George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Post Vincennes Citizens, 20 November 1793

From Post Vincennes Citizens


Post Vincennes [Northwest Territory] 20 Novr 1793

The Petition ofthe Inhabitant of Post Vincennes humbly sheweth,

That your petitioners having lately heard of the publication of the Laws of Congress, made for the regulation of the Commerce with the Indians, and of your proclamation in congress forbidding any person whomsoever to establish himself upon lands belonging to them;1 being ignorant whether we are comprised therein; wishing to second as much as possible, the good and just intentions of the United States; and to avoid drawing on ourselves any reproach, by precipitating the views we had of going upon Lands, which those same Indians gave to us as soon as the Peace between them and the United States should permit, we would submit to the Equity of Congress, this exposition of our Titles to those Lands in the hope that that Tribunal will guarantie to us the peaceable possession by a solemn act, and by that means enable us to commence an establishment, which we have for some time had in contemplation, and so flattering, after having groaned within the limits of a small village.

In 1742, sometime after the foundation of this post, the natives of the Country made the french and their Heirs an absolute gift of the lands lying between the point above (pointe copée en haut) and the river blanche, below the village, with as much land on both sides of the Wabash as might be comprised within the said limits. At first the ignorance of the value of these Lands was the reason why there have been no authentic writings concerning this Donation; but such as were in existence, an unfortunate Register carried off with several other consequential papers; afterwards the war of 1759 prevented the obtaining of them. However the Doners ratified the Gift in all the Councils which have since been held; both with the officers of France, and with those of his Britannic Majesty, and when the English Agents in 1774, came to purchase lands of the Indians, the Donors at that time also ratified anew the said Donation. We observe that at the time of the purchase made by the English, as they wished to deceive the unfortunate Indians, by inserting in the contract, both sides of the river instead of one, which the latter consented to dispose of, they would not subscribe to it.2

The last year in Councils, the first which have been held between the United States, and these Indians, they unanimously spoke of this donation in these Terms. “Americans this is the first time I have come to see you, and to hearken to you. I shall, however, tell you the Truth. Our Fathers gave to the French and their Heirs, all the lands from la pointe coupée and the river blanche on both sides of the Wabash river; to enable them to live, and for the pasturage of their animals. The French and us are but one people; Our bones are mingled in this earth: We are not now come to take it from them. On the contrary we say that all those who are here dwell here. These lands are theirs. We have never sold Lands. I do not think that there is a son capable of selling the Grave of his mother; were we to sell our lands the Grand Source of Life, would be displeased, for we should also sell the Bones of our Fathers, and the roebucks, and we should die with hunger. I do not come to jest with you, or to ridicule our brethren the french. I refer to the writings for which our Fathers have given to the French. Writings properly drawn never deceive. Tell the Great Chief, what I have just said. They are our unanimous sentiments.” 3

It would doubtless be advantageous to us also to state here in detail the endless difficulties we have surmounted; the dangers we have braved on the part of the Indian enemies of our neighbors, because we were not willing to abandon this Country; The reiterated and expensive Efforts we have used since our establishment, to keep our neighbors within the limits of moderation and to prevent their inroads on our brethren; The favorable disposition towards the United States in which Genl Clarke found us, as well as our neighbors by the means of our Councils; In a word the considerable losses we have experienced, principally because we had fraternised with the americans, and took the advantage of supporting our rights with them: But we had rather appeal to the Equity of the United States, than to all these considerations, however dear they may be to our recollection; persuaded as we are, that Congress will dissipate our doubts by an act, in which regard will be had to these circumstances; to the little knowledge we possess of affairs of this nature; to the antiquity of our titles; and above all to our truly deplorable situation.

D (extract of translation), DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages. The caption on this document states that it was “signed by Pierre Gamelin & 15 others.” The document was “Faithfully translated from the Original by Go. Taylor Jr 4 apl 1794.” and enclosed with GW’s message to Congress of 15 April 1794. The House of Representatives referred the document to a committee, which submitted a report on 30 April, but the report was tabled (for the report, misdated 3 April, see 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).

1The petitioners were referring to “An Act to regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes,” 1 March 1793 (Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends , 1:329–32).

2The congressional committee rejected the inhabitants’ claim based on the 1742 grant, arguing that the grant had not been produced, that its extent could not be ascertained, and that, as the grant was to the French government and not the inhabitants, their individual claims had already been acknowledged and any surplus belonged to the United States by right of cession from France to Great Britain and from Great Britain to the United States. The extent of the land ceded by the Indians in 1742 remained unclear. Although the 3 Aug. 1795 Treaty of Greenville reserved to the United States “The post of St. Vincennes on the river Wabash, and the lands adjacent, of which the Indian title has been extinguished,” the 7 June 1803 Treaty of Fort Wayne conceded, “it has been found difficult to determine the precise limits of said tract as held by the French and British governments” (Kappler, Indian Treaties description begins Charles J. Kappler, ed. Indian Affairs. Laws and Treaties. 5 vols. Washington, D.C., 1903–41. description ends , 2:41, 64). Boundaries were agreed on at that treaty. The “English agents” were probably the representatives of the Wabash Land Company, which purchased land bordering the Wabash River in October 1775 (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 , 1:338–40). Point Coupee on the Wabash River was about twenty miles above Post Vincennes.

3The petitioners were referring to the treaty with the Wabash and Illinois Indians concluded at Post Vincennes, 27 Sept. 1792 (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 , 1:338). Sentiments similar to those quoted appear in the remarks of a “Peankeshaw Chief” reported in the proceedings of the treaty (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 , 358–59).

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