George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Charles Pinckney, 30 September 1792

From Charles Pinckney

Charleston [S.C.], September 30th 1792.

Dear Sir

I have the honor to enclose you copies of Letters from General Pickens1 and Colonel Anderson on the subject of Indian Affairs2—To me I confess their intelligence is unexpected, for I thought the justice and friendship the United States had treated the Creeks and Cherokees with, had entirely secured their confidence and respect; and that notwithstanding the attempts of the northern and western Indians, the Spaniards, and perhaps the British, the Southern States would have been free from their hostility. To the enclosed Letters I refer you for a full statement of their situation, and as the opinions of General Pickens and Colonel Anderson on Indian Affairs are much more to be depended upon than any others I must submit to your better judgment the measures necessary to be pursued in this emergency, assuring you that while I continue in office no exertions of mine shall be wanting to carry your directions fully into execution. In answer to that part of Colonel Anderson’s letter which seems to wish my authorizing an expedition immediately into the Indian country, I have said, that having been always determined to make the federal Constitution my guide, and the individual States being very properly restrained from commencing or undertaking a war without the authority of the Union, I should not feel myself by any means justified in sanctioning a measure of that kind, even from its necessity, because however properly it might be done in this case, yet still if a precedent was once established no doubt instances would frequently occur where the Union might be involved in the most serious expenditures of blood and treasure by the unjustifiable or perhaps unprovoked and precipitate measures of interested States or individuals—I informed him I would however immediately submit the intelligence and opinions of General Pickens and himself to you, and I had no doubt but proper measures would be adopted by the general government to support our Citizens and protect their rights—In the interim I have ordered the frontiers of this Country to be put in the best state of defence the situation of the militia will admit, and have sent and mean to send them up such supplies of ammunition as the commanding Officer requires, and have directed Block houses to be built for the protection of the most exposed inhabitants of the frontier—The Regiments of Militia I have ordered to hold themselves in readiness are some of them on, others near, and none of them more than eighty miles distant from the frontier—they consist of about 8000 men altogether, of which I hope a sufficient number may be summoned if they have notice to protect it, as I have desired them to raise a corps of militia horse to each Regiment as soon as possible—I have also requested General Pickens and Colonel Anderson to send me their opinions on the subject and if they concur with me, I shall endeavour to have a deposit of ammunition &c. established in a situation sufficiently near to supply them with ease and at the same time so distant as to be free from surprize—Our upper Counties being covered in some degree by the more distant and extensive frontier of Georgia and North Carolina I am hopeful the measures I have pursued may be sufficient to protect them until some general system is adopted by the Union with respect to the War which I assure you I am apprehensive will be much more serious than the northern one as the southern States are not numerous, the frontiers extensive and exposed, the scene of action at a great distance from the seat of the federal government and the hostile tribes strong and well supplied with arms and ammunition—Georgia will be the most severe sufferer—for if a general Creek war takes place which from these accounts seems unquestionable, I have very little doubt the greatest part of that Country will soon be overrun by them—I shall write you again in a few days by Mr Barnwell,3 and remain with the highest respect & attachment—Dear sir, Yours truly

Charles Pinckney

LB, DNA: RG 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Letters Sent and Received, 1791–97; copy, DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–93, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, Reports and Communications; copy, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. The latter copy, which is docketed “Duplicate of A Letter by Burrough⟨s⟩,” lacks a dateline and is filed under the date 25 Sept. 1792. Pinckney sent his letter by Edward Burrows, captain of the brig Georgia Packet.

Henry Knox, in a letter to Pinckney of 27 Oct., wrote: “The President of the United States has directed me to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s letter of the 30th ultimo, with the enclosures therein contained, from General Pickens and Colonel Anderson, dated the 12th, 13th, and 20th of the same month” (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 1:262; see also Knox to Tobias Lear, 27 Oct., note 3).

