George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 29 September 1792

From Henry Knox

War department September 29th 1792


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 24th instant.

I have agreeably to your orders written to General Wayne in strong terms to take immediate measures to obtain a knowledge of the numbers and designs of the hostile Indians. I believe the Wabash is the principal channel through which this can be obtained—There is a person in this town lately from Niagara, from whom I am promised some information—this will be however british reports.1

I did not submit to you my statement for the ulterior disposition of the troops, as I conceive that some existing circumstances of the frontiers might render it expedient to wait your return.

The idea of hutting the troops has been suggested to General Wayne.2

His last letter, of the 21st instant, mentions nothing material; he had given orders for an additional quantity of forage—and suggests an additional Officer to each company; the consideration of which will be deferred until your arrival.3

Colonel Sproat does not possess the requisite of a liberal education. He was considered a good Inspector of a division under the Baron Steuben. I submit a letter of his for your inspection.4

In order to show the improper conduct of Mr Morgan I enclose a copy of a letter of his written on the twentieth instant, to which I have given no answer.

As I am persuaded that he will consider the intimation of his memorial to you, a reason for his not obeying immediately any order I may give him, perhaps it will be best to suspend the ultimate order for him to repair to Pittsburgh until your arrival.5

I have the honor to submit a letter from General Pickens and another from Governor Blount since their return—Mr Allison has not arrived.6

It seems absolutely necessary that some person should be actually in the Creek Nation in order to prevent by persuasion and bribes the horse stealing and other depredations complained of—A War with the Creeks would generate all sorts of Monsters—It may be an easy matter to light it up but almost impossible to suppress it. I have the honor to be sir with the highest respect Your obedient Servant

H. Knox


1Knox wrote Wayne on 28 Sept.: “It is of the highest importance . . . that you should be possessed as accurately as possible of a knowledge of the numbers of your Enemies and of the tribes to which they belong. . . . You will therefore to the utmost of your power endeavor to ascertain these facts by all the ways you can devise as well from Detroit as by the way of the Wabash—let the channels be as diversified as possible so that by a comparison of one account with another a satisfactory result may be found” (Knopf, Wayne, description begins Richard C. Knopf, ed. Anthony Wayne, a Name in Arms: Soldier, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation; The Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence. Pittsburgh, 1960. description ends 111).

2Despite Knox’s omission, GW outlined his opinion on the disposition of the troops during the upcoming winter in his letter to Knox of 28 September. GW expressed his views on quartering the army for the winter in his letter to Knox of 24 Sept. (first letter), and Knox included GW’s thoughts in his letter to Wayne of 28 Sept.: “It is suggested by the President of the United States that it may be proper to hut the mass of the troops during the Winter excepting those which shall be destined to form the respective garrisons of the posts. The idea is mentioned that such tools as shall be proper for this business be seasonably provided by the Quarter Master General, if he shall not have a sufficiency on hand—the final position of the troops will be deferred until the arrival of the President about the fifteenth of next Month” (ibid., 110–11). GW arrived in Philadelphia on 13 Oct. in order to prepare for the beginning of the second session of the Second Congress (see GW to Anthony Whitting, 14 Oct. 1792).

3Wayne, in his letter to Knox of 21 Sept., wrote: “The principle,—if not the only defect (in my humble Opinion) in the Organization of the Legion & Sub Legions, is that of too few Commissioned Officers, in proportion to the Non Commissioned Officers & privates, considering the service, for which they are intended—perhaps a Captain Lieutenant with the pay of Lieutenant wou’d have a good effect, as in that case, the present Lieutenants might receive brevets of Captains—the Ensigns & Cornets that of Lieutenants, & Ensigns Appointed to each Company.

“At first view it may appear, a heavy additional expence, but in the end I am confident, it will be found both advantagious & Economical—you will have a choice of fine young fellows of education, who may be sent forward to the Legion as a Military school, whilst the recruiting Officers are completing their respective Corps; at all events the Majors ought to have Brevet Commissions of Lieut. Colonels so as not to be Commanded by Militia Lieut Colonels” (ibid., 106–7). Knox commented on Wayne’s suggestions in his letter to Wayne of 28 Sept.: “Your ideas relatively to an increased number of Officers will be transmitted to the President of the United States—But I believe he will not approve the idea of brevet rank as he two or three Years ago expressed his disapprobation of that sort of rank” (ibid., 110).

4The enclosed letter from Ebenezer Sproat (Sprout) has not been identified. During the Revolutionary War, GW had appointed Sproat inspector for Gen. John Glover’s brigade on 29 Mar. 1778 and a subinspector under Inspector General Friedrich von Steuben on 11 Aug. 1779. Sproat wrote GW on 15 April 1792 asking for a military appointment, but he did not receive one at that time. For Sproat’s current interest in the office of adjutant general of the army and his failure to acquire that position, see Knox to GW 15 Sept., and note 11. Sproat finally obtained a federal post when GW appointed him the inspector of the revenue for the second survey in the District of Ohio on 10 Dec. 1794 (see Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:164–65).

