A 1769 letter from George Washington — in which the man who would become the nation’s first president decries the killing of three Indians by white settlers — has been donated to the University of Texas.
“It seems this murder (for it deserves no other name) was committed on light provocation, upon three Indians of the Mingo Tribe,” Washington wrote to John Armstrong, a justice of the peace and land surveyor who advised him on land dealings.
The 244-year-old letter, written in Washington’s own hand, is thought to be worth more than $100,000. It was donated by Dallas oilman Barron U. Kidd, a 1958 graduate of UT’s Plan II honors program, and his wife, Dedo.
The letter is an important and treasured acquisition for UT’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
“It’s in great shape,” said Don Carleton, the center’s director. “It’s not just of research value for people interested in Washington. For someone studying the history of American Indians in the colonial period, that’s a very important letter.”
Writing with a flowing hand, Washington refers to the killings on the south bank of the Potomac River as an act of “mischief” and “villainy.” But in a kind of political calculation, he also says it was “lucky” none of the three escaped so that “we, in consequence, may represent it in as favourable a light, as the thing will admit of, having the knowledge of it confined to our selves.”
“He also evidences concern over ‘the evils that otherwise must follow’ if similar incidents were to go unchecked,” Carleton said. “Both Washington and Armstrong had a vested interest in any developments in that region that might indicate serious trouble with the Indians and therefore inhibit western expansion by colonists.”
Barron U. Kidd said he cherished his time at UT, received an excellent education and wanted to give something back to his alma mater.
“The Briscoe Center is a vital and growing institution,” Kidd said. “They did not have a Washington letter. I thought a letter from the father of our country makes sense. I’m pleased to have given it.”
The letter, which the Kidds acquired more than 40 years ago, was written during the period between the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, a time when Washington was active in land acquisition, managing his plantations and serving as a member of the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Va.
“He had a fascinating life in that period,” said Kidd, who added that he is currently reading Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life,” which won the Pulitzer Prize.
A copy of the letter is on display in the Briscoe Center’s reading room in Sid Richardson Hall.
Letter from George Washington to John Armstrong, August 24, 1769
Frederick Springs August 24th 1769.
With particular pleasure I acknowledge the receipt of your favour by Mr Fulton—it affords me a fresh Instance of your friendly regard, for which I shall always retain a lively remembrance—The Letters you speak of as wrote to me by way of Winchester &ca never came to hand; from Captn Crawford it was, that I receivd the Acct of your obliging Letter to Mr Tilghman, and of the good effect it was like to produce; thô for a certainty, I have not yet heard, whether the Land I applied for, has escapd the danger of a Lottery Scheme, but have reasons to hope, it possibly might.
The report of three Indians being killd on the South Branch of Potomack is strictly true, but the manner in which it happen’d is variously related, and none of them favourable to the authors of the Mischeif—It seems this Murder (for it deserves no other name) was committed on slight provocation, upon three Indians of the Mingo Tribe; who had been to War, & as it is imagind, had also been defeated (that is the party to which they belonged) and being dispersed, took their rout through the Inhabitants for greater security when they met with the Fate I have just now mentioned—It is lucky however that there were no more than three in as much as none escapd to carry the Intelligence, and we, in consequence, may represent it in as favourable a light, as the thing will admit of, having the knowledge of it confined to our selves.
Endeavours will be used to bring the perpetrators of this Act of Villainy to justice, but what success may attend the attempt, I will not under take to say, however certain it is, that practices of this kind ought to be suppressd by every possible means to prevent the evils that otherwise must follow—The further Acct of the Militia going out is nothing more, I believe, than a vague & Idle story; as it also is of the Redstone People threatning revenge; by what I can learn (and I have seen two or three from that settlement) they wish for nothing more than Peace & quietness, and are now, so well assured of the false alarm they too easily gave into, that most of them are carrying out their Families again.
The causes which you have Suggested for the dissatisfaction of the Indians, & their rude behaviour on several occasions, I have before heard assigned; but hope they will not suffer their discontent to lead them into Acts of open Hostility, when I consider that they have not the French to aid and abet them as formerly, and that they are in a manner dependant on us.
Mrs Fairfax receivd so little benefit from Springs the last time she was here, that she hath entirely renouncd them—The Colo., to whom I have presented your Compliments desires his may be offered in return, & when I see Doctr Mercer I shall inform him that he is still in your remembrance—With very great regard I remain Dr Sir, Yr Most Obedt Affecte Servt