1For background on Andrew Pickens’s past military and diplomatic experiences with Indians, see Pinckney to GW, 8 Jan. 1792 (first letter), note 3. Pickens and William Blount, governor of the Southwest Territory, had recently returned from a meeting with the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians (see Knox to GW, 29 Sept. [second letter], n.6). From Hopewell, his estate in South Carolina, Pickens wrote Pinckney on 13 Sept.: “Colonel Anderson I expect has written you fully on the state of affairs in this part of the country and the prospects there are of a war with the Creeks and some of the Cherokees, it might perhaps be well to give him some general orders in case our frontiers should be attacked and to make some necessary arrangements to prevent a surprize—Ammunition I know is very scarce in the frontier parts of this State and I find that circumstance very much discourages the people. Whilst I was in the western Country attending the treaties with Governor Blount I found that Country particularly Cumberland, in a most pitiable and distressed situation, almost continually harrassed by the Creeks and the four lower towns of the Cherokees on the Tenessee—just before we went there a small station was taken with about ninteen or twenty persons in it, all were killed or taken but three or four which made their escape, this was done by a party of Cherokees, Creeks and a few Shawanese, who had resided among the Cherokees for some years past several others were killed and wounded in that Country while I was there. From the different accounts which I had from the Chiefs of the Chickasaws and Choctaws, in private conversation, as well as from persons from that Country, all agree that the Spaniards are using all their influence with the southern Indians to engage them against the United States—and I am clearly of opinion that the Creeks are on the eve of going to war with us as well as those four lower towns of the Cherokees—I believe there is no doubt but the Chiefs and a number of the warriors of the Creeks are now at Pensacola in treaty with the Spaniards, they are soon expected here with a large quantity ⟨of⟩ ammunition for the purpose of going to war, the same thing has been offered to those tribes we have lately been in treaty with, this the Chiefs told us in confidence—but the Chickasaws appear well attached to the interest of the United States, so did the Choctaws who attended the treaty, but the Spaniards have great influence over a great part of that nation—the cause of our misfortunes with the Indians in general is of an old date, and our misfortunes in the northern Campaign the two last years, and I fear our prospects the present expedition in that quarter are not favorable—all those things are against us and encourage our enemies; were I to venture an opinion respecting our southern country it would be this, make immediate preparation for the defence of the frontiers, and as soon as possible carry a vigorous campaign into the Creek country, this would convince the southern Indians in general that we are able and determined to protect ourselves and would chastise their insolence, this might prevent the junction of more tribes against ⟨us⟩ than perhaps is now expected, it is vain to attempt treaties with the Creeks or to make any offers to them until they are chastised by the arm of government.” Pickens also reported that “Mr [Leonard] Shaw, an Agent from Congress has lately come in here and left the Cherokee nation, he thinks it unsafe at present to return, altho’ a great majority of the Cherokees appear friendly to the United States” (DNA: RG 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Letters Sent and Received, 1791–97; the missing text in angle brackets is supplied from DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

2Robert Anderson (1741–1812), who moved from his native Virginia to South Carolina in 1761, served as an officer in the South Carolina militia, beginning in 1775, and spent most of his military career during the Revolutionary War under the command of Andrew Pickens. After the war he became brigadier general of the South Carolina militia’s 4th Brigade. Anderson served eleven terms in the state house of representatives and one term as lieutenant governor, 1796–98.

Pinckney enclosed two letters from Anderson, both probably written from his estate on the Keowee River. The first letter, dated Wednesday morning, 12 Sept., contains an extract of a letter that Anderson had just received from Pickens, which reads: “Mr Shaw agent from Congress to the Cherokees arrived here last evening. . . . He says the four lower Towns of the Cherokees in the Tenessee have declared for war—with John Watts at their head who was lately with the Spaniards at Pensacola. He says they were to set out in a body on the 4th instant, and to make a stroke at Cumberland or the settlements near Knoxville on the Holstein—He expects that their numbers will be from four to five hundred, the Creeks will no doubt make a part—He says the Creek Chiefs are not yet returned from Pensacola but are expected shortly with a large quantity of ammunition for the purpose of war—The other parts of the Cherokees from Eust⟨anury⟩ this way advised him to come down here, and sent a guard with him—As you are about writing to the Governor I have sent you this intelligence, as I wish you to write fully to him as I am well assured if some immediate measures are not taken to prevent, this Country will be in a distressed situation.”

Anderson then gave Pinckney his own views on the situation: “Having previously conversed with the General, and having consulted my own reason on the present prospect of Indian affairs, my real sentiments were as communicated in the Letter, of the rectitude of which there is a strong confirmation. We can only expect now to hear of the perpetration of such acts of savage cruelty committed on the defenceless inhabitants in all quarters of an extensive frontier a circumstance which must be regretted by every feeling heart” (DNA: RG 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Letters Sent and Received, 1791–97).

