George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 5 August 1792

From Henry Knox

War department Sunday 5th August 1792.


Yesterday afternoon Mr Vigo arrived here from Fort Washington, and brought dispatches from Brigadiers General Putnam and Wilkinson to the 9th of July, as will appear by the abstracts of Brigadr Wilkinson’s letter of 9th July herein enclosed.1

I have the honor to enclose for your consideration General Putnams letter giving his opinion of the operations proper to be pursued—On this letter, I shall, by the next post, submit to your view some observations.2

The fate of poor Trueman is but too probably sealed and perhaps that of Hardin too.

General Putnam, in his letter of the 5th of July, which principally contains the same information as that mentioned in Wilkinsons letters, states it as his opinion that a treaty ought to be concluded as soon as possible with the Wabash Indians and presents be made3—Being firmly persuaded of the soundness of this opinion I shall direct the measure. It is more especially necessary as Mr Vigo informs me that the said Indians would not come even to Fort Washington much less to Philadelphia.

Brigadier Wilkinsons attention to all parts of his duty and his activity render him a great acquisition to the public.

A Banditti without any fixed residence consisting of about ten Cherokees thirty Creeks and fourteen Shawanese—Outcasts—from their respective tribes are perpetually committing depredations on the Cumberland settlements they have lately attacked a military station near Nashville and carried it twenty one men were killed or taken—But the friendly Cherokees compelled the said banditti to deliver up their prisoners amounting to Six—these are the same rascals probably who attacked Major Doughty in the Year 1789.4 I have this information from Mr Vigo.

The necessity of the case will justify the measure of empowering Governor Blount to call out Sixty or one hundred mounted Riflemen to cut off if possible the said Banditti—He has that number at present in service. And as he has been empowered to retain in service as many as he shall judge proper; there can be no doubt but he will keep them up as long as necessary.5 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your most obed. servant

H. Knox


1For the extracts taken from the two letters that James Wilkinson wrote to Knox on 6 July 1792, see Knox to GW, 4 Aug., n.2.

2Rufus Putnam’s letter to Henry Knox, which was written at Fort Washington on 8 July 1792, reads: “My letter to you of the 5th instant I gave into the hand of Mr Vego [Francis Vigo] at this place who is gone down to the rapids with an intent to proceed immediately to Philadelphia by the way of Lexington.

“The more I reflect on the subject the more I am convinced it will be best to proceed with the Indians on the Wabash and others in that quarter in the manner I have recommended in my letter above referred to and as far as possible detach them from the Councils and influence of the other Indians.

“But I think it will not be necessary and perhaps not proper to stipulate an annual allowance of Goods to be delivered to them until a purchase of land be made which I conceive ought not to be done (unless the proposition of selling be made by them) until the contest with the Shawanese and other hostile Nations is determined—For this is the argument made use of by our Enemies and the only one that prevailed with the Chippewas and many other tribes to join in the war and which is continually urged on the Western Indians as a motive to join in the confederacy—viz. ‘The Americans are after your lands and mean to take them from you and drive you out of the Country.’

“I am informed from good authority that when the Delawares, Wyandots and Shawanese first invited the Chippewas and other tribes to join in the war—they answered ‘For why should we go to war, we have no quarrel with the Americans, when our Father (meaning the King of Great Britain) was at War and called on us to join him against a set of rebellious Children, we did so, but our father has now made peace with those Children and there is now no reason why we should go to war against them it will be enough for us to go against the Americans when our father calls on us again, but you continued the Chippewas are always quarrelling with your neighbours it would be better for you to be at peace.’ To this the Delawares &ca replied, ‘That the thirteen fires were endeavouring to take their lands from them, that they challenged the whole country as their own that the thirteen fires had marked out to them a small tract for hunting Ground on which they could not live.’ well says the Chippewas ‘what is that to us the Americans have done us no harm and why should we fight for your lands you may fight yourselves for them and defend your Country there is reason that you should but we shall get nothing by it, if we join in the war, it is better that we mind our business and live in peace [’]—To this the Delawares &c. could find no answer—until a British Emissary whispered in their ear ‘Tell them that when the Americans have conquered you and got possession of your land, they will then take theirs from them also for that is their intention, and they never will rest until they have got the whole country.’ Is that the case replied the Chippewas and other nations ‘then we will fight too’ and immediately agreed to assist in defending the country against the encroachments of the Americans.

