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Greathouse of Augusta County, VA

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1798, Jun 17 - Letter: George Rogers Clark to Dr. Samuel Brown, Subject: Cresap's conduct on the Ohio River in 1774

Excerpt from John D. Toy, Annual Report Of The President Of The Maryland Historical Society. 1850.

General George Rogers Clark's Letter,

I must express my hearty thanks to my friend Mr. Lyman C. Draper for his kindness in sending to me valuable memoranda and extracts from papers which he has collected during many years of labor in gathering the materials for his history of the Western Pioneers. These documents have been cheerfully furnished me in the true spirit of a liberal man, who, as a historian, is anxious to ascertain or at least to approach the truth. In the marginal notes of my Discourse I have freely quoted from and credited these manuscript sources, I shall now present a copy of General George Rogers Clark's Letter, upon which Mr. Draper relies with great confidence as disclosing an accurate account of Cresap's conduct on the Ohio in 1774; but, before I offer it for the reader's consideration, I feel bound to mention that it appears to have been drawn forth in 1798, by a letter from the late Dr. Samuel Brown, (a friend of Mr. Jefferson,) of Lexington, Kentucky, who was for many years a distinguished professor in Transylvania University.

In 1839, the late Leonard Bliss, Jr., addressed to the Editor of the Louisville Literary News Letter the following note:—

"To the Editor of the Louisville Literary News Letter:

"Among the papers of Gen. George Rogers Clark, now in my possession, I have met with the following letter of his, detailing the circumstances connected with the murder of Logan's family, which induced the Mingo Chief, in his celebrated speech to Lord Dunmore, to charge the atrocity upon Captain Cresap, and also showing clearly, that Cresap was innocent of the crime alleged, and, so far from being the monster of cruelty represented by Mr. Jefferson, and by subsequent writers who have followed his authority, that he was a prudent and humane man, and 'an advocate of peace.' The error appears to have originated in a mistake with Logan, and to have been adopted by Mr. Jefferson, in his version of the story, from the Speech. The high authority of the 'Notes on Virginia,' and the fame of Logan's Speech, have immortalized the memory of Cresap; but it has thus far been an 'immortality of infamy,'—how ill-deserved, the following letter will show. And as the descendants of Cresap are still numerous in the United States, I beg you to publish it, with this note, in the * Literary News Letter,* both as an act of justice to them, and to correct an historical error. The letter, of which this is a literal copy, is found in a LetterBook of Gen. Clark, in his own hand-writing; and is, probably, the original draft. General Clark, at the date of the letter, resided in Louisville or its immediate vicinity.

"Very respectfully,

"Your obedient servant,

"LEONARD BLISS, Jr." "louisville College, Jan. 10, 1839."

When this letter appeared accompanied by Clark's, some doubt was expressed as to the authenticity of the latter, which, though asserted to have been found in Clark's hand-writing in his letter book, was not. addressed to any one. Some time since many of the original MSS. and papers of Gen. Clark came into the possession of Mr. Draper, and among them he found the following from Dr. S. Brown, dated on the 15th of May, 1798; and in all likelihood the reply of the General was given to it on the 11th of June in the same year. The references in both letters to Mr. Thruston, prove that Clark's is an answer to Brown's:

Dr. Samuel Brown's Letter.

" Lexington, May 15th; 1798. " Dear Sir:

"At the request of our mutual friend, Mr. Jefferson, I enclose you a letter of Mr. Luther Martin on the subject of the murder of Logan's family, together with a vindication of the account of that transaction as related in the Notes on Virginia. I am sorry that it has not been possible to procure, in this place, the Baltimore paper which contains Mr. Martin's first publication on this question. The charges there exhibited against Mr. Jefferson are much more specific and more virulent than they appear to be in the letter now forwarded to you. It is possible, however, that the whole of the correspondence may have come to your hands by some other route. At all events, I presume Mr. Jefferson's answer will sufficiently apprise you of the nature of the dispute, and bring to your recollection such facts and circumstances as will tend to elucidate the doubtful and obscure parts of that interesting story.

"I remember to have had some conversation with you respecting the affair when at your house, and although the variety and important nature of the events which your conversations suggested, have in some degree effaced from my memory that distinct recollection of this particular event which I ought to have, before I should attempt to communicate your account of it to Mr. Jefferson, yet still I am pretty certain that as you related the story, any mistakes that have crept into the Notes on Virginia are not attributable to Mr. Jefferson, but to Logan himself, or to those by whom his speech was originally published. I think you informed me that you were with Cresap at the time Logan's family was murdered, that Cresap was not the author of that massacre; that Logan actually delivered the speech as reported in the Notes on Virginia, The Memoirs you have written of your own adventures, probably contain a full statement of the circumstances which gave rise to the dispute. A transcript from those Memoirs, or a statement of the business by you from memory, would be highly satisfactory to Mr. Jefferson and all his friends, and I am sure would be decisive evidence in the mind of every man of candor and liberality.