The second enclosed letter from Anderson to Pinckney, which is dated 20 Sept., begins with a brief history of past attacks by the Cherokees upon the western portion of South Carolina. Anderson then wrote: “I have ordered the people to build Block houses where they are exposed and intimidated to fly to with their families, in case of alarm—I have frontier Block houses built, and building at suitable places along our frontiers at the distance of about 8 or 10 miles apart, five are on the way, some of which are nearly completed, but I believe another must be appointed to complete the chain—I have ordered trusty Spies to be constantly kept out at Toogalo and the Oconey mountain as they are the spots (in all appearance) which will be most exposed—I have ordered a few men from the more interior part of the Regiment to each of the frontier posts, but in some places there is a difficulty in providing them provisions, the settlements being thin on the frontier, the people poor, and their improvements and crops but small—I mention those matters to show what is done in the mean time, and to beg your Excellency’s further orders and directions in those matters.

“Permit me to observe that we (having had so much experience in the ways of Indian warfare) are of opinion that it is very expensive, hazardous, and distressing to carry on a defensive war with Indians. . . . Experience has discovered it to be much the better way to carry the war immediately into their own country—they seem not to be so well calculated to oppose a spirited attack in their own country as they are to take sculking wolfish advantages of the defenceless in ours—a very speedy and spirited attack in their country might perhaps rid us of a war which might become very hazardous, and expensive in the long run. We think that if a party of men could possibly be marched through the peaceable Towns and into the disaffected Towns of the Cherokees, before the Creeks made a stroke, that it might check the Creeks, at least it might keep back their premeditated stroke until the clumsy wheels of government could be got turned. But we are well aware that if the Creeks do immediately break (of which there is but little room to doubt) and the United States are obliged to carry on a defensive war, if only till next June yet it will cost them much blood and treasure; perhaps double as much as would keep an army in their country during the time—these conclusions we are warranted to draw from past experience—I just returned home from reviewing the frontier parts of the Regiment. . . . But now Sir, you may rest assured, that the moment has arrived, when the most spirited exertions of Government are necessary, and I am truly sorry that the Citizens cannot be permitted to defend themselves in the best way without the approbation of Government—I mean by an offensive war—because I am of opinion that much could be done in the course of two months from this date, much blood and treasure might be saved, by a spirited exertion before they were aware, and I have no doubt but two or three thousand of the Militia from this State and Georgia could be immediately raised to march light into the Creek country—about 500 militia horse, the rest Infantry with pack horses—Two thousand more from the Western territory and N. Carolina in the same manner to march through and destroy the disaffected Cherokee towns, which would be just on their way and meet in the Creek country, destroy what they could and so return. . . . But if your Excellency would even consent to risque your approbation to such a plan and depend upon the necessity of the case to justify the measure in the eyes of the President and Congress, I have hardly any doubt but the western country people would do their part at all ventures, for they are well calculated for such enterprizes. But if any thing of the kind was attempted to be carried into effect, General Pickens must be appointed to the command in preference to every other man, for two reasons, first because the people have confidence in him and will chearfully turn out to go under his command—and in the next place because he is most equal to the task. . . . should an expedition into their country next Spring be approbated, we are very scarce of Flour in those Southern States, as the rust killed up the wheat generally. This is an unfortunate circumstance, but there is flour enough in the northern States, which could be shipped to Savannah in Georgia and brought up in Boats to Augusta, all those things must be done this winter, else no Campaign in the Spring—then we may as well dissolve the Union, as to pretend to hold together because Georgia will be ruined, perhaps this State and several others much injured—Indeed I am of opinion (if they see Congress tardy, or relax in their exertions, as they have been against the northern tribes) they will soon have Spain to contend with and perhaps one more of the European powers.” Anderson concluded his letter by reminding Pinckney of an earlier, unfulfilled request for “arms and ammunition” (DNA: 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Letters Sent and Received, 1791–97).

3Robert Barnwell, a rice planter from near Beaufort, S.C., was elected to the Second Congress in 1791. The previous year he had delivered to GW, on behalf of Pinckney, a sketch of an Agave americana (century plant) in bloom (Pinckney to GW, 6 Oct. 1791). Pinckney’s next letter to GW was dated 14 Oct. 1792.

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