George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Knox, 22 August 1792

To Henry Knox

Mount Vernon Augt 22 1792

Dear Sir,

In my letter of the 15th I acknowledged the receipt of yours of the 11th;1 since which your dispatches of the 16th are come to hand, and convey but a gloomy prospect of peace with the Indians, in either hemisphere; but shew the necessity of preparing more vigorously if possible for the dernier resort. That the Western Indians are stimulated to acts of hostility on one side, and every mean which can be devised to set aside the treaties wch exist between the Southern Indians and the U. States, & to encourage the former to break with us on the other admits of no doubt in my mind; and that it may be a concerted plan between certn Powers to check the growth of this rising Country, is far from improbable—diabolical as it may seem.

The enclosure of Genl Putnams letter of 9th of July, enables me (which I could not do before) to form some idea of his proposition to establish a Post on the Muskingham;2 and ‘though I shall give no decided opinion on this particular case, my sentiments, generally, with respect to Posts, are not changed—and are shortly these. that except for the preservation of Stores, and the security of convoys upon a communi[catio]n they are of no use but to protect the people within them—for unless the Garrison is of such strength, & can detach in such force, as to bid defiance to the enemy it is always cooped up. Except for the purposes I have mentioned, of what advantage are Forts Hamilton, St Clair & Jefferson? The strength of Stationary parties are soon discovered by the Indians and when discovered, are liable to be cut off, unless they confine themselves solely to the defence of the Post—& of what avail would this be on the Muskingham or elsewhere? Posts can be insulted, or avoided at the option of the enemy in a covered Country—but the best vigilence of the most cautious Ene[my] cannot prevent scouting parties falling on their trail. Besides, we shall never be respectable at any point if the Troops are divided, & subdivided for the quietude of particular settlements or neighbourhoods: nor will they ever be disciplined, and under due subordination whilst they are scattered over the Country in small parties under Subaltern Officers; except when they are employed in ranging, which is an essential part of their Military educatn in the Service for which they are designed.

If all the measures which have been pursued by Governmt to convince the hostile Indians of the just & honorable intentions of the U. States towards them should prove ineffectual we may certainly calculate upon a powerful opposition from their Combind force; in which case, we shall not only be unprepared to penetrate their Country, this Year, but there appears to me to be very little prospect of doing it early in the next; unless there can be some stimulus to the recruiting Service; and the Officers absolutely restrained from enlisting improper men—for I am told, notwithstanding the pointed instructions which have been issued to them on this head, that boys in many instances, and the worst miscreants in others are received: to the last of which may be attributed the number of desertions that are reported to the War Office.3 Under this view of the matter, your intimation to Genl Wayne respecting the Chicasaws and Choctaws was prudent & proper; but I conceive, nevertheless, if a few of each Southern Nation say a Six or 8 respectable characters was to visit & remain with the Army as long as should be agreeable to themselves—Be well fed & cloathed—& in all respects treated with attention & kindness, it would be an effectual inducement to the coming of the number that might be required next year?4

I perceive by Mr Belli’s letter that the difference between supplying the Troops with their Rations by Contract, and by a purchasing Commy must be very great indeed, although he has not given the Wages, & other charges of the latter gentry. I am of opinion that the difference in favor of the latter will be found from the nature of things much greater on the exterior than it would be in the interior Country—and as the public pay for all lost provisions (by the enemy) is at the expence of Stores Guards &ca it is a matter worthy of serious investigation & consequent decision—Consult therefore with the Secretary of the treasury, & act as the result shall appear best.5

The hair must have stood on Major S——head, & a stake full in his view, when his letter of the 8th of July was writing to Genl Wilkinson, or the style of it would certainly have been varied.6 With esteem & regard I am Dr Sir Yrs &ca



1The letter of 11 Aug. from Knox has not been found.

