by Gerald Therrien

The Unveiling of Canadian History, Volume 3.

The Storming of Hell – the War for the Territory Northwest of the Ohio, 1786 – 1796.

During the American Revolution, when General Washington had asked General Wayne to undertake an extremely perilous enterprise – the storming of Stony Point, Wayne replied : “General, I will storm Hell, if you will only plan it.”

Part 1 – The Western Frontier

Chapter 4 – The Treaty of Peace and Friendship, August 7th 1790

President Washington, as well as dealing with the issue of peace with the Indians in the Northwest, was also having to deal with the issue of peace with the Indians in the Southwest, while at the same time beginning the structure of the future federal government.


Alexander McGillivray

While the British were manipulating and arming the Indians in the country north of the Ohio river by means of their trading posts run out of Detroit, a similar operation was also being run to manipulate and arm the Indians in the country south of the Ohio river.

In 1783, the trading firm of Panton, Leslie and Co. had been established at St. Augustine in British East Florida, by tories who were forced to leave their former homes in the United States. After East Florida was returned to Spain, nonetheless, the company continued to operate there, since there were no Spanish trading companies.

In 1786, Panton, Leslie and Co, which also operated in the Bahamas as agents for British merchants, was given a monopoly, by Spain, over all Indian trade in East and West Florida through their Creek agent, Alexander McGillivray. And thus the British, with the Spanish, set up their southern Indian-manipulation operation, to stop any further settlements in the western frontier of Georgia and North Carolina.

[Note on McGillivray: Lachlan McGillivray had become a wealthy trader in Georgia but remained an ardent loyalist and had returned to Scotland at the start of the revolution. His family property (valued at more than $100,000) was confiscated. His son Alexander returned to live with his mother (part French and part Creek) as a minor chief at a Creek Indian town. During the war, the British made Alexander a colonel and an Indian agent. After the war, in order to continue to keep the Creeks supplied with trade goods, he entered into an agreement with William Panton. Spain needed the allegiance of the Creeks as part of Spain’s (and Britain’s) plan to use the Creeks as a barrier against the American settlements, and they treated McGillivray as if he was the principal representative of the Creek nation. On June 1st 1784 at Pensacola, the Creeks agreed to a treaty with Spain, promising to make no treaties nor accept any gifts from foreigners in exchange for Spanish protection and gifts, and McGillivray was appointed Spain’s commissary – at a salary of $50 a month. At a meeting of the Creek chiefs in March 1786, it was decided to resort to arms to expel the Georgian invaders from Creek land beyond the Ogechee river. In July, McGillivray visited the Spanish governor in New Orleans, and obtained the issuance of 5,000 lbs. of powder, 10,000 lbs. of ball, along with guns, flints and other military items. Panton was to become the channel for the deliveries, and supplies were only to be issued with McGillivray’s requisition. McGillivray’s standing in the Creek nation rose dramatically.]

On May 23rd 1789, Henry Knox (still acting as the old Secretary of War of the Continental Congress, and not being appointed as the new Secretary of War by President Washington until September 12th) presented his report to President Washington on the treaties of peace that had been reached with the northern tribes of Indians since the conclusion of the war with Great Britain; and on July 6th he presented his report on the treaties of peace reached with the southern tribes of Indians. On the 7th, he detailed, in three letters to the president, the situation in the south with the Creeks, the Cherokees, and the Chickasaws and Choctaws.

On August 21st, the Senate confirmed President Washington’s appointments of Benjamin Lincoln, Cyrus Griffin and David Humphreys as Commissioners Plenipotentiary ‘for negotiating and concluding treaties of peace with the independent tribes or nations within the limits of the united States, south of the river Ohio’.

On August 29th, after receiving the advice of the Senate, President Washington issued his instructions to the commissioners that:

“The united States consider it as an object of high national importance, not only to be at peace with the powerful tribes or nations of Indians south of the Ohio, but if possible by a just and liberal system of policy to conciliate and attach them to the Interests of the union …”

– to which were added copies of treaties which had been made by the United States, with the Cherokees (November 28, 1785) the Choctaws (January 3, 1786) and the Chickasaws (January 10, 1786).

The problem was that earlier, on November 17th 1785, the Indian Commissioners, sent by Congress, could not treat with the Creeks because chiefs from only 2 towns (out of the almost 100 Creek towns) were present. The commissioners from Georgia however, signed a treaty with these two delegates – but the treaty was not recognized as legitimate by McGillivray or the chiefs of the Creek nation.

