Expedition to the Indian country under General St. Clair

Indian hostilities still continued to destroy the peace and safety of our frontier settlements. And Congress with a view to provide relief, resolved to increase our military force, and place in the hands of the Executive, more ample means for their defense. A new expedition was therefore projected. General St. Clair, governor of the territory west of the Ohio, was appointed commander-in-chief of the forces to be employed.

President Washington had been deeply pained by the disasters of General Harmar’s expedition to the Wabash, resulting from Indian ambushes. In taking leave of his old military comrade, St. Clair, he wished him success and honor; at the same time to put him on his guard, said, “You have your instructions from the secretary of war. I had a strict eye to them, and will add but one word–Beware of a surprise! You know how the Indians fight. I repeat it–Beware of a surprise!” With these warning words sounding in his ear, St. Clair departed 1 .

On the seventh of September, 1791, General St. Clair set out for the Indian country. The American banner was unfurled and waved proudly over two thousand of her soldiers, as with sanguine hopes and bright anticipations, they took up their line of march for the Miami, designing to destroy the Indian villages on that river, expel the savages from the region, and by establishing a line of posts to the Ohio river, prevent the Indians from returning to a point, where they had been the occasion of great mischief. On their way they constructed two forts, Hamilton and Jefferson, and advanced but slowly, having to open for themselves a way through the forest. Too many of those composing this little army were deficient in soldier-like qualities. They had been recruited from the off-scourings of large towns and cities, enervated by idleness, debauchery, and every species of vice, which unfitted them for the arduous service of Indian warfare. Hence insubordination, and frequent desertion, were among the difficulties encountered.

Not until the third of November, did they come near the Indian villages on the Miami. On the evening of that day they selected a position on the bank of a creek, which favored their purpose, and bivouacked for the night. Their number, from desertion, and those left to garrison the forts, amounted to but fourteen hundred. The place of their encampment was surrounded by close woods, dense thickets, and the trunks of fallen trees, affording a fine cover for stealthy Indian warfare.

It was the intention of St. Clair to throw up a slight work on the following day, and then move on to attack the Indian villages. The plan of this work he concerted in the evening with Major Ferguson, of the artillery. In the mean time, Colonel Oldham, an officer commanding the militia, was directed to send out that evening, two detachments, to explore the country and gain what knowledge they could of the enemy. The militia showed signs of insubordination, complained of being too much fatigued, and the order apparently could not be enforced. The militia were encamped beyond the stream, about a quarter of a mile in advance, on a high flat, a position much more favorable than was occupied by the main body. The placing of sentinels, about fifty paces from each other, formed their principal security against surprise.

At an early hour the next morning, the woods about the camp of the militia, swarmed with Indians, and a terrific yell, followed by sharp reports of the deadly rifle, were startling sounds, in the ear of the newly recruited soldier. The militia returned a feeble fire, and immediately fled toward the main body of the army. They came rushing in, pell-mell and threw into disorder the front rank, drawn up in the order of battle. The Indians, still keeping up their frightful yell, followed hard after the militia, and would have entered the camp with them, but the sight of troops drawn up with fixed bayonets to receive them, checked their ardor, and stopping short they threw themselves behind logs and bushes, and poured in a deadly fire upon the first line, which was soon extended to the second. Our soldiers were mown down at a fearful rate.

The Indians fought with great desperation. They charged upon the center of the two main divisions commanded by General Butler, and Colonel Darke with unexampled intrepidity. They aimed a destructive fire upon the artillerists from every direction, and swept them down by scores. The artillery if not very effective, was bravely served. A quantity of canister and some round shot were thrown in the direction whence the Indians fired; but concealed as they were, and seen only occasionally, as they sprang from one covert to another, it was impossible to direct the pieces to advantage; and so effective was the fire upon them, that every artillery officer, and more than two-thirds of the men, were killed or wounded.

St. Clair, unable to mount his horse, was borne about on a litter, and in the midst of peril and disaster, gave his orders with coolness and judgment. Seeing to what disadvantage his troops fought with a concealed enemy, he ordered Colonel Darke, with his regiment of regulars, to rouse the Indians from their covert with the bayonet, and turn their left flank. This was executed with great spirit; the enemy were driven three or four hundred yards; but for want of cavalry or riflemen, the pursuit slackened, and the troops were forced to give back in turn, and the Indians came on with a deadlier aim, the moment pursuit was relinquished. Strenuous efforts were made by the officers, early in the engagement, to restore order, which resulted in making themselves a mark, and they were cut down by the quick-sighted enemy.

