George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Hawkins, 11 January 1793

From Benjamin Hawkins

Senate Chamber 11th of Jany 1793

I send you herewith the papers mentioned this morning.1 Mr [Robert] Morris acknowledging himself in the Senate, a party concerned, (and as such, would not vote) moved to postpone the consideration of the last memorial, assigning as the reason, “that the Indians in question, would soon be in this city, that the company meant to apply to them, on the subject, and had reason to believe, that they would not hesitate to acknowledge the validity of their claim.”2 I have the honor to be, with the Sincerest attachment sir, your obedient servant

Benjamin Hawkins

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1An entry in GW’s executive journal indicates the receipt of this letter on this date and describes its enclosures as “a pet[it]ion from persons calling themselves the Illonois & Wabash Land Companies which had been presented to the Senate during their last session—with the report of a Committee of the Senate upon said petition, and the observations of the agents of said Companies upon the Report” (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 9–10). The petition of 12 Dec. 1791 from the Illinois and Wabash Land Company, signed by stockholders James Wilson, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and president of the company, William Smith, an Episcopal clergyman and former provost of the College of Philadelphia, and John Shee, the treasurer of the city of Philadelphia, reads: “That, during the years 1773 and 1775, your memorialists purchased from different Indian Tribes, aborigines and possessors of the Country, lying on part of the waters of the rivers Ilinois and Ouabache, two parcels of land, as described in the deeds now in their possession, and which, when required, are ready to be produced.

“That the consideration, as specified in the aforementioned deeds, was at least as valuable as any that was given on similar occasions—That the negociation was of the most publick notoriety—That the meaning and intention of the parties were interpreted and explained by persons duly qualified, of whom his Britannick Majesty’s interpreter was one; all deposing, that they were present, either at the delivery of the bargained property to the Indians, or at the execution of the deed, as will be found authenticated by Hugh Lord Esquire, captain in the eighteenth british regiment and then commanding in that Territory. The registry of Kaskaskais will also shew the record of the whole transaction.

“That further formalities (if, from the British government, more were necessary to be obtained) were prevented by the almost immediate rupture with Great Britain.

“That the property of the Lands in question was at the time of purchase in the natives.

“That however clear the claim of the Company to the whole of their purchase may be; they hesitate not to express their willingness and desire that a reasonable compromise upon the subject may take place between the United States and them.

“They therefore pray, That your honorable house may appoint a committee to hear and report upon, the justice of their case, and such proposals as they shall lay before it. This prayer they with confidence, hope will be complied with; both from your known love of justice and the evident advantage that must result to the community, if by a compromise with the company, the necessity of a second purchase from the natives wou’d be precluded. Of this but little doubt can be entertained since the Indians never have denied, and are still ready, as the Company are credibly informed, to acknowledge the honesty of the purchase made from them by your memorialists” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

The report of the U.S. Senate committee, apparently made sometime between December 1791 and April 1792, reads: “That the Claims of the petitioners are founded on two deeds mentioned in the said petition, one of which to William Murray and others who are called the Ilionois Company is dated July 5th 1773—and the other to Lord Dunmore and others who are stiled the Wabash Company bears date October 18th 1775.

“That the said petitioners have proposed to surrender and convey to the United States all the Lands described or meant to be described in the abovementioned Deeds from the Indians on the Proviso that the United States reconvey to the Company one fourth part of the said Lands.

“That in the opinion of the Committee Deeds obtained by private persons from the Indians without any antecedent authority or subsequent confirmation from the Government could not vest in the Grantees mentioned in such Deeds a Title to the Lands therein described.

“That the said Petitioners do not suggest any such antecedent authority or subsequent confirmation in the present case—and therefore in the opinion of the Committee the said petitioners have not a legal Title to the said Lands.

“That the proceeds of the sales of Lands in the western Territory belonging to the United States are appropriated towards discharging the Debts for the payment whereof the United States are holden.

“The petitioners alledge that the considerations specified in the said Deeds were paid to the Indians and were at least as valuable as any that were given on similar occasions, and that the Indians named in the said Deeds were owners of the Land—On these points the Committee give no opinion—but for the reasons above expressed they think it would not be expedient for the government of the United States to accede to the abovementioned proposition of the Petitioners” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

The memorial from the Illinois and Wabash Company of 11 April 1792, signed by the same men as the earlier petition, reads: “That they have seen the Report, which your Committee have made upon the former Memorial on behalf of the said Company.

“That the said Committee have assumed as law, and as the basis of their Report, a Principle, which, in the humble Opinion of your Memorialists, is not founded on the Law of the Land.

“Wherefore your Memorialists pray that they may be heard, personally or by Counsel, before you, in opposition to the principle of the said Report” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

This appeal for congressional recognition of the company’s pre-Revolutionary War purchases of four tracts of land, containing an estimated 60 million acres in the Northwest Territory, was denied. For a brief history of the Illinois and Wabash Land Company and its unsuccessful attempts to validate its claims, see Alvord, Illinois Country description begins Clarence Walworth Alvord. The Illinois Country, 1673–1818. Chicago, 1922. description ends , 301–2, 340, 381–87. See also Account of the Proceedings of the Illinois and Ouabache Land Companies (Philadelphia, 1803); ASP, Public Lands, 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 1:27, 72–75, 160–61, 189, 2:108–20, 253.

2For the current visit to Philadelphia by representatives from the Illinois and Wabash Indians, see James Wilkinson to GW, 1 Nov. 1792, n.1. At GW’s command Tobias Lear wrote Henry Knox later on this date “to transmit to the Secretary a letter & its enclosures which the President has recd from Mr Hawkins.

“The President requests that the Secretary will take the subject of this letter & papers into consideration—and see the President upon them tomorrow morning at nine O’clock—and that the Secretary will then bring with him the Book—or documents of Instructions which have been given to the Commissioners who have been appointed to treat with the Indians—The President expects at that time the heads of the other Departments to be with him also.

“The President Observes that it will not be necessary to have any of the Instructions &c. copied for the purpose of bringing here” (DLC:GW).

On 12 Jan. 1793, according to GW’s executive journal, the “Heads of the Departments and the Attorney General of the United States, waited on the President this morning at nine o’clock, according to appointment. . . . The Secretary of War was this day directed by the President to make inquiry of the Interpreters, whether any persons & who had held any conversation with the Indians since they have been in the City on the subject of Land—and to order the Interpreters, in the most pointed manner, not to communicate to the Indians a single sentence from any person relative to purchasing their Lands” (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 11).

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