“I have been the more particular in relating this Anecdote (which is a fact may be relied on) because it shows the reason why so many nations are drawn into the war against us—That it must be something more than merely the influence of British emissaries may be fairly argued from their being a greater number engaged in the present contest than the British government with all their arts and money were able to persuade to engage in their service (in the Western quarter) during the late war and what can be their motive but the fear of losing their lands or in otherwords that the Americans intend to take their lands from them without their consent, whenever they think proper agreeably to the doctrine of the Treaties at Fort McIntosh and the Big Miami.

“It is therefore in my opinion indispensibly necessary to convince the Western Indians as soon as possible that these suggestions are false: and since they are not willing at present to come to Philadelphia or even to Fort Washington they should be treated with at Vincennes as soon as possible.

“In confident expectation that a commission will be forwarded as soon as may be empowering Major [John Francis] Hamtramck or some other person to hold a treaty at Vincennes agreeably to the stipulation he has made for that purpose: A part of the Indian Goods here will with the prisoners, be forwarded to Fort Knox.

“Yesterday a Canoe going up the Ohio, with two Men a Woman and a Boy were attacked by the Indians, one of the Men was killed the other wounded the Boy taken and the woman escaped unhurt—this is another circumstance against my hearing from Hendrick [Aupaumut] in the way proposed—and with some, conclusive evidence that the grand Council is broke up with a determination of continuing the war—but I doubt this for there has not been time for the Chiefs that were at Philadelphia to council at Buffaloe Creek and arrive at the Tawa River by this time and I do not believe that the Council would break up before their arrival and those from Canada as no doubt they had information that they were coming—I am determined to send another speech to the belligerent tribes if I can persuade some of the Wabash Indians to carry it and engage to bring back an answer.

“I have several reasons for making this attempt. First if some bad men have murdered our messengers having the Presidents speech although the speech may be carried to the Council they may not consider it as properly coming before them and the Chiefs may be in doubt whether we will now receive a messenger from them or not, the arrival of a new speech will I think remove this doubt—altho I mention nothing of the rumour I have heard—Besides by a messenger of this sort I expect to ascertain the fact whether our messengers are murdered or not and also reduce the matter to a certainty whether they will let me speak to them or not.

“I propose remaining here for the present as it is uncertain whether any flag will arrive from the enemy or at what post they may come in and should Capt. Hendrick arrive at Fort Jefferson as proposed I shall have notice of it in thirty six Hours.

“But I suppose that after all rational means are used to accomodate this business by treaty we fail in the attempt, & that a continuance of the war is inevitable—pardon me Sir if unasked I offer a few sentiments on the subject.

“Mr [Thomas] Hutchins and others have said a great deal about the fine navigation of the Allegheney River and French Creek, the big Bever, the Cayahoka the Sioto and Sandusky with the Wabash and Tawa Rivers or the Miami of the Lake—And it is true they are all very fine Rivers and at certain seasons many of them afford plenty of Water to float Craft of very considerable burthen for a great distance, But the fact is that not one of them will serve any valuable purpose for transporting by water the baggage stores and provisions of an Army for any considerable distance, toward any object where Government can possible mean to point their force in any offensive operation even the Ohio at some seasons is difficult if not quite impenetrable in some parts— therefore all considerable movements of an army between the Ohio and Lake Erie should be calculated to be by land.

“You will permit me to speak freely and I know you will not be offended my intention is to serve you by way of information and I write with the greatest deference.

“To establish a capital post at the Miami Village with a proper number of intermediate stations sufficient to secure a communication from Fort Washington to that place is undoubtedly an object to be persevered in and I think if the business is conducted in a prudent manner it may be effected with two thousand men without any hazard.

“But to stop there will by no means induce the Indians to treat it will rather be provoking than distressing to them nor will the frontiers receive any considerable protection thereby.

“My opinion is not to advance any farther in this quarter at present but to make arrangements for carrying a line of stations from the Mouth of the Big Beaver Creek on the Ohio to the Mouth of the Cayahoga on Lake Erie where I would erect a strong post here I would build such water craft as should be thought necessary to transport the army. I intended to make use of this way into the Tawa River as far as the rapids (about 14 Miles) or to such place as should be found most convenient for establishing a post there (for I will venture to pawn my reputation upon it if from the overtures now making the Indians are not brought to a treaty they never will[)] until you establish a post in the mouth of the Tawa River and prevent the British agent or his emissaries and Indians any more counselling there together (or in the Indian language put out their Council fire in this place) this is the place where every year the British Agent distributes the annual presents to all the nations far and near inhabiting the Country South of Lake Erie and Westward beyond the Miami village.

