KNOX, Henry (1750-1806), Secretary of War. Letter signed ("H Knox Secy. of War") TO CHIEF CORNPLANTER (ca 1732-1836) "and other Chiefs of the Seneka Nation, on or near the waters of Allegheny River," Philadelphia, 7 January 1792.
3 pages, 2o (402 x 250 mm) on fine paper watermarked "WHATMAN," text in a large clerical hand, papered seal of the U.S. on page 3, original folds discreetly reinforced in a few places, a few small holes at fold intersections, maroon morocco gilt protective case.
CONCILIATING THE SENECA, IN THE WAKE OF ST. CLAIR'S DISASTROUS DEFEAT: "GENERAL WASHINGTON REGARDS YOU AS OUR FAST FRIEND, AND HE WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU..."
The disastrous defeat suffered in November 1791 by American forces under Arthur St. Clair in the Northwest Territory precipitated a crisis in Washington's administration and forced a complete review of policies towards the frontier tribes. Although Cornplanter's Senecas, with other tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, had sided with the English during the Revolution, they had accepted peace overtures from Washington, ceded considerable land and had come to be regarded as a model of how western tribes might be dealt with. St. Clair's military disaster, news of which spread rapidly through the tribes, raised concern that the Senecas might seize the opportunity to void their alliance with the U.S. and join the hostile factions of the Northwest. Knox's letter is evidence of this deep concern: "Brothers, Open your ears...it is by General Washington's orders, the great chief of the United States, I speak to you." Knox continues: "The unfortunate defeat of our troops at the westward does not dishearten the United States, and I hope it does not you. It is true we lament the blood that has been spilt in a war which you know we wished to avoid. You know this as well from the mouth of our great chief General Washington, as from the endeavors of Colonel Proctor, whom I sent you last Spring. But the number of men we have lost, we can easily replace, and therefore although the continuance of the war will be troublesome, yet in the long run we must conquer."
"The United States have wished to be at peace with the Miami and Wabash Indians but they have refused to listen to our invitations and have continued to murder our people. Brothers, the United States must, and will protect their frontier inhabitants, and if much evil befall the bad indians, they will have brought it on themselves. General Washington regards you as our fast friend, and he will take care of you. Lieutenant Jeffers tells us you have been threatened by the bad indians. If this should be the case you had better remove near his garrison. Or shall we build a fort near where you are, to which you may resort, in case of danger. Speak, for we wish to consider you and your people as part of ourselves."
"I have sent you a few presents to replace those things which some bad people plundered you of last spring. Receive them as an earnest of the good will of the United States, and let us know what other articles you wish, and they will be sent you. Let nothing shake your friendship..." A note of J. Stagg, Chief Clerk of the War Department at the bottom of page 3 explains that "Ensign Lewis Bond" delivered two copies of the letter to the Indians "at the Seneca Town, Connestatoga on the Allegheny River in the State of New York..."
Cornplanter, a moderate, remained vocal advocate of peace, at great personal cost, but at the important Augleize conference of the tribes in September, he was unable to prevail. Further warfare in the Ohio Valley was inevitable (as witness the St. Clair disaster in following lots). In reaction, as Richard Morris writes, "a new breed of Americans, and a new breed of leader...would in the longer run achieve the wholesale annexation of Indian lands" through "a ruthless program...incompatible with with notions of amicable Indian-white relations..." (The Forging of the Union, p. 189). Published in American State Papers, vol. 4, p. 226.