All the officers of the Second regiment were cut off except three. The contest disastrous from the first, had now continued for more than two hours and a half. The loss of so many officers, and the hopeless condition of the army, the half of them killed, and the situation of the remainder desperate, brought discouragement to many a brave heart. It was useless to make further effort, which promised only a more fatal result. A retreat therefore was ordered, Colonel Darke being directed to charge the Indians that intercepted the way toward Fort Jefferson, and Major Clark with his battalion to cover the rear; these movements were successfully made, and the most of the troops that remained collected in a body, with such of the wounded as could possibly hobble along with them; thus they departed, leaving their artillery and baggage.

The retreat, though disorderly, was accomplished without difficulty, as the Indians did not pursue them far, from a desire to return for plunder. Yet the entire way, for near thirty miles, the distance to Fort Jefferson, bore the marks of a trepidation that seemed to characterize the entire engagement. The soldiers continued to throw away their guns, knapsacks, or whatever else impeded their flight, even when at a wide remove from all danger.

The army reduced by killed, wounded and desertion to about one-half its original number, fell back upon Fort Washington, the point of starting, and thus unfortunately closed a campaign, concerning which the highest expectations had been entertained. It was a heavy blow upon our infant republic, and spread over our country a gloom, which was greatly deepened by a sorrow for the loss of many worthy and brave men, who though they freely sacrificed their lives, could not avert these disasters.

The Indians, on account of this further victory, were elated beyond endurance, and conducted more haughtily than ever before. Their incursions were more frequent, their depredations more extensive, and their cruelties more excessive. The frontier inhabitants, especially of Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, never felt more insecure, and were never more exposed to loss of life, plunder and burning. In some instances whole settlements were broken up, by those who left their homes and sought, in the more densely peopled sections of the east, places of greater security.

These circumstances served to impart a deeper interest to the visit of a friendly deputation, consisting of about fifty chiefs of the Iroquois, who came to Philadelphia early in the spring of 1792, in compliance with the request of Colonel Pickering made at Painted Post the preceding year. Red Jacket was a prominent member of this delegation.

Their presence had been solicited, with the view of calling the attention of the leading chiefs, to thoughts and efforts for the improvement of their race; as well as by kind and generous treatment, to bring them into firmer alliance with the United States. And it is a pleasing thought that amid the wrongs done to the Indian, we are able to point to earnest and well intended endeavors, on the part of our government, to promote his welfare.

The governor of Pennsylvania cordially welcomed this deputation, representing the happiness their coming had created, and assuring them that every provision had been made, to render their stay agreeable, closing his remarks in these words:

“Brothers: I know the kindness with which you treat strangers that visit your country; and it is my sincere wish, that when you return to your families, you may be able to assure them, that the virtues of friendship and hospitality, are also practiced by the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

To this welcome Red Jacket, a few days afterward replied, apologizing for not answering it sooner, and expressing the pleasure it afforded them, of meeting in a place where their forefathers in times past, had been wont to greet each other in peace and friendship, and declaring it as his wish, that the same happy relations might be established, and exist between the United States and all of the Indian tribes.

His remarks on peace were introduced by a beautiful reference to a picture of Penn’s treaty with the Indians, and an enconium on the governors of Pennsylvania for their uniformly peaceable disposition.

It has been said of him as having occurred at a subsequent visit to the seat of our government, that when shown in the rotunda of the capitol, a panel representing, in sculpture, the first landing of the Pilgrims, with an Indian chief presenting them an ear of corn, in token of a friendly welcome, he exclaimed,–“That was good. The Indian knew they came from the Great Spirit, and he was willing to share the soil with his brothers.”

When another panel was pointed out to him representing Penn’s treaty,–he exclaimed sadly,–“Ah! all’s gone now 2 .”

The Indians were again addressed by President Washington, who gave them a hearty welcome to the seat of government, declaring that they had been invited by his special request, to remove all causes of discontent, devise plans for their welfare, and cement a firm peace. He wished them to partake of all the comforts of the earth to be derived from civilized life, to be enriched by industry, virtue and knowledge, and transmit these invaluable blessings to their children.

The western Indians had charged the United States with an unjust possession of their lands. They desired no lands, he said, but such as had been fairly obtained by treaty, and he hoped the error might be corrected. For the further explanation of his views and wishes, he commended them to General Knox, the secretary of war, and Colonel Pickering; concluding his address with these words:

“As an evidence of the sincerity of the desire of the United States for perfect peace, and friendship with you, I deliver you this white belt of wampum, which I request you will safely keep.”

The president having thus appointed Colonel Pickering and General Knox, to attend to the further conferences with the Indians, Red Jacket’s reply to the president’s address, was made to them. His address was directed mainly to Colonel Pickering.

Taking in his hand the belt presented by President Washington, he spoke very much as follows:

“Your attention is now called to the words of the American Chief, when, the other day he welcomed us to the great council fire of the thirteen United States. He said it was from his very heart; and that it gave him pleasure to look around and see so large a representation of the Five Nations of Indians. That it was at his special request we had been invited to the seat of the general government, with a view to promote the happiness of our nation, in a friendly connection with the United States. He said also that his love of peace did not terminate with the Five Nations, but extended to all the nations at the setting sun, and it was his desire that universal peace might prevail in this land.

