letters from brigadier general Wilkinson, but that he had halted at Hagers Town for a day or two4—That brigadier general Wilkinson had established Fort St Clair, placed therein a garrison, and plenty of provisions; and returned uninjured to Fort Washington. I have the honor to be, Sir, with profound respect, Your most obedient Servt

H. Knox
Secy of War


1Gov. William Blount’s letter to Knox of 22 April has not been identified. For Blount’s letter of 14 April to Hugh Williamson, see Knox to GW, 12 May, n.1.

2Leonard D. Shaw, who had graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1784, was appointed deputy agent to the Cherokee Nation in January 1792. Shortly after arriving in the Southwest Territory Shaw took a Cherokee wife. Increasingly estranged from Governor Blount, Shaw was charged with inebriety, and he was replaced in early 1793. The Cherokee chief Bloody Fellow (Nenetooyah; Iskaqua; Clear Sky) led the Indian delegation that arrived at Philadelphia in late December 1791. For the negotiations which followed their arrival, see Knox to GW, 17 Jan. 1792, source note.

3John F. Hamtramck’s letter to Secretary of War Knox, which was written at Fort Knox on 31 Mar. 1792, reads: “The 28th Instant I received a letter from Lt Col. [James] Wilkinson who informed me of his appointment in the army and who directed me to send some agents to all the Belligerent Tribes of Savages, resident on the Wabash Illinois River, and on the Southeastern borders of Lake Michigan, which shall be done as speedily as possible.

“Since my last letter I had the honor of writing you, the Chiefs of the Eel River and of the Weya have been with me, their intention is to be at peace with the United States, and to have for its basis, certain articles of agreement, which I have made with them and the only ones I could find to be consonant to their wishes. This negociation having taken place previous to my receiving the orders of Lieut. Col. Wilkinson, will I suppose be found sufficient without sending to them—however if it should be found necessary for them to go to Fort Washington, they soon can be informed of it—From Col. Wilkinson I expect to receive farther directions on that point. The Peankishaws the only nation remaining on the Wabash, who have not yet been with me have been prevented by the death of their King, on his way to Fort Knox and the Nation having no Prince Royal to succeed to the Crown have been employed for a long time in the election of a Monarch whenever that is done, which will be in about a week, I expect to see them when I will probably have an opportunity of securing their friendship—Indeed I have very little doubt of their adopting the measures of the others—Altho the Indians did not show a disposition to return to war, I found it was necessary to guard against their joining those of the Miami, who will no doubt give them very pressing invitations in the spring—this could not be done without some engagements on both sides which I have the honor to inclose. I hope Sir they will be acceptable, I have done for the best, and all that could be done. It is difficult for me to give you any assurance of their sincerity—if they are sincere, it is from no other motive but to get back their prisoners—however—it may be very easy after this to keep them in a pacific State, and to prevent them from joining those who are hostile, this can be effected by some acts of generosity towards them—for if our Government does not make them presents they will go to the British, who will be glad to see them and who will supply them amply—I asked the two chiefs of Eel River who were with me, and who are neighbours to the Miamis if the British had given any presents to the Indians last summer—their Answer was—Yes my father, the Goods were in large heaps like stacks of Hay—do you get Arms and ammunition also? We get every thing but big Guns. If you had done so and if your people had not told the Indians that their lands belonged to you[,] you would have had no war—I have been informed by some Indians that a number of Merchants with Goods from Michlemackinac were in the prairies towards the Illinois River trading with the Indians—Indeed I am sure some of them have been on the Wabash and undersold our Merchants and there is now in this village a quantity of goods from that place and New Orleans which consequently has paid no duty to the United States—The Laws of this Territory or the laws of the United States have made no provision to prevent it, to the great detriment of those merchants who buy their goods in the United States and cannot sell so cheap. But the worst evil of all is a number of Villains in this Village who keep the Indians continually drunk. there is so much difficulty and ceremony to find them out that not one of them has yet been punished since the civil government has taken place, and the most fatal consequences may be expected if it continues—for the Indians, who will sell all their peltrys for liquor will find themselves and families naked in the spring and having no means to procure ammunition or other necessaries will go to war for plunder—the only possible way to prevent this abuse would be to prohibit all spiritous liquors to be brought into the place without permission from the commanding Officer, and if only one or two Men were intrusted to sell or keep liquor in his house, it would be a very easy thing to prevent the Indians from getting drunk—Such measures may possibly be contrary to the principles of a republican Government, but it is not less necessary in this place in our present situation of affairs—Civil Law is an admirable institution any where except on a frontier situated in the center of an Indian Country and in a time of War—before the civil authority took place, I was well acquainted with every thing that passed in the village. No Indians came in—No person gave them lodging without my knowledge, few of them got drunk in comparision to what it is now All persons and strangers coming into the village were obliged to report themselves, by which means I received every intelligence.

“The Governor [Arthur St. Clair] sensible of the necessity of such regulations, has by proclamation and militia orders provided for its continuance, but I am sorry to say that no part of it is put in execution neither is it in my power at present to enforce it.

“All the information I could obtain from the chiefs who were with me, was that all the Indians of the Lakes intended to go to war early in the spring and that their Women and Children were to be supplied with provisions by Capt. [Alexander] McKee the British Agent for Indian affairs—they also informed me that the pieces of Cannon lost on the 4th of November last, were left on the ground, that a large party of Indians intended to keep at a small distance from the place to attack any body who should come to take them off—that the number of the Indians against us last action had been about 1500—that we were then about four good days march from the Miami and on the waters of the Wabash, and that the loss of the Indians had been very inconsiderable.

“Another circumstance which may not be amiss to inform you of is that two Indians of the tribes taken prisoner last year went from here to Fort Washington last summer on a visit to their friends—there they saw the Chickasaw Indians who were on the expedition with us, who told them, that it was a folly for the Indians of the lakes, to be at war with us, that they themselves had been a long time in arms against the White people, but they at last found it their interest to live in peace with them—that their nation and the Choctaws would join the Americans to go against them if it should be necessary. these circumstances were reported by the above two Indians who returned to their Nation the last autumn, and came up the river with me. This appears to have struck the Indians with such a panic that it has reached the Miami who I am informed would make peace with the United States, if they had an opportunity.

“As it is necessary to permit some merchants to go into the Indian Towns, I have made choice of a few, who have entered into a bond of one thousand dollars, and to whom I have given licence for six Months—On this head I expect to receive some directions from the Governor, to whom I have wrote on the subject—The getting of firewood for the garrison has become very difficult, we are obliged to go at so great a distance for it, that it keeps the men on a constant fatigue, this together with some other inconveniencies we lay under by being so near the Town, would render it adviseable to move the Garrison, further up the River.

“The Governor in my instructions directs me to try to obtain the consent of the Indians for the establishment of a Garrison at the Eel River or the Weya—I have not yet found matters sufficiently Ripe to make the proposition but I believe that some presents would remove every difficulty that might exist.

“Since my writing the above I have received a letter from Colonel Wilkinson who directs me to send a couple of Spies to the Miami in order to get intelligence of the disposition of the Indians—I have engaged two confidential Indians who are to set off immediately and to return sometime in May. . . . P.S. We have on hand for about Six Months provision but the Indians who are every day in the Garrison consume some of it, and it is unavoidable” (DLC:GW).

Hamtramck also enclosed “Articles of certain engagements passed at Fort Knox at Vincennes between John Francis Hamtramck Esquire Major of the 1st United States Regimt on the one part and the Chiefs of different tribes of Indians on the Wabash on the other part with the following Conditions,” dated 14 Mar. 179[2], which read: “1st That as Major Hamtramck has not sufficient power to conclude a treaty of peace with the Indians of the Wabash, he shall immediately inform the great Chief of the United States, that it is the sincere desire of the Indians here represented to bury the hatchet forever and to establish a lasting peace and friendship with the United States.

“2dly That measures may be speedily taken to conclude a solid and everlasting treaty of peace between the Wabash Indians and the United States and that the treaty shall be held at Vincennes.

“3dly That the United States shall confirm to the Indians the lands they legally claim and that no part shall be taken from them, but by a fair purchase and to their satisfaction.

“4ly The Indians here represented solemnly promise on their part, that no more hostilities or depredations shall be committed by them on any of the Citizens of the United States.

“5ly That they will at all times give notice to the commanding Officer of Fort Knox or other Garrison of any designs which they may know to be carried on by any nation of Indians or any individual whatever against the interest or prejudicial to the United States.

“In Testimony whereof” Hamtramck, Capt. Erskurius Beatty, Ens. Ross Bird, and Lt. Abner Prior signed for the United States; Kickapooquaigh, Atchenewaugh, Contomaumgaugh, Awpaighchenecaugh, Pullaaswaigh, Chacowaatagh, and La Poussiere made their marks for the Weya Indians; and Peankeunshaw and Checunememshaw made their marks as representatives of the Eel River Indians.

An additional “Provisional Article,” which was attached to the document and signed by the same individuals, reads: “As the Kickapoos of the Weya have left that Country and gone on the Illinois River, and are not represented with us in council

“We the Chiefs of the Eel River and Weya Indians farther agree that in case the said Kickapoos should return on the Wabash we shall use our endeavours to bring them to the above mentioned measures or otherwise to drive them out of the Country” (DLC:GW). John Stagg, Jr., attested on 15 May 1792 that the “foregoing are true copies from the originals.”

4Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer of Allegany County, Pa., who had served as a sergeant major in the levies of 1791, was appointed a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in March 1792. After killing William Pitt Gassaway in a duel in March 1793, Jenifer was dismissed from the service.

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