2In his letter from Fort Washington of 9 July, Putnam wrote Knox: “Whether the plan of making an Establishment on Lake Erie at Cayahoga as proposed in my letter of yesterday be adopted or not, I beg leave to suggest the propriety of fixing a post some where on the Muskingum River to be occupied by about three companies two of which should be riflemen, they should be employed in scouting up the Muskingum and towards the Hockhocking—they would be a great protection to Ohio County and Washington in Pennsylvania, as well as to the settlements on the Muskingum and the Inhabitants on both sides of the Ohio as far down as Belleville (from whence there is no settlement until we come to the great Kenhawa) until offensive operations are determined on, these troops should be posted at the Waterford Station which is twenty three miles by Water up the Muskingum (and fourteen by land) but as soon as the business of treating is over they should be posted farther up the river; and provided supplies can be furnished they ought to be fixed as far up as the Mouth of Licking Creek—to this place loaded Boats may pass at almost any season—the only difficulty lies in the danger in passing up the River.

“The greatest part of these troops on the advance of the Militia towards San Dusky should join them on the march and after alarming San Dusky if thought necessary may fall away North East and join the Army” (DLC:GW).

3The problem of desertion was addressed in the general orders issued at Pittsburgh on 9 Aug. 1792 by Henry De Butts, aide-de-camp to Wayne: “Desertion having become very prevalent among the Troops at this place particularly upon the least appearance or rather apprehension of Danger that some man (for they are unworthy of the name of Soldiers) have so lost in every sence of honor and duty as to desert their posts, as Sentries by w[h]ich treacherous, base and cowardly conduct, the lives and Safety of their brave Companions, and worthy citizens, where committed to Savage fury.

“The Commander in Chief therefore determined to put a stop to such a banefull practice, by the most exemplary punishment, as well as by liberal rewards, and hereby promises to every citizen, or Soldier, the Sum of ten dollars, for each and every deserter, that may be apprehended and brought to this place with reasonable costs.

“The Commander in Chief also promises a reward of ten dollars, to any Soldier, who will discover any intention of desertion in any other Soldier or Soldiers—to the end that such Soldier or Soldiers, may be secured and punished agreeably to the rules and Articles of War” (Burton, “General Wayne’s Orderly Book,” description begins C. M. Burton, ed. “General Wayne’s Orderly Book.” Collections and Researches Made by the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, 34 (1904): 341–733. description ends 358; printed in the Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser on 17 Aug. 1792).

4For Knox’s statement in a 27 July letter to General Wayne that it was too late in the year to launch a military campaign using Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians against the hostile Indians in the Northwest Territory, see Knox to GW, 16 Aug. 1792, and note 5.

5Deputy quartermaster general John Belli wrote Knox on 12 July from Lexington, Ky., that he had “purchased 230. cavalry horses” and “19 Yoke working oxen,” that forage was impossible to obtain at that time, and that he anticipated a plentiful corn crop in October. He expected the cost of the horses to average $70 each and oxen $35.25 each, the oxen to weigh from 1,200 to 1,800 lbs. per yoke. He noted that prices for supplies were lower when bought with cash rather than merchandise. Belli informed Knox that “should the mode of supplying the army (with provisions) by a purchasing commissary be preferred to the present plan,” he was interested in such an appointment (DLC:GW). He also enclosed a “Short Sketch of the Cost of a Ration at Fort Washington” in which he analyzed the cost of buying and transporting beef, flour, and whiskey to that fort. Belli concluded that after allowing 10 percent for lost cattle, damaged flour, and “lost whiskey by leakage,” the daily ration per soldier would not cost “above 3½ pence Virginia currency” (DLC:GW).

For the regulations that Hamilton had already developed for purchasing supplies for the U.S. Army, see Hamilton to GW, 10 Aug. 1792. For “proposals for the supply of rations for the Western Posts” and for a list of the daily rations allowed each recruit, see Hamilton to Otho H. Williams, 11 Aug. 1792, n.1, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 12:195–96.

6The letter to Gen. James Wilkinson has not been identified.

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