“What can we, your brothers of the Five Nations, say in reply to this part of his speech, other than to thank him, and say it has given a spring to every passion of our souls.

“The sentiment of your chief, who wishes our minds might all be disposed to peace, a happy peace, so firm that nothing shall move it,–that it may be founded on a rock, this comparison of the peace to a rock, which is immovable, has given joy to our hearts.

“The president observed also, that by our continuing in the path of peace, and listening to his counsel, we might share with you all the blessings of civilized life; this meets with our approbation, and he has the thanks of all your brothers of the Five Nations.

“And further, that if we attended to his counsel in this matter, our children and children’s children, might partake of all the blessings which should rise out of this earth.

“The president observed again, that what he had spoken was in the sincerity of his heart, and that time and opportunity would give evidence that what he said was true. And we believe it because the words came from his own lips, and they are lodged deep in our minds.

“He said also that it had come to his ears that the cause of the hostilities of the western Indians, was their persuasion that the United States had unjustly taken their lands. But he assured us this was not the case; that none of his chiefs desired to take any of their land, without agreeing for it; and that the land, given up at the treaty at Muskingum, he concluded had been fairly obtained.

“He said to us that in his opinion the hostile Indians were in error, that whatever evil spirit, or lies had turned them aside, he wished could be discovered, that they might be removed. He had a strong wish that any obstacles to the extension of peace westward, might be discovered, so that they might be removed.

“In conclusion he observed that our professions of friendship and regard, were commonly witnessed by some token; therefore in the name of the United States, he presented us with this white belt, which was to be handed down from one generation to another, in confirmation of his words, and as a witness of the friendly disposition of the United States, towards the peace and happiness of the five confederated nations.”

Red Jacket here laid down the white belt presented by the president, and taking up a belt of their own, continued his speech as follows:

“Now let the president of the United States possess his mind in peace. Our reply to his address to us the other day has been brief, for the belt he gave us is deposited with us, and we have taken firm hold of it. We return our united thanks for his address, in welcoming us to the seat of the great council, and for the advice he has given us.

“We have additional pleasure in knowing that you, Con-neh-sauty 3 are appointed to assist us, in devising the means to promote and secure the happiness of the Six Nations.

“Now open your ears, Representatives of the Great Council, Hear the words we speak. All present of the Great Council 4 , and our brethren of the Five Nations, hear! We consider ourselves in the presence of the Great Spirit, the proprietor of us all.

“The president has in effect told us we are freemen, the sole proprietors of the soil on which we live. This has gladdened our hearts, and removed a weight that was upon them. This indeed is to us an occasion of joy, for how can two brothers speak freely together, unless they feel they are upon equal ground?

“We now speak freely, as they are free from pressure, and we join with the president in his wish, that all the evils which have hitherto disturbed our peace, may be buried in oblivion. This is the sincere wish of our hearts.

“Now, Brother, continue to hear, let all present open their ears, while those of the Five Nations here present speak with one voice. We wish to see your words verified to our children, and children’s children. You enjoy all the blessings of this life; to you therefore we look to make provision, that the same may be enjoyed by our children. This wish comes from our heart, but we add that our happiness cannot be great if, in the introduction of your ways, we are put under too much constraint.

“Continue to hear. We, your brothers of the Five Nations, believe that the Great Spirit let this island 5z drop down from above. We also believe in his superintendency over this whole island. He gives peace and prosperity, he also sends evil. Prosperity has been yours. American brethren, all the good which can spring out of this island, you enjoy. We wish, therefore, that we and our children, and our children’s children, may partake with you of that enjoyment.

“I observe that the Great Spirit might smile on one people, and frown on another. This you have seen, who are of one color, and one blood. The king of England, and you Americans strove to advance your happiness by extending your possessions on this island, which produces so many good things. And while you two great powers were contending for those good things, by which the whole island was shaken, violently agitated, is it strange that our peace, the peace of the Five Nations, was shaken and overthrown?

“But I will say no more of the trembling of this island. All in a measure is now quiet. Peace is restored. Our peace, the peace of the Five Nations is beginning to bud forth. But still there is some shaking among our brethren at the Setting Sun; and you, of the thirteen fires, and the king of England know what is our situation and the cause of this disturbance. Here now, you have an ambassador 6 , as we are informed from the king of England. Let him in behalf of the king, and the Americans, adjust all their matters, according to their agreement, at the making of peace–and then you will soon see all things settled among the Indian nations. Peace will extend far and near. Let the president and the ambassador use all their exertions to bring about this settlement, according to the peace, and it will make us all glad, and we shall consider both as our real friends.

