Report on Indian Affairs (1783)

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The committee, consisting of Mr. [James] Duane, Mr. [Richard] Peters, Mr. [Daniel] Carroll, Mr. [Benjamin] Hawkins and Mr. A[rthur] Lee, to whom were referred sundry letters and papers relative to Indian affairs, report,

The Committee consisting of Mr [James] Duane, Mr [Richard] Peters, Mr [Daniel] Carroll, Mr [Benjamin] Hawkins, and Mr A[rthur] Lee, to whom were referred a Report on Indian affairs, read in Congress on the 21st of April last, a letter from General Schuyler, one of the Commissioners of Indian affairs for the northern district, dated the 11th of August last, with messages to and from certain hostile Indians on the subject of peace; a letter dated the same day from Ebenezer Allen, employed to assist Mr Bull, a messenger sent by the Board of War, by order of Congress, to announce the cessation of hostilities to the Indians in the western country; a report from the Board of War dated the 19th of August, accompanying a narrative of Ephraim Douglass, another messenger to the Indian tribes, with sundry enclosures; a letter from the Commander in Chief, with instructions accompanying the same; extract of a letter to the Commander in Chief from General Haldimand, commanding for His Britannick Majesty in Canada, dated the 17th of August; a letter from the Commander in Chief dated the 26th of August, and its enclosures; and a letter from Brigadier General Irwine, dated the 3d of September instant; submit the following detail of facts and resolutions:

That they have attentively considered the several papers referred to them, and have conferred thereon with the Commander in Chief. That their report will be confined to Indian affairs in the northern and middle departments, as they are defined by the acts of Congress of the 12 of July, 1775, and to the settlement of the western country, these subjects being in the opinion of the committee inseparably connected, and the committee not being possessed of materials which enable them to extend their views to the southern district. That it is represented, and the committee believe with truth, that although the hostile tribes of Indians in the western districts northern and middle departments,{footnote: The committee report however, says "northern and western departments."} are seriously disposed to a pacification, yet they are not in a temper to relinquish their territorial claims, without further struggles. That if an Indian war should be rekindled, repeated victories might produce the retreat of the Indians, but could not prevent them from regaining possession of some part of the distant and extensive territories, which appertain to the United States; that while such temporary expulsions could only be effected at a great charge, they could not be improved to the smallest advantage, but by maintaining numerous garrisons and an expensive peace establishment; that even if all the northern and western tribes of Indians inhabiting the territories of the United States could be totally expelled, the policy of reducing them to such an extremity is deemed to be questionable; for in such an event it is obvious that they would find a welcome reception from the British government in Canada, which by so great an accession of strength would become formidable in case of any future rupture, and in peace, by keeping alive the resentment of the Indians for the loss of their country, would secure to its own subjects the entire benefit of the fur trade. That although motives of policy as well as clemency ought to incline Congress to listen to the prayers of the hostile Indians for peace, yet in the opinion of the committee it is just and necessary that lines of property should be ascertained and established between the United States and them, which will be convenient to the respective tribes, and commensurate to tho public wants, because the faith of the United States stands pledged to grant portions of the waste and uncultivated lands as a bounty to their army, and in reward of their courage and fidelity, and the public finances do not admit of any considerable expenditure to extinguish the Indian claims upon such lands; because some of the states have already assigned to the officers privates of their respective lines land to be within their jurisdictions and from which the Indians have been expelled during the course of the war, and which unless some agreement is seasonably made under the authority of Congress may excite fresh discontent and hostilities because it is become necessary, by the increase of domestic population and emigrations from abroad, to make speedy provision for extending the settlement of the territories of the United States; and because the public creditors have been led to believe and have a right to expect that those territories will be speedily improved into a fund towards the security and payment of the national debt. Nor in the opinion of the committee can the Indians themselves have any reasonable objections against the establishment recommended. They were, as some of them acknowledge, aggressors in the war, without even a pretence of provocation; they violated the convention of neutrality made with Congress at Albany, in 1775, and in return for proffered protection, and liberal supplies, and to the utter ruin and impoverishment of thousands of families, they wantonly desolated our villages and settlements, and destroyed our citizens. To stop the progress of their outrages, the war, at a vast expence to the United States, was carried into their own country, which they abandoned in dismay. Waiving then the right of conquest and the various precedents which might be quoted in similar instances, a bare recollection of the facts is sufficient to manifest the obligation they are under to make atonement for the enormities which they have perpetrated, and a reasonable compensation for the expences which the United States have incurred by their wanton barbarity; and they possess no other means to do this act of justice than by a compliance with the proposed boundaries. The committee are of opinion, that in the negotiation which they recommend, care ought to be taken neither to yield nor require too much; to accommodate the Indians as far as the public good will admit, and if they should appear dissatisfied at the lines which it may be found necessary to establish, rather to give them some compensation for their claims than to hazard a war, which will be much more expensive; but it is supposed that when they shall be informed of the estimates of the damages which our citizens have sustained by their irruptions, and of the expences which the United States have incurred to check their career, it will have a tendency to suppress any extravagant demands. Whereupon,

