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Secretary of War Orders Payment for Georgia State Militia Called Out to Prepare for War With the Creeks
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I am very much inclined to think the claim of Georgia to the whole will be supported.

Despite a 1790 peace treaty, small raiding parties of Creeks and local white militias continued to cross the disputed western border of Georgia to commit depredations. Painting an alarming picture of barbarous Indians in 1793, the governor of Georgia sought and received the promise of federal support for defending the frontier, though President Washington and the Secretary of War were clear that they did not approve of the governor’s plan to wage war.

This order represents an important point in the contentious relations between the state of Georgia and the federal government over defending the Georgia frontier against the Creeks. President Washington had already appointed the writer, Secretary of War Timothy Pickering, as Secretary of State; when he wrote this letter, he was filling both positions. Pickering was premature in thinking the additional claims of Georgia would be supported. Congress repeatedly denied the state’s request for payment for several times the number of militia that the President had authorized until 37 years later, when the potential for conflict with the Cherokee caused the U.S. House of Representatives to pay Georgia’s claim fully.

TIMOTHY PICKERING. Autograph Letter Signed, as Secretary of War, to William Simmons, January 8, 1796, [Philadelphia]. 1 p., 7½ x 12 in.

Inventory #25998       Price: $1,750

Complete Transcript

                                                                        War Office Jany 8, 1796.


            On the papers relative to the Georgia militia, there can be no need to hesitate on the measure of remitting to Mr Freeman the balance of 22,505 9/100 dollars, and if the sum is ready, or arrangements made for the remittance to day, let it be done.

            From the examination I have given the papers respecting the prior claim, particularly Genl Knox’s letter of June 10th 1793, in connection with Gov Matthews’s letter (or certificate) dated May 8th 1795, and in referrence to Govr Telfairs of May 8, 1793, I am very much inclined to think the claim of Georgia to the whole will be supported.

            But your immediate object I suppose to be the remittance of the above balance.

                                                                        Your obt servt
                                                                        T. Pickering

Historical Background
In the summer of 1790, twenty-seven Creek leaders traveled to New York City and negotiated a treaty with Secretary of War Henry Knox. At Federal Hall on August 13, 1790, a large crowd of citizens witnessed President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and Secretary Knox sign the first treaty in the history of the new United States. In this Treaty of New York, the Creeks ceded a significant portion of their hunting grounds east of the Oconee River, and agreed to turn over runaway slaves to federal authorities. The U.S. offered agricultural implements and interpreters to encourage the adoption of agriculture. The Creek signatories, however, did not speak for all members of the Creek or Seminole nations, and the fact that Georgia had not been consulted also embittered many Georgians. Both Creeks and white settlers eager for more land made incursions across the treaty line, which was never fully implemented.

On March 9, 1793, Secretary of War Knox wrote to inform Georgia Governor Edward Telfair that the federal government would establish a magazine of one thousand “stand of arms” and ammunition in Augusta to protect the southwestern frontier. In the same letter, however, Knox rejected the state’s plan to establish blockhouses every twenty miles on the frontier as hopelessly inefficient and expensive.[1]

On April 3, Governor Telfair forwarded to Knox news about the murder of five men and a girl and the supposed capture of others by a party of Creek Indians. Six days later, he sent reports of stolen livestock, and asked for much more arms and ammunition. In late April, Knox reassured the governor that the promised weapons were on their way. Suspecting that the governor was overreacting, Knox separately told the local federal commander to “calm every attempt to raise a storm” but that, “in case of real danger, the country ought to be protected by the militia.”[2]

On May 8, Telfair wrote from Augusta: “Such is the havoc and carnage, making by the savages...that retaliation by open war becomes the only resort.... Let no idea of peace so far amuse as to divert the necessary and immediate preparations.... The field is now taken; the people must be protected, and a failure, in this juncture, will affect the operations of Government in a serious degree. The agent for supplies has afforded much relief by furnishing the men called into service, and, on a continuation of such supplies, will depend the fate of Georgia.”[3]