“Brother: Continue to hear! Be assured we have spoken not from our lips only, but from our very hearts. Allow us then to say: That when you Americans and the king made peace, he did not mention us, showed us no compassion, notwithstanding all he said to us, and all we had suffered. This has been the occasion to us, the Five Nations, of great loss, sorrow and pain. When you and he settled the peace between you two great nations, he never asked for a delegation from us, to attend to our interests. Had this been done, a settlement of peace among all the western nations might have been effected. But neglecting this, and passing us by unnoticed, has brought upon us great pain and trouble.

“It is evident that we of the Five Nations have suffered much in consequence of the strife between you and the king of England, who are of one color and of one blood. But our chain of peace has been broken. Peace and friendship have been driven from us. Yet you Americans were determined not to treat us in the same manner as we have been treated by the king of England. You therefore desired us at the re-establishment of peace, to sit down at our ancient fireplaces, and again enjoy our lands. And had the peace between you and the king of England been completely accomplished, it would long before this have extended far beyond the Five Nations.

“BROTHER CON-NEH-SAUTY: We have rejoiced in your appointment, for you are specially appointed with General Knox, to confer with us on our peace and happiness. We hope the great warrior will remember, that though a “warrior”, he is to converse with us about “peace”; letting what concerns war sleep; and the counselling part of his mind, while acting with us, be of “peace”.

“Have patience, and continue to listen. The president has assured us that he is not the cause of the hostilities now existing at the westward, but laments it. Brother, we wish you to point out to us of the Five Nations, “what you think is the real cause”.

“We now publicly return our thanks to the president, and all the counsellors of the thirteen United States, for the words he has spoken to us. They were good, unqualifiedly good. Shall we observe that he wished that if the errors of the hostile Indians could be discovered, he would use his utmost exertions to remove them?

“BROTHER! You and the king of England are the two governing powers of this island. What are we? You both arc important and proud; and you cannot adjust your own affairs agreeably to your declarations of peace. Therefore the western Indians are bewildered. One says one thing to them, and another says another. Were these things adjusted, it would be easy to diffuse peace everywhere.

“In confirmation of our words, we give this belt, which we wish the president to hold fast, in remembrance of what we have now spoken 7 .”

A very touching reference is made in this speech, to the manner in which the Indians had been treated by Great Britain, when peace was concluded with the United States. Notwithstanding the promises and high expectations held out to them, at the commencement of the war, and their sacrifices and services during its continuance, no notice was taken, no mention made of them in the treaty of peace. In the expressive language of Red Jacket, “the king showed them no compassion.” They had for years fought side by side with the soldiers of Britain, they had, with stealthy tread, come down upon our settlements far removed from the seat of war, surprised peaceful inhabitants, slain defenseless women and children, plundered and burned their dwellings, and wrought in the hearts of the American people a sense of wrong, that cried for redress. What could be their position, now that the armies of Britain are withdrawn? The armies of Britain defeated, could they, single handed, cope with the American army? These were questions that weighed deeply on their minds. Did they expect the hand of friendship to be extended toward them? To be invited to councils of peace, –to the intimacies, hospitalities, and kindly feeling manifested on this occasion? The orator was deeply impressed by it, and notes the contrast apparent in the conduct toward them, of Britain and America. “You Americans were determined not to treat us in the same manner, as we had been treated by the king of England. You desired us at the re- establishment of peace, to sit down at our ancient fire-places, and again enjoy our lands.” He further very significantly refers to the occasion of the hostile feelings among the Indians at the West. It was because the peace between England and America “had not been fully accomplished.” In other words, hostile feelings were still cherished, and their outward manifestation could be seen, in the plundering and massacres, still carried on among our frontier settlements. The establishment of a true peace between the two countries, the existence and cultivation of genuine amicable relations between them, would, in his view, end all this trouble, and “diffuse peace everywhere.”

We have already had occasion to notice the unfriendly feeling, cherished by the British Indian Department in Canada, toward the United States; and evidence will be afforded further on, of their being deeply implicated in the hostilities endured, coming from the Indians on our western border.Citations:

  1. Irving’s life of Washington.[]
  2. Drake’s Book of the Indians.[]
  3. Col. Pickering.[]
  4. Referring to members of Congress present.[]
  5. The Indians use the term “island”, in speaking of this continent.[]
  6. Referring to the British envoy to the United States.[]
  7. This speech, given by Col. Stone from a manuscript of J. W. Moulton, Esq., on account of its importance, is presented almost entire. A few changes have been made, but the ideas of the orator, and the language mostly in which they are given, have been strictly maintained, while the changes are no greater than would have been made, had two reporters taken the words as they came from the lips of the orator.[]

Clair, Darke, Pickering,

Hubbard, John Niles. n Account of Sa-Go-Ye-Wat-Ha, or Red Jacket, and His People, 1750-1830. Self Published. 1885.

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