Resolved, That a convention be held with the Indians residing in the northern district and the western district and middle departments, who have taken up arms against the United States, for the purposes of receiving them into the favor and protection of the United States, and of establishing boundary lines of property for separating and dividing the settlements of the citizens from the Indian villages and hunting grounds, and thereby extinguishing as far as possible all occasion for future animosities, disquiet and contention.{footnote: The resolutions, following this, from "First" to "Ninthly," inclusive, were also entered in the manuscript Secret (Domestic) Journal.}

That first and as a preliminary it shall be required that all prisoners of whatever age or sex among these Indians shall be delivered up.

Secondly, That the Indians be informed that after a contest of eight years for the sovereignty of this country Great Britain has ceded all the lands relinquished States all claim to the country within the limits described by the second article of the provisional treaty between the United States and the King of Great Britain, oft the thirtieth day of November in the year 1782; that is to say, From the northwest angle of Nova Scotia, viz. that angle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of St. Croix river to the Highlands, along the said Highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the river Saint Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic ocean, to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut river, thence down along the middle of that river to the 45 degree of north latitude, from thence by a line due west on said latitude until it strikes the river Iroquois or Cataraqui; thence along the middle of said river into lake Ontario, through the middle of said lake until it strikes the communication by water between that lake and Lake Erie; thence along the middle of said communication into lake Erie, through the middle of said lake until it arrives at the water communication between that lake and lake Huron, thence along the middle of said water communication into lake Huron; thence through the middle of the said lake to the water communication between that lake and lake Superior, thence through lake Superior northward of the isles Royal and Philipeaux to the long lake, thence through the middle of said Long lake and the water communication between it and the lake of the Woods to the said lake of the Woods, thence through the said lake to the most northwestern point thereof and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi, thence by a line to be drawn along the middle of the said river Mississippi until it shall intersect the northernmost part of the 31st degree of north latitude. South by a line to be drawn due east from the determination of the line last mentioned in the latitude of thirty-one degrees north of the Equator to the middle of the river Apalachicola or Catahouche; thence along the middle thereof to its junction with the Flint river; thence straight to the head of St. Mary's river and thence down along the middle of St. Mary's river to the Atlantic ocean. East by a line to be drawn along the middle of the river St. Croix from its mouth in the bay of Fundy to its source and from its source directly north to the aforesaid Highlands, which divide the rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river St. Lawrence; comprehending all islands within 20 leagues of any part of the shores of the United States and lying between lines to be drawn due east from the points where the aforesaid boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one part and East Florida on the other shall respectively touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean excepting such islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said province of Nova Scotia.

Thirdly, That as the Indians notwithstanding a solemn treaty of neutrality with Congress at the commencement of the war; notwithstanding all the advice and admonition which could be given them during its prosecution, could not be restrained from acts of hostility and wanton devastation, but were determined to join their arms to those of Great Britain and to share their fortunes, so consequently with a less generous people than Americans they would be made to share the same fate and be might be compelled to retire with them beyond the lakes; but as we prefer clemency to rigor, as we persuade ourselves that their eyes are open to their error and that they have found by fatal experience that their true interest and safety must depend upon our friendship; as the country is large enough to contain and support us all, and as we are disposed to be kind to them, to supply their wants and to partake of their trade, we from these considerations and from motives of compassion draw a veil over what is passed and will establish a boundary line between them and us, beyond which we will endeavor to restrain our citizens from hunting and settling, and within which they the Indians shall not come but for the purposes of trading, treating or other business equally unexceptionable.

Fourthly, That the following line or lines shall be proposed to be mutually agreed upon and established between the United States and the several tribes of Indians who shall be affected thereby; or lines as nearly correspondent thereto as the Indians can be prevailed upon to adopt and approve of; that is to say,

[Beginning at the mouth of the great Miami River, which empties into the Ohio, thence along the said river Miami to its confluence with the Mad river; thence by a direct line to the Miami fort at the village of that name on the other Miami river which empties into lake Erie; thence along the last mentioned river to lake Erie, comprehending all the lands between the above mentioned lines and the State of Pennsylvania on the East, Lake Erie on the North and the River Ohio on the South East.