President Washington’s cabinet considered the situation on May 29, 1793,[4] and Secretary Knox conveyed to Governor Telfair the authority to call into service one hundred horsemen and one hundred infantry from the militia, at federal expense, to repel “inroads” by the Creeks. He also noted that “from considerations of policy, at this critical period, relative to foreign Powers, and the pending treaty with the Northern Indians, it is deemed advisable to avoid, for the present, offensive expeditions into the Creek country.”[5]

On June 10, Knox wrote to Governor Telfair, “The State of Georgia being invaded, or in imminent danger thereof, the measures taken by your Excellency may be considered as indispensable. You are the judge of the degree of danger, and of its duration, and will undoubtedly proportion the defence to exigencies. The President, however, expresses his confidence that, as soon as the danger, which has induced you to call out so large a body of troops, shall have subsided, you will reduce the troops to the existing state of things;... provided the safety of the frontiers will admit the measure.... As a general and open Creek War, in the present crisis of European affairs, would be a complicated evil of great magnitude, the President…is anxiously desirous of avoiding such an event.... If a few of the most violent of the depredators could be put to death, it be considered as satisfactory.”[6]

On July 24, Telfair reported that the Creeks were “not confident in their own strength, nor generally, at this period, disposed to war: that part of the nation who profess amity, still adhere to their former application for our people to go forward, in force, to destroy the five inimical towns, who have committed murders and outrages. My former opinion on this subject, admits of no change. By a sudden stroke at those hostile towns, we will, in all probability, effect a restoration of property as well as the liberation of unfortunate captives from among us, now in that nation. To destroy their towns and crops, and possess ourselves of prisoners, will ensure peace on a solid basis; and no other principle can be of any duration.”[7]

Governor Telfair planned a fall expedition to march five thousand militia into Creek territory “to chastise the refractory towns.” Constant Freeman Jr., the War Department’s representative in Georgia, wrote that that the expedition “appears to be a very popular measure,” though Ambassador James Seagrove reported that most Creeks were “desirous of continuing at peace with the United States,” but the “Executive of this State thinks differently.”[8] Freeman managed to stop the proposed expedition, remaining in Georgia as a liaison with the War Department.[9]

On May 14, 1794, Knox wrote to Telfair’s successor, George Mathews (Georgia governor from 1793 to 1796), telling him that President Washington “consents to your proposition relative to the defensive protection of the frontiers of Georgia so far as to the establishment of a block house every twenty five miles of the line exposed to danger and garrisoning the same with one Subaltern one Corporal and fifteen privates – these men to be of the militia of Georgia and to be engaged until the first day of January next unless sooner discharged.”[10]

In the same month, Mathews allowed General Elijah Clarke to establish the Trans-Oconee Republic on Creek lands. Upon learning of Clarke’s illegal fort and settlement, President Washington ordered Mathews to destroy them, and the governor suppressed the rogue state.[11]

From 1794 to 1799, Freeman forwarded several estimates of militia services provided in Georgia beyond those authorized by President Washington. After receiving the first, Knox required explanations and a certificate that the expenses were solely for defensive purposes.[12]

On May 8, 1795, Governor Mathews certified that “the services performed by the militia under the orders of my predecessor, Governor Telfair, in 1793, were founded on the most pressing exigencies.... The defence was continued by me on the principle of that arrangement, it being, I conceived, indispensably necessary for the protection of the State....” Freeman forwarded Mathews’ response to Knox’s successor as Secretary of War, Timothy Pickering.[13]

Seven months later, War Department Accountant William Simmons sent Pickering an estimate of the reimbursement due to Georgia, which totaled $22,505.09.[14] He also reported on additional claims totaling $82,513.34, “which the Agent says is not perfect as the Pay of the Officers has not been calculated on many of the Rolls because their Rank bears no proportion to the men they have actually commanded.” Simmons, finding “it impossible to select from the Estimate any parts thereof that might be considered as authorized, suspended the whole, conceiving it proper that they should be submitted to the President of the United States or referr’d to Congress.” Pickering, by then appointed Secretary of State, continued to lead the War Department until January 27, 1796, when James McHenry became the third Secretary of War.