" I feel, and I am confident you must feel, sensibly hurt at a charge which can, in any degree, disturb the repose, or sully the reputation of that truly great and excellent man. I know you respect and esteem him, and I am really happy in assuring you that his respect and regard for you are equally cordial and sincere: of this, his last letter to me contains the most ample assurances. For myself, sensible that I have little which could entitle me to your friendship, I shall endeavor by my willingness to serve you, to convince you that I am truly thankful for those attentions I have received from you. And I shall consider myself singularly fortunate, if in any respect, I can be the means of rendering you and Mr. Jefferson mutually useful to each other. To your country you both have already been, and have it always in your power to be singularly useful.

"Mr. Thruston will do me the favor of carrying this letter, and I hope you will find leisure to prepare an account of Logan's speech before his return. I could wish to transmit it to Philadelphia before Congress rises, as it is possible the conveyance to Monticello will not be so safe.

"Do me the favor of presenting my most respectful compliments to the family, and be assured that I am,

"With sentiments of real respect,

"Yr. mo. obt.,


Genl. George R. Clark,

Jefferson County, Ky.

General George Rogers Clark's Letter.

"June 17, '98. "dear Sir:

"Your letter of last month, honored by Mr. Thruston, was handed me by that gentleman. The matter contained in it and in the enclosed papers was new to me. I felt hurt that Mr. Jefferson should be attacked with so much virulence on account of an error, of which I know he was not the author. Except a few mistakes in names of persons, places, etc., the story of Logan, as related by Mr. Jefferson is substantially true. I was of the first and last of the active officers who bore the weight of that war; and on perusing some old papers of that date, I find some memoirs. But independent of them, I have a perfect recollection of every transaction relating to Logan's story. The conduct of Cresap I am perfectly acquainted with. He was not the author of that murder, but a family by the name of Greathouse;— though some transactions that happened under the command of Captain Cresap, a few days previous to the murder of Logan's family, gave him sufficient ground to suppose that it was Cresap that had done the injury.

"To enable you fully to understand the subject of your inquiries, I shall relate the incidents that gave rise to Logan's suspicion; and will enable Mr. Jefferson to do justice to himself and the Cresap family, by being made fully acquainted with the facts.

"This country was explored in 1773. A resolution was formed to make a settlement the spring following, and the mouth of the Little Kenaway appointed the place of general rendezvous, in order to descend the river from thence in a body. Early in the spring the Indians had done some mischief. Reports from their towns were alarming, which deterred many. About eighty or ninety men only met at the appointed rendezvous, where we lay some days.

"A small party of hunters, that lay about ten miles below us, were fired upon by the Indians, whom the hunters beat back, and returned to camp. This and many other circumstances led us to believe, that the Indians were determined on war. The whole party was enrolled, and determined to execute their project of forming a settlement in Kentucky, as we had every necessary store that could be thought of. An Indian town called the Horsehead Bottom, on the Scioto and near its mouth, lay nearly in our way. The determination was to cross the country and surprise it. Who was to command? was the question. There were but few among us that had experience in Indian warfare, and they were such that we did not choose to be commanded by. We knew of Captain Cresap being on the river about fifteen miles above us, with some hands, settling a plantation; and that he had concluded to follow us to Kentucky as soon as he had fixed there his people. We also knew that he had been experienced in a former war. He was proposed; and it was unanimously agreed to send for him to command the party. Messengers were despatched, and in half an hour returned with Cresap, He had heard of our resolution by some of his hunters, that had fallen in with ours, and had set out to come to us.

"We now thought our army, as we called it, complete, and the destruction of the Indians sure. A council was called, and, to our astonishment, our intended commander-in-chief was the person that dissuaded us from the enterprize. He said that appearances were very suspicious, but there was no certainty of a war. That if we made the attempt proposed, he had no doubt of our success, but a war would, at any rate, be the result, and that we should be blamed for it; and perhaps justly. But if we were determined to proceed, he would lay aside all considerations, send to his camp for his people, and share our fortunes. He was then asked what he would advise. His answer was, that we should return to Wheeling, as a convenient post, to hear what was going forward. That a few weeks would determine. As it was early in the spring, if we found the Indians were not disposed for war, we should have full time to return, and make our establishment in Kentucky. This was adopted; and in two hours the whole were under way. As we ascended the river, we met Killbuck, an Indian chief, with a small party. We had a long conference with him, but received little satisfaction as to the disposition of the Indians. It was observed that Cresap did not come to this conference, but kept on the opposite side of the river. He said that he was afraid to trust himself with the Indians. That Killbuck had frequently attempted to way-lay his father, to kill him. That if he crossed the river, perhaps his fortitude might fail him, and that he might put Killbuck to death. On our arrival at Wheeling (the country being pretty well settled thereabouts,) the whole of the inhabitants appeared to be alarmed. They flocked to our camp from every direction: and all that we could say could not keep them from under our wings. We offered to cover their neighborhood with our scouts, until further information, if they would return to their plantations; but nothing would prevail. By this time we had got to be a formidable party. All the hunters, men without families, etc., in that quarter, had joined our party.