5For background on the court-martial of John Morgan and his attempts to have his trial moved to Philadelphia, see Knox to GW, 15 Sept., n.10, and 22 Sept. 1792, n.5. In his letter to Knox of 20 Sept., Morgan wrote from Philadelphia: “I was honored last evening with your answer to my letter in the morning, dated by mistake the 20th instead of the 19th requesting I might have my Tryal before the Court Martial now sitting in Philadelphia.” He then rebutted paragraph by paragraph Knox’s refusal of a change of venue, beginning with Knox’s observation that there were not enough qualified officers in Philadelphia for a proper court-martial: “Suffer me Sir to ask you whether this Statement contains one single reason, or semblance of reason, for the refusal of my Request, after my having been upwards of two hundred days in Arrest? And more especially when there are at this moment, in this City, double the number of Officers necessary for my tryal; and four times the necessary number are at this moment, and to your knowledge, within two or three days Ride of it! And I believe scarce a day has passed since the day of my Arrest, when there have been a lesser number! Permit me again to ask Sir, whether my particular Case is of less consequence to the Public, than the Case now under Consideration of the present General Court Martial. I believe I may venture to say it is not. You know Sir that the Rules and Articles of War declare ‘No officer who shall be put in Arrest, shall continue so more than eight days, or until such time as a Court Martial can be established’ And you know too, that I have been in Arrest more than two hundred days, during which time, one or more Courts Martial have been established in the City of Philadelphia, and yet I am refused my trial there, although my accuser is and has been on the Spot, or in its neighbourhood during the whole time! Is this Sir a wise measure? or is it a just one? . . . Your next Paragraph states that were it proper to detain all the officers now in the City of Philadelphia, they would amount to a much less number, than thirteen, which the Articles enjoin when practicable; and that my case would seem to require the highest number. To this I beg leave to answer; that for some days past there have been Ten officers in the City: Vizt Two Majors, four Captains, two Lieutenants, and two Ensigns, and there are many more in the neighbourhood; how then Sir do these amount to a much less number than thirteen?

“Permit me again to ask, Sir, whether it is not practicable, to order thirteen officers to assemble and constitute a General Court Martial in the City of Philadelphia; where my accuser resides, and where he has been ever since the date of my arrest, except when on some pleasurable excursions into the Country at his own Will? You know Sir that it is practicable. But let us suppose it were not. permit me to ask, ought this to deprive me of the right, to be tried by a lesser number, which the Articles of War give me, in the following Words. Article 1st Administration of Justice ‘General Courts Martial may consist of any number of Commissioned Officers from five to thirteen inclusively.’ And Article 16th ‘No Officer or soldier who shall be put in Arrest or Imprisonment shall continue so for more than eight days or until such time as a Court Martial can be assembled.’ I cannot but be of opinion that witholding this right from me is an Arbitrary and reprehensible breach of the Articles of War, and for which you are liable to Impeachment. . . . Permit me Sir to ask with due respect, what injury to the public service, can arise from my being tried at Philadelphia, instead of Fort Washington? Allow me to declare Sir, that I can refute every Argument which you or others can adduce on this Head. And I doubt not you know I have it in my power to do so. Your order dated the 29th of March last was, ‘to repair to Fort Washington, for my trial, because as your orders express, there could not then be assembled at Philadelphia, a competent number of Officers to constitute a Court Martial’ Whereas there were then more than treble the number of Officers necessary for the purpose, in the City, and its Vicinity, doing little, and most of them no Duty.”

Morgan then disputed Knox’s claim that he had not heard previously of Morgan’s readiness to stand trial: “Have you forgotten Sir my repeated applications for a Court Martial for my Tryal? If you have, I beg leave to refer you to them, and they will convince you that you have had several intimations, and that I have made direct applications for a Court Martial for my Trial; and as none has been appointed, that you alone are the cause of my continuing in Arrest!

“Should you attempt to throw it on the President, my reply will be, that it was your duty to have informed him of the practicability of Assembling, at Philadelphia, a competent number of Officers to constitute a Court Martial.”

Morgan reminded Knox that he intended to appeal to GW so that “a General Court Martial may be constituted for my Tryal at Philadelphia where the Parties are and all the evidences may be conveniently Assembled, And where the Gentlemen of approved abilities may be had as Judge advocate and Counsel. And this is the more incumbent on me, as it is expected by several of my brother officers who esteem your order for my going to Fort Washington as an unwise and arbitrary Punishment for a supposed crime before tryal, and tending to deprive me of the advice, and of the Evidence, I may require for my Justification. And especially too as this order, if submitted to without a remonstrance, may be drawn into precedent and some military tyrant may, at a future day, order a supposed offender from Georgia to the Lake of the Woods.