On the date of this letter, January 8, 1796, Simmons wrote to Freeman: “Since closing the foregoing letter, I have received one from the Secretary of War in which he has decided on that part of the militia claim which I conceived expressly authorized by the President of the United States, and has agreed that the balance being 22,505 9/100 dollars be remitted to you... This decision has come too late to forward the money by this post, but it shall be forwarded to Mr [Daniel] Stevens in Charleston—subject to your orders—by the next Post. The claim for 82,573 Dollars will also be decided on before long.”[15]

In February 1799, Freeman provided to Simmons a statement of facts. Though there may have been as many as 1,200 militia in service at one time, Freeman was certain “the number greatly exceeded what had been contemplated by the President.” He concluded that all the militia services performed in Georgia in 1793 and 1794, “except the hundred horse, hundred foot and the spies, for which appropriations have not already been made, are termed unauthorized; because they exceeded the numbers limited” in Knox’s letter to Telfair of May 30, 1793. However, he had no doubt that “the Citizens of Georgia never thought the force authorized by the President adequate to the protection of the frontiers....” He concluded that the militia “have been induced to believe they should be paid, because the Executive of Georgia conceived himself authorized to call them into service.”[16]

The question of federal payment of the Georgia militia persisted for thirty-three years. The War Department consistently claimed that Georgia had kept more troops in the field than were required or authorized, while the state insisted that Knox had given the governor discretionary authority. Representatives from Georgia introduced claims totaling approximately $130,000 in Congress year after year. Several times, a select committee of the U.S. House of Representatives investigated the matter and returned a report against paying the claims. In 1827, the House finally ruled that Georgia should be paid the whole amount, based not on the merits but largely on new issues related to the Cherokees in Georgia.[17]

Meanwhile, in 1813 and 1814, American settlers became involved in a civil war within the Creek Confederation. In the resulting Creek War, British traders in Florida and the Spanish supported the Red Sticks faction with arms and supplies, while the U.S. allied with the Choctaws, the Cherokees, and the Lower Creeks. After General Andrew Jackson’s army decisively defeated the Red Sticks Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814, Jackson forced the Creeks to sign a treaty ceding more than 21 million acres of land in Alabama and southern Georgia. Later, as president, Jackson advocated for the Indian Removal Act, passed by Congress and signed by Jackson in 1830. Under its provisions, the U.S. Army forced most of the Southeastern tribes to migrate to the Indian Territory [Oklahoma] west of the Mississippi River.

Timothy Pickering(1745-1829) was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College in 1763. He represented Salem in the Massachusetts General Court and served as a justice in the County Court of Common Pleas. After leading a regiment early in the Revolutionary War, Pickering accepted George Washington’s request to become adjutant general of the Continental Army in 1777. In 1780, the Continental Congress elected Pickering Quartermaster General. After the war, he tried several business ventures without much success. In 1787, he was a member of the Pennsylvania convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. In 1791, President Washington appointed Pickering as Postmaster General. In 1795, he was made Secretary of War for a brief time, and then Secretary of State from 1795 to 1800. After Pickering objected to plans to make peace with France, President Adams dismissed him in May 1800. A passionate Federalist, Pickering represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate from 1803 to 1811 and in the House of Representatives from 1813 to 1817. Charged with reading confidential documents in an open Senate session, Pickering was censured by the Senate in January 1811. Failing to win re-election, Pickering retired to his farm in Salem, Massachusetts.