That if the Indians shall object against the lines above described, the said commissioners shall receive and report to Congress the proposition for a settlement of boundary to be made on the part, that the Sense and farther direction of the United States in Congress assembled may be had thereon.]

Fifthly, That the commissioners for the northern and [middle departments,{footnote: The committee report, however, says "northern and western districts."} or such other persons as may be appointed by Congress], unite together in holding one convention with the Indians inhabiting the districts aforesaid and their allies and dependents for the purposes aforesaid, and only yield to separate conventions in case of inevitable necessity.

Sixthly, And whereas the Oneida and Tuscarora tribes have adhered to the cause of America and joined her arms in the course of the late war, and Congress have frequently assured them of peculiar marks of favour and friendship, the said commissioners are therefore instructed to take particular care to distinguish the lands claimed as the inheritance of those tribes, to have them ascertained and enter into stipulations that they shall be reserved for the sole use and benefit of these tribes until they shall think it for their own advantage to dispose of the same,

[to reassure the said tribes of the friendship of the United States and that they may rely that the lands which they claim as their inheritance will be reserved for their sole use and benefit until they may think it for their own advantage to dispose of the same.]{footnote: A fair copy of the report to this point, as adopted, together with Articles Sevently, Eighthly and Ninthly, is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 30, folios 229--237.}

Provided that if those tribes shall voluntarily agree to exchange their present claims for a district more remote from the settlements of our citizens and such exchange shall not be deemed disadvantageous by the State claiming the jurisdiction it shall be lawful for the Commissioners to ratify such exchange for the better security of the said Indians.

Seventhly, And whereas the Legislature of the State of new York have granted lands in Onondaga and Cayuga to certain officers and privates in the service of the United States not only as bounties for recruiting and enlisting, but to appease the discontents which prevailed for want of their pay and as a reward for their meritorious services, the said Commissioners are therefore further instructed to take care as will as consistent with the publick peace that in the establishment of the proposed lines the said military grants be not prejudiced or impeached; but if it shall appear that the persisting in such grants and appropriations may so far irritate the Indians as to expose these United States to the dangers and calamities of an Indian war; that then it will be proper for the Commissioners to report the difficulties which shall so occur in their negotiation to the Legislature of the State of New York, and in such case it is earnestly recommended to the Legislature of the State of New York to revise the laws by which such appropriations have been made, so as to prevent the calamities of a new rupture with the Indians.

Eighthly, That the Superintendent of finance be directed to furnish such quantity of coarse goods, part of those belonging to the United States, as shall be necessary as presents to the Indians at Recommitted. the proposed negociation; and that the Commissioners lay before Congress estimates of the quantities of cloathing and other articles which will be requisite for the purposes aforesaid to the end that Congress may give the necessary orders for the delivery of such articles as are on hand, and for providing such as may not be in the publick magazines.{footnote: This report, in the writing of James Duane, is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 30, folios 35--43. It was first read September 19, and printed. The printed copy was considered in Congress, and is in No. 30, folio 193. The amendments made thereon, which are printed within brackets in this text, are in the writing of Elias Boudinot.}

That the Commissioners Secretary at War be instructed to obtain information and lay before Congress Estimates of the clothing and other articles required for the proposed negotiation, and that he appoint a suitable person to receive those articles and direct him to deliver them to the orders of the Commissioners, and to produce said orders with attested receipts as vouchers in the adjustment of his accounts at the Treasury Office.

That the Secretary at War be directed to report what sum in goods, to the Commissioners at the proposed it would be proper to limit treaty with the Indians, to give as a compensation for the cession of territory which Congress have directed to be negotiated for with the Indians.

