WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("G:oWashington") as President, to Secretary of War [Henry Knox (1750-1806)], Philadelphia, 4 April 1794. 1 full page, 4to (9 1/8 x 7 15/16 in.). In very fine condition.
"BUY CAPTAIN [JOSEPH] BRANT OFF AT ALMOST ANY COST": WASHINGTON'S LAST EFFORTS TO SECURE PEACE IN THE TROUBLED NORTHWEST TERRITORY
Washington tells the Secretary of War to "leave no means unassayed" to pacify the powerful tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, and recommends that an emissary seek to "buy Captain [Joseph] Brant off at almost any price." American settlement and trade in the Northwest Territory had stalled in the face of growing Indian resistance and the region became a point of contention between the U.S. and Britain, which surreptitiously fomented and supported Indian resistance through agents along the Canada-U.S. border. Washington had made energetic efforts to preserve peace with the Six Nations, but in spite of several treaties, depredations and hostilities on the part of the Confederacy and other tribes intensified. On 4 November 1791, an American army under Territorial Governor General Arthur St. Clair, sent to assert control over the Ohio Valley, was decimated by a force of Indians and Canadians. Interestingly, even at this date, three years after that defeat, Knox and Washington remained unaware that Brant had been one of the leaders of that war party. In the wake of St. Clair's defeat, many frontier settlements were completely abandoned and some in Congress proposed that the entire Northwest Territory should be left to the native inhabitants and the Canadians. In February, Guy Carleton and Lord Dorchester (1724-1808), British Governor of Canada, held an important conference with the Indians, complained of American treaty violations, strongly intimated that Britain would soon join them in all-out war against the United States, and promised to permit the tribes to define their own boundary line, one the U.S., he assured them, would be compelled to accept. The text of Dorchester's inflammatory proclamation (a transcript of which accompanies the lot), was forwarded to Washington by Governor Clinton of New York, but when it was made public, Dorchester blithely denied its authenticity. Here, Washington emphatically states that he has never doubted its veracity and responds favorably to a suggestion that General Israel Chapin hold new discussions with Joseph Brant (Thayandanegea, 1742-1807) in hopes of stabilizing the volatile situation.
"Your letter of this date, enclosing one from Capt. Williamson, is received. I have never entertained any doubt myself of the genuineness of the Speech which is published as Lord Dorchester's; nor of the intentions of the B[ritish] government to keep this country in a state of disquietude with the Indian Nations; and also to alter the boundary between them and us, if, by any means, they can effect it.-"
"For this reason, I repeat in this manner, what I have two or three times before done verbally, that Genl Chapin should be instructed to leave no means unassayed to keep the Six Nations well disposed towards the U.S. and to buy Capt. B[---]t off at almost any price. Captn Williamson [a resident of the Genesse Valley in New York] affords, I presume, a safe conveyance to him..."
While Washington and Knox pursued fruitless peace initiatives, in the Fall of 1793 a trusted Revolutionary War veteran, General Anthony Wayne (1745-1809), was placed in command of a new army and established a fort at Greenville as a base of operations. Washington's circumspect reference to "buying off" Captain "B---t" is in response to Knox's proposal to pay Brant an annuity of $1,000 to 1,500 to encourage him to keep the peace. In accordance with Washington's instructions in this letter, Knox attempted to arrange a treaty conference with the Six Nations. But when General Chapin duly met with Brant and other representatives of the Six Nations on April 26, it became clear that the Iroquois Confederacy would accept no further peace overtures from Congress or from the President. Finally, in a major battle on 20 August 1794 at a site the Indians called Fallen Timbers, "Mad" Anthony Wayne and his frontier army met and defeated the confederated tribes under Weyapiersenwah (Blue Jacket) of the Shawnee, a victory which paved the way for the Treaty of Greenville (1795) which opened the lands of five states of the Northwest Territory to western settlement.
Published in Fitzpatrick, 33:313-314.