William Simmons (1757-1823) was a clerk in the comptroller’s office in 1781, then the Treasury Department, and then as clerk to the Commissioner to the Quartermaster’s Department in 1784. President Washington appointed Simmons as accountant to the War Department in April 1795. He served at all three federal capitals—New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. President James Madison dismissed him in July 1814 for “bitter hostility to the government” and “rudeness to his superiors,” particularly Secretary of War John Armstrong Jr. For his services in the Continental Army, he received a land grant in Ohio, where he later settled.

Constant Freeman Jr.(1757-1824) was born in Massachusetts and served in the Revolutionary War as a lieutenant in 1776 and as a captain-lieutenant in the artillery from 1778 to 1783. In July 1793, he became agent for the War Department to supervise federal military affairs in Georgia. In February 1795, he was promoted to major in the corps of artillerists and engineers, and in 1802 was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

George Mathews(1739-1812) was born in Virginia and was a merchant and planter. Mathews quickly became a senior officer in the colonial forces and served as a member of the House of Burgesses. During the Revolutionary War, he led the 9th Virginia Regiment, was captured with his regiment at the Battle of Germantown in October 1777, and spent four years as a prisoner of war, including two years on a British prison ship. Exchanged in 1781, he became a brevet brigadier general in September 1783. After the war, he moved to Georgia, becoming a member of the General Assembly. He served as Governor of Georgia from November 1793 to January 15, 1796. He allowed the creation of the illegal Trans-Oconee Republic on Creek lands, but suppressed General Elijah Clarke’s rogue state when public opinion shifted. Mathews’ involvement in the Yazoo Land Fraud led to his retirement, and he moved to the Mississippi Territory, then led a filibuster against Spanish-held East Florida.

Edward Telfair(1735-1807) was born in Scotland and immigrated to Virginia in 1758. He later moved to North Carolina and then in 1766, to Savannah, Georgia, where he became a successful merchant. Telfair represented Georgia in the Continental Congress in 1778, 1780, 1781, and 1782, and signed the Articles of Confederation. In 1783, he was a commissioner to negotiate with the Chickamauga Cherokee. He also negotiated to settle the northern boundary of Georgia with North Carolina. Because the land in question was generally regarded as Creek land, the Cherokees readily signed the treaty, but the Creeks refused. Secretary of War Henry Knox instructed Telfair not to retaliate against the Creeks. He served as Governor of Georgia from January 1786 to January 1787 and again from November 1789 to November 1793. During his second term, he illegally granted land to speculators as part of the Yazoo Land Fraud.

Condition: Overall Very Good: professional infill to some chipped edges; one tear mended and fold wear reinforced. Overall toning; ink bold.

[1]Henry Knox to Edward Telfair, March 9, 1793, American State Papers, Indian Affairs, 1:363.

[3]Edward Telfair to Henry Knox, May 8, 1793, American State Papers, Indian Affairs, 1:369.

[5]Henry Knox to Edward Telfair, May 30, 1793, American State Papers, Indian Affairs, 1:364.

[6]Henry Knox to Edward Telfair, June 10, 1793, American State Papers, Indian Affairs, 1:364.

[7]Edward Telfair to Henry Knox, July 24, 1793, American State Papers, Indian Affairs, 1:370.

[8]Constant Freeman Jr. to Henry Knox, September 4, 1793, American State Papers, Indian Affairs, 1:425.

[10]Henry Knox to George Mathews, May 14, 1794, Papers of the War Department. See also Henry Knox to George Washington, May 1, 1794, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

[11]See Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, July 13, 1794, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

[14]William Simmons to Timothy Pickering, December 15, 1795, Papers of the War Department. Simmons calculated the amount due to the State of Georgia for militia, spies, and scouts for the period from July 1793 to August 1795 to be $56,505.09. From this total, he deducted $34,000 already sent to Freeman, leaving a balance of $22,505.09.

[17]John K. Mahon, “Military Relations between Georgia and the United States, 1789-1794,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 43 (June 1959), 154-55.

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