That the Superintendent of Finance be directed to furnish such a quantity of coarse goods part of those belonging to the U.S. as in concurrence of the Secretary at War may be deemed necessary at the opening of the proposed treaty, not exceeding ____ dollars in value: And that the Commissioners lay before Congress Estimates of the further quantities of clothing and other articles which in said treaty they may find requisite for carrying the same into execution not exceeding ____ Dollars, to the end Congress may make necessary provision for supplying the same.{footnote: These three motions, the first and second in the writing of Arthur Lee, and the third in that of Abraham Clark, are in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 30, folios 187, 189 and 191. They are undated, but the indorsement and the record in Committee Book No. 186 show that they were committed this day, "with the article 8ly in the first report on Indian affairs," to Mr. [James] Duane, Mr. [Richard] Peters, Mr. [Daniel] Carroll, Mr. [Benjamin] Hawkins and Mr. [Arthur] Lee, who delivered a report October 24.}

The Committee consisting of Mr [James] Duane, Mr [Richard] Peters, Mr [Daniel] Carroll, Mr [Benjamin] Hawkins, and Mr A[rthur] Lee to whom were referred a Report on Indian affairs and the several other papers enumerated in the report which the said Committee presented to Congress on [the 19th September] last, having further considered of the matters referred to them beg leave to subjoin the following additional instructions and propositions to their said former report.

That the said Commissioners of the northern and middle Districts be instructed to obtain a particular account of the French inhabitants at Detroit, Illinois, and other villages within the territories of the United States, and that they give assurances, in the name of the United States, to those inhabitants that they shall be protected in the full enjoyment of their liberty and property.

That the said Commissioners be also instructed to obtain information of the numbers and places of residence of the citizens of the United States who have seated themselves on the north west side of the Ohio; to signify to them the displeasure of Congress that they have taken this step, with which the publick interest and repose are so intimately connected, without permission or authority; to caution them to abstain from acts of violence or injustice towards the Indians and to the peaceably among themselves; until a plan shall be instituted, under the authority of the United States, for granting settling and governing that country. That the said Commissioners be also instructed to discourage to the utmost of their power, all further intrusion into any of the territories of the United States within their respective Departments, and your committee are of opinion that to strengthen their hands in this respect, a proclamation inhibiting such intrusions ought to be issued by the United States in Congress assembled without delay.

Your Committee beg leave further to report that, in their opinion, the trade with the Indians ought to be regulated, and security be given by the Traders for the punctual observance of such regulations, so that violence, fraud and injustice towards the Indians may as far as possible be guarded against and prevented, and the honour of the federal government, and the publick tranquility, be thereby promoted. And that for these purposes and for Indian affairs in general, the standing a Committee of Congress on Indian affairs should be revived be appointed with instructions to prepare and report to Congress an ordinance for regulating the Indian trade, with a clause strictly prohibiting all civil and military officers and particularly all Commissioners and Agents for Indian affairs, from trading with the Indians or purchasing or being directly or indirectly concerned in purchasing lands from the Indians, except only by the express license and authority of the United States in Congress assembled.

And lastly your Committee beg leave to observe that they do not offer the measures which they have suggested as a sufficient security against the increase of feeble, disorderly and dispersed settlements in those remote and wide extended Territories: against the depravity of manners which they have a tendency to produce; the endless perplexities in which they must involve the administration of the affairs of the United States, or against the calamities of frequent and destructive wars with the Indians which reciprocal animosities unrestrained by the interposition of legal authority must naturally excite. Nothing in the opinion of your committee can avert those complicated and impending mischiefs, or secure to the United States the just and important advantages which they ought to derive from those Territories, but the speedy establishment of Government and the regular administration of justice in such District thereof as shall be judged most convenient for immediate settlement and cultivation.

Your committee therefore submit it to consideration whether it is not wise and necessary that a Committee be appointed to report to Congress on the expediency of laying out a suitable District within the said Territory, and of erecting it into a distinct government for the accommodation of such as may incline to become purchasers and inhabitants, as well as for doing justice to the army of the United States who are entitled to lands as a Bounty or in reward for their services, with instructions to such committee to devise a plan for the temporary government of the inhabitants and the due administration of justice; until their number and circumstances shall entitle them to a place among the States in the Union; when they shall be at liberty to form a free constitution for themselves not incompatible with the republican principles which are the Basis of the constitutions of the respective States in the union. But if Congress conceive it doubtful whether the powers vested by the Instrument of Confederation and perpetual union are competent to the establishment of such Government that then the Committee be instructed to prepare and report to Congress a proper address to the respective States for remedying the defects of the said instrument in this respect.