“As this Letter may be adduced as Testimony at my Tryal, permit me to remark, that it appears to me a little extraordinary, that the papers I called for out of the War Office so long ago as the 27th of March and my repeated application the thirtieth of March as necessary to my trial have never yet been furnished to me: I complain of this, because it was materially necessary to me, to have had them at that time. I beg leave now to repeat that request.

“Permit me also to say that so material an evidence as Major [Henry] Gaither being ordered to Georgia, has surprized me, but if his Testimony which Major [Thomas] Butler published in the Pennsylvania Federal Gazette No. [ ] proving that Major Gaither did actually report to General St Clair in the night of the 3d of November, can be admitted as testimony at my Court Martial, no Inconvenience can arise to me, but you know Sir, that the Testimony of an Officer, can not be admitted, before a Court Martial but in person.

“So long ago as the 3d of March, Captain [Jacob] Slough requested the public to suspend their opinion with regard to this Business and he pledged himself to prove by officers and Gentlemen of the Army, then at a distance, that what I said was false and that he did actually receive his orders from and make report to General [Richard] Butler; If there is no impropriety therein, I would ask the favor to be informed of the names of these Officers and Gentlemen of the Army, previous to my Court Martial; and that he may be officially reminded of his promise. As it has been reported that I have declined appearing before a Court Martial, or to that Effect, I shall take the necessary step to contradict the report.

“It is true that I have often declared his Excellency General St Clairs Arrest of me to be void, in as much as it was Arbitrarily illegal, and unmilitary: Illegal as a military officer on Furlough, is not liable to arrest, and unmilitary for want of the necessary form—But if it had been legal and in due Form. I am advised that it is now void, from the unjust studied delays and oppression I have experienced, as already stated in this Letter.” In a postscript written the following day from Prospect, N.J., Morgan adds: “My being obliged to come into Jersey to consult my Papers as to dates of several Transactions mentioned in this Letter, is the cause of its not being sent the date it was written” (DLC:GW). No memorial concerning Morgan’s court-martial from Morgan to GW has been found.

6Andrew Pickens and William Blount had returned from a peace conference with the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians on 7–11 Aug. (see 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 1:284–88). Pickens, in his letter to Knox of 22 Aug. from Knoxville, Tenn., wrote: “Agreeably to your request with Governor Blount I attended the conference with the Chickasaws and Chactaws near Nashville for the proceedings of which I refer you to his report.

“No advices were received from General Wayne tho’ the business was not concluded before the 9th instant, hence no attempts were made to induce any part of either of those Nations to join the Arms of the United States but from private conferences with individuals there were good grounds to believe that a part of both would, if they had been requested.

“But permit me to say that it is in my opinion best that they were not requested and that they may probably be used to more advantage against the Creeks who from their conduct, as well since the Treaty of New York as before, evince a determination never to desist from murdering and robbing the defenceless frontier citizens of the United States until they are chastized and restrained by the hands of Government” (DLC:GW).

Blount, in his letter to Knox of 31 Aug. from Knoxville, reported: “On the 10th instant the Conference with the Chickasaws and Choctaws ended, there was a very full representation of the former but not of the latter, owing there is reason to believe to the Spanish influence. the Minutes of which will be forwarded to you by Mr [David] Allison who leaves this in ten or fifteen days for Philadelphia.

“During the conference General Pickens and myself received the strongest assurances of peace and friendship for the United States from both Nations and I believe they were made with great sincerity.

“With respect to any part of them turning out to join the arms of the United States I refer you to General Pickens’s letter of the 22d instant forwarded herewith by Mr Tate [William Tait] and I beg leave to add that my opinion perfectly agrees with his respecting the Creeks.

“The Cherokees as well as the Creeks commit depredations and deserve to be punished, that is the young and unruly part of them, for the Chiefs to a Man, except Double Head who was a signer of the treaty, I have great reason to believe most earnestly wish for peace and friendship, but to punish them with a view to giving peace to the frontiers would be like lopping off a Bough from a tree for the purpose of killing it, the root of the evil is the numerous and insolent Creeks and it is they who encourage and lead forward the too willing young Cherokees to murder and rob. By Mr Allison I shall forward you a report upon the state of the four Southern Nations in which I shall be as particular as the information I am in possession of will allow.

“Annexed is a list of the killed and wounded in this territory since the date of my last letter to you, and by Mr Allison I will forward a list containing the whole number of killed wounded and made prisoners since January 1791, with remarks shewing by what Nation.

“I have heard of some letters from your Office in care of Captain Springs who is gone to Kentuckey but have not received one since that of the 22d of April.

“Mr Tate the Bearer is an Inhabitant of Nashville, a merchant, a man of veracity and well informed as to the occurrences of this Country.”

According to Blount’s annexed list of those wounded and killed since 26 June, nine people had been killed, six “wounded and escaped,” and thirteen made prisoners, of whom nine had been “regained by purchase made by their parents and friends” (DLC:GW). For the list of those killed, wounded, and taken prisoner in the Southwest Territory since 1 Jan. 1791, see 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 1:329–32.

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