"Our arrival at Wheeling was soon known at Pittsburgh. The whole of that country at that time, being under the jurisdiction of Virginia, Dr. Connolly had been appointed by Dunmore Captain Commandant of the District, which was called Waugusta. [1] He, learning of us, sent a message addressed to the party, letting us know that a war was to be apprehended; and requesting that we would keep our position for a few days; as messages had been sent to the Indians, and a few days would determine the doubt. The answer he got, was, that we had no inclination to quit our quarters for some time. That during our stay we should be careful that the enemy should not harass the neighborhood that we lay in. But before this answer could reach Pittsburgh, he sent a second express, addressed to Captain Cresap, as the most influential man amongst us; informing him that the messages had returned from the Indians, that war was inevitable, and beging him to use his influence with the party, to get them to cover the country by scouts until the inhabitants could fortify themselves. The reception of this letter was the epoch of open hostilities with the Indians. A new post was planted, a council was called, and the letter read by Cresap, all the Indian traders being summoned on so important an occasion. Action was had, and war declared in the most solemn manner; and the same evening two scalps were brought into camp.

"The next day some canoes of Indians were discovered on the river, keeping the advantage of an island to cover themselves from our view. They were chased fifteen miles down the river, and driven ashore. A battle ensued; a few were wounded on both sides; one Indian only taken prisoner. On examining their canoes, we found a considerable quantity of ammunition and other war-like stores. On our return to camp, a resolution was adopted, to march the next day, and attack Logan's camp on the Ohio about thirty miles above us. We did march about five miles, and then halted to take some refreshment. Here the impropriety of executing the projected enterprize was argued. The conversation was brought forward by Cresap himself. It was generally agreed that those Indians had no hostile intentions—as they were hunting, and their party was composed of men, women, and children, with all their stuff with them. This we knew; as I myself and others present had been in their camp about four weeks past, on our descending the river from Pittsburgh. In short, every person seemed to detest the resolution we had set out with. We returned in the evening, decamped, and took the road to Red-Stone.

"It was two days after this that Logan's family were killed. And from the manner in which it was done, it was viewed as a horrid murder. From Logan's hearing of Cresap being at the head of this party on the river, it is no wonder that he supposed he had a hand in the destruction of his family.

"Since the reception of your letter, I have procured the 'Notes on Virginia.' They are now before me. The act was more barbarous than there related by

[1] West Augusta. I. C. D.

Mr. Jefferson. Those Indians used to visit, and to return visits, with the neighboring whites, on the opposite side of the river. They were on a visit to a family of the name of Greathouse, at the time they were murdered by them and their associates.

"The war now raged in all its savage fury until the fall, when a treaty of peace was held at Camp Charlotte, within four miles of Chillicothe, the Indian capital of the Ohio. Logan did not appear. I was acquainted with him, and wished to know the reason. The answer was 'that he was like a mad dog: his bristles had been up, and were not yet quite fallen; but the good talk now going forward might allay them.' Logan's Speech to Dunmore now came forward, as related by Mr. Jefferson. It was thought to be clever; though the army knew it to be wrong as to Cresap. But it only produced a laugh in camp: I saw it displeased Captain Cresap, and told him, 'that he must be a very great man; that the Indians palmed everything that happened on his shoulders.' He smiled and said, 'that he had an inclination to tomahawk Greathouse for the murder.'

"What I have related is fact. I was intimate with Cresap. Logan I was better acquainted with, at that time, than with any other Indian in the western country. I was perfectly acquainted with the conduct of both parties. Logan was the author of the Speech, as altered by Mr. Jefferson; and Cresap's conduct was as I have here related it.

"I am yours, &c.

"G. R. CLARK."


John D. Toy, Annual Report Of The President Of The Maryland Historical Society, And Of The Committee On The Gallery Of Fine Arts. 1850. Original from the University of Michigan, Digitized Feb 17, 2006. Page 70, Letter: George Rogers Clark to Dr. Samuel Brown, Subject: Cresap's conduct on the Ohio River in 1774, 17 Jun 1798. View @ Google Books


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