Your committee cannot undertake with any degree of accuracy to propose the limits of the intended Government. They however lay before Congress two projects which have been suggested for consideration viz:

  • First "That from the mouth of the great Miami which empties into the Ohio to its confluence with the Mad River. Thence by a line to the Miami Fort and village on the other Miami which empties into Lake Erie and thence by a line to include the settlement of Detroit would with Lake Erie on the north, Pennsylvania to the east, and the Ohio to the south, form a government sufficiently extensive to comply with the publick engagements and to receive moreover a large population by emigrants. It is conceived that in the first instance to confine all settlements within these bounds would be much more beneficial; even supposing no disputes were apprehended with the Indians, and that it was unnecessary to guard against those other evils which have been enumerated; than to suffer the same number of people to disperse themselves ever a country of at least five hundred thousand square miles contributing nothing to the support, but much to the embarrassment, of the federal government.
  • Secondly, that was it not for the purpose of comprehending the settlement of Detroit within the jurisdiction of the new government a more compact and better shaped District for a State would be for the above described line to proceed from the Miami Fort and village along the river of that name to Lake Erie, leaving in that case the settlement of Detroit and all the territory north of the rivers Miami and St Joseph's between the Lakes Erie, St Clair, Huron, and Michigan to form hereafter another State equally large, compact and water bound.

With regard to the southern department which comprehends the Cherokees and all the Indians within the United States to the southward of that tribe, your committee having already observed that neither the papers committed them, nor any information of which they are possessed, enable them to extend their views to the Indian affairs of that department, they therefore desire to be discharged therefrom, and that the same may be recommended to a committee better acquainted with the local circumstances of that country.{footnote: This supplemental report, in the writing of James Duane, is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 30, folio 175. There is a fair copy on folio 181. The indorsement shows that it was delivered and read September 22, and acted on October 15. According to the record in Committee Book No. 186, the state of Indian affairs in the southern department was, on October 16, referred to Mr. [Benjamin] Hawkins, Mr. [James] Madison, Mr. [Richard] Beresford, Mr. [James] McHenry and Mr. [James] Tilton. This committee was renewed December 18, when Madison was replaced by Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson; and again on January 26, 1784, when Mr. [Jeremiah Townley] Chase and Mr. [Richard Dobbs] Spaight were added in place of Hawkins and McHenry; and on March 23, Mr. [Jacob] Read in place of Triton. A report was delivered April 19, 1784.}

  • Seventhly, That the said commissioners be and they are hereby instructed to obtain a particular account of the French Inhabitants at Detroit, Illinois, and other villages within the territories of the United States, and that they give assurances in the name of the United States to those inhabitants [who shall profess their allegiance to the United States] that they shall be protected in the full enjoyment of their liberty and their [just and lawful] property.
  • Eighthly, [That the said Commissioners be and they are hereby instructed not to admit into a treaty with the said Indians or suffer to be in any manner connected with it any article, stipulation or condition whatsoever, making or confirming or tending to make or confirm to any individual or individuals any grant or grants of land whether real or pretended within the bounds of the United States as before described.]
  • Ninthly, That the said Commissioners be and they are hereby also instructed to obtain information of the numbers and places of residence of the citizens of the United States who have seated themselves on the northwest side of the Ohio; to signify to them the displeasure of Congress that they have taken this step, with which the public interest and repose are so intimately connected, without permission or authority, and to discourage to the utmost of their power all intrusions into any of the territories of the United States within their respective departments.

And whereas the trade with the Indians ought to be regulated, and security be given by the traders, for the punctual observance of such regulations, so that violence, fraud and injustice towards the Indians, may be guarded against and prevented, and the honor of the federal government and the public tranquility thereby promoted.

Resolved, That a committee be appointed with instructions to prepare and report an ordinance for regulating the Indian trade, with a clause therein strictly prohibiting all civil and military officers, and particularly all commissioners and agents for Indian affairs, from trading with the Indians, or purchasing, or being directly or indirectly concerned in purchasing lands from Indians, except only by the express license and authority of the United States in Congress assembled:

The members chosen, Mr. [Abraham] Clark, Mr. [Daniel] Carroll and Mr. [John] Montgomery.{footnote: According to the record in the Papers of the Continental Congress, Committee Book No. 186, this committee was renewed December 18, and the matter, together with the plan for a temporary government of the western territory was referred to Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson, Mr. [Cadwalader] Morris and Mr. [James] McHenry. On January 7, 1784, the committee was again renewed, both matters being committed to Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson, Mr. [Cadwalader] Morris, Mr. [Jacob] Read, Mr. [Hugh] Williamson and Mr. [Jeremiah Townley] Chase.}

Resolved, That the preceding measures of Congress relative to Indian affairs, shall not be construed to affect the territorial claims of any of the states, or their legislative rights within their respective limits.{footnote: This resolution, in the writing of Elbridge Gerry, is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 30, folio 173 ½.}

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).