Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO HENRY KNOX, SECRETARY OF WAR. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XII (1790-1794)
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TO HENRY KNOX, SECRETARY OF WAR. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XII (1790-1794) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XII (1790-1794).
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TO HENRY KNOX, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 19 August, 1792.
In my letter of the 15th, I promised you my sentiments on Mr. Seagrove’s1 communications; and, though I am not enabled to do it so fully as I could wish, I shall nevertheless give them as fully as I can.
His letters, and the enclosures therein contained, with the evidence in support, go to points which may be classed under six heads.
1st. Spanish interferences to prevent the treaty between the United States and the Creek nation from being carried into effect. To accomplish which, these Indians, together with the Cherokees, Chickasaws and Choctaws, are invited to a grand council at Pensacola; where, if they will attend, it is intimated to them, they shall be furnished with arms, ammunition, and goods of all sorts. An agent of Spain, a Captain Oliver, who is established at Little Tellassee in the Creek nation, and supposed to be acting in concert with McGillivray, has forbid their running the line, that was established by treaty with these people, promising them the support of Spain against any measures, which may be pursued by the United States, in case of their refusal; and, in a word, aided by McGillivray and Panton,1 is stimulating all the southern Indians to acts of hostility against the United States; to facilitate which, he is distributing goods and holding talks with the chiefs. Three things, it is said, will be attempted at the proposed meeting at Pensacola: 1st, to establish posts in the Indian country. 2d, to fix three agents amongst them, of whom McGillivray is to be the principal. And, 3d, to exclude the citizens of the United States from having any trade with these Indians. To carry the whole of this plan into effect, it is further said, that five regiments of about six hundred men each, and a large quantity of ordnance and stores, are actually arrived from Old Spain, and the like number of troops are expected from the Havana; and suspicions are alive, that the capture of Bowles2 was a preconcerted scheme between the Spanish government and himself.
2d. The turbulent disposition of the settlers on the western frontier of Georgia, and their endeavors (as appears by the declaration of Colonel Alexander and others, which could be adduced,) to oppose the measures of the general government, and to bring on a war between the United States and the Creek nation; with the nefarious means practised by them to accomplish this project, and the effect it has had upon the latter who are afraid, though generally welldisposed towards the United States, and in all their public talks have given strong assurances of their intention to execute the treaty, and the attempts to induce them to meet at Rock Landing on the Oconee, in the vicinity of these characters.
3d. His conditional engagement to meet the lower Creeks on the head of St. Mary’s River in November next. His opinion, that, with more extensive powers, and a larger field to display in, he should be able not only to counteract the unprovoked interference of the Spaniards, by keeping the Indians in our interest, but could even engage them to act for us, if circumstances should make it desirable; but, to do this, he must be furnished with goods, and be authorized to distribute them as occasion should require. That, but for his endeavors to support the authority of McGillivray, and to reinstate him in the good opinion of his nation, who began to see into his views, and nine tenths of it to despise him, this might have been in a more progressive state than it is at present.
4th. The necessity of restricting the licenses of traders, and passes to people of other descriptions, who, under various pretences, (but oftentimes with bad intentions,) go into the Indian villages; and the expediency and the advantages, which would result from having proper forms for both, with checks to prevent counterfeits and impositions on the Indians.
5th. The probable consequence of a severe drought to the Indians, and the policy of relieving them from impending famine.
6th. The intemperance of Major Call; his improper conduct in raising three troops of horse, with promise of payment from the general government; leaving a party on the southwestern frontier of Georgia without an officer, or even a sergeant; and the agent’s opinion of the necessity of a respectable force on the southwestern frontier of that State, and the little use of them in its present stations.
These heads, as well as I can recollect, contain the substance of Mr. Seagrove’s communications, on which I give the following sentiments and observations.
1st. The conduct of Spain in this business is so unprovoked (by any event that has come to my knowledge,) so mysterious, and so hostile in appearance, that, although the evidence is strong and corroborated by a variety of information through a variety of channels, and even confirmed by McGillivray himself, yet the mind can scarcely realize a procedure so base and inhuman, as the encouraging (not only without the exhibition of complaint, but under professions of good neighborhood and friendship towards us) a war, which must expose helpless women and children to the relentless fury of savages, and to the cruelties of the tomahawk and scalpingknife; but the evidence of their intrigues to set aside the treaty, to exclude the United States from having trade or intercourse with the southern Indians, will scarcely admit of a doubt; and there is too much reason to suspect that McGillivray has an agency in promoting these measures.
My opinion, therefore, is, that the commissioners of Spain, in Philadelphia, should be informed, delicately, and perhaps informally, (until matters can be more fully investigated or developed,) that, though we are ready to acquit the Spanish government of measures so unfriendly to the United States, yet the evidence of these proceedings in some of its officers is too strong to admit of a doubt, and of too important a nature to pass over in silence; that it creates serious alarms in the minds of our citizens in the southern quarter, and gives much trouble to the government of the United States, which has no views incompatible with good faith towards Spain, and with justice and honor towards the Indians.
Something to this effect was written or spoken to these gentlemen by the Secretary of State, on the first representation of this matter from the southern agent for Indian affairs; but what notice was taken of it by them, or whether any, I do not recollect to have been informed. Inquiry, however, should be made; but, whether documents respecting it are to be found in his office, or are deposited among the private transactions in his own keeping, is uncertain. In the latter case no information can be obtained in time.
2d. My opinion on this head is, that Governor Tellfair should be written to, and informed in delicate, but in firm and unequivocal terms, that the United States, from a concatenation of causes are so delicately circumstanced as to render peace in the southern quarter indispensably necessary, if it be possible to preserve it upon just and honorable terms; that government has received information, unequivocal in its nature, of designs in some of the frontier inhabitants of Georgia, not only to impede but absolutely to oppose running the line, which was agreed upon as a boundary between that State and the Creeks; and of conduct, in some of them, tending to provoke war, rather than to promote peace with these Indians; that it was (and subsequent events have proved it) with great difficulty the boundary, then agreed on, could be obtained; that now it has become a law of the land, and, if the Indians can be prevailed on to carry it into execution, it must be enforced; and, lastly, to exhort him by every motive to peace and good order, that he would use his influence and address to redress all turbulent and illegal proceedings in this behalf, as the consequences cannot fail to be distressing from a contrary conduct.
3d. Although the opinions and propositions of the southern agent ought, in this case, to be received with a due degree of caution, inasmuch as he is removing the theatre of action from Rock Landing to his own or brother’s store, at the head of the St. Mary’s, covering thereby that frontier where his interest is more immediately affected; building his own consequence upon the ruins of another, as occasion and circumstances may require; acquiring a power to distribute goods, which, though they are limited and issued under certain restrictions, may nevertheless be abused; and investing himself with more ample power to act from the circumstances of the moment; I say, notwithstanding the liability to abuse in some or all of these cases, I am of opinion from the circumstances which exist and press, and from the delay which would result from references, at the distance he is from the seat of the government, that he ought, as far as I have the power of doing it, to be instructed—
To hold a meeting with the Indian chiefs, at the time and place mentioned in his letter of the 27th ultimo,—and,
That he should, under defined restrictions, have authority given him to distribute goods as circumstances and his own judgment shall dictate.
That he ought to counteract the nefarious schemes of Spain, by all the influence and address he is master of.
That if, upon further and more unequivocal proof, McGillivray’s duplicity and treachery should appear more evident, that he is, in that case, to destroy as far as it is in his power the consequence of that man in the Creek nation; and, as the most effectual step towards it, and serving the United States, to take, if he can, his place in the nation.
4th. The propriety of this restrictive proposition is apparent, but to draw the line is difficult. To vest it solely (which I believe would be the least evil) with the Indian agents would increase their consequence amazingly, and would give them in a manner, if they are indirectly engaged in trade, a monopoly thereof, and all other intercourse with the Indians; and, in the instance before us, would create much jealousy and disgust in the executive of the State of Georgia. Under this impression of my sentiments, decide as shall appear best upon a full view of the case. The idea of an engraving, with the proposed check, to prevent counterfeit passes and impositions, is a good thought, and merits adoption.
5th. If the Indians should be reduced to the deplorable situation, which is apprehended, by an act of Providence, which human foresight is unable to avert, it is my opinion, that we ought, if they exhibit signs of good dispositions towards us, as well from motives of policy as those of humanity, to afford them relief. But the power of the executive to do this, the state of the treasury, the extent of the evil, and the consequences of giving to one nation and not to all, if it should be asked, are matters to be considered before any explicit assurance is given, that supplies will be granted.
6th. There can be no doubt of the propriety of bringing Major Call before a general court-martial for his intemperate conduct, for authorizing the raising of three troops of horse at the expense of the Union (unless as commanding officer he was instructed or empowered to do it, of which I have no recollection), and for leaving a party of soldiers on the southwestern frontier, without an officer, or even a sergeant, to command and provide for them.
As to the necessity of having a respectable force on the southwestern frontier of Georgia, and of the little use of those on the more western part of the State, no reasons are assigned for either by which a judgment can be formed; and, having no accurate map of that country with me, I am unable to give any other sentiment on either of these points, than that, for the reason which has been given under another head, this measure should be decided on with caution.
I do not give these opinions, or any one of them, as decisive, or as directions to be implicity followed; because that would render deliberation, and the request contained in my letter of the 15th, nugatory. They are given as crude and undigested first thoughts only, to be closely examined, compared, and combined with other information, which may be found in the public offices, and the letters and instruction drafted accordingly.
Let these (except the communication, if any, to the commissioners of Spain) pass through my hands unsealed. I am persuaded there will be no delay on account of disapprobation and consequent alterations. The express not expecting, as he says, to have proceeded further than Mount Vernon, will want a supply of money to take him back, to be accounted for with the Indian agent. He has already received two guineas from me.
I presume Mr. Seagrove would wish to be placed upon some more permanent establishment, with respect to his pay; but, if there be any doubt of my power to fix this, and to render his office more stable, matters, with assurances that his services will neither pass unnoticed nor unrewarded, must remain as they are until the meeting of Congress. And as he appears to have acted with zeal and intelligence, he ought to be informed of the satisfaction his conduct has given, and to be requested, in a particular and pointed manner, to have some one or more persons in whom entire confidence can be placed, as well in their ability as fidelity, to attend the meeting at Pensacola, to watch the motions of Oliver, and to be informed precisely and accurately of the Spanish movements in both East and West Florida. Money (reasonably bestowed) must not be spared to accomplish these objects.
What is become of the surveyor Ellicott, and what is proper to be done with him? He ought not to be retained in that country at a certain expense, awaiting a very uncertain event.
I did not think of it when I was writing my letter of the 15th, but now request, that the attorney-general may be called on to aid with his sentiments in the several matters, which are referred for your consideration and decision.1
Not having thought of any character more eligible for adjutant-general than Major Fish, I request that he may be sounded, or even directly applied to. Should he be indisposed to the office, some other must be appointed without delay. With esteem and regard, I am, &c.
[1 ]James Seagrove.
[1 ]William Panton was a privileged trader at Pensacola, who supplied the Indians with goods under their agreement with the Spanish government.
[2 ]William Augustus Bowles, a native of Maryland, had served in the British army in the Revolution, deserted and lived with the Indians for some years, married an Indian woman, and after the war became an actor. Meeting with the favor of Lord Dunmore, the governor of the Bahamas, he was sent as an agent to the southern Indians, where his capacity for intrigue was developed to the cost of Georgia, Spain, and the English factor, Panton. In this business he sought to undermine the influence of McGillivray, who seized him, and delivered him to the Spanish authorities (March 12th). They sent him to Madrid, where every effort was made to seduce him from his English sympathies; but these failing, he was transported to Manila, where he remained until 1797, when he returned to America, and again became troublesome to Spanish and Americans. Gayarre, Louisiana under Spanish Domination, 315-320. Washington’s suspicion of an agreement between Bowles and the Spanish authorities was not well founded. The British minister, acting on instructions from the ministry, was strong in disavowing him, calling him an “unauthorized impostor.”
[1 ]Washington had sent Seagrove’s communications to Knox on the 15th, with a request that he lay them before Jefferson and Hamilton, and take their opinion on them.