“While the army are employed in building the fort at Cayahoga provided they do not arrive there before the spring and preparing their Water Craft—the Western Army should proceed from Fort Jefferson and erecting proper stations by the way establish themselves at the Miami Village, The Indians seeing two armies advancing in opposite directions will probably be confused in their Councils they will consider the Country of the Wyandots, Delawares and Shawanese lost, their allies will most if not all withdraw themselves and the Delawares &c. sue for peace or quit their country or if that should not be the case, as they can never know when your army will move nor where it will strike they never can prevent them from landing and in a short time by intrenching secure themselves against ten times their number and should they still be obstinate yet will they not be able to prevent the two armies from establishing a line of communication from the Mouth of the Tawa River to the post at the Miami village.

“The security that such an arrangement will give to all the Country which will be thereby evinced as well as to the six Nations and the Inhabitants on Allegany River is very obvious.

“It has been the opinion of some that we should communicate with Lake Erie by the way of Presque Isle—but I am by no means of that opinion because the distance is much greater from Pittsburg (or from any part of the Alleghena River to which water carriage is always certain) to Presque Isle then from the mouth of Big Beaver to the Mouth of Cayahoga, and the Country from Pittsburgh to Presque Isle is much worse to make a road. Indeed from Big Beaver to Cayahoga the Country is very level and except about seven or eight miles is very dry and good for a Road while the other for the greater part of the way is bad hills and for 15 Miles very wet—besides the distance from Presqe Isle to the Tawa River is nearly double to that from Cayahoga. moreover if a post is made at Presque Isle there must be another at Cayahoga: for such is the Navigation of Lake Erie especially for some distance West of Cayahoga that boats in their passage Westward must always put into the Mouth of that River & wait a favorable time to pass the Rockey shore which in Hutchins Map is marked thus X.

“On the West bank of Cayahoga is a riseing ground or high bank from whence the country about is commanded as well as the extreem into the River, which is deep and navigable for Vessels of considerable burthen for several miles up.

“The route from the mouth of Big Beaver I expect will be best on the West side until we are two or perhaps, three, miles above Kishkuske then the road will cross at a good ford & turning Westward will cross the creek twice more, then leaving the Creek a little above salt springs. it will cross the Cayahoga about ten miles from its mouth & pass down on the west side. at all the crossings are good fords unless the water should be uncommonly high.

“The number of intermediate stations will depend on the distance they are from each other. allowing twenty miles to be a proper distance then four only will be required.

“I believe this to be the nearest & best route by which a communication can be opened between the Ohio river & Lake Erie without having regard to Water navigation, which whoever depends on will be deceived; Altho I doubt not but that at some seasons considerable advantage may be derived from water carraige on most of the rivers I have mentioned & the big beaver & Cayahoga may some times be made a good use of this way.

“The facts I have mentioned in this statement, I have from a Man of Judgment and undoubted veracity, who has had full Opportunity to examine the country not only on the route from big beaver to Cayahoga but has also travelled by many different roads from Pittsburg to Sandusky and detroit resided ten years among the Delawares is fully acquainted with all the streams that make a part of the Muskingam river as well as the southern Shore of Lake Erie and all the streams that fall into it between Cayahoga and Detroit.

“In some part of this route the country is open. in other parts are thickets of brush to be Cut out but the principle difficulty, is a swamp and wet ground for seven or eight miles, the greatest part of which must be causs[w]eyed, but I am told that lumber is plenty & handy, and if so one man will easily make one perch per day and allowing 640 men may be well employed at the work they will make this part of the road in four days. however if it should happen to be a dry fall it is doubtfull if one fourth part of the distance mentioned will require Bridging in the first movement of the army (when I speake of making a good road, I mean a Waggon road[)], there is now a Pack horse path to the whole distance which has been much used by traders and War parties.

“By this route all kinds of provisions except beef from Kentucky can be transported to the Miami village cheaper than thro’ any other channell and from thence conveyed down the Wabash—or towards Lake Michigan, and into the upper part of the Illinoi Country, to supply any Garrisons which Government may think proper to establish in that quarter for the protection of the friendly tribes and the security of our trade with them, to this may be added the supply of the post at Detroit whenever we shall be in possession of it.

“If the proposition should meet with approbation measures for carrying it into execution cannot be too soon adopted for altho’ the season will be too farr advanced before the event of the present overtures now making to the enemy is known, to admit of any offensive opperations of Consequence in this quarter, yet I concieve it will not be the case with respect to the plan I have proposed.

“I can see no objection against making an Establishment at the Big Beaver (where we have long had a small post[)] even while our negociations are depending.

“Under this Idea then I would propose the troops intended for the service as fast as they arrive at Pittsburg should be sent down to that place, that the works there be repaired and extended in a proper manner and Magazines of provisions forage &c. &c. &c. be collected for the expedition; This cannot probably be completed and the whole ready to move before October, and before that time I trust, it will be known whether we are to have a treaty with these fellows or not, if they shall agree to a treaty it is probable they will be as willing to hold it some where on the big beaver or at the mouth of Cayahoga as at any other place, and in that Case they can have no Objection to a road being made to transport the goods to Cayahoga.

“At all events when ever we make peace with them, and whatever we relinquish, in other respects, we must insist on establishing ourselves at Cayahoga for the purpose of supplying them with goods to be delivered there, or farther westward so that the work proposed at the big beaver will not be lost provided we come to a treaty & if we are to have no treaty we shall be ready to execute the plan by force, And in that case if we are ready to move by the first of October I think we may safely venture on the expedition for allowing Sixteen days to errect the four intermediate s[t]ations four to make the Causey and that we Cut our road and march five miles a day we shall reach Cayahoga in forty days, but I have no doubt but we shall be able to reach Cayahoga in half that time—About the time intended for the army leaving the post at Big beaver the enemy may be menaced from this quarter, and as they will not be alarmed at seeing you posted at Big-beaver, the Army will probably reach the Cayahoga before the enemy can possibly be in a situation to oppose them. at the same time a body of Volunteer militia might be encouraged to advance on Croffords route towards sandusky.

“The measure I beleive will be very populer with the people of Ohio County and all the Western part of Pennsylvania which will greatly facilitate the business—Forage for any number of horses may be brought to this place with little expence, and if the number of regular troops which may be raised by the time & spared for the purpose should be thought insufficient, I have no doubt but an ample supply of good rifle men, who live with in three days march of the spot would Voluntarily engage in the expedition.

“On the whole I have no doubt but we may without any unreasonable hazard establish ourselves at Cayahoga by the setting in of Winter and that by the first of May if not before a sufficient number of boats may be built for transporting the Army into the Ome [Maumee], or tawa rivers—But should the fall season prove unfavorable or any other unforeseen accident prevent our advancing to the Cayahoga this winter, yet if we can make our way good a part of the distance only, I think the object ought to be pursued as we shall be enabled thereby to commence our operations next year much earlier.

“Besides that, I think this is the best mode of carrying on the War, the sooner we show ourselves on the shore of Lake Erie, the better—such an Appearance will be a conviction to the Indians that many things which have been told them is false, and finding they have been imposed on in some things they will doubt the rest” (DLC:GW). For Knox’s observations on Putnam’s letter, see his letters to Anthony Wayne and to Putnam, both 7 Aug., at Knox to GW, that date, note 3. For GW’s thoughts on Putnam’s proposals, see GW to Knox, 13 Aug. 1792.

3For the full text of Putnam’s letter to Knox of 5 July, see Buell, Putnam Memoirs, description begins Rowena Buell, ed. The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence. Boston and New York, 1903. description ends 273–78.

4William Blount wrote Knox on 31 Aug. that the banditti’s attack of 26 June “At Zeigler’s Station, near Bledsoe’s Lick, on the North side of Cumberland River” left four Americans dead, four wounded, and thirteen as prisoners. “Of these prisoners, nine have been regained by purchase, made by their parents and friends, from the Cherokees, Shawanese, and Creeks, at the Running Water; of the four which remain, one is a Miss Wilson, now with the Creeks, the other three are negroes” (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 1:276). For the attack on Maj. John Doughty’s party in early 1790, see GW to the Chiefs of the Choctaw Nation, 17 Dec. 1789, source note.

5On 15 Aug., Knox wrote to Governor Blount: “The five companies of Infantry and one of horse, you have ordered into service, if the companies are nearly full, would amount to a pretty formidable force. If sufficiently alert and active, it would seem to be a reasonable expectation, that they would intercept and chastise some of the banditti that have lately given your government so much trouble, and the south western frontiers of Virginia such serious alarms” (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 4:163).

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