And so, President Washington’s instructions were that:

“The first great object of your commission is to negotiate and establish peace between the state of Georgia and the Creek Nation – the whole nation must be fully represented and solemnly acknowledged by the Creeks themselves to be so”.

The commissioners sailed from New York on August 31st, arrived at Augusta on September 17th, met with the governor of Georgia, continued on to Rock Landing on the Oconee river on the frontier of Georgia on the 20th, and on the 25th they met with McGillivray, along with over 2000 Creeks, with a proposed peace treaty.

On September 26th, McGillivray sent the commissioners a letter that:

“The chiefs were in council until very late last night. The result appears to be that they are not entirely satisfied with all the parts of your talk; they object principally to the boundary marked out in your talk; however, it was my decision to let the matter stand as it was for the present – the hunting season being at hand. The chiefs should take care to prevent every act of hostility or depredation on the part of the warriors during the winter, and until we heard further from you on the part of the United States. They resolve to break up and depart.”

The commissioners returned to New York without any agreement and on November 20th submitted their report to Secretary Knox that:

“We made our communications to the Creek nation, and they refused to conclude a treaty of peace with the United States; and, as in this case, we are directed by our instructions to report such plans, both defensive and offensive measures, as may be thought best to protect the citizens of the United States on the frontiers’.

But, they noted that:

“The predominating prejudices of the Creeks are certainly adverse to the Spaniards, particularly Mr. McGillivray has often mentioned and declared, that a connexion with the United States would be more natural to the Creek nation, if they could obtain such conditions of interest and friendship as would justify and induce them to break with the Spanish Government.”

On December 22nd 1789, the state of North Carolina ceded its claim of its western territory to the United States federal government – the lands west of the mountains between 35º and 36½º latitude north. After passing the House and Senate, on April 2nd 1790, President Washington signed the bill to accept the cession into the Western Territory.

On May 26th, President Washington signed into law ‘an act for the government of the Territory of the United States South of the river Ohio’, and appointed William Blount as Governor of the Southwest Territory on June 8th. John Sevier was appointed Brigadier General of the militia of Washington District (the settlements in the northeast along the Watauga, Holston and Nolichucky rivers) and James Robertson was appointed Brigadier General of the militia of Mero District (the settlements near Fort Nashborough on the Cumberland river).

The Southwest Territory would be governed by the same laws as the Northwest Territory, as laid out in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. It was now vital to reach a peace treaty with the Creek and Cherokee nations to secure peace in this new territory.

On February 15th 1790, Secretary Knox wrote to President Washington that:

“The serious crisis of affairs, in which the United States are involved with the Creeks requires that every honorable and probable expedient that can be devised should be used to avert a war with that tribe – the untoward circumstances of the case are such, that no degree of success, could render a war either honorable or profitable to the United States’.

Knox was worried that:

“The headlong passions of the young Creek warriors [and] the corrosive conduct of the lawless whites … may be easily fomented, and the flame of war suddenly lighted up without a possibility of extinguishing it, but by the most powerful exertions [and that the United States] would seriously be embroiled with Spain.”

Knox wrote that he had been in repeated conversations with Senator Benjamin Hawkins of North Carolina ‘who is well acquainted with the influential characters of the Creeks’ and who thought that the designs of the Creek chief ‘are opposed to a war with the United States, and that he would at this time gladly embrace any rational mean that could be offered to avoid that event’. Knox now proposed an ‘experiment’ – to send ‘a man of real talents and judgement’, with a letter signed by Hawkins, to McGillivray inviting him ‘to repair to the seat of the general government, provided that every facility and security should be offered’.

On March 8th President Washington approved Knox’s plan, on the 10th spoke to Marinus Willett, ‘who was engaged to go as a private agent, but for public purposes, to Mr. McGillivray principal chief of the Creek Nation’, and on the 11th, signed a passport for Willett and McGillivray for their journey to New York.

Willett set out from New York on March 15th, arrived in Creek country on April 30th and soon was able to meet with McGillivray at the house of an Indian trader living at the Killebees. Willett delivered Senator Hawkin’s letter and President Washington’s message and spoke freely to McGillivray about the reasons for a peace treaty. McGillivray was concerned about keeping open a secure trading partner for the Creeks because during 1789 the Spanish had seized four British ships at Nootka Sound and now there was a danger of war between them. Panton’s trade goods – from the British Bahamas to the Spanish Floridas – would be dislocated and perhaps ruined.

Also, in 1788 an attempt had been made by the infamous Lord Dunmore, who was now the governor of the Bahama Islands, to replace Panton’s company with another company, Miller and Bonamy of Nassau, using William Bowles, a Tory who had lived among the Lower Creeks during the revolution. Bowles tried to establish a trading post there but was unsuccessful. 

In 1789, after lengthy meetings with Dragging Canoe of the Chickamaugas to discuss coming under British protection and being furnished arms, ammunition and trade goods, Bowles then traveled, with eight Lower Creek and Chickamauga chiefs, to Halifax and on to Quebec to meet the governor, and was then sent to London to meet with Grenville and other government ministers to try to convince them of Dunmore’s plan – to seize the Floridas, and then have Dunmore take over the trade with the southern Indians, should a war break out with Spain.

[Note: Dragging Canoe and his band of Cherokees, who supported the British in the Revolutionary war, had moved westward and away from the other Cherokee towns and settled near Chickamauga Creek, and were afterwards referred to as the Chickamaugas.]

McGillivray was also concerned about Georgia, which was insisting upon the boundaries obtained in the treaties at Galphinton in 1785 and at Shoulderbone in 1788, but that the Creeks were claiming to be fraudulent.

In 1789, Georgia agreed to sell 20 million acres, from the mouth of the Yazoo river north to Georgia’s border with the Carolinas, and east of the Mississippi river, for $200,000 to three land companies.

While the United States considered their southern boundary with Spanish Florida to be 31º at Natchez, Spain considered the boundary to be 32º 22` – at the mouth of the Yazoo river. Georgia’s Yazoo land sales used the border claimed by Spain (perhaps to avoid any conflict until a settlement could be reached).

By dealing with President Washington and the national government (which wanted jurisdiction over the frontier territory of Georgia), McGillivary could avoid a war with Georgia, over the people that were already settled on the contested lands.

South Carolina had ceded its frontier territory to the federal government in 1787, and North Carolina had ceded its territory in 1789, but Georgia would not cede its frontier territory until 1804.

Willett went to a council of the Creek chiefs at Oussitche and urged them to select a delegation to accompany McGillivray to the seat of government in New York. On June 1st, Willett and McGillivray along with twenty-nine Creek chiefs left overland on the journey and were feted as they passed through Richmond, Fredricksburg and Philadelphia, and then by boat from Elizabethtown to New York, where they arrived on July 21st and were escorted by a military detachment to Secretary Knox’s house. They later met with President Washington, and also with New York Governor Clinton, and then they dined with the senators and representatives from Georgia, along with other prominent people. A reception was held on board the ship ‘America’, that had just arrived from Canton in China.

Also present in New York were Jose Viar – Spanish agent at the American capital, Carlos Howard – secretary of the East Florida governor, George Beckwith – the agent of the governor of Canada, and Thomas Dalton – agent for Lord Dunmore, who were all trying to influence McGillivray against signing a treaty.

On August 7th, a treaty was finalized by Secretary Knox and by McGillivray and twenty-three other Creek chiefs (six chiefs did not sign due to the influence of the British and Spanish agents).

The treaty read ‘that there shall be perpetual peace and friendship between all the citizens of the United States of America, and all the individuals, towns and tribes of Upper, Middle and Lower Creeks and Seminoles composing the Creek nation of Indians’.

The Creeks acknowledged that they were ‘to be under the protection of the United States of America, and of no other sovereign whatsoever’. The treaty was signed in a ceremony a week later.

The boundary started at the head of the Appalachee river, and ran down that river, the Oconee river and the Altamaha river to the old boundary line, and down the old line to the river St.Mary’s. The United States guaranteed to the Creek Nation all their lands to the westward and southward of the boundary, and that:

“In order to extinguish forever all claims of the Creek nation … to any of the land lying to the northward and eastward of the boundary … the sum of $1500 to be paid annually.”

“No citizen or inhabitant of the United States shall attempt to hunt or destroy the game on the Creek lands; nor shall any such citizen or inhabitant go into the Creek country without a passport.”

There were also secret articles to the treaty, whereby, in case Spain entered into a war with Britain, the Creek should have the right to import goods of up to $50,000 in value per year, duty free, through the ports of the United States; and McGillivary, who took an oath of allegiance to the United States, would receive a commission as an agent of the United States and as a Brigadier-General, with a pension of $1800 per year. Also, the next year both sides would meet to begin to survey the boundary line.

The thoughts of President Washington concerning the policy that should be shown to the Indians, can be seen in Article 12:

“That the Creek nation may be led to a greater degree of civilization, and to become herdsmen and cultivators, instead of remaining in a state of hunters, the United States will from time to time furnish gratuitously the said nation with useful domestic animals and implements of husbandry.”

Here we can see that the policy of President Washington (contrary to the later evil treatment of the Indian nations by President Jackson) was to assist in the assimilation of the Indian nations with modern agriculture.

After sending the Creek treaty to the Senate to be ratified, President Washington also sent to the Senate a letter on August 11th:

“Tat the United States formed a treaty with the Cherokees in November 1785 – that the said Cherokees thereby placed themselves under the protection of the United States, and had a boundary assigned them. That the white people settled on the frontiers had openly violated said boundary by intruding on the Indian lands … I shall conceive myself bound to exert powers entrusted to me by the constitution in order to carry into faithful execution the treaty of Hopewell, unless it shall be thought proper to attempt to arrange a new boundary with the Cherokees embracing the settlements, and compensating the Cherokees for the cessions they shall make on the occasion.”

President Washington would show that he fully understood the British trap that was being set up – that the British were still intent on stopping the American settlement of the frontiers, using the Indian raids.

But the Indians were highly reluctant to start a shooting war with the Americans, without having the active assistance of British troops; and, due to the peace treaty, the British could not openly join the Indians in such a war, unless they were first attacked by the Americans. But, by keeping possession of their frontier posts, the British could continue their control of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence river; by maintaining an Indian ‘buffer zone’, they could deny the Americans access to the Mississippi river; and by orchestrating the Indian attacks on the frontiers, position themselves as the future mediators between the Americans and the Indians, a position from which to manipulate the impossibility for any possible peace settlement – forever.

And now, as if by divine providence, the threat of war between Spain and Britain over the Nootka crisis created an opportunity whereby both empires now sought the alliance of America against the other.

With the office of Secretary of State ‘not being at present filled’, President Washington wrote to Gouverneur Morris on October 13th 1789:

“To have inquiries made informally by a private agent … whether there be any, and what objections to now performing those articles in the treaty which remain to be performed on their part; and whether they incline to a treaty of commerce with the United States on any, and what terms.”

In March 1790, Morris would inform the Duke of Leeds, the British Foreign Secretary, of President Washington’s offer and he received a reply in a letter on April 28th.

[This was at the same time as the British government learned of the Nootka affair.]

On May 6th 1790 in a secret letter to Dorchester, Grenville wrote:

“Relative to the possible inducements which Spain may hold out to the United States to prevail upon them to take a part against Great Britain in case of war … of hostile designs, if any such should be meditated against the forts or against Canada itself.”

Grenville added that:

“The object which we might hold out to them, particularly to the Kentucke and other settlers at the back of the old colonies, of opening the navigation of the Mississippi to them, is one at least as important as the possession of the forts, and perhaps it would not be difficult to show, that the former is much more easily attainable with the assistance of Great Britain against Spain, than the latter is by their joining Spain in offensive operations against this country.”

Earlier, on January 8th 1790, to open the 2nd session of the 1st Congress of the United States, President Washington had delivered his first State of the Union address to the jointly assembled Senate and House of Representatives that:

“… Among the many interesting object, which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined … There was reason to hope, that the pacific measures adopted with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians would have relieved the inhabitants of our Southern and Western frontiers from their depredations. But you will be perceived … that we ought to afford protection to those parts of the Union and if necessary to punish aggressors.”

Now, seven months later, President Washington had successfully concluded a peace treaty with the Creek nation on August 7th, and on August 11th had begun to arrange a peace treaty with the Cherokee nation.

On August 27th, Secretary Knox wrote instructions to William Blount, Governor of the Southwest Territory, to treat with the Cherokees.

Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, had concluded a peace treaty with the Delawares, Wyandots, Ottawas, Chippewas, Potawatomies, and Sacs, but could not reach a peace agreement with the Miamis and Wabash Indians. On August 24th, Knox wrote to St. Clair, with the President’s approval of his plan for a punitive expedition against the Miami Indians.

Also in that first State of the Union address, President Washington had stated that:

“The advancement of Agriculture, commerce and Manufactures, by all proper means, will not, I trust, need recommendation. But I cannot forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad, as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home … there is nothing, which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.’

And to the Gentlemen of the House of Representatives, the President stated that:

“I saw with particular pleasure, at the close of the last Session, the resolution entered into by you expressive of your opinion, that an adequate provision for the support of the public credit is a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity.”

Before Congress adjourned that first session on September 29th 1789, it had resolved on September 21st that:

“This House consider an adequate provision for the support of the public credit, as a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity … That the Secretary of the Treasury be directed to prepare a plan for that purpose, and to report the same to the House at its next meeting.”

The total debt of the United States was almost $80 million!!! The foreign debt owed to France was $8 million, to Holland was almost $4 million, and to Spain was $250,000. The domestic debt owed to officers and soldiers, and to farmers and businessmen, for furnishing supplies in the war, was $42 million. And the states’ debts were $25 million. The government’s source of revenue was tariff and tonnage duties. But 80% of government revenues would be needed to service the debt – with 40% for the interest alone!!!

During its recess, Secretary Hamilton prepared his report on public credit, and on January 14th 1790 he presented it to Congress. Although President Washington approved of Hamilton’s debt plan, an intense debate in Congress followed.

The opposition to Hamilton’s plan was led by James Madison, the congressman from Virginia, who earlier had worked closely with Hamilton in writing the Federalist Papers to defend the new constitution. Hamilton had recommended that the current holders of government certificates, that had been issued by the government to pay for their purchases during the war, should be paid in full – regardless of how or when they acquired them. Madison was in favour of ‘discrimination’ – finding the original holders of the certificates and paying them the difference between the current value and the full face value – a task that Hamilton said would be virtually insuperable. On February 22nd, the House voted 36 to 13 against Madison’s proposal.

Hamilton’s plan also called for the federal government to assume the debts incurred by the states in providing for their defence against invasions by the British during the war. Madison opposed this measure, since some states had paid off almost half of their obligations, while others had paid little or next to nothing of their debts. On April 12th, the House voted 32 to 29 against Hamilton’s proposal.

A compromise with Hamilton’s plan was reached. Jefferson, who had recently returned to the United States from France, and Madison would withdraw their opposition to the assumption and the payment of the debt, and Hamilton would support the relocation of the capital.

Philadelphia would become the federal capital for the next 10 years, while a new capital was being built on 100 square miles of land near the mouth of the Potomac river – land that was ceded to the federal government by the states of Virginia and Maryland.

[In 1846, the United States government would agree to return the ceded land southwest of the Potomac river, back to the state of Virginia.]

On July 16th, President Washington signed into law ‘An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the government of the United States’, whereby a few representatives changed their votes so that Hamilton’s debt plan (to assume the states’ debts) was approved.

President Washington signed into law ‘An Act making Provision for the Debt of the United States’ on August 2nd, and a new tariff ‘An Act making provision for the Reduction of the Public Debt’ on August 10th.

Upon assuming the office of the President, General Washington’s mission had been to preserve the union and its independence. Its two greatest dangers were the Indian wars on its frontier and its financial debt crisis.

President Washington was now committing the Union to that same mission.

[ next week – chapter 5 – The Battle at Miami Town, October 22nd 1790 ]

For those who may wish to support my continuing work on ‘The Unveiling of Canadian History’, you may purchase my books, that are available as PDFs and Paperback (on Amazon) at the Canadian Patriot Review :
  • Volume 1 – The Approaching Conflict, 1753 – 1774.
  • Volume 2 – Forlorn Hope – Quebec and Nova Scotia, and the War for Independence, 1775 – 1785.
And hopefully,
  • Volume 3 – The Storming of Hell – the War for the Territory Northwest of Ohio, 1786 – 1796, and
  • Volume 4 – Ireland, Haiti, and Louisiana – the Idea of a Continental Republic, 1797 – 1804,
may also appear in print, in the near future, while I continue to work on :
  • Volume 5 – On the Trail of the Treasonous